Congo: The Costs of War

KIGALI – War is expensive. The costs include not only the millions of dollars spent on military equipment and maintaining an army, but also the financial and psychological toll it takes on the everyday lives of people caught in the crossfire.

When fighting takes place where civilians live, as it is in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, farming, housing, health care, businesses, and education are all interrupted in armed conflict, and the long-term effects in the North Kivu region have been devastating.

Ten year-old Immacule arrived at Kibati refugee camp 7 mi. north of Goma on Oct. 27 after her family fled their village fearing attacks by Tutsi-led rebels.

She said she misses going to school. "I want the government to find peace for us so that I can return home and go back to school."

Since fighting resumed in August between the rebel National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) and the Congolese army, 250,000 people have been displaced in the North Kivu Region.

In the past two weeks, 100,000 people were driven from their homes, 60 percent of whom are children, according to a press statement by UNICEF.

Children face immediate health and security problems like malnutrition, malaria, and cholera. They risk sexual violence, abuse, and recruitment into armed groups children face in such a crisis.

And they also miss out on a stable education. "The school year has just started. … This is disrupting education for thousands of children. They are not able to grow and develop their intellectual capacities because of the conflict," said Jaya Murthy, a spokesman for UNICEF.

The renewed fighting in North Kivu also prevents humanitarian aid from getting to those who need it.

Fleeing their homes with only what they can carry, the refugees are left without food, water, and adequate medical supplies.

Dr. Jo Lusi works at a hospital in Goma. He says it’s difficult to provide proper medicine and health care to transient people in a tenuous security situation.

"A doctor this week was at a camp giving a pregnant woman a C-section. In the middle of the operation, a rebel shot him dead. The woman was rushed half open to the hospital where I had to take over the operation. This is not a good situation to treat people."

Justine Mesika is a women’s rights activist at Synergies des Femmes, a women’s rights organization based in Goma. She says that women bear the brunt of armed conflict, because in addition to the danger of being killed or wounded in the fighting, they also risk rape and sexual violence.

"Since the beginning of these hostilities, women have been the most affected. They are tortured from the psychological trauma of what happened to them well after it has over."

The daily business of trade and commerce also grinds to a halt, as both store owners and customers are afraid to leave their house. Mama Bahati, a mother of seven, owns a clothing store with her husband in Goma. She said, "We have a serious problem to sell our goods. Since last week, there have been no customers because the entire population is afraid to go out."

Bahati demands the government to bring all sides of this conflict to the negotiation table so that they can continue to run their store.

A shaky cease-fire held for just over a week between the rebels and government erupted into renewed fighting Friday, causing thousands of refugees to flee Kibati camp. The conflict has displaced over a million people since the end of Congo’s unrelenting civil wars in 2003. Both sides are believed to fund fighters by illegally mining Congo’s vast mineral riches, giving them no financial interest in stopping the fighting.