On December 15th, 2013, violence broke out in the young nation of South Sudan. What began with accusations from President Salva Kiir of an attempted coup d’état by former Vice President Riek Machar has since enflamed underlying ethnic tensions and sparked a much larger conflict in which more than 10,000 people have died.
“There was war in my home. The Mai Mai came to our village and burned everything there. I came here with my wife and eight children two months ago with nothing but the clothes on our backs. I came to this village to try to get some food.” These are the words of Emmanuel, an internally displaced man in northern Katanga Province. “Look,” he said, pointing to a makeshift house of branches and leaves. “We have no shelter, and no food.”
In November 2012, the city of Goma, capital of North Kivu Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was on high alert. The notorious M23 rebel group had just taken over, pushing out the Congolese armed forces and rolling past the bases of United Nations peacekeepers.
My colleague Michael Boyce and I are currently in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where we will be traveling to both North Kivu Province in the northeast and Katanga Province in the southeast. With more than 2.6 million internally displaced people (IDPs), DRC has one of the largest displaced populations in the world.
Late last week, the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution extending the mandate of the UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) for another year. The responsibilities of the mission remain largely unchanged and include protecting civilians and neutralizing armed groups. But the Council did do something new in the lengthy resolution: they made it clear that they were looking for the exit.
I’m exhausted. And not because of the rapidly approaching holidays. No, I’m exhausted because my schedule is packed with a seemingly endless stream of high-level meetings, panel discussions, roundtables, photo exhibitions, protests, marches, and congressional hearings – all of them focused on raising awareness of gender-based violence in emergencies.
There is always a convenient excuse. In Haiti, we don't have the time. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we don't have the funding. In the Syrian refugee response, we don't have the experts. Somehow, there is always a pat answer to why we, the humanitarian community, fail to protect women and girls in emergency after emergency.
After 20 months of shelling, occupation, and displacement, the M23 rebel group announced today that it is ending its insurgency in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
The announcement comes after months of negotiations in Kampala between M23 and the Congolese government, where little progress was made towards agreeing on terms to end the conflict. Last week, after the talks broke down completely, the government recaptured the M23 stronghold town of Bunagana, and in the following days it steadily pushed M23 from each of its remaining centers of power.
On Friday morning, the sound of mortar shells could be heard from Mugunga III displaced camp in eastern Congo. For the 160,000 displaced persons living in the Mugunga camps, it carried with it a new threat that comes all too soon after last year’s siege of the nearby town of Goma.