In the DRC, land conflicts awakened by the eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano

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In the DRC, land conflicts awakened by the eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano

In order not to miss any of the African news, subscribe to the Africa World newsletter from this link. Every Saturday at 6 o'clock, find a week of news and d

TheEditor
TheEditor
17 November 2021 Wednesday 00:00
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In the DRC, land conflicts awakened by the eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano

In order not to miss any of the African news, subscribe to the Africa World newsletter from this link. Every Saturday at 6 o'clock, find a week of news and debates covered by the editorial staff of Monde Afrique.

A farmer from the village of Munigi and his cows, October 14, 2021. CORALIE PIERRET

At the foot of the Nyiragongo volcano, in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), three cows are struggling to find grass among the dried lava pebbles. "We are threatened," worries Jean-Baptiste Maliru, looking at the top of the cone. The various flows, including the one on May 22, when the volcano erupted, have ravaged "70% of our land," continues this peasant. In Munigi, a village located on the outskirts of Goma, in the province of North Kivu, cattle have almost disappeared from the landscape. Today, unemployment is waiting for the 350 families who live on livestock.

The burial of the fields is not the only consequence of the events of May for Jean-Baptiste Maliru and his family. Boots and sticks of shepherds piled on the doormat, the herders of the territory of Nyiragongo, one of the administrative entities of North Kivu, hold a meeting in the living room of their president. With his head bowed, Habawézé Tabaro is indignant: "If all our spaces are sold, what are we going to live with? "

Read also "There is no zero risk in Goma": in the DRC, living with the volcano

After the eruption, a private initiative launched by the former first lady, Marie-Olive Lembe Kabila, has awakened a dormant land dispute. The wife of former President Joseph Kabila has offered 100 hectares to the victims of the volcano so that they can rebuild housing. Land so far left in wasteland and which she claims to have bought "a few years ago", as she explained just after the eruption to the local press. However, their acquisition is considered fraudulent by breeders.

In 2017, marches had already been organized to protest the purchase of land by politicians, military personnel and other influential figures.

"The biggest spoliator is the State! "

According to civil society, the plots, distributed in October to more than 200 households, belong to collective spaces governed by traditional authorities. These fields have been reserved for cattle grazing since the 1940s, as stipulated in the documents of the colonial administration provided by the herders. However, over the past decade, almost 45% of these community pens have been sold to private individuals, without any transparency in procedures, the village committee estimates. "We solve the problems of the victims, but we create others for us. Without grassland, no cows, so no meat and no milk! ", exclaims Jean-Baptiste Maliru.

This land dispute is far from the only one in the region and more broadly in the DRC. All over the country, the same scenario of land grabbing is repeated. So much so that in March 2019, the Congolese state set up a commission called "Etienne-Tshisekedi" (the father of the current president, Félix Tshisekedi), responsible for identifying all cases where citizens have been forcibly dislodged or deprived of their plots, in order to put an end to these dispossessions. Yet this scourge persists.

"The biggest spoliator is the State itself! ", accuses Jean-Claude Mambo Kawaya, president of the civil society of the territory of Nyiragongo, a grouping of citizen associations. For more than five years, he has been examining the complaints of his fellow citizens. But he has never won a single fight. Despite the scarcity of agricultural spaces, "politicians, generals or rich economic operators" still manage to get hold of them. "And if someone disputes the ownership of these newcomers, they manage to provide papers that come from the provincial authorities or Kinshasa," says the activist in his office built of wooden planks, lit with a flashlight for lack of electricity.

More than 1,000 inhabitants per square kilometer

Two legal systems are opposed: one, modern, is based on official documents issued by central or local administrations; the other, customary, is based on the word of the communities. As a result, legal appeals do not succeed, even when the clashes are deadly. "They are part of our daily lives," says Curator Jean-Marie Malossa. Since becoming deputy territorial administrator, he has increased the security of his police station. His kalashnikov behind him and his handgun placed near his kepi, he recognizes that some plots have been usurped. "But we have launched a procedure to list and recover them," he said.

Read also DRC: in Goma, volcanologists still on the alert near the Nyiragongo

Meanwhile, the slow disappearance of land could endanger the jobs of rancher and farmer. And, therefore, increase insecurity in the area. "Without a job, unemployed young people could also form rebel militias," warns one of the deans of the village of Munigi. The violence carried out by armed groups in the east of the country for more than two decades has led hundreds of thousands of people to flee their villages and resettle near the city of Goma. In 2016, there were more than 1,000 inhabitants per square kilometer, a figure more than twenty times higher than the national average, according to an official document of the provincial government of North Kivu.

Demographic pressure is constantly increasing in this district, which is located between Rwanda to the east, Virunga National Park to the west and the volcano to the north. However, the Nyiragongo is one of the most dangerous in Africa and could surprise the population again with a new eruption, explains Albert Muhindo, the director of the Goma Volcano Observatory: "When we live here, we are forced to accept to undergo this kind of pressure. "

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Updated: 17.11.2021 00:00
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