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,
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.
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
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
"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
"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.