Sy Koumbo S. Gali
On 19 September, MONUSCO security assessment Mission visited Samboko-Chani-chani, an armed groups-invaded district, located roughly 60 km north-west of Beni, along the Beni-Eringeti road section, in North Kivu. The delegation was comprised of representatives from different MONUSCO civilian sections as well as members of MONUSCO Police (UNPOL), Congolese army (FARDC) and the Deputy-Administrator of the Beni territory.
The delegation got to Samboko-chani-chani, an area deep in the equatorial forest endowed with an impressive vegetation, at around 10 o'clock; it was a market day. The village was brimming with people; traders' vehicles coming to fetch food, were parked all over the place, and villagers were struggling to push their bicycles overloaded with banana bunches which they brought to the market to sell and earn a living.
However, the bubbling hides a completely different reality: Most of the people at the market are internally displaced persons who have come either to sell or to buy items. In fact, the locality of Samboko-Chani-chani is almost uninhabited, its inhabitants had fled the village to take refuge either in Oicha, in Eringeti for some, or on the other side of the Samboko river, a village with the same name, in the neighboring Ituri.
We were told the flight was caused by two successive attacks on the village: April 3, 2019, by Mayi-Mayi, and May 23, by the ADF, who looted and burned down several houses, including the Samboko health center, built by the local population, and whom they considered to be their only pride.
The population in Samboko went through serious ordeals: immediately after those attacks, they also came under another attacked by allegedly the FARDC for colluding with the armed groups, particularly with the Mai-Mai, which justifies the mass departure.
At the Village Primary School, where the delegation interacted with all the social forces (civil society actors, traders, government officials, housewives), the conversations revolved around fundamental issues such as "Peace and security".
Essoh Essis, the head of the Civil Affairs Section and head of the delegation, setting the scene for the meeting, was clear enough: "We came to listen to you and understand what really happened before proposing any solution. ".
The Deputy Administrator of the territory of Beni, Rosette Kavula, as well as Colonel Teddy, Commanding officer for FARDC Civil-Military Activities (SECAS) at the 341st garrison of the operational sector Beni-Lubero and other members of the delegation spoke with one voice. All of them, one by one, explained listened to the problems arising from the insecurity linked to the presence of the ADF and the Mai-Mai, including the challenges of life in hiding, accessing the fields, lack of medical care and schooling for their children, etc.
The headmaster of the Samboko Primary School who received the delegation, said school was resuming at a very low pace, with at least 40 per cent of students, all coming from their hiding places to follow courses and leaving immediately after the course is over.
"Security is of essence, as well as trust to enable the population to return home and the parents to send their children to school," he said. Population are sick and tired of the attacks conducted by armed groups as well as the 322nd battalion company and were very vocal about this recently.
Suspected of colluding with the Mai-Mai, several residents say they came under death threats, including the village chief who had to take refuge in Eringeti, according to his own testimony.
For people to return to Samboko, said Isaac Virere, member of CRDH, a local human rights NGO, "confidence must be rebuilt between the population and the FARDC" adding, in spite of the efforts by the new FARDC team that took over from the preceding to restore confidence, the population are still afraid of the army troops.
Isaac Virere also denounced the two illegal FARDC barriers erected at the entrance and exit of Samboko where 500 CDF (a bit less than 30 cents) are demanded from each passenger carrying a small package.
You only have one army: it's the FARDC, and you have to trust us.
Colonel Teddy reassured the population that they will do everything in their power to ensure that the black sheep are removed from their ranks and the barriers issue be resolved. "But you only have one army: it's the FARDC, and you have to trust us," he pleaded.
For his part, Essoh Essis stressed that the populations' concerns will be referred to the highest level of the army for appropriate solutions to be found. "the fact that MONUSCO insisted on FARDC to be part of the delegation, and the General has approved is an indication that your problems are taken seriously; Colonel Teddy, standing in front of you represents the ears [of the army], "he further said.
Moreover, MONUSCO officer underscored his organization will look into all the grievances submitted, particularly those relating to security, the absence of health center, lack of communication for possible solutions to be found by relevant authorities.