DRC 1999: Continued clashes and widespread malnutrition

© Kadir van Lohuizen Click on image for larger version. The most affected people are still in the forest; many people are like me, traumatised. I think a psychological treatment would be welcomed by the population. It will be difficult for us to become a healthy population again, because our spirit has been exhausted.
In mid-August arguments between Rwanda and Uganda broke out into open confrontation in Kisangani, killing at least 50 civilians in the shelling (Footnote 10). Finally, the different factions at war signed a ceasefire in July 1999 in Lusaka, Zambia. The agreement was calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities, regulated by a joint military commission and the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force(Footnote 11); it was also demanding the withdrawal of all foreign forces from the Congo. Nevertheless, clashes continued and indiscriminate violence perpetrated by numerous informal armed groups remained on-going in the Kivus. They resulted in displacement, deprivation and continued suffering for the population. In Kisangani, as in many other towns in eastern DRC, trade soon came to a standstill as a result of the war. The roads, normally used to supply the city with goods coming from other provinces, became inaccessible due to insecurity; and the Congo River, historically connecting the city with Kinshasa, was blocked according to the frontline. As the town became landlocked, malnutrition rates rose dramatically; a survey conducted by MSF in January 1999 showed a global malnutrition rate of 13. 4%, and a severe malnutrition rate of 9.1%. ON-GOING VIOLENCE IN THE KIVUS Patient, tortured by the Mai Mai (Shabunda) "In December 1999, there was a Mai Mai ambush in our village; it became impossible for us to go back home, and we remained cut off in the bush for the whole of 2000. In early 2001 a rumour informed us that there was a safe way to go to Shabunda; as we went out of the forest, we fell into the hands of the Mai Mai, who accused us of collaborating with the enemies. Then, 24 hours of torture began for my wife and I - it stopped only when RCD forces arrived to liberate us. "First, I was given more than 300 lashes of the whip, and so was my wife. Then, they subjected me to all kinds of humiliations. They took a torch and burnt my genitals as well as my armpits; they whipped me in the face, they gave me water mixed with ashes and live embers to drink. "One of the Mai Mai was standing in front of me, ready to put me to death with his weapons. My fingers were broken due to the ropes that were binding my hands and my nose and ears were bleeding - I fainted. Then, they tied my hands together with my feet and let me spend the night in this terribly painful position. My wife was tortured too, she had to have two surgical interventions because of what they did to her. As of today, I still suffer the after effects of the torture. "Because of the whiplashes I received on the eyes, my eyesight is not normal anymore; my genitals don't function normally either and I have recurrent nightmares related to the events. I became a coward; as soon as tension rises around the village, I flee. "The most affected people are still in the forest; many people are like me, traumatised. I think a psychological treatment would be welcomed by the population. It will be difficult for us to become a healthy population again, because our spirit has been exhausted." Nurse "Before when I was hearing stories about families who had to spend the night in the bush because of the insecurity, I didn't believe it; and then, one day it happened to me as well. "It was around the year 1999, I don't exactly remember, the Interahamwe started to come to our village and to loot our goods. At a certain moment we didn't have anything to offer anymore; they then threatened to kill us if we had nothing to give them. Thus we started to spend the night in the bush. At six o'clock in the evening we would pack a few things and some plastic sheeting to cover ourselves; then we would go to the forest and look for a hidden place where they could not find us. It lasted one week, then we moved from this village because of the insecurity." © Kadir van Lohuizen Click on image for larger version. "I have seen with my own eyes the status of the children when they were arriving at the feeding centres - it was terrible. Some of the children were like skeletons."
Cook "In 1999 the children of my mother in-law died because of the Interahamwe, who were in conflict over the fields with the other populations. Here in the region we don't have many fields; if you have a field, you pay - the Interahamwe attacked the village where my relatives were living, looted the tea factory and all the houses. They killed my relatives - the husband, the wife and four children." Nurse-aid "In 1999 in Sake, 30 km away from Goma, some of my relatives were living in a camp of displaced people coming from Masisi, and they were all living in plastic sheeting houses. One day the Interahamwe attacked the camp - everybody got burnt alive in their shelters made of sheeting." Patient, raped by the Mai Mai (Shabunda) "I was walking in the forest with my husband and my seven children when the Mai Mai showed up, in August 1999. My husband had a communication radio that the Mai Mai wanted to steal from him; they took my husband and they beat him - he has disappeared since then. Then they took me, and they raped me in front of all my children. They took the virginity of my daughters; they sexually mistreated my sons - I think that some of my sons are now impotent because of their ordeal. Then the Mai Mai dragged me for 65 km, raping me anywhere, at any time; I was raped by more than a hundred men. "The Mai Mai were drunk, and they had smoked hemp; they take aphrodisiac products, they have never enough. They are demons, not human beings. "I was liberated by the RCD in February 2001, in K. forest. Of my seven children, I only have four left; the Mai Mai took two of my daughters, and I never saw them again. They were 23 and 26 years old. "Two of my sons fled to the forest; one has just come back, he is very thin. I don't know what has happened to the other one. "Since then, I feel pain in the neck and the hips; I suffer especially when I carry out my intimate hygiene - there are parts that I can't wash anymore, because of the open wounds. The medicines I was given in the health centre make me faint, because I don't have enough to eat; I suffer from hunger, and for the time being I cannot go to the fields anymore. "But more than anything, I suffer from shame." THE NUTRITIONAL CRISIS IN KISANGANI Guard "In 1999 I was working in an MSF nutritional centre in Kisangani. It was pitiful; the children have been the most affected by the consequences of the military conflict and the economic collapse in Kisangani - no supplies, no salary, no communications with the periphery... My own son was affected by the oedemas of malnutrition; he had to be transferred one month to one of the feeding centres run by MSF." Driver "I have seen with my own eyes the status of the children when they were arriving at the feeding centres - it was terrible. Some of the children were like skeletons; others were completely swollen with oedemas. One really felt like working hard with these children, like helping them."