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Congo: Village I visited now a conflict zone

Two weeks ago I went to Kitchanga in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. One week ago, two of the villages I visited became conflict zones.

The government forces (called the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo) were attacked by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and the government forces retailiated.  Five communities have been listed by the UN as coming under fire from heavy weaponry. At least three people have been killed. Our staff have been evacuated.

And once more, schools have been targeted.

Are these schools the ones I visited? Were children in the schools at the time? Of the children I met, played football with, photographed, how many witnessed this? How many were injured? How many are dead? There’s no way for me to find out.

This war has been going on for years, and it’s always children who suffer most. It’s not just the weapons themselves that put children at risk. Would you send your child to a school that was being targeted by armed groups? Of course you wouldn’t. You’d keep your child safely at home.

Unfortunately that means your child doesn’t get an education, which means they’re unlikely to get a good job, which means they’re unlikely to ever break out of poverty. Until there’s peace across the east of this country children’s rights will keep being abused – and that includes their right to education.

The 50th anniversary of the DRC’s independence is on 30 June. There are elections scheduled for 2011. The UN missions’ mandate has recently changed from peacekeeping to stabilisation, and their troops are beginning to leave.

Right now, there’s massive potential here for peace. At the same time there’s massive potential for conflict. I just don’t know which way it’s going to go.

A deadly combination of war, hunger and disease has killed nearly four million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the last seven years. One in every five children in the country dies before reaching their fifth birthday.

Find out more about our work in the Congo to help improve children’s lives.

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