Many stories from Ituri, northeast Democratic
Republic of the Congo, concentrate on the hatred between tribes, particularly
between the Hema and the Lendu, longtime inhabitants of the region. These
two tribes have, as a result of land practices under Mobutu, divided much
of Ituri, in Province Orientale, into pastureland and farmland.
The purpose of juxtaposing the following stories of two men's lives is to show the many similarities: similarities that may mean more to all Iturians as they recover from a devastating series of conflicts and illegal exploitation of their resource-rich district in the Congo.
Both men are heads of households, both were shopkeepers, both have lost their stores and have had to flee their homes with their families. They are now both internally displaced, reliant on their own wits for income and what little humanitarian assistance comes their way. See if you can even identify which is Hema and which is Lendu.
Mathieu from Ituri, father of eight and now internally displaced, had a store with two grain mills ("One just for cassava flour!"), and a motorcycle taxi. He and his family were displaced twice, the second time fleeing 180 kilometers on foot. It took Mathieu and his family five days and nights to cover the distance.
While in flight, he found an orphaned girl, alone and crying. She told him she had seen her mother's throat cut in front of her, and she didn't know where her father was. Mathieu explained to his visitor that she was from the opposition tribe. "But what was I to do? Leave her there? She didn't do anything!" So he and his family took this little girl in, and she lives with them now at a site for internally displaced people (IDPs).
He has arranged with a fellow store owner and former colleague to rent his house during the rainy season. Mathieu and his family sleep out in the open, since they arrived too late to receive any of the plastic sheeting that was handed out to the thousands of IDPs who arrived before them.
"I think you all think of us Congolese as drunks. You think we sit under trees and get drunk every day. That's how I think you see us," Mathieu told his visitor, while waiting in line for the food distribution that was to be the second he and his family had received in three months.
Samuel, father of two, displaced from Ituri, also had a store before being displaced by the war. In his store he sold sugar cane, pineapples, corn and beans, soap and oil, rice and clothes, and he had a bicycle that he rented to others. He was chased by the opposition tribe and his house was looted and burnt. He and his family had to flee so quickly that they were able to take only the bicycle.
Samuel met his visitor in a supplementary feeding clinic like the one pictured here.
He lost one son, who died because he didn't have enough food. He now uses his bicycle to go to different villages to sell charcoal. If there is no prepared charcoal, he cuts wood and then sells that. His second son, who is malnourished, now receives supplementary food assistance. Samuel's family has been displaced for 20 months. They have seen very difficult times, but Samuel says, "I want to thank you [international community] for the assistance you have given us. You have saved my son. Without the assistance you have given, he would not be able to eat."
"Because of the political organization, we don't know what's going on. These guys meet [in Pretoria], but they have a hard time agreeing. And mostly they don't make the situation better. Our politicians say they would like the Ugandans to leave, because they give arms to the [other tribe]."
Samuel is pictured here with other visitors to a supplementary feeding clinic for IDPs.