Wednesday, January 29, 2014

DR Congo: Charly Kasereka - " On the ring road to somewhere "

Charly Kasereka blogs, I have translated this from French using Google Translate and as usual have cleaned up and attempted to make sense of the Google translation. I am responsible for any errors. 

I usually don't add any commentary to Charlys blogs however I suspect the attractive young women pictured holding an umbrella below is none other than Goma blogger Chantal Faida. I have become used to Charly's adventures  , things like getting himself embedded with the Congolese Army FARDC when they  were on the losing side in the battle for Goma 15 months ago. Chantal I was sure, was far to sensible to do this crazy stuff.  :-)

The Thousand Barriers on the bumpy road to Walikale

                                   Broken Bridges National Road N3108 km. Walikale-Hombo ( Photo Charly Kasereka )

The road is long! Not only long, it is also difficult to access. Mud and barriers are everywhere, not to mention snipers and broken bridges.

Walikale is one of the five areas that make up the province of North Kivu (the others are: Beni, Lubero Masisi, Rutshuru). The territory is located in the river valley of the Lowa 
river more than three hundred kilometers west of Goma which is the provincial capital.

Walikale  territory is divided into two communities: Bakano with 4238 square km and Wanianga 19,237 square km. This is the largest area in the province with 39% of the total area of 59 483 square km.

However, the roads are almost non existant, either never built or if built never maintained. To get there you improvise, and you will face many difficulties.

By plane? possible, but not certain. The aircraft will take off and land there on a bumpy track (the NR3 linking Kisangani in Walikale) the same asphalt has covered the surface for over thirty years.

Maybe helicopter? Hey! In DR Congo private helicopters are uncommon, there is an aviation company, but it does not have a helicopter.

By road a 4x4 can do the trick, but be prepared for the worst, mud and broken bridges. If you run into the bandits you may be killed. Therefore it is difficult to traverse the Goma-Walikale leg of the road without risking your life.

On the other side, at the Walikale-Hombo leg of the road to Bukavu it is a minimum of six hours journey by motorcycle, you will have less trouble if your rider is experienced and knows the environment. It is only 108 kilometers along this road (Hombo-Walikale).

                                            A young biker doing Walikale-Hombo on NR3 (Photo Charly Kasereka)

108 kilometers from hell

The 108 km of sheer hell. The cost is forty-five thousand francs Congolese (fifty U.S. Dollars) for this trip by motorcycle.

The number of times you get off and push the bike to facilitate its passage through the lakes of sludge are best not counted, but you will be tired. This is not the fault of the driver, a highway N3 (NR3) certainly is not!

Mud holes and broken bridges are main features on this stretch. The area is landlocked and the only way through is by the bike.

   A member of the Mai Mai Raia Mutomboki manning a toll " gate " in the Walikale-Hombo NR3 (Photo Charly Kasereka)

Who really controls the Zone?

For more than ten years now state authority has been absent in three-quarters of this territory. Armed groups formed by the village youth control everything that can be found in their area.

On the road, there are more than thirty barriers installed by two armed groups who make the " law ". The Raia Mutomboki  and Mai Mai Kifua Fua groups''. They charge a self-defense tax of Fifteen thousand Congolese franc (U.S. $ 15) for each household per month. Passersby on motorcycles are taxed a thousand Congolese franc per head to pass through a village, bridge, house or even a hole. There is no mercy you do not have the money, you stay there! 

You sure are lucky if the boy with no principles or even manners armed with a AK47 and with a large knife hanging from his hip does not rob you of everything taking even the your hat and leaving you with nothing to even cover your head. 

Taxes are what  keeps these movements alive and the main beneficiaries are the leaders. Subordinates receive only crumbs and live on small scale extortions and plunder here and there. 

The population is impoverished, the older residents have already moved more than eight times after multiple confrontations between the Congolese army FARDC and the FDLR ( Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda ).

We come across some other young men, unarmed this time, barring the passage of the road with a tree trunk, they are pretending to maintain the road by filling the multiple holes with stones.

Walikale is a large area and it is not only big, but rich in minerals, with cassiterite in abundance. Because of that Walikale and neighboring Masisi remains home to the largest of the armed self-defense groups. They all claim to protect the area against perpetrators of the various rebellions particularly the FDLR who fled to this territory in 1994. Rwanda fugitives and the perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Rai Mutomboki , Mai Mai Kifua Fua and the Nduma Defence of Congo militias everyone makes their own law in the corner they occupy in this large and dense rain forest.
MONUSCO ( The United Nations Mission to the DR Congo ) forces have several bases in area, in particular Otobora. The commander of MONUSCO, General Santos Cruz, promised "serious action" against armed groups who do not surrender their weapons to the authorities of the DR Congo or MONUSCO.

                    Two young men pretending to repair a hole in the Walikale-Hombo NR3 road ( Photo Charly Kasereka )

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