On March 4th, 2016, JHR held the Prix JDH / JHR Award ceremony in the DRC to recognize the excellent work that journalists and journalism students have accomplished through their stories during the past year.
The two students who won the Prix JDH are both active members of the JHR Student Chapters in the DRC. Living in Kinshasa, Jean Shotsha wrote a story on the daily survival efforts of many Congolese citizens in the capital city, who were expelled by the neighboring Republic of Congo. Hailing to Kinshasa from Goma in Eastern DRC for the first time, Alfred Bukuhi won the award for his story on the predicaments of the widows of security forces’ officials. Thanks to both Jean and Alfred, it was a night filled with pride, joy and hope for the future!
The following are the two award-winning stories, both translated from French.
Military widows in Goma face great difficulty getting their compensation
By: Alfred Bukuhi, Prix JDH / JHR Award winner, DRC
The widows of soldiers killed at the front line of various wars in the East live in a miserable situation due to the non-payment of their wages. Mothers of children for the most part, they face enormous difficulties feeding and educating their children.
Hundreds of military widows from the city of Goma, capital of the North-Kivu province, ceaselessly continue to try to claim the payment of the balance of their deceased husbands who fought for the country. Unable to feed and educate their children, these women often take to the streets to reclaim their rights. “kill me so that I can go rejoin my husband. Enough is enough. I need my husband’s money, it comes back to me by right”, persists the widow of a soldier in anger during a demonstration in December.
Alongside other widows, they erected a barricade on Sakenon Road, close to the Katindo military camp, to require the payment of the balance of their deceased husbands. A group of police officers were deployed to disperse the demonstrators.
Women prepared to do anything
Though left to fend for themselves, most of these women come from provinces other than North-Kivu. More Specifically, they come from the provinces of Kasaï, Equateur, Orientale, Bas-Congo, and Maniema, among others. They do not have families that can come to their aid in North Kivu. Without the residual balance of their deceased husbands, they are willing to do anything for the survival of their children. “I am a widow with five children to feed and send to school. I am also hungry and the State does not pay us… Help me please!” begs Safina Mutombo, while making rounds of the houses in the Murara district accompanied by her children. Safina’s husband was an officer in the Congolese army who was killed in October 2012, during clashes between the regular army and the rebels of M23 (The March 23 Movement).
Like her, many other widows have resorted to begging. Some of them give a helping hand to the households of wealthy families in Goma, hoping to earn some money to feed their children. Others engage in prostitution. “They have a heavy load and without their pay, it is still very difficult” says a member of the civil society of North Kivu.
They were numerous, those who came to reclaim the balances of their deceased husbands, close to the Instigo roundabout. Ph. Alain Wandimoyi
According to an officer of the military prosecutor’s office of North Kivu, the payroll situation is usually complicated when the widow was not legally married to the deceased husband. “However, we also have difficulties when the soldier was cohabiting with several women. Sometimes, we may receive three or more women for the deceased’s singular serial number” he continued, stating that “nevertheless, legitimate wives receive money”.
These legitimate women, even when not married, receive money through the children they had with their deceased husbands. “The amount received varies depending on the position that the deceased had occupied. The widow of a former captain receives, for example, 9,000 CDF (about 10 USD) per month” said the military officer.
In the mornings, in front of the pay offices, mothers and children respond to the call to withdraw money. “I finally just received my late husband’s money for the months of September and October that were unpaid. It was not easy to achieve because after receiving the token, it took me three weeks of waiting”, reflects Mwambuyi, mother of six, on her way back from the pay office of the 8th military region in the commune of Goma.
If for her today it’s joy, others continue to wait and lose more and more hope. “It’s been almost two months that I’ve been coming here every day. They always ask me to wait. Meanwhile, my children need to eat…”, regrets a widow sitting on a large rock in front of the office of the 8th military region.
The State must come to their aid
To reclaim their rights, these women do not sit back idly. They continue to send their complaints to the authorities and make statements to the press. They also organize sit-ins in the hopes of regaining their rights. “We will never give up. We have hope that one day our suffering will end” states Vumilia Zabibu, widow and a citizen of Maniema. On December 31st, alongside 20 other women, she held a sit-in in front of the main door of the 8th military region with the aim of regaining their rights.
For Dufina Tabu, Coordinator of the Association of volunteers of Congo (ASVCO), it is inconceivable to make these women suffer when their husbands sacrificed their lives for the cause of the nation. “The State must at least acknowledge the incredible sacrifices of these patriots who agreed to shed their blood to safeguard our national integrity,” he said. His point of view is supported by M. Réné Kyunda. According to him, a responsible State should always assist these victims of wars.
Deportees from Brazzaville struggle to feed themselves in Kinshasa
By Jean Hilaire Shotsha, Prix JDH / JHR Award winner, DRC
The deportees from Brazzaville, who have settled in front of the communal house of Kinshasa, live in unprecedented uncertainty. “We are sad. The government does not care for us ever since we arrived here” states one of them, with a sad look.
Since August 2nd of 2014, when they settled in front of the communal house at the Cardinal Malula stadium, in the municipality of Kinshasa, these returnees depended on their own resourcefulness to survive. Getting something to eat is a daily ordeal for them. Having no family in Kinshasa, for the most part, they go after passers-by on the avenues of Kabambare and Kasa-Vubu.
Visibly poor, they have placed buckets on which they write “Lisungi” (help) alongside the road. Money, clothing and other basic needs are most welcome for them. The inscriptions written on a dozen of the buckets are a call to people of good will who can help them. Even the children are used for the same cause.
In hearing the testimonies of the inhabitants of this district, the deportees use any means necessary to get a little something to eat. Once a pedestrian passes by, the children run up to him to ask for money. Moreover, come nighttime, young girls in search of money engage in prostitution in the neighbouring streets. “We have no choice in a city that is not ours. It is as a result of misery that we use our bodies to make a living”, explained Carine in a barely audible tone, her head between her two hands. “In Brazzaville, our mother used to manage to find us something to eat. And now, she stayed in Pointe-Noire and us here, we are forced to get by all alone” she finished.
State-sponsored aid to these returnees can be counted on the fingers of a single hand. Only associations, churches, NGOs and some private enterprises come to the rescue of these people without shelter. Among the private enterprises, the returnees cite the Maman Poto bakery, which provides them bread for breakfast each morning.
In addition to this assistance, explains vice-president Jean-Pierre Longange, in January the returnees received a visit from a few doctors sent by the vice-president of the National Assembly to run medical consultations on the children. This team also brought a few bags of rice and chickens for 160 families who are living at the Cardinal Malula stadium.
Faced with the presence of these returnees in this part of Kinshasa, the government says it is no longer able to support them. According to the assistant in charge of the social affairs of the municipality of Kinshasa, these returnees are no longer under the responsibility of the Congolese government because, for all those who had no families in Kinshasa, the Government had established means to return them to their families in the provinces. For those who had families in Kinshasa, the Congolese State had given them the means for transportation to find their relatives.
In total, 160 families languish in this situation. Among them, there are 250 children among whom 83 are aged 2-10 years, 90 are 11 to 15, and 32 are 16 to 23 years. Upon their arrival at this location, the Government put the Red Cross in charge of food support and other programs. A few days later, they were moved towards Maluku where a site had been built for them.