In Congo, Trolling Through the Lives of Those Too Wretched to Merit Aid
By HELENE COOPER
New York Times Published: May 22, 2005
The July summit meeting of rich nations in Scotland will dwell on
ways to help African countries, especially those that have shown
themselves capable of good governance. And President Bush will
promote his Millennium Challenge Account, which is supposed to
channel money to poor countries that promise to use it to promote
development and lift people out of poverty, instead of lining the
pockets of corrupt officials.
But what about the millions of people who, through no fault of their
own, live under bad governments? This village of Walungu, about 30
miles from Bukavu near the borders of Rwanda and Burundi, is a sad
case in point, one of the most wretched places in one of the world's
most wretched countries. Its people suffer under not one but several
warring governments and armed groups, every one of which - but
especially the Rwandan Hutus who have fled their own country - preys
on the local population.
Especially the women. Last September, Rwandan Hutus kidnapped a
25-year-old mother of three, dragged her out of her house as her
husband stood watching, and took her into the forest, where she was
raped, again and again and again. After a month, she escaped when the
rebels turned their backs as she was washing their clothes in the
river, but when she returned home her husband threw her out. He
insisted that he was the aggrieved party, even though his wife had
been so damaged by the rapes she required vaginal surgery.
There are more miserable tales here. Like the 5-year-old girl who
was raped by militiamen. Or the 3-month-old baby girl, also raped. Or
the 18-year-old girl who was kidnapped, raped, cast out by the
Rwandan rebels after she became pregnant, rejected by her family when
she returned home, and forced to give birth to her baby alone in the
Then there is Balagizi Bahogwerhe, who trolls the refugee camp here
in sports jacket, slacks and tie. His button-down shirt is tucked
neatly into his gray wool pants, which manage to retain a slight
crease despite the fact that he has not changed clothes in almost two
months. That is how long it has been since the night Rwandan Hutu
rebels laid waste to the life Mr. Bahogwerhe spent 41 years building,
attacking his village, killing his neighbors, burning his Suzuki car,
stealing all 28 of his cows and kidnapping his two 16-year-old
daughters. Now he spends his days wandering around the camp with more
than 3,000 other displaced people, beseeching any and all visitors to
help him get his girls back.
Trying to explain why things have gone so wrong here is next to
impossible. Suffice it to say that Rwandan Hutu militiamen, afraid to
return home to Rwanda, where they believe they could become the
targets of revenge-minded Tutsis still traumatized by the genocide
there, instead hide in the forests of Congo, relying on ransoms from
kidnappings and raids on villages for food and money. Meanwhile,
America and its allies, after sitting out the genocide, have done
precious little to pressure the governing Rwandan Tutsis to haul the
Rwandan Hutu rebels home.
Of course, most of the blame for what is being done to the Congolese
people right now can be placed squarely on the shoulders of the
country's useless government, run by Joseph Kabila. The young Mr.
Kabila has surrounded himself with armed guards in Kinshasa - the
other side of the world as far as the people in Walungu are
concerned. The country is huge; getting from one end to the other
would be equivalent to trying to travel from London to Moscow, but
without the benefit of roads. Government services for people in the
eastern part of the country are practically nonexistent.
Aside from regime change in Congo, one obvious solution to the mess
in the east would be for the international community to feed, arm and
equip Congo's own soldiers, who have been so ignored by Mr. Kabila's
government that they prey on their own people for food and clothing.
These soldiers are far from perfect. But nighttime here is not the
time of rest it can be elsewhere in the world, so villagers seek out
the Congolese soldiers when the sun goes down, sleeping near their
camps, where they feel safer than they do in their own homes.
Nobody on the world stage is talking much about helping Congo's own
soldiers fight off the Rwandans; world leaders remain too squeamish.
It's far easier to focus on how to help the good governments, like
those in Ghana and Mozambique and Madagascar. The Bush
administration, after three years of promoting a program that had not
disbursed a single dime, finally announced recently that the
Millennium Challenge Account would give $100 million to Madagascar.
Meanwhile, in Walungu, A. J. Berchmous Nashali, a Catholic priest,
has his own proposal. Looking out toward the forests on a recent
morning after Rwandans had abducted 11 of his parishioners, Father
Nashali offered this: "Give me a gun," he said, "and I will go get
rid of them myself."