Civil Society and the Displaced Persons of Bandundu

Article excerpt

Local organisations in Bandundu province located in western DRC are struggling to meet the needs of displaced persons in the absence of government or international assistance.

Bandundu province, located adjacent to Kinshasa and bordering Angola, has not suffered the same degree of conflict as provinces in eastern DRC; nevertheless, it has been a hotspot for forced migration. Two factors have triggered population movements within Bandundu province: the border situation with Angola during and in the aftermath of the civil war there, and the insecurity surrounding diamond mining on the Angolan side of the border.

Angola experienced a long and vicious rebellion in the 1980s, fought by Joñas Savimbi's UNITA. This conflict led many Angolan officers and citizens to cross the border to seek refuge with their Congolese neighbours. UNITA's subsequent cross-border raids to pursue fugitive officers created insecurity within Bandundu, one of the results of which was the eventual deportation of all Angolans who had settled there.

The other major factor behind population movements in this area is the presence of diamonds. Drawn by the precious stone, the Congolese (Zairians at the time) often crossed the river Kwango into Angola to mine diamonds. But given that the majority of their financing came from diamond sales, UNITA controlled all mining activities and demanded a special 'expatriate fee' from non-Angolan mine operators. Those who did not or could not pay were stripped of their belongings and summarily deported.

Continuing insecurity on both sides of the border has triggered further displacement within Bandundu and many of the displaced face enormous difficulties.

The involvement of civil society

Civil society in Bandundu is frail but tries to make a significant contribution to the care of displaced persons in the province. National authorities and the international community have dedicated most of their attention to the east of DRC, and the lack of any large-scale initiatives in the west is striking. It has been left to NGOs and local solidarity organisations to try to provide assistance, as far as their resources allow. These include, among others, the Catholic Church, the Church of Christ in Congo, the Kimbanguist Church, the Church of the Awakening in Congo, the Eglise des Noirs en Afrique, mosques, and various animist movements as well. These churches and religious movements organise money collections at their weekly services to support an aid programme for displaced persons. The funds raised pay for goods such as foodstuffs, salt, palm oil, drinking water, cooking pots and other kitchen utensils, clothes and cultivation tools.

The distribution of goods is done alongside a wide range of other actions - the creation of jobs and provision of healthcare and education - intended to help displaced persons to become self-sufficient and to fully integrate into their new environment. These initiatives allow them access to the forest to gather wood, train them to build cooking stoves for sale and teach them how to construct latrines. When it comes to health, the traditional practitioners and resources of the Eglise des Noirs guarantee free medical care to displaced persons. A little cash is also made available to enable them, if necessary, to access modern healthcare. The religious schools offer free education to their children.

Although churches and religious movements in Bandundu are making great efforts to transcend their rivalries in working together for the well-being of displaced persons, this is not necessarily the case for the various other civil society organisations. …