what's happening in ituri? a report from the field, part 1
Today I'm pleased to present a guest post from Dan Fahey. Dan is an ACM Mellon Post-Doc Fellow in the Political Science Department at Colorado College (USA). What follows are his observations from a recent field research trip to Ituri, a district in northeastern DRC bordering Uganda to the east and North Kivu to the south.
This update is based largely on fieldwork conducted during Jan-Feb 2012 in Ituri. Part 2 will include discussions on land conflicts and election results.
Since November 2007, when MONUC succeeded in pacifying Ituri (with the exception of southern Irumu – see below), Ituri’s capital of Bunia has been slowly but surely growing and transforming. Security in Bunia has vastly improved, although off-duty police and soldiers continue nighttime criminal activity in some parts of town. In a scene unthinkable four years ago, people walk the streets at night, frequenting numerous bars and clubs that have sprung up. Bunia is in the midst of a construction and rehabilitation boom, with new hotels, fourteen petrol stations (and counting), the return of banks, and new universities. AngloGold Ashanti Kilo (AGK) – the company poised to start industrial gold mining in Mongbwalu – has contracted Kisangani-based Bego Congo to construct several kilometers of drainage along the main road in town. Despite the vast sums of money extracted from Ituri by the PPRD apparatus, there is still no paved road in Bunia (and the dust – le sixième chantier! – is severe at this time of year). But there is talk the main road will be paved, next year…
Private businessmen drive most of the growth in Bunia. Much of the investment comes from gold traders and cattle ranchers who have diversified their business interests. Some of these same businessmen were involved in supporting armed groups during the war in Ituri, so some people view their investment in Bunia as a sign that they will not support a return to war. There are still many problems in Bunia, such as a lack of potable water and a heavy dependence on MONUSCO for the local economy, but there is a sense that the balance of political and economic power in Orientale province is shifting from Kisangani to Bunia. The significance of this shift remains unclear, particularly since PPRD holds the political power in Ituri, but change is in the air.
INSECURITY IN IRUMU
With the international focus in northeast Congo on Dungu, the ongoing conflict in southern Irumu territory has been obscured. In November 2007, Cobra Matata – then leader of the FRPI group in this area – entered FARDC after having had his troops enter the DDR process. A few renegade FRPI officers who did not get the posts (or money) they wanted refused to cooperate, and remained in the bush waging a low-intensity campaign in southern Irumu. In May 2010, Cobra left his post in Kinshasa and returned to the bush; suspected reasons include a falling out with superiors and fear of arrest. Since then, FRPI has grown stronger, with an estimated 200 combatants; it also collaborates with the smaller FPJC group. On 22 Jan. 2012, news that two former FRPI commanders (Lt. Col. Dark and Major Baby) had deserted their FARDC posts in Lubumbashi and rejoined Cobra raised concerns about an escalation of conflict. MONUSCO is currently supporting FARDC operations against FRPI, which have increased in intensity since late January.
There are several aspects of the FRPI situation worthy of note. Although FRPI survives in part by stealing from the local population, it also has local support. Many people distrust FARDC, which engages in theft, extortion, and violence against local populations. A letter from the Chief of Walendu Bindi (20 Jan. 2012) to President Kabila restates Cobra’s demands made in Oct. 2011 on Radio Okapi; several observers point to this letter and other information as evidence that some local authorities support Cobra. Among Cobra’s demands are: amnesty like that enjoyed by Bosco Ntaganda and Laurent Nkunda; release of prisoners; and a DDR process. The national government does not acknowledge FRPI as a rebel group, referring to them as “bandits,” and refusing to allow a DDR process to begin (UNDP is ready to do this if the government consents).
There are reasons to doubt the sincerity of both Cobra and the government in ending conflict in southern Irumu. Cobra and some of his men have already deserted from the national army, and their actions appear more criminal than political. Since Cobra does not enjoy strong support from donor-darling Rwanda, he is unlikely to get amnesty and achieve a high position in FARDC, like indicted war criminal Bosco Ntaganda; therefore he may not be satisfied with government concessions (which, in any event, do not appear to be forthcoming). On the other hand, numerous sources doubt the sincerity of FARDC in addressing the problem of FRPI. FARDC officers are profiting from the conflict through the theft and extortion perpetrated by their soldiers. As an example, soldiers openly take 200 Congolese francs (about $0.22) from each passerby on checkpoints along roads (I observed at least a dozen such checkpoints between Bogoro and Geti), which is hard on the impoverished local population. MONUSCO is placed in a difficult position by having to support FARDC, and some observers have questioned why MONUSCO does not take the lead in the fight and relegate FARDC to a supporting role, as MONUC did during the key period of 2005-07 in Ituri. This conflict is likely to grind on during 2012, with the local population suffering at the hands of both FRPI and FARDC.
In early December 2011, an outbreak of cholera occurred in the Geti health zone. The outbreak spread to the northeast, into the Tchomia health zone, then west to Bunia and then north as far as the Jiba health zone. Overall, six affected health zones in Irumu and Djugu territories have had 1,024 cholera cases and 30 deceased persons as of 5 Feb. 2012. The Tchomia health zone has been the hardest hit, and approximately 78% of all cases are in this health zone. According to an OCHA bulletin (10 Feb. 2012): “An assessment into the water and sanitation conditions revealed that the population in Tchomia is obliged to drink unsafe water from Lake Albert as the drinking water infrastructure in Tchomia is defective. This situation is aggravated by the town’s lack of sanitary installations, as 60% of its households have no latrines.”