Congolese Soldiers And Civilians Learn Benefits Of Playing Nice Together

Civilians and FARDC soldiers in DRC
Civilians and FARDC soldiers in DRC
Jacques Kikuni Kokonyange

BENI — On a recent Friday, soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) were spending the morning helping civilians clean the road that leads to the new cemetery of this northeastern Congolese city.

Here, AK-47s have been replaced by hoes, spades and rakes. Colonel Tito Bizuri, who is in charge of this commando unit, explains that his soldiers are citizens, just like the civilians, and that they must take part in the development of their country.

Muhindo Maneno, the chief of Beni's Mukulya neighborhood, agrees that the benefits go beyond just public maintenance — for both soldiers and residents. "Getting to know each other reinforces the trust between them,” Maneno says.

Captain John Mazambi explains that these works, nonetheless, are also another way for the army to fulfill its central mission of ensuring national security. In this zone, where the army has faced off against various armed rebel groups, farmers rarely approach soldiers. In the past, the army has been accused of a wide array of crimes that have tarnished its reputation among locals, including reports of raping and looting. The defection of certain regular army officers in favor of armed groups has only increased mistrust among those who were already suspicious towards defense and security forces.

The ball is round

“Back in the day, when we passed law enforcement officers late at night, we felt safe,” recalled on elderly woman. “But with the current generation, it’s the opposite.” She lives opposite the Ozacaf military camp in Beni, which was attacked last June by the Mai-Mai militia group.

Near the border with Uganda, just below the Rwenzori Mountains, Beni has to cope with various local and foreign rebel groups. The police headquarters, the FARDC and even the central prison have been targeted several times. “With every attack, there are civilian victims,” says Christophe Kambale, a local activist.

The initiative of the cooperation between soldiers and civilians became more marked with a campaign organized in early 2013 by the ONG Search for Common Ground, which included a roundtable with locals and the heads of FARDC units. Since then, community work, soccer matches and other activities have increasingly brought soldiers and civilians together. “When we play together, it more than proves that we are partners and share common aspects of life,” says Mathe Wasukunde, a civilian, who has taken part in the soccer matches.

Beni’s mayor and head of the urban security council Bwanakawa Masumboko Nyonyi claims that security is everybody’s responsibility and the population must be aware that police officers and soldiers work for them.

“I keep telling my people to trust their army and the police,” he says. For Tembo Kalimuli, a teacher, the FARDC must become like other armies in the world that specialize in more advanced fields such as civil engineering, rather than just menial public works.

Still, the efforts carried out by civilians and soldiers have already paid off. Lately, barely a single week goes by in the city without a criminal being arrested after he was denounced by civilians. At the end of June, in Beni’s Kanzuli Nzuli neighborhood, soldiers and police officers locked down the house of an alleged Mai Mai chief who was illegally recruiting young volunteers to take up the fight against the government.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Migrant Lives

The Other Scandal At The Polish-Belarusian Border: Where's The UN?

The United Nations, UNICEF, Red Cross and other international humanitarian organizations seems to be trying to reach the Polish-Belarusian border, where Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko is creating a refugee crisis on purpose.

Migrants in Michalowo, Belarus, next to the border with Poland.

Wojciech Czuchnowski

WARSAW — There is no doubt that the refugees crossing the Belarusian border with Poland — and by extension reaching the European Union — were shepherded through by the regime of Alexander Lukashenko. There is more than enough evidence that this is an organized action of the dictator using a network of intermediaries stretching from Africa and the Middle East. But that is not all.

The Belarusian regime has made no secret that its services are guiding refugees to the Polish border, literally pushing them onto (and often, through) the wires.

It can be seen in films made available to the media by... Belarusian border guards and Lukashenko's official information agencies.

Tactics of a strongman

Refugees are not led to the border by "pretend soldiers" in uniforms from a military collectibles store. These are regular formations commanded by state authorities. Their actions violate all rules of peaceful coexistence and humanitarianism to which Belarus has committed itself as a state.

Belarus is dismissed by the "rest of the world" as a hopeless case of a bizarre (although, in the last year, increasingly brutal) dictatorship. But it still formally belongs to a whole range of organizations whose principles it violates every day on the border with Poland.

Indeed, Belarus is a part of the United Nations (it is even listed as a founding state in its declaration), it belongs to the UNICEF, to the International Committee of the Red Cross, and even to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Photo of Polish soldiers setting up a barbed wire fence in the Border Zone near Krynki, Belarus

Polish soldiers set up a barbed wire fence in the Border Zone near Krynki, Belarus

Maciej Luczniewski/ZUMA

Lukashenko would never challenge the Red Cross

Each of these entities has specialized bureaus whose task is to intervene wherever conventions and human rights are violated. Each of these organizations should have sent their observers and representatives to the conflict area long ago — and without asking Belarus for permission. They should be operating on both sides of the border, as their presence would certainly make it more difficult to break the law.

An incomprehensible absence

Neither the leader of Poland's ruling party Jaroslaw Kaczyński nor even Lukashenko would dare to keep the UN, UNICEF, OSCE or the Red Cross out of their countries.

In recent weeks, the services of one UN state (Belarus) have been regularly violating the border of another UN state (Poland). In the nearby forests, children are being pushed around and people are dying. Despite all of this, none of the international organizations seems to be trying to reach the border nor taking any kind of action required by their responsibilities.

Their absence in such a critical time and place is completely incomprehensible, and their lack of action raises questions about the use of international treaties and organizations created to protect them.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!