The Latest from Goma

From Zarembka
The situation in Goma seems to remain “calm,” meaning that people are tentatively going about their normal everyday tasks of living. There are reports that M23 is planning on evacuating the outlying towns they captured and retreat from Goma. I’ll believe this when there are actual reports that they have left. There are also news reports that trucks full of goods are leaving the town for the north where the rebels came from. Does this mean that M23 is looting the town? I am not overly surprised if M23 leaves Goma because I didn’t think they had enough soldiers to control such a large city together with the rural areas that they already control. People in Goma are wary about the Congolese army returning because they fear reprisal/revenge killings of those whom they will accuse of helping the M23 – to translate the code, Kiyarwandan-speaking people living in Goma.

          The AGLI supported staff and Quakers in North Kivu and Gisenyi, led by David Bucura, AGLI Coordinator for Central Africa, have been following the situation closely and have been the source for most of my information. They asked me shortly after M23 took Goma, since there was a shortage of food -- the roads from Masisi which is the breadbasket for Goma were blocked -- if they could use the $2420 that was in the AGLI account to buy food. I went out on a limb and agreed even though these funds were not in AGLI’s budget and would depend on extra fundraising. Since these funds are for salaries and other program expenses, AGLI will have to reimburse the Gisenyi account. On Saturday they distributed 68 bags of corn (maize) of 25 kilograms each (55 pounds) to 91 families including 36 rape survivors. They are now giving out 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of beans to each family.

          The AGLI staff estimate that there are 15 people in each family. When I questioned this large number, I was told that this means “extended family” which is how poor people survive in such conditions, that is, by sharing and helping each other out. Moreover people in Goma frequently host people who had fled to Goma from the towns that had previously been attacked. When I worked as a young man in a Rwandan refugee camp, I was amazed by the fact that, when there was hunger and people got some food, they shared it with family, friends, and neighbors. Then in return when their neighbors received some food, the sharing was reciprocated, although they also included elderly people and young mothers with children who were not likely to have much to give back. I found this most impressive since it belied the “rugged individualism” that is the bedrock of American psychology that I had grown up with.

          The AGLI group in Goma/Gisenyi has formed a Goma Relief committee to decide the mechanics of a relief program including that hard question of deciding who is going to be helped. There are a million people in the Goma area and we can’t possibility help all. They have decided to help the rape survivors who are part of the HROC-North Kivu program and poor members of Friend’s churches in Goma. They would like to help 270 families (or 4050 people at 15 members per family) each with 25 kilograms of corn flour and 10 kilograms of beans. I have attached a picture of women receiving the distribution last Saturday at the Gisenyi Peace Center. This food relief is going to cost $7338 for one distribution.

          When AGLI participated in relief during the 2008 post-election violence in Kenya, we realized that, while giving humanitarian aid, as we called it, was necessary and useful, psychological support was also important, particularly when we realized that Kenyan Quakers were the only group doing this. Recovering from the shock, trauma, and despondency that occurs when one’s world is turned up-side-down is also important. If people can regain a sense of perspective, can have hope, can realize that they are not the only ones suffering, can look positively at the future, that healing is important for them and their family’s well-being.

          First Theoneste Bizimana, the HROC coordinator in Rwanda, plans to do a one-week residential healing companion training for 15 participants at the Gisenyi Peace Center at a cost of $1350. The participants will be people who have participated on our HROC and AVP workshops in the past. After this training, 27 one-day listening sessions for 540 participants are planned. This will occur in Goma, conditions permitting. The healing companions will work with a HROC facilitator for each session. The 270 families given the rations above will send one man and one women to the listening sessions. Theoneste himself will develop the agenda and modify it as experience dictates. Each workshop will cost $291 for a total of $7857.

          The grand total for this Goma Relief project as proposed will be $18,965. A number of people have already indicated that they would support this project. I am asking you to also contribute whatever you are able. I also ask you to circulate this request to your meeting, church, friends, family, and other who might be willing to assist. Tax-deductible checks should be made out to “Friends Peace Team/AGLI” with memo notation of “Goma Relief” and mailed to 1001 Park Avenue, St Louis, MO 63104. Or you can also go to the Friends Peace Teams webpage at and click on the AGLI button. If you would like to donate to the AGLI account in England, please let me know and I’ll send you the information.

          If AGLI is able to raise more than the $18,965 needed, I would like to be able to make another food distribution shortly before Christmas. For the people in Goma, it has been a rough year and it would be nice to have a little something extra to celebrate the birth of Jesus.


If you would like to be added to this listserve, please send your name and email address to

Please donate to AGLI's programs by sending a check to the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams made out to Friends Peace Teams/AGLI  to 1001 Park Avenue, St Louis, MO 63104 or go to our webpage at to donate by debit/credit card.


Update #3 on Goma

From David Zarembka and African Great Lakes Initiative - Friends Peace Teams

My contacts in Goma and Gisenyi and international news reports indicate that the situation in Goma has calmed down and life is returning to normal. This means that people are out of their houses, walking through the town in their normal activities. There is no electricity and as a result also no water since the electricity pumps the water. Food is scarce because mountainous Masisi is the breadbasket for Goma and travel from Masisi to Goma has been cut. I will return to this at the end of this report.
          The M23 rebels who now control the city have asked policemen and any soldiers remaining in the town to turn in their weapons and it seems that they are turning them in. M23 has recruited thousands of new soldiers, many of them deserters from the Congolese army. As I learned when I was in Masisi in 2008 during the previous Tutsi-led rebel movement, young men of all ethnicities are enrolled into the rebel fighting force as the foot soldiers. The command, of course, remains in the hands of Tutsi.
          On Thursday, M23 soldier moved 17 miles west along Lake Kivu and took, without resistance, the small town of Sake. This is significant for much more than the few miles separating Goma from Sake. Most of the land between these two cities is volcanic rock. Hardly any trees grow and even the grass is sparse in this lush part of the world. This inhospitable area is where the million Hutu refugees from the Rwandan genocide were placed and later the internally displaced camps for those fleeing the violence in North Kivu. This also is the traditional boundary between the Kiyarwanda-speaking people of Goma and the local Congolese tribes in Sake. So M23 has move outside the traditional Kinyarwandan-speaking areas where they have succeeded in the past. The second signficant reason is that the road to Masisi branches off at Sake, climbing the mountains to an area that has been controlled by the Tutsi since the previous rebellion in 2004 led by Laurent Nkunda. The Congolese army counter-attacked Sake, but was repulsed. M23 claims that they are now moving south on the shores of Lake Kivu towards Bukavu which they are planning on taking. Bukavu is about 60 miles south of Goma on the southern shore of Lake Kivu and is the capital of South Kivu.
          We cannot sit around idly while the humanitarian situation in Goma escalates. David Bucura, Central African coordinator for the African Great Lakes Initiative, has gone to Gisenyi, and hopefully, Goma, to develop plans on what we might do. The outline is as follows: Since Goma is lacking food, AGLI will buy food in Rwanda and take it to the Gisenyi Peace Center which is only two blocks from the Congolese border. Since our resources are very limited and can’t possibility serve the one million people in Goma, we are going to concentrate on destitute members of the Friends Church and those rape survivors that Zawadi Nikuze has been working with. They will come across the border – there seems to be no problem with people crossing the border – and receive a ration commensurate with the number of people in the family. Families with children will be targeted. The ration will consist of basic foods like beans, rice, corn flour, and so on. Bucura will meet with the AGLI people in Goma and Gisenyi and work out all the details. I have authorized Bucura to use the AGLI funds that are in the bank in Gisenyi for this immediate relief and we will reimburse the funds used with the hope that we can raise sufficient funds.
What we found when we did humanitarian relief during the 2008 post-election violence in Kenya is that our limited resources could reach only a few people, but it was important to do what we could. But later we did listening sessions, AVP and HROC workshops, which ended up being more important because nobody else was doing anything equivalent to this. I’ll be letting you know when we have more fully developed the project.  
Please donate to AGLI's programs by sending a check to the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams made out to Friends Peace Teams/AGLI  to 1001 Park Avenue, St Louis, MO 63104 or go to our webpage at to donate by debit/credit card.



Zarembka on East Congo - an education

People like to have simple explanations for foreign policy issues – anti-communism, war on terror, axis of evil, bad guys versus the good guys, them and us. While I doubt that these simplistic terms of reference are very useful, they are impossible in describing the conflict in North Kivu because the situation is complex and ever changing. I will attempt to outline the conflict so that anyone can understand it. I am leaving out many of the names and details that can confuse the situation. The conflict is also polarized with various sides having their “true” explanation of the events. I will try to be as even-handed as I can, but I am sure I will not satisfy partisans to the conflict.
          The first issue to realize is geography. Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, is roughly 100 miles from Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, but 1000 miles from Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Moreover there are no roads, rivers, or railroads that can take people or goods from Goma to Kinshasa – the only option is to fly. Therefore all goods, all imports to and exports from North Kivu travel through Rwanda and Uganda. Swahili, like in most of East Africa, is the common language of North Kivu. North Kivu is much more closely tied to the east than to the west.
          Moreover North Kivu is 2 ¼ times the size of Rwanda, while it has only half the population (5,767,945 in 2010). Therefore it is much less densely populated. This has been true for a long time so Rwanda’s surplus population – encouraged during Belgian rule which ended in 1961 – migrated to North Kivu.
          Historically there are a number of issues of interest. When Rwanda was part of German East Africa before World War I, northwestern Rwanda was not part of the kingdom of Rwanda but two independence Hutu kingdoms. The people in this area were called Bakiga. With the help of the German led soldiers, the Mwami (king) of Rwanda was able to conquer these two kingdoms. These had no Tutsi among the population so the Mwami imposed Tutsi chiefs loyal to him. Since the Bakiga live in a mountainous area not conducive to cattle-keeping, but small scale farming, over time these Bakiga became labeled as “Hutu” as in the rest of Rwanda. Most of the main leaders of the Rwandan genocide came from this region of present day Rwanda and had an intense hatred of the Tutsi overlords that were imposed upon them by the Mwami and Germans and then the Belgians.
          The second historical issue is that the Europeans did not set the boundaries according to language or ethnicity. Consequently, there were many Kiyarwandan (the language of Rwanda) speaking people who live in the area close to the Rwandan border including Goma and Rutshuru. Their dialect is slightly different from that spoken in Rwanda, so these Kiyarwandan-speaking Congolese are obvious to other Rwandans. Some of these fled to Rwanda during the conflicts of the mid-1990’s and they are still held in refugee camps where they are not allowed out without official permission. These Kiyarwandan-speakers are not considered Rwandan nationals and are usually referred to as “Congolese.” When the situation was still tense in Rwanda in the early 2000’s, there was a proposal -- that was never implemented -- to expel all these “Congolese” from Rwanda.
          During the colonial period seven Italian families obtained large estates (over 10,000 acres each) in the hills of Masisi, high above Goma and Lake Kivu. When I visited there in 2008, these estates reminded me of Switzerland with European grade cows contently grazing on the mountain slopes. The Italians hired Tutsi cattle-keepers from Rwanda to take care of these herds. Then during the chaos after Congolese independence, these Italian families sold their estates to elite Tutsi. Laurent Nkunda and Bosco Ntaganda, two of the leaders of the Tutsi rebel forces in North Kivu, are the owners of two of these formerly Italian estates.
          During the colonial period, since North Kivu was relatively under-populated, the Belgians encouraged Hutu farmers to move to the very fertile, well-watered hills of Masisi. Usually these Hutu farmers lived in separate villages from the local Congolese tribes. After the Rwanda genocide in 1994, many of the Hutu genocidaries fled to North Kivu and are still one of the many armed groups in North Kivu.
          There are numerous small local tribes in North Kivu. One of the larger ones, the Hunde, who live also in Masisi, is perhaps half a million people. The local non-Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese tribes do not distinguish between the various Kiyarwanda-speaking groups listed above, but consider them all “Rwandan” and “foreigners” in North Kivu. To counteract the Tutsi and Hutu rebel groups in North Kivu, the local Congolese have formed their own militias, known as Mai-Mai. But the Mai-Mai are not one group, but a number of ethnic warlords, each with their own agenda, frequently combining with other groups including at times with the Rwandan rebel groups. Nonetheless, the Kiyarwandan-speakers are by far the largest single group in North Kivu, but as indicated above, far from united.
          Another side of the conflict is the Congolese army, which is supposed to bring order and security to the province. Alas, they do not do this. It is unclear exactly how large the Congolese army is because there are many “ghost” soldiers on the payroll whose salaries the generals embezzle. They are not from eastern Congo and therefore do not speak Swahili and cannot communicate with the inhabitants of North Kivu. They bring their wives and children with them. Their pay is low and frequently they do not receive it. Consequently, they too have to live off the land by attacking local people and looting the countryside. A number of Congolese army generals have captured a mine or two like the other rebel groups, exploit the local people, and keep the proceeds for themselves. The Congolese army is also known for human rights abuses including rape, looting, and destruction.
          Lastly, there is the United Nation’s Peacekeeping force, MONUSCO, which has 19,000 soldiers in the Congo, 6700 which are in North Kivu province, and 1500 again in the city of Goma. Their hands are tied, not only with the usual constrains that UN Peacekeepers are not supposed to be engaged in fighting, but rather in protecting civilians, keeping order, and being a neutral force between combating forces. In addition, though, in order for them to get approval from the Congolese government, the United Nations had to agree to support the Congolese army. Therefore, it is also a partisan force. Now if one wants to determine who the “good guys” are from the “bad guys,” the UN forces are also suspect. One contingent was sent home after it was alleged to have been running a prostitution ring. Others have been accused of selling guns, ammunition, and other equipment to the various rebel groups. More to the point, they have been ineffective in protecting the civilian population even when the fighting was only a few miles from one of their bases.
          In the latter half of the 1990s, Rwanda and Uganda invaded the Congo twice. The first time they deposed the long-time dictator, Mobutu, and the second time they almost deposed their hand-picked puppet, Laurent Kabila, who had turned against them. At the end of Africa’s World War in 2003, Rwanda and Uganda agreed to withdraw their troops from the Congo, but it was clear that they left proxy forces behind. In one illogical moment, two rebels forces, both supported by Uganda, fought against each other. Another time when the Rwandan and Ugandan armies were in the Congo, they found each other, leading to a souring of relations between the two countries. This has since been patched up and Rwanda and Uganda are cooperating in their approach to the issues on North Kivu.
          Throughout all of this, the United States and Britain have been strong supporters of Uganda and Rwanda. This is particularly true of the US and British military. Uganda has supplied the largest contingent of troops for the African Union in the fight against al-Shabaab in Somalia and Rwanda for the United Nations forces in Darfur, Sudan. Recently when Rwanda and Uganda were accused by the UN of supporting the M23 rebels in North Kivu, both threatened to remove their peacekeeping forces from Somalia and Darfur. Recently a number of countries have withheld aid to Rwanda because of their support of the M23 rebels and Uganda for extensive theft of aid funds.
          Behind all this conflict is the fact that North Kivu has hundreds of tin, coltan, gold, and other mines. These are small, pick and shovel type of operations. Laborers are poorly paid or even forced to work. Child labor is common. There are no health or environmental protections. Consequently, the rewards, the profits from these mining operations are substantial. Moreover there is a large group of middlemen who get the minerals from the mine to the international market. A rebel group does not even need to secure a mine to profit as it can tax any minerals passing through the area it controls.
          By this point in this report, you have the lay of the land in North Kivu. You can see how complex it is and how so many different actors, each looking out for its own best interests, make innumerable possibilities.
          To explain the current conflict with M23 taking control of the major, capital city of Goma, M23, for the benefit of Rwanda and Uganda, now has secured a strong hold on the whole illegal trade in minerals for North Kivu. I would anticipate that they will slowly but surely take over not only the mines in North Kivu but all roads leading to their export. On the other hand, the international community is going to condemn, in fact, already has condemned, this fragrant violation of international borders. I expect Rwanda and Uganda to continue to hold tight, deny any involvement, and wait out the international condemnation until it becomes the “new normal.” The Congolese government in far away Kinshasa will vent and fume, but will be unable to do anything significant about the new reality.




There I am teaching in Goma, DRC in 2007.  I am teaching one man, my translator, and he is teaching my students in Kiswahili. He was one of the best students I ever had. We taught for four hours at a stretch, two sessions a day for several days in a row in unfathomable heat. He never seemed to flag. His questions of clarification were so smart and so right on the mark that I knew he was taking this in deeply. He was a local school teacher - he had no training in menatl health or trauma. He had to invent words to express what I needed to say.  Sadly, I do not remember his name. Today I am praying for him and all my students. Goma, a city that sits in the center of five active volcanos has been taken over by rebel forces. There are a million souls in the area including Gisenyi, Rwanda.  As is especially true in central african conflicts, civilians are in much more danger than soldiers. You have not seen this in the news, though you can google it.  I am giving you three reports from David Zarembka, American Quaker living in Kenya. He has lead the African Great Lakes Intitiative for years. They have people on the ground in the area. Goma is on the border with Rwanda. Gisenyi is the city on the Rwandan side. Goma sits on Lake Kivu, a volcanic lake and the area is called North Kivu. South Kivu borders Burundi.

 Nov 18 -  (Zarembka writing)  I have been receiving reports from AGLI staff in Rwanda and North Kivu concerning the renewed fighting in North Kivu. A large group of Tutsi soldiers, called M-23, deserted the Congolese Army earlier this year and conquered territory north of Goma along the Uganda and Rwandan borders. Rwanda and Uganda are accused by the United Nations of supporting and arming these rebels. After a lull of over a month, fighting resumed a few days ago.
          According to the reports I am receiving from my contacts in Rwanda and from news reports, the rebels have advanced close to Goma, emptying an internally displaces persons’ camp of 60,000 to 80,000 people, mostly women, children, and the elderly who have fled to Goma. The governor of North Kivu has reportedly fled to Bukavu in South Kivu. The Congolese Army has also fled, leaving the way to Goma open to the rebels. The Congolese Army consists of Congolese from other parts of the Congo and don’t know Swahili, are poorly paid if they are paid at all, and have no reason to resist the advance of the rebel forces. The United Nations peace keepers are a well-equipped force in Goma, but I am not sure that their heavy equipment (tanks, helicopter gunships, etc) will be useful in this kind of fighting which depends upon terrorizing the opponent with looting, destruction, and rape.
          Here is one message I have received on the situation “The situation in Goma is confusing, but we are still waiting this night for knowing if Goma will be taken by the rebels or not. But they are almost two kilometers [1 ½ miles] from the town. Some people fled from Goma into Gisenyi in Rwanda.”
          Remember that some of those who are fleeing will not survive, dying of disease, exposure, stress, hunger, lack of medicines, etc. Where will the women sleep tonight? Note that many more people have already died in North Kivu in this fighting than in Gaza in the last five days.
I doubt that the rebels have the manpower to conquer and control Goma. In 2008 the predecessor group of M-23, led by Laurent Nkunda, threatened Goma, but pulled back when he got close.
          Theoneste Bizimana wrote, “Gisenyi is safe but as we say, ‘It's impossible to feel safe when your neighbor's home is burning.’”

  November 19 -  Last night, the M-23 rebels did not attack Goma. Rather they paused and asked for negotiations with the Congolese government. The Congolese government refused", claiming that M-23 was really a front group for the Rwandan army. As a result M-23 continued their advance today and entered Goma.
     One message I received said, "The fighting is going on in Goma. Gisenyi has now a lot of confusion."
     Zawadi who was in the hospital in Goma after a still-born baby texted me, "I have just left the hospital and then crossed to Gisenyi, but bombs are falling all over. It's chaotic."
     News reports indicate that these "bombs" come from the United Nations peace-keeping forces.

  November 20 - This morning, after a day’s truce and the Congolese government’s refusal to negotiate with the M23 rebels, the M23 soldier entered and took the town of Goma. Here is one report I received: “Now Goma is in the hands of M23; they are controlling Goma. The battle now is in Mugunga [the former internally displaced persons’ camp were many of AGLI’s rape survivors live]. All Gisenyi borders are also controlled by the rebels.”

Clearly the Congolese army did not put up any resistance and fled. But this is the way “wars” are fought in this region. One side acquires a fearsome reputation and the opposing side retreats and flees. I do not remember one case since 1996 where the Rwandan army or Tutsi-led rebel groups, which have the reputation as the fiercest fighters in the region, have “lost” to the Congolese army, which has always fled. It also seems that the UN peace keeping force decided not to oppose the entrance into the city. I think that this is proper because the UN peace keepers are not authorized to become a fighting army against the rebel forces.

          This morning I received this message from David Bucura:

“Yesterday [Monday], Theoneste, Baptiste, and Therese were doing a [children’s] peer mediation workshop in the Gisenyi Peace Center [which is only two blocks from the Congolese border]. Around 10 am, bullets were falling in Gisenyi and they had to lie down on the floor with the children. There was no way to send the children back because their parents were not home because they had run away. It was a bad day, says Baptiste and Therese. Therese fell down and her leg is not moving now.

“One person [the news reports say two people] died in Gisenyi and others are in the hospital. Many people have left Gisenyi, coming here in Kigali. The problem was to find vehicles because no buses are running, Zawadi was evacuated yesterday from the hospital and she is now at Mahuko [her home fifteen minutes from Gisenyi], but she is thinking to come in Kigali today for medical treatment. In our house now we have two families from Gisenyi. We are expecting more. Zawadi told me that the main help is to have a little funds for evacuation. Theoneste is going this morning to Gisenyi to see what is happening. Our church members in the Gisenyi area hosted many people and they do not know how long it will take. The situation is so confused. I was told that people in Goma do not want to move from their houses because they do not know where to go? The problem for our people in Goma is that, because they can't leave their houses, they have no water and no food. If the borders will be opened, they will need our help.”

          M23 talk as if they plan now to move on to Bukavu in South Kivu at the southern end of Lake Kivu. I anticipate that there is going to be a very negative reaction from the international community regarding M23 conquest of Goma - Zarembka