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Congo's War-Weary Citizens Hope for Lasting Peace

  • Gabe Joselow

African leaders from the Great Lakes region will meet Thursday to find a solution to fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo between the armed forces and M23 militants. Residents of the eastern town of Goma are hoping for a quick and firm end to the conflict.

A love song in a time of war is heard inside a guitar shop in Goma, where students practice their chord progressions. Meanwhile outside, the military battles a tenacious group of rebel soldiers.

Shop owner Emmanuel Birubi said Congolese people have a natural gift for guitar. Sadly, though, in the midst of conflict, he said nobody has the money to spend on music.

“When there is war, people don’t have the means to buy anything. But when there is peace, people are OK, they don’t worry, they can come to buy a guitar,” explained Birubi.

Tentative progress

After nearly two weeks of fierce fighting outside the city, Birubi hopes the military will finish off the M23 rebels once and for all. “All the time, they talk about peace, but so far no solution. So my wish is that the army will continue to fight until they finish the war,” he said.

In the last two weeks, Congolese armed forces, backed by United Nations peacekeepers, have pushed the rebels back from within striking distance of Goma. The rebels had briefly seized control of the city in November, and until now, had held positions just 10 kilometers from the population.

The ongoing conflict has taken its greatest toll on civilians. Thousands of people have fled to camps like this since the rebellion began last year. With fighting recently renewed, a new influx of people has put a real strain on resources and has raised the cost of living.

Muchengeri Jean-Baptiste Ndandi fled to the Mugunga camp from the nearby hills as fighting intensified last November. “There is hunger. We are suffering. See the place where I’m sleeping, see how the children are living, these are the problem we have here.”

Eastern Congo has long been wracked by war, fueled by historic tension between neighbors and the scramble for natural resources.

As the region’s leaders point fingers and trade blame, people here just hope the fighting will stop long enough for a more normal life to begin again.