Militia fighters and military checkpoints dotted Congo-Brazzaville’s Pool region for nearly two years.
More than 100,000 people fled their villages during the 2016-2017 conflict between the Congolese army and the “Ninja” rebels. Many fled to the capital, Brazzaville, 50 kilometres west of Pool region. Now, people are returning home following a December peace agreement.
But for the displaced people, returning home means returning to scarcity. Armed groups destroyed schools, houses, and villages. Healthcare centres were left unstaffed.
Yvonne Massembo is from the southern city of Goma Tsé Tsé. At 70 years old, she fled to Brazzaville because of the conflict and still lives there. She says returning to her village would make life even harder.
During the conflict, a thief stole the roof off her home. Her house collapsed. Equipment at her local hospital was looted. The canoe she used to cross the Djoué River and reach her farm was destroyed.
She says, “If I go back, what am I going to eat? There is nothing left. All the houses were burned.”
Apart from the heartache of living away from home, the price of staple foods such as cassava and rice rose dramatically during the years of conflict. Fields became unsafe and farmers missed two planting seasons. Today, many villagers are unable to feed themselves.
Steep increases in food prices are driving many people back to their fields. The World Food Programme estimates that, in districts such as Kimba, nearly all the displaced residents have returned.
Jean-Martin Bauer is the World Food Programme country director in Congo-Brazzaville. Mr. Bauer recently met a woman at a health centre near the capital city. She had returned to Pool, but left shortly after because she couldn’t find food. Mr. Bauer explains, “When she got back, she said there was nothing there. Her child became malnourished, so she had to come back to Brazzaville.”
Mr. Bauer says that only men have returned to tend to their crops. Families stay in safer locations.
In the December agreement, the Congolese militias agreed to demobilize, dismantle their checkpoints, and turn in their weapons. In exchange, the government promised free movement for Ninja leader Frédéric Bintsamou, known as Pastor Ntumi. There have been no clashes since December. However, Pastor Ntumi is still hiding in the forests of Pool, and many of his fighters have not given up their weapons.
For now, the residents of Pool have received little closure or assistance from the government.
A man who gave his name as Makoudou lives in Brazzaville. He says, “I don’t have shelter and my village has been ravaged.” He says his house, in a village near Vindza in the Pool district, was partially destroyed by bombs during the conflict, and the tools he needed for work were taken.
He says, “That is what is preventing me from going back.”
This story was adapted from an article titled, “Razed Villages and Empty Fields Await Congo-Brazzaville’s Displaced” published by IRIN. To read the original article, please see: https://www.irinnews.org/analysis/2018/06/18/razed-villages-and-empty-fields-await-congo-brazzaville-s-displaced
Photo: Displaced people in Loutete. Credit: IRIN