Youth Vigilantes In Congo Crack Down On Crime, Worry Police

With crime on the rise, youth in the Congolese city of Beni have banded together to protect their neighborhoods. Though some bad guys have been busted, some worry that well-meaning crime-fighters can one day turn into dangerous militias.

Are the police enough in Congo? (Rachel Strohm)
Are the police enough in Congo? (Rachel Strohm)
Jacques Kikuni Kokonyange

BENI - Taking turns to keep watch, youths congregate on the roundabouts and crossroads to take on the thieves who prey upon the innocent in this city in northeastern Congo. These self-styled vigilantes of Beni manage to arrest a few, and discourage others.

But authorities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are warning against this new, dangerous practice: the issue of security of the population, they insist, is a matter for the State.

On Kalinda Road, in the town of Bungulu, where the avenues meet at the Catholic church, smoke fills the sky on a late June night. On a nearby strip of land, a group of youths are busying themselves by gathering tree branches and piles of leaves that they continually throw into the flames of a bonfire. On the other side of the Rwenzori village, on the main road Kasabinyole to the east of Beni, another fire is burning.

It's about 10 p.m., and with all the smoke, you might have thought it was a brick manufacturer chugging through the swing shift.

"We've kept watch every night since the start of April to stop and denounce gangsters who are killing our brothers," explains Emmanuel Palaku, a youth from the crime-plagued Kalinda zone.

In the past year, two Kalinda political leaders and a video-reporter have been shot to death. Across the city of Beni, dozens of murders by either shooting or stabbing have been registered. Even servicemen are not spared, notably Ozacaf and Paida military outposts were attacked recently.

With preventive measures nearly exhausted, the youths have decided to band together in small groups to take matters into their own hands. At nightfall, they do the rounds on the streets to watch over passers-by. Brandishing banners, iron bars and whistles, their presence discourages would-be crooks.

"We've taken this measure because the police and security officers can't assure our safety. They can no longer fight against armed thieves," explains one of the youths, Patrick Musavuli.

It seems to be working, with some of the lookouts from the Mupanda area recently catching two armed thieves, who were then taken to the police. Towards the Kasabinyole area in eastern Beni, farmers turned a gang leader into the authorities, who was suspected of several house burglaries in town. "Thanks to them the youths, we caught eight bandits, including Abdou, who admitted to having killed a police officer who was guarding a van near a local bank," said Bwanakawa Masumbuko, mayor of Beni.

Useful but dangerous

Opinions are divided about the security provided by the youths. During a meeting at the Kasabinyole stadium, the mayor called on the people to support the authorities in securing the town. For Joly Kahebe, a public official in Mulekera, the people should support anyone who assures the safety of the town and spares its residents of violence. "There's nothing wrong with the youths bringing peace to the town. But we shouldn't rest on our laurels," she said.

But some human rights activists and local officials are not convinced. "Security is everyone's business, but that doesn't mean that youths should replace the authorities," says Angélus Kavutirwaki, who coordinates civil society in Beni.

Meanwhile, Esai Katavu, president of the student committee at the Christian Bilingual University of Congo, , notes that it is dangerous for the youths, who could find that the same police officers they think they're helping, could one day turn on them.

Others fear that the vigilante approach resembles the beginnings of a militia group. "It would be better if the State assumed its sovereign duties," recommends one captain of the army. The African Human Rights Association in Beni believes that the best solution would be if the government pays a decent wage to the men, or increase the number of police officers so that they could fulfill their role.

Read the original articel from SYFIA in French.

Photo - Rachel Strohm

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A Mother In Spain Denied Child Custody Because She Lives In Rural Area

A court in Spain usurps custody of the one-year-old boy living with his mother in the "deep" part of the Galicia region, forced to instead live with his father in the southern city of Marbella, which the judge says is "cosmopolitan" with good schools and medical care. Women's rights groups have taken up the mother's case.

A child in Galician countryside

Laure Gautherin

A Spanish court has ordered the withdrawal of a mother's custody of her one-year-old boy because she is living in the countryside in northwestern Spain, where the judge says the child won't have "opportunities for the proper development of his personality."

The case, reported Monday in La Voz de Galicia, has sparked outrage from a women's rights association but has also set off reactions from politicians of different stripes across the province of Galicia, defending the values of rural life.

Judge María Belén Ureña Carazo, of the family court of Marbella, a city on the southern coast of 141,000 people, has ordered the toddler to stay with father who lives in the city rather than with his mother because she was living in "deep Galicia" where the child would lack opportunities to "grow up in a happy environment."

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - October 25, 2021

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - Monday 25 October, 2021

La Voz de Galicia

Better in a "cosmopolitan" city?

The judge said Marbella, where the father lives, was a "cosmopolitan city" with "a good hospital" as well as "all kinds of schools" and thus provided a better environment for the child to thrive.

The mother has submitted a formal complaint to the General Council of the Judiciary that the family court magistrate had acted with "absolute contempt," her lawyer told La Voz de Galicia.

The mother quickly accumulated support from local politicians and civic organizations. The Clara Campoamor association described the judge's arguments as offensive, intolerable and typical of "an ignorant person who has not traveled much."

The Xunta de Galicia, the regional government, has addressed the case, saying that any place in Galicia meets the conditions to educate a minor. The Socialist party politician Pablo Arangüena tweeted that "it would not hurt part of the judiciary to spend a summer in Galicia."

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