I am currently working in the classic MSF post-conflict project. The history of conflict and war in the DRC is long, complex, and brutal and, as you can tell from the events still making the news, not yet over. The period between 1996 and 2003 in the DRC marks the bloodiest conflict in history since World War II with almost 4 million dead. Although I’m not going to get into details or pretend to understand the complexities of this conflict, I do want to share my thoughts on just what “Post-Conflict” means to me and to my current context.
Conflict in Katanga
While Katanga was less affected than the Kivu’s by this conflict, advancing rebel groups supported by the Rwanda army displaced thousands in the area. In response, the Congolese government armed village militias and these so-called Mai-Mai groups emerged as small groups dedicated to the protection of the population. The Mai-Mai was not a consolidated rebel group and mainly consisted of small pockets of resistance within a network of warlords and chiefs. As such, the Mai-Mai groups were not included in the Peace Agreements of 2003 and large areas of Katanga were left under their control. In principle, they were there for the protection of civilians. In reality, they were known undisciplined, abusive and ferocious fighters and the simple mention of Mai-Mai could empty villages.
In 2005, military action by the Congolese Army took place to remove the Mai-Mai from these areas and this led to heavy population displacement in much of the Katanga province (up to 400,000 people fled by the end of 2006!). After some time, one of the main Mai-Mai chiefs surrendered and, as the domination of the Mai-Mai in the area decreased, these Internally Displaced People (IDPs) started to return to their destroyed villages.
MSF opened the Shamwana Project in May of 2006 at the centre of one of these Mai-Mai controlled areas. At the time, there was really nothing here. Food was scarce and had to be shared with military. Villages were completed destroyed and people were living in grass huts and crowded camps. Water was taken from dirty streams and sanitation was poor. There was no health care and the existing ministry health centres were in bad shape.
Since then, things have started to get better and villages are starting to rebuild. While life has started again, the needs are absolutely huge, especially in the area of healthcare but also education, roads and food security.