Goma — For the past two weeks, nights in North Kivu's capital have been anything but restful. Armed attacks and murders are terrorizing the DR Congo city. By day, a witch hunt for the perpetrators takes place. After sunset, the scared residents coop up at home.
It was Monday, 24 September. Roger Maombo received a phone call in the early evening. He told his wife he had "to step out to take care of some business". At the rendezvous point, in front of a small shop in the neighbourhood of Mabanga, a heated discussion ensued, escalating quickly. Shots were fired.
Maombo had been murdered. The shop owner and a customer who had come out to see what happened were also killed on the doorstep.
Goma is not known for its safe streets. A score-settling incident of this sort is rather commonplace here. But the story does not end there. The murdered customer happened to be a soldier in the republican guard, an elite military unit reputed for its ruthlessness.
And the incident triggered a vendetta. As they search for their colleague's perpetrators, other soldiers in the guard are now breeding fear in Goma's neighbourhoods. Since last month's incident, each night has brought new murders.
Fearing the protectorates
"We can't venture outside at night anymore; we don't know what might happen," says Annette, a storekeeper in the Mabanga locality. "There has always been insecurity in Goma, but with the arrival of new troops, it's out of control. We remain inside our homes after 7 PM, like chickens."
Since early May, thousands of reinforcement troops deployed in North Kivu have been fighting the M23 rebels, a Tutsi armed group allegedly supported by neighbouring Rwanda. These soldiers, who are supposed to protect the city against a potential attack from the M23, have instead become the most concrete threat to the residents of Goma.
Pushed back by the rebels to an area 30 kilometres outside Goma at July's end, the Congolese army troops are also relatively inactive. In fact, they have a tacit ceasefire with the M23.
M23 threatens seizure
Interior minister Richard Muyej says: "It's not an easy situation, because the city remains under threat from the M23. It is the government's duty to protect the city against any surprise attack. Today, we see some soldiers roaming around in the city, and there are instances of misconduct."
He adds that efforts are being made to keep the ill-disciplined soldiers under control. Twenty suspects have been arrested.
Ironically, the M23 is now using some of these incidents against the Congolese government and threatens to seize Goma if the soldiers continue to spread chaos in the city.
"This is unacceptable," says the movement's spokesperson, Colonel Kazarama. "We will move in to secure the populations if the situation persists."
Goma's empty streets at night are not the only sign of tension. Authorities have called for the denunciation of criminals as well as M23 sympathisers, thus fostering a climate of accusations and facilitating arbitrary arrests.
Unconfirmed reports say the M23 rebels are behind the creation of this insecurity, being part of a strategy that was used in the past by the CNDP, an armed group to which the M23 soldiers belonged before their integration into the Congolese army in 2009. No evidence supports this theory even though the population is already suffering, even if indirectly, from a conflict that the rebel group started.