Tuesday, November 4, 2008

What to write?

It is hard to know what to write. We wait everyday for some definitive news that the situation is going one way or the other. But there is no definitive news. We wait expecting to hear the shooting start up at night again, but no shooting (thankfully).

We are able to cross into Goma during the day, but we continue to return to Rwanda by nightfall. Everyday, we wonder whether it might be possible to sleep at home, in Goma, today. And everyday we just don't know.

Goma feels almost normal. Everyone is anxious to resume life. After a week with no markets and no work, people are happy to be able to start again. In the streets people look at eachother in a somewhat surprised fashion, simply happy to be alive. As though this nightmarish past week was some kind of big mistake. Yesterday as I returned to Goma and greeted our friends and neighbors, everyone said that they had been very scared. They reported hiding under beds and trying to figuring out where they could run to. Our apartment is in a big compound, with many Congolese families, a bread bakery, a restaurant, an ice making stand etc... Although no one looted our apartment, soldiers did enter the compound demanding to see the landlord and shooting in the air. Somehow higher level soldiers were called, and the belligerent soldiers were told to go elsewhere.

Now our neighbors are out on their balconies again, washing clothes and cooking meals. Congolese music is pounding from nearby restaurants. The only notable difference in town is the presence of UN vehicles patroling more than they used to, and the visible lack of government soldiers.

But there are serious realities lying just beneath the surface. No one knows what is going on. Rumors of all sort are rampant. But no one really knows why the town is calm, or how long it can remain that way.

The reality is that rebel soldiers remain on the doorstep of Goma. They continue to hold to a ceasefire that they declared last week. However the rebels have demanded negotations with the government and have stated that they will fight if the government refuses to negotiate with them. Meanwhile the government refuses to negotiate directly with these rebels. In January a peace agreement was signed which allowed for negotiations between the government and all 20 rebel groups in Congo collectively. The government says it will only negotiate in this context, with all the rebels, not directly with the rebels lead by Nkunda (the CNDP). This is bascially a face-saving position, a refusal to recognize the amount of power that the CNDP holds. After all it was the CNDP that sent the government forces running, and it is the CNDP that has doubled its territory in the last two months, and stands poised to take Goma itself. The CNDP are uninterested in being lumped in with a bunch of small rebel groups that hold little or no power. They want real recognition, and are willing to continue fighting and killing to get it.

So while Rwanda and Congo have been under heavy international pressure to reach a solution and both sides have agreed to a summit meeting "sometime this month", Rwanda is busy saying that they have no role in the war in Congo, and COngo is busy refusing to meet with the CNDP directly. It is hard to imagine how we are going to get anywhere under these conditions.

Fighting restarted in Kiwanja, a town about 50 miles from Goma. The area was taken by rebel forces (CNDP) on their march into Goma last week. Now the town has apparently been taken by another rebel group, allied with the government. The people of the area are surely suffering. And this restart in fighting can not promise anything good.

As you can see, the situation is hard to follow. It is hard to know the "end game" of the different parties involved, or how they plan to achieve it.

Two of the Shona women have returned to Goma, to stay with their families there. This is fine, as they have immediate family that will look after them if fighting starts again. But the other two ladies remain with us in Rwanda. They have no family in Goma, and would have no one to help them flee if fighting started.

As one of them explained, "our friends and neighbors tell us to come back to Goma. But they all have two feet. And if fighting starts again they will pack their stuff, put it on their heads and leave. Me, what can I do? On my crutches I won't even make it to the corner. It is different when you have your mother nearby, she will put you on her back and carry you. But who, besides a mother, will do that for us...It is best that we stay in safety until a real solution is reached...then we can return to Goma in peace."

So we wait.


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