Democratic Republic of the Congo: Villagers avoid attack by sleeping in the forest (Syfia Grands Lacs)

| September 13, 2010

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With packages of belongings on their heads, women from Karambi, a village in eastern DRC, quietly walk five kilometres into the forest every night. They drag tired and anxious children along the narrow footpath. They journey through fog most nights, to join their husbands in the forest.

Karambi is a mountainous village of about 2000 households, 100 kilometres north of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province. Many farmers and their families are spending the night in the forest to avoid attack. Armed gangs steal crops, empty granaries and murder villagers. Claudine Kayitesi, a resident of Karambi, says, “The first time they came was in January; they stole my crop of cabbage.”

The husbands walk into the forest an hour earlier than their families, and prepare makeshift camps. They store their harvests on tarpaulins distributed by humanitarian organizations. The families change the location of their camps from time to time, to avoid being found by the gangs. The next day, all the families reappear in their villages. This new way of life is called the “sleeping” or “le couchage” in French.

Families displaced by the unrest in eastern DRC began returning there in September 2009. Many have begun to harvest their fields, but are now facing a new threat from gangs of youths.

Local police believe the youth are linked to a group called the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda. If they target a house and do not find money or food to sell, the gangs will not hesitate to kill the head of the household, or take them hostage and demand a ransom.

The head of Karambi village says that gangs target victims based on what crops they bring from the fields. “Young people loot all the crops at night, then sell them at the market in Rutshuru.” To avoid losing their produce, farmers no longer store their crops in the village. Instead they carry their harvest to the forest. Each morning they carry the day’s food to the village, and return to the forest at night.

There are no police in Karambi to ensure the villagers’ safety. So, for now, they prefer to sleep in the forest.