Survivors recount atrocities as they battle starvation in Congo
About 1.3 million people have been forced to flee their homes in Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) Kasai region, including 60,000 children, after a series of killings left hundreds dead. The UN has said at least 42 mass graves have been found.
“Some people have even eaten sand to try and prevent starvation,” said Paulin Kiyankayi, a grim-faced doctor at Kikwit general hospital in DR Congo.
He is tired after struggling for months to deal with a huge rise in the sick and hungry filling his wards, displaced people fleeing violence between tribal militias and security forces.
“They suffer from anaemia, fever, diarrhoea and abrasions,” Kiyankayi said, listing the many health issues he’s battling to treat with limited supplies. “And all are affected by malnutrition.”
Since last September, the armed followers of tribal chieftain Kamwina Nsapu – who was killed in 2016 – have challenged the authority of the central government, in the belief Nsapu is still alive, because he was buried by officials with no respect to tribal tradition.
The fighting has led to a sharp deterioration in the political, security and humanitarian situation in DRC, and almost every week there are new victims of violence and human rights abuses.
For local people, the sparks of violence have spread like bushfire because of a deep-seated resentment of President Joseph Kabila’s regime and the local authorities. The DRC has been in a crisis since Kabila refused to step down after his term ended last year.
“The militia appeared from nowhere and gathered the population together,” said newly widowed Nzenga.
About a dozen militiamen, riding motorbikes arrived near her village in Kasai province in May armed with machetes, claiming, she said, they were going to “liberate” the people. Instead they burned down the villagers’ homes and decapitated her husband.
“He was a nurse and they accused him of working for the government,” said the 30-year-old in a ripped red and white shirt. “They killed four other people who refused to listen to their message [to oppose the government].”
After her husband’s murder, Nzenga and her five children fled their home, walking for several days before eventually catching a lift to Kikwit, more than 350km away.
The family are among 17,000 displaced people, mostly women and children, to be registered by the authorities in the area, working with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Since April, some 30,000 people fleeing killing, physical mutilation and sexual violence in DR Congo have also arrived in neighbouring Angola and this week the UN refugee agency called for more resources to cope with the influx.