Just north of DR Congo’s capital, in the department of Pool, the livelihoods need to be replenished.

Displaced youngesters in Kinkala Displaced youngesters in Kinkala Philip Kleinfeld/IRIN

22/06/2018

Located 50 km north of Brazzaville, the department of Pool looks dry and deserted;the villages are ruined and many people have been forced to flee

The Congolese President Sassou Nguesso has been re-elected in 2016. Since 1979 he has always governed the country, except for five years. Today he returns to the government once again, thanks to an amendment to the Constitution regarding the age limit to serve as president (previously it was 70 years of age), allowing him to be re-nominated  at the age of 74. His re-nomination triggered numerous protests in the country that saw the participation of the Ninjas , a militia group led by Frédéric Bintsamou, better known as Pastor Ntoumi. His fighters had participated in numerous wars and insurrections, including the Congolese civil war of 1997 and the insurgency against government forces in 2002 and 2003. In 2008, Ntoumi announced the disbanding of the Ninjas. However, they remained active.

The protests were severely suppressed by government militias: 20 civilians lost their lives and many others were seriously injured, as stated by Amnesty International. The conflict provoked a serious humanitarian crisis, not immediately recognized as such by the international community because the government refused to admit that a crisis was ongoing. According to an International Caritas statement, the assistance provided at lower levels than the civil war in the late 90’s Since the end of 2017, the number of people in need has grown to 160,000, including displaced people. But the Humanitarian aid has reached only a small fraction of those in need, namely districts that were inaccessible like Goma Tse-tse, Kindamba, Vindza and Kimba, as stated by the governmental organization of United Nations OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) in the report of March 16 of 2018.

Additionally, the current malnutrition rates of the country have steeply risen exceeding the 15% emergency threshold established by United Nations and they even  reached the 17% in 2017. Moreover, according to a World Food Programme assessment, more than the 15% of children of the department suffered from severe malnutrition. In 2017, 30 children were on the brink of death, and were driven to Brazzaville to receive the necessary care, but three of them perished.

The access to sanitary services is still an issue, both for displaced people and those who stayed in the affected areas. According to results of the MICS1 (Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys) of Congo for the two-year period between 2014-2015, only the 40% of people living in the department of the Pool were able to get potable water. The access to potable water is a structural problem in this department and the difficulty created by the conflict has made it even more challenging.

Furthermore, during the two-year period of civil conflict, government militias have orchestrated several bombings at the villages, killing and injuring people, and forcing most of the population to flee because there was nothing left standing. Militias justified the actions with the excuse of having to dig up the Ninja’s hideout, which was concentrated in Pool department.

Bombs have been dropped by the government helicopters, striking villages where, as declared by IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Networks), witness Isma Nkodia stated that “there were no Ninjas, just civilians”. Several people have been stopped and arrested because they were accused of being members of the Ninjas group, merely by resembling them. The situation seemed to improve with the ceasefire last December, initiated by the President and the Ninjas group leader, Ntoumi. In the agreement the demobilization of the Ntoumi troops was established and in return the government would ensure freedom to the group leader and its members. However, what was agreed upon was not respected; the government continued with arrests, so the fighting troops were forced to postpone demobilization and disarmament.

The accord between Ntumi and Nguesso had not been desired for humanitarian reasons but rather economic ones: the Congolese President, in order to receive financial aid from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), had to show a stable situation in the country and halt all  conflict. Yet, when applying for aid from the IMF, negotiations continued and the real situation emerged: the public debt of the Congo is at a very high level, with wages and pensions are unpaid. Also, the rate of corruption is high, demonstrably with the amendment of the Constitution wanted by the president for electoral purposes. Denied the economic aid by the IMF, the president did not consider it necessary to carry on the ceasefire established with the Ninjas, for which the conditions of the civilians in the Pool remained unchanged and unfavorable.

The crisis situation still persists despite the end of the bombings. The region to the north of the capital is facing a homecoming of the thousands of people who had been forced to flee from their villages during the conflict. But the villages no longer exist, most of the houses were burned, as now desolation reigns.

The Pool crisis is an emblematic case because the current humanitarian crisis is dire and a reflection of the political crisis spanning the whole country.

 

To know more, please read:

https://www.irinnews.org/analysis/2018/06/18/razed-villages-and-empty-fields-await-congo-brazzaville-s-displaced

https://www.irinnews.org/special-report/2018/06/18/updated-congo-brazzaville-s-hidden-war

https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-congorepublic-security/congo-republic-signs-peace-accord-with-ninja-rebels-idUKKBN1EH0HT

https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/April%20SitRep_EN.pdf

https://reliefweb.int/report/congo/congo-department-pool-humanitarian-response-plan-and-early-recovery-february-2018

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-34646310

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-14121195

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