North and South Kivu, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are considered to be amongst the least stable regions of the world. Since DRC’s independence, several wars have been fought over the territory and as such, the region has not known a significant period of peace. Kashindi Pierre, the project manager of Congo In The Picture looks at the role of young people and youth work in the establishment of a sustainable peace in Kivu.
North and South Kivu, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are considered to be amongst the least stable regions of the world. Since DRC’s independence, the region has not known a significant period of peace. Several wars, involving both local militias and the armies of surrounding countries, have been fought over the territory throughout this period. As one armed group disappears, others are created and the lack agreement amongst the leaders of these groups and politicians means that this trend is only set to continue.
The International Rescue Commitee reports that 5.4 million people have died due to the conflicts in the DRC since 1998, with the violence in Kivu often centered on girls and women. With a lack of control over the flow of weapons, unemployed young people can easily get hold of arms with which to impose their will on their local neighbourhoods, spreading violence and terror.
With the recent fall of the M23 rebel army, hopes of peace have once more returned to the region, with widespread celebrations. The question now must be what the role of young people in the building of a better future for Kivu will be. Will they continue to be manipulated by politicians, encouraged to enlist to different armed groups, or will they be enabled to use their energy to overcome the barriers they face and create a tolerant and sustainable society that can benefit rather than suffer from the great natural wealth of the region?
The Congolese often say “the youth is the future of the Congo”. For us at Congo In The Picture, a youth organisation originating in Goma and Uvira in Kivu, this saying has become our motto. Whilst the main focus for many politicians has been to benefit from the destabilisation of the region, we look to harness the young people of the region to create a solution for the on-going conflict. We undertake various projects to try to bring about this change, working with a wide range of young people, in both rural and urban settings, and across ethnic divides.
We believe that the most important factor is the spreading of awareness amongst the youth of the issues that affect them. With information they can better dissociate themselves from the armed groups – many of the young people involved in the conflict are used on the battlefield to fight for causes that they do not themselves understand or even support.
The main cause for this situation is the poverty that many young people find themselves in. Without jobs, and with the possibility of earning both a living and status with the armed groups, young people often see little option but to enlist in them. This is particularly the case in remote rural areas, so Congo In The Picture has travelled around different villages to raise awareness amongst young people of their role in the conflicts and to show them other options of how to move forward.
As part of our ICT4Peace project, we work in isolated areas to support victims to come forward and avocate for their interests. By using multimedia technology, young people can both express their wishes and fears, whether in music or digital art, whilst also learning ICT skills that will help them find work in the future. We encourage them both to realise their own responsibility to move their local community forward, not back, and to find alternatives to armed conflict.
For centuries, Kivu has been at the centre of mass migration across Central Africa. Coupled the impact of the colonial and post-colonial involvement of western powers such as France and the UK, and the recent wars in neighbouring countries like Rwanda and Burandi, this has led to an incredibly diverse ethnic make-up in the region.
Whilst this has led to conflicts in Kivu, at Congo In The Picture we believe that this diversity can become on of its strengths. We look to work with all the conflicting communities , as only the reconciliation of these communities and their young people can led to a lasting peace.
The Uswazi Project looks to promote the positive work of young people from both urban and rural areas, especially those living in conflict. This includes working in partnership with Bollo Brook Youth Centre, in London, to produce music that provides a positive voice for young people (such as this track, Change).
Young people are the future for Kivu, and by providing a style of youth work that recognises their potential whilst not shying away from the problems they face, we believe we can help them make this future one of tolerance, sustainable growth and peace. However, this will only be possible if the Congolese and international governments, NGOs and anyone interested in the DRC support young people with this project.