Goma residents wait for limbo to pass

Residents say their lives have stopped since the M23 rebel group took the eastern DR Congo city one week ago.

Residents of Goma, DR Congo
Residents of Goma in the eastern DR Congo wait for normal life to return after arrival of rebel group M23 [Al Jazeera]

Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo – The 48-hour deadline issued by East African nations passed late on Monday, but Goma remains firmly under the grip of the M23 rebel group.

The rebels had seized control of the main city in North Kivu province last week, driving out government troops.

While residents push to resume normal life, much of the city remains under lockdown as its fate rests firmly in the balance.

But with Kinshasa refusing to negotiate with M23 unless the rebels relinquish control of this strategic city, the situation is nowhere close to be being resolved.

Such is the paradox of Goma, and indeed, all of the eastern DR Congo, that there is discord over what M23 means for a city that hasn’t seen peace for more than a decade.

Meanwhile, ordinary residents of the city wait frustrated, many with bated breath and curious smiles, for a return to their regular lives.

Al Jazeera’s Azad Essa speaks to residents of Goma about M23’s seizure of the city, how it has affected their lives and what could resolve the crisis.

Sifa Solange, 29, fruit vendor

As it stands, there is nothing I can do.

The situation has brought much negativity into my family, and into my life. Food is hard to come by, my children are not going to school and the insecurity remains.

For instance, I came to work today, with a smaller quantity of bananas than usual and I still have not sold anything. Nobody has come to buy because of the insecurity. My husband is unemployed, and it is me who is meant to support the family. Now, how am I meant to provide, if there is no business?

If something happens now, there is nowhere I can run to. I have to stay here.

I voted last year [November 2011] because it was my right to do so, and I voted for [President] Kabila, because at the time, there was peace.

We were living peacefully and the country was quiet, and this is why we gave him a second chance. But now I realise that things are going really bad; I could not have expected this situation to happen.

Jhonas, 53, self-employed

I am a civilian, a citizen of Goma. I am not a politician. 

When the fighting started, it was a surprising situation.

We knew that the M23 were in the hills, but when they started shooting and fighting, it made us scared.

There were some people who were injured by bullets, but I don’t think many people were killed. Two or three families [in the neighbourhood] have been affected.

I don’t know if M23 can improve this city – I am just a civilian – but what I can say is that all I want is a better quality of life.

We may not have electricity right now, but the truth is that we have never had regular electricity or water in this town. In 30 days, perhaps I would have electricity for seven days. Once a week, you might see the bulb on.

Maybe I can wish the M23 good luck; they represent a revolution if they can promise something good, [and] then I can give them a chance. If M23 can bring peace, then why not?

In the end, what we need in this country is peace. We are a rich country. If we had peace, perhaps we could develop ourselves and not need anybody’s help.

Kabuo Zawadi, 25, farmer


I came to Goma just over a week ago from Nyamirima [in Rutshuru territory] a few days before the M23 came here. 

I was forced to come here because the Mai Mai [armed rebel group] intimidated us at our home. There is a lot insecurity in the area where we lived and sometimes the Mai Mai would take our food, force people off their land and even kidnap – taking people to the jungle and asking for a ransom.

Now we don’t know what to do. We ran away from Nyamirima, thinking that we would find peace here, but even here in Goma, people are in the same situation. There is no security. There is no peace. We don’t know what to do. We are very disappointed.

We battle to sleep at night because we do not have any security. We think that the fighting could start again.

And if it does, I don’t know where I can run to. Also, if someone commits a crime here, I don’t know who I can report it to. I can only trust that God will punish him.

Cyirunira Jean Pierre, 40, architect

Everything changed after the M23 came in to the city. Shops are closed, children are not going to school, and other things like this. 

This has interrupted life for many people of Goma. For instance, in my line of work, I have to deal with partners, but since the beginning of the atrocities, all the banks locked their doors, and we do not have access to financial services. Everything looks like it has stopped.

Comparing the security situation is [however] a little different. Before M23, this place was run by the national forces, and we had high number of police and soldiers running all over the place. We have less armed forces in the town now but when you compare the town now to before M23 – you can say that it is not exactly good – but comparatively, we have better security now. 

I can leave my office later than I used to be able to, like two months ago. For instance, if I left my office after 18:00 with my laptop and bumped into a security official, they would harass me. 

I can’t explain why it is safer under M23. I want to understand it better myself, but it has something to do with how they are organised. 

But yes, maybe, we are still in a worse situation than before. We are waiting for a negotiation, and everyone is waiting to see what is going to be done.

Understanding how people in Goma feel about what has happened can be divided into three groups. One appreciate the M23 for taking over, another group are patriotic and feel deceived by the Congolese army and are unhappy with the development. And another group have no position on what is going on.

Of course, if you are unable to do your own activity, live your life, without the army or someone interfering, it becomes tiring.

Bosco Kambale Kasai, 48, unemployed

Just a week ago, on Sunday, from outside of my house, I could see them [M23] on the hills.

From that morning, I began to see people running and were saying that the M23 are coming. I also saw a MONUSCO helicopter flying to drop bombs where the M23 were based. I made a decision that everyone had to remain indoors and not to leave this place, because the situation was dangerous and serious.

The fight here in the town where I am living started on Monday about 14:00 and we could hear shooting and bombs, and the next morning, I began to see M23 everywhere. 

This is not the first time I have seen this kind of thing happen. In 2007, the soldiers of Laurent Nkunda walked into my village and began shooting people; many died. 

I am from Bulamba [in Rutshuru territory] and I came to Goma two years ago. I ran away from that place because so many armed groups operate there, and I expected peace and security here.

I cannot expect a better future now … because there is no government here and schools are closed. 

I cannot say that M23 have really captured the town, because nothing is working in the town. No shops, no markets. I am not sure about the future.

We are in a crisis situation. We cannot access money or jobs since all business has stopped.

We are basically living on God’s grace. We can eat three times a week. And four days, you live without eating. This is how we are living.

Francine Sara, 38, milk vendor

I am a milk seller, and I am battling to find customers. 

It is very difficult and has impacted me personally. 

I haven’t seen anything like this before. I was downtown when the fight started. Many people were injured and I had to find a hiding place in somebody’s home.

I do not understand why any of this is happening. There was a woman whose grandchildren were injured – all nine were injured – I don’t know why are they fighting.

Now, we don’t know who to turn to, who is leading this town. I don’t trust anyone, because I don’t know what it is that they are doing. 

If the fighting starts again, I will close myself in my home and stay there. I cannot run away, because I have nowhere to run to.

Translations by Patient Tumusabire.

Follow Azad on Twitter: @azadessa

Source: Al Jazeera