I am writing this letter for my daughter.
Elizabeth is eight years old, just a child, still studying at primary school.
She loves singing at church – her voice is beautiful, high and cheerful. It makes me proud to be her Papa when I hear her sing.
This morning we went to church together with her Mama. We were lucky to be able to go there and return home safely. Recently others have not been so fortunate.
Recently, in a nearby church, 11 people were killed while they prayed. Why? We do not know.
This is why I am writing this letter for my daughter. Because here, in Congo, we have no hope.
Because her mother and I do not know what her future will bring.
So this is a letter to the mining companies and the fighters who are the cause of the violence.
A letter to the government that is both complacent and complicit.
A letter to the international community, who sit idly by.
This is a letter to the future, the future of Congo.
Poverty and violence
Congo is vast and rich, with valuable mineral deposits that could help us live like kings and queens. But I do not want to live like a king. All I want is for my daughter to be safe and to receive a good education.
Yet we have no hope.
Rather, we have poverty and violence.
I come from Bunia, the capital of Ituri province in the northeastern Kivu region. Here, violence pervades daily life in random, but brutal ways.
Just recently, about 80km (50 miles) north of town, about 60 people were slaughtered in a displacement camp by a rebel fighter group. There are many displaced peoples’ camps in this region, where there has been ongoing war since the late 1990s.
The Congo Wars, as they are known, began after the 1994 Rwandan Genocide and the demise of President Mobutu Sese Seko. They were fought between Congolese government forces, other African armies and various fighter groups. Despite international assistance, the violence has continued, with the most recent round in our region starting in 2017.
The fighters seek to control the lucrative gold mines in the Djugu region of Ituri province, just north of Bunia. Ituri is very rich in mining resources, especially gold. If a fighter group can control the mining of gold, they can make profits and continue to finance their ambitions.
The people in the displacement camp should have been safe. The way the fighter group killed them was awful, really awful. They were shot dead and then hacked to pieces with machetes.
Where do the fighter groups get the weapons? Who is responsible?
These are questions we do not know the answer to.
But what we do know, is that the violence exists because the mining exists.
Fighters and mines
My daughter, my wife and I live in a small house in Bunia. It is not a very big town. Surrounding it is dense bush. Within that bush, two things hide: armed rebel fighters and the gold mines.
The are many rebel groups operating in the region. The main one that controls the gold mine area is CODECO – the Cooperative for the Development of the Congo. Its fighters are mostly from the Lendu farming community, which is in conflict with herders from the Hema tribe.
CODECO stands accused of killing people at the displaced persons camp and it recently kidnapped a government task force that came to negotiate a ceasefire in order to stop the killing. Even now, task force members are still being held in captivity.
Some people say that the problem is between communities because there is tension between the Hema and Lendu tribes. But the Hema and Lendu used to live together peacefully.
In addition to CODECO, there are many other militias. They are not very far from Bunia, and they attack us all the time. They come into the town at night and kill people.
I experienced this violence for the first time in 1999 when a group called Lori (the name CODECO was formerly known by) attacked my village of Lenga and the surrounding areas. They killed thousands of people, mostly from the Hema tribe, including my parents. After they died, I had to flee into the bush.
Those of us who fled ended up in Uganda, Sudan, Kenya, and Rwanda – where I became a refugee in 2003. There are Congolese people who fled back then who still live as refugees today.
I returned from Rwanda to a more peaceful Bunia in 2005 to build a new life and start a family. That was when I discovered that all my relatives had been killed.
There was peace for some time, but in 2017, the war started again.
Now, my daughter Elizabeth is in school. She is cheerful, talkative and intelligent. She understands quickly when I explain things to her. She enjoys dancing and singing in church and together, we watch films at home in the evening.
But I am afraid for her. Not only for her life but for her future.
‘Where there is mining, there is killing’
We are all afraid.
Before the violence started again in 2017 we were able to travel all around Bunia. You could go everywhere and come back. But these days it is not secure and we fear for our lives every time we do.
When you are on the road, criminals come out of the bush and they steal. If you’re not lucky, they will kill you.
Anywhere in Congo where there is mining, there is killing.
We know that the government signs agreements with international mining companies. Yet ordinary people are not happy, because they do not see the benefit of those resources.
The conditions of life are very difficult. There are people starving. Even those who work with the government do not have a good salary.
Those who are rich, get richer and richer, while those who are poor, get poorer and poorer.
We only live day-to-day.
‘Women are always victims’
In Bunia, being a woman is very difficult. Women are always victims of this war. They are killed and raped, and many of them are widowed. They can barely feed their children; there are a lot of children begging on the roads because they cannot go to school.
Normally, when there is peace, people would go somewhere else to buy goods and come back and sell them in the market. Now, people are not moving between villages to trade because of the conflict.
Most people would like to go to the fields to work but they cannot move around the countryside to get to their fields.
Bunia is surrounded. Everywhere you find enemies who are ready to kill you.
Many women work as teachers and nurses, like my wife. But most people are not paid a good salary by the government and their incomes are far too low to support their families. So these days, my wife also does some farming to earn money.
For now, Elizabeth is still in primary school. But I am worried for her future, always wondering where she will be able to study further so she can make some kind of life.
Later on, where can I send her? What will her future be? These are the big questions I always have concerning my daughter’s future.
For her, my only wish is that I am able to send her to another country to study. Because here in Congo, we have no hope.
Still, this is my letter in hope that the future will be brighter than now.
As told to Ali MC.