Today’s post about Internally Displaced People (IDPs) and other results of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) being in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Above: The government denies that the LRA are a serious threat there. When I spoke to a few officials and Commanders of the Congolese Army I’d hear something along the lines of: “There are 8 or 10, maybe as much as 20 but no more. These attacks are just local bandits”.
Above and below: However these ’10 or so bandits’ have caused well over 300,000 people in Orientale province, an area the size of France to flee their villages and set up in clusters around places such as Dungu and Doruma. Sometimes these are not much safer, Doruma has suffered multiple attacks in the past few months where civilans were killed, abducted and food and supplies were looted.
Above: The roof of the hut of a former soldier for the LRA. He was captured at the age of 17 and made to fight for the LRA for over a year. Now he has returned to his family. At 19, he is living in a displaced camp where he is hoping to find a way to get educated.
Above: A man rocks back and forth on his stool, staring unnervingly at the ground. He is mentally handicapped, but according to his sister he has done little else since moving from his village to the IDP camp in Doruma.
Above: A man a woman clear land and burn wood at the edge of an IDP camp in Doruma while their children wait patiently.
Above: Three young men talk about their experiences with the LRA. They were all captured for a short while (1 week, 2 days, and 1 day respectively) in order to carry supplies that were looted from them. In two cases they escaped, and one was let go. “We were made to carry things to their camp. We had no shoes, and our feet were swollen and bleeding, so when they let us go, we just collapsed and slept on the forest floor.”
Above: A man in the IDP camp in Doruma fills his jerry can from the nearby watering hole.
Above and below: IDPs in Doruma and Gangala.
Above: Tengende was working for the NGO Premier d’Urgence and was hitching a lift with one of their food trucks to see his baby son who was ill. They were attacked by the LRA and he was shot in the arm and a bullet just scraped above his right eye. The driver was killed, and the other man in the truck was dragged out of the front seat. Tengende played dead and witnessed the LRA beat his friends head in with a machete. Gasoline had leaked all over the ground and Tengende was lying a in a pool of it. One of the LRA thought they saw him move as they were leaving and checked by poking a bayonet into his neck. “I do not know how, but with God’s will I found the strength not to react”.
The LRA set the petrol alight, and Tengende lay burning until they disappeared. He rolled in the grass and staggered down the road where Congolese soldiers were running towards him. He was taken back to Doruma and treated for burns on his right arm and all over his back. Luckily they were treated early enough so as not to cause long-term damage and they just resemble large skin patches.Premier d’Urgence refused to send him to Dungu to get surgery on his eye because he had not formally requested to go with the truck. He is blind in his right eye. All the LRA took were two sacks of rice.
Above: Catholic church at an IDP camp in Dungu.
Above: USAID provides basic food supplies once a month or so various IDP camps. This food is generally sold or used up after a week.
Above: Esperance, 18 was captured in December 2008. Her father was killed on the same day. She escaped only two months prior to this post, in a UPDF attack on the LRA camp. She was forced to marry one of the commanders, and now lives with her mother and siblings in an IDP camp just outside Dungu. “I can’t go to get water on my own anymore, and even then, only when it’s very close. I’m scared that they’ll take me again, I don’t want to go back to them.”
Above: Esperance watches her younger brothers playing outside their hut.
Above: Despite the fact Esperance is now back safe with her family her mother is still very concerned for her well-being. She is a young woman who has spent over two years among soldiers and slaves, looking to get educated in an IDP camp, and scared to be on her own.
Above: IDPs are crowding market places in their new settlements and looking for different ways to make a living. Their presence is naturally effecting current residents, many of whom do not make as much money as before. This IDP has, for a good price just sold a sack of beans he carried from his village when he was displaced.
Above: This IDP is selling charcoal in the market place. Her husband was killed and two sons captured by the LRA. All around her is evidence of unemployed youth, many of whom have just finished their education.
Above: This IDP is making a living as an ironmonger. His resourcefulness has come in handy and he has made a tool to continually blow air onto his hot coals so that he can heat and forge metal. Sometimes he makes simple things like axe heads, but using these same methods he can make more complex contraptions like shotguns too.
Above: It’s not just IDPs that are trying to scrape money together. This woman in a soldier in the Congolese army (FARDC). The FARDC is infamous for poorly paying it’s troops if at all. She is selling charcoal in her time off just so she can feed her family. Her husband is a policeman who’s recently been transferred here. His story is the same.
The FARDC is now considered to be one of the greater threats in Orientale (well actually not just in Orientale…). Bizarrely, it is an army sent in to provide security by the same government that denies the LRA are a threat. The soldiers have very little will to actually be useful to the local populations they’re based near, and since their first priority (as with most humans) is to make sure they are fed, they have few options but to abuse their power (which is an AK-47 with perhaps one loaded bullet) and bully and threaten people into providing money or food for them. But not only are they just not doing their job, they’re actually a real danger to the societies they’re posted by.
Above and below: With the FARDC’s arrival in Doruma HIV/AIDS prevalence has shot up to 23%. The average in the DRC is 6% (however this is according to the ever so reliable government). Both of these babies were recently born HIV positive. Their mothers are unmarried and didn’t want to say who the fathers were. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) have said that to battle this problem in Doruma would far exceed their budget. At the moment they only have the resources to deal with trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness).
Above: When attacks first occurred self defence groups (SDGs) were quickly formed by the locals to protect themselves, their families and their crops from murder, abduction and pillaging by the LRA. However the FARDC banned them from doing this (at least alone) when they arrived on the scene. This hasn’t stopped them entirely. It is these local self-defence groups that the government blames for many of the (quite obviously) LRA attacks.
Above: They meet twice a day to discuss what they can do. There are always a few that stay guard around the towns and IDP camps, on the off-chance of an attack. This particular meeting was called because the LRA had been spotted earlier that day just 12km from Doruma.
Above: A few men from the SDG march out in the early evening to track down the recently seen LRA. Since the FARDC refuse to acknowledge the problem and have no motivation, the SDG has little choice. “When we go in we are thinking of our brothers, sisters, and children that have been killed or taken. We go in with anger and revenge. That is what keeps us going.”
Above: The SDG make their own ammunition as well as the shotguns. They can be dangerous, and one shotgun cartridge went off in this mans left hand, taking off the tip of the little finger. However the LRA fear the SDG’s guns, which can kill an elephant and take down 8 men abreast at once due to the spread of the shot. The cartridges are a mixture of lumps of metal and matchstick heads. One former abductee said: “We really feared the self-defence groups. They would put their lives on the line. The FARDC weren’t feared, sometimes we would attack their patrols if they had something we needed.”
Above: Not all members can afford or get the resources to make shotguns.
Above: The main characters of Doruma’s SDG pose in the early evening.
Above: It is not hard to see that motivations like anger and revenge in the minds of untrained men with deadly but dodgy weaponry is going to have consequences somewhere down the line. However MONUSCO (the UN peacekeeping force in the Congo) does little but sit tight in their compounds in relatively secure areas, the UPDF (Ugandan People’s Defence Force looking to kill the LRA leaders) comes and goes with little communication to anyone else, and the FARDC is a detriment to society. These small self-defence groups are brought together just to do something for their people.
Above: The president of Doruma’s SDG (middle) sits back during an evening meeting where it was reported that the LRA had now been spotted just 6 km from Doruma.
Above: The UPDF suddenly showed up the next evening in Doruma, having heard reports the LRA was close by.
Above: The FARDC major had refused to give this UPDF commander (with the map) any information of the recently seen LRA. So when we met up with the commander we brought along the vice-president of the local SDG so he could point out where the LRA had been seen the previous night.
Above: The UPDFs map of Orientale province with red dots to show where the LRA have recently been spotted. Rather different from the mental map the FARDC major tried to give us (no red dots).
Above: The UPDF commander thinks he has a seen a pattern with the sighting and hopes to intercept an LRA group that appear to be heading towards the Central African Republic (CAR) where their leader Joseph Kony is thought to be in hiding.
Above: Generally the UPDF troops were happy to be photographed. This friendly individual called himself BmaxB (I guess you spell it). Apparently this friendliness could have been related to my nationality: “The British are my favourite whites”. The commander even offered me 5 kilos of beans to take home. A rather stark contrast to the FARDC which often just take food from the locals.
Below four photos: Suddenly the order came for the troops to move out. In less than five minutes 95 troops had packed themselves into one truck, in the most dazzling display of military efficiency (though perhaps not discipline) that I have yet seen in the Congo.
Above: And just like that the UPDF disappeared again.
In all my interviews with various former abductees, it seemed that most of them had escaped during UPDF attacks. One boy who had served as an LRA soldier said “At first we feared the UPDF the most because they would kill anyone in the camp, even women and children, just to get to the Ugandan LRA commanders. But now it is just commanders that fear them. Many children escape the LRA during the UPDF attacks.”
Above: This was the closest shot I could get of the FARDC; the bottles left over from the Major having a drink with three officers. I took this photo at 7pm.
The US has now sent in military advisors to help these armies (MONUSCO, UPDF, FARDC). However in my opinion, unless they advise the Congolese government to pay their troops better and on time, the FARDC are going to continue to hold back any real progress in these areas – however MONUSCO and the UPDF change. With November elections looming it seems the government finds it cheaper and easier to deny the matter than spend money defending the lives, rights and homes of some of the poorer individuals in their country.