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DRC's 'lucky' city that fortune forgot

31 March 2015, 11:03

Baraka - The Democratic Republic of Congo city of Baraka - which means "lucky" in Swahili - ought to have been a paradise.

"The hope generated by independence was short-lived," sighed 65-year-old former traditional chief Theodore Fikiri, sitting in front of his humble home in the city in the country's volatile east. "After that there was nothing but war."

Fikiri was just 15 when Congo gained freedom from Belgium on 30 June, 1960, fuelling great hope across the sprawling, mineral-rich nation.

But decades later there is little to celebrate in Baraka, the main city of the Fizi region in South Kivu province, wracked by unrest, fighting, acute poverty and joblessness.

"There is no work but there are graduates," Omari said, and many youths with high school degrees.

A lush green city located on a slope that gently descends towards the sparkling waters of Lake Tanganyika, Baraka is home to 90 000 people.

Yet it has no tarred roads, no electricity and no running water. Jobless youths wander aimlessly on the streets, which overflow with uncollected waste.

Hostile region

The Fizi region has been traditionally hostile to the government in Kinshasa, about 1 600km to the west.

In the 1960s, the region served as a launching pad for a rebellion spearheaded by Laurent Kabila, the father of the current president Joseph Kabila.

Kabila senior was finally able to topple the country's long-serving and corrupt dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997 and seize power. He was shot dead by a bodyguard in 2001 and succeeded by his son.

During the second Congo war that raged from 1998 to 2003, the area - like other parts of the east - came under the control of the Rally for Congolese Democracy militia, which was backed by neighbouring Rwanda.

And since 2007, the Fizi region has seen further unrest due to the emergence of the Mai-Mai Yakutumba, a self-defence militia of the Bembe, the dominant ethnic group locally.

The bleak outlook for youths has led many to join Mai-Mai chief William Amuri Yakutumba, who is engaged in battles with Congolese army forces farther down south.

'Fed up with war'

"Many youths have left to join him," a local journalist said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Several others dream of going abroad," he added.

The Mai-Mai chief, the self-proclaimed "General" Yakutumba, told AFP by telephone that he was fighting President "Kabila for democracy and national sovereignty".

He said he wants thousands of his fighters to be integrated into the Congolese army and wants a purge of its senior officers, who he claims are "Rwandan".

The demand exposes Yakutumba's complaint that it was mainly Congolese Tutsi militias and rebels who were taken into the fold of the army until 2011.

Many Bembe also allege that these men are not Congolese.

"There are many Rwandan soldiers here who spend their time troubling locals," a local man said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

But Yakutumba's men are no angels either.

"When the Mai-Mai were here, in 2013, they really hassled the people," said Biera Mbala Bushiri, a local chief at Sebele, 25 kilometres south of Baraka, using a Congolese euphemism for extortion.

"People are fed up with war," said Dalton M'Undabatu Kasukulu, an agriculture inspector in Fizi.

But peace is easier said than done.

"In a country where many groups of people have arms and where nothing is being done to disarm them, we don't see how we can demand that the Yakutumba lay down their arms; in my opinion this is not the moment," said a man in his forties.



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