Massacre in DR Congo
Press release – 07.12.2022
Numerous children from a playgroup of the SAVE Wildlife Conservation Fund from Wülfrath lost their parents or relatives in a rebel attack. SAVE – Country Director Rémy Kakule was able to escape from the attack. He had opened the SAVE playgroup in Kishishe in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in September. Now the playgroup will remain closed until the situation improves.
The early childhood education project in Congo is one of the youngest of a total of 37 children’s projects on the African continent. The aim is to teach the children about their own environment and to win them over to the cause of species conservation. The nearby Virunga National Park is home to endangered animals such as elephants, mountain gorillas and buffalo.
According to the army of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), rebels of the so-called M23 militia have attacked the village of Kishishe, causing a massacre. The horrific attack occurred on the night of November 28-29, 2022, killing 270 people, including 20 children aged five and younger, according to current information provided to SAVE. The rebels destroyed many houses and looted their supplies.
SAVE – Country Director Rémy Kakule had made it out of Kishishe a week before the attack. It took him four days to reach the town of Goma, some 110 kilometers away, he said. “I first rode my motorcycle 70 kilometers to Kanyabayonga, then through Masisi territory. The roads were extremely bad,” he says. After the massacre, news reached him from the survivors in Kishishe. “The situation was terrible when the rebels overran the village. They accused the men of belonging to enemy rebel groups. As a result, they murdered all the boys and men they could find,” he reports. But in addition, women and children were also killed.
The current information situation is extremely confusing, and the figures are therefore difficult to verify. The number of fatalities is rising continuously as more and more dead bodies are found. In an interview with Rémy Kakule, the chief physician in Kishishe reports that he assumes the number of unreported cases is high, as many people are still considered missing. It is not yet known how many of Kishishe’s approximately 15,200 inhabitants are on the run.
What are the consequences of the attack for the children in Kishishe?
According to estimates, however, tens of thousands of people in the region are on the run due to the recent fighting. SAVE had just established the playgroup for young children in September as part of its Education for Conservation education program. The project serves species conservation and environmental education near Virunga National Park and has suffered extreme setbacks due to the fighting.
“We are shocked and express our deepest sympathy to the people,” says SAVE founder Lars Gorschlüter. “We have just started in DRC and we will not give up now. We will keep going and help the people, the local children.”
Country Director Rémy Kakule wants to reopen the playgroup as soon as the security situation improves to give the children and their families a place of refuge. “We need to help the families. Many have lost their homes and now have to spend the night on the streets. We also need medicine, clothing and food. As soon as the children can come back to the playgroup, we will try to cook them a portion of porridge every day and provide them with shoes. Twelve children in our playgroup have lost their parents, and 35 other family members have also been killed. They also killed the father of one of our teachers, we would like to support them as well.”
Who are the attackers and why is the region so contested?
Fighting in North Kivu province near the borders with Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi has flared up on and off since the early 2000s, most recently in late 2021.
The region has long been conflict-ridden, in part because of its rich mineral resources. In the middle of the disputed areas lie not only human settlements but also wildlife areas, such as the famous Virunga National Park.
M23 stands for “March 23 Movement” and, according to its own statements, is fighting against the oppression of the Tutsi ethnic group in DRC. But the fighting has long had an economic and geopolitical motivation as well, such as control of important trade routes.
The constellation is becoming increasingly complicated to navigate, as the army and the M23 are not the only players on the map. According to the United Nations, about 130 different rebel groups are active in the region. These fight each other and are often composed of young men from the various villages, reports SAVE Country Director Rémy Kakule. The DRC government, in turn, accuses neighboring Rwanda of supporting the M23. Rwanda rejects the accusations.
The countless human rights violations are particularly difficult to comprehend against this background. For civilians in DRC, the ongoing war means above all a life of constant fear. “I was born during the war myself,” SAVE Country Director Rémy Kakule tells us. “In North Kivu, there is war every day. If he’s not in Masisi village, he’s in Bambo. If he’s not in Bambo, he’s in Kishishe or somewhere else. People are dying.” But for Rémy Kakule, it’s also clear that he wants to return to Kishishe as soon as possible to help people.
How you can help
SAVE Wildlife Conservation Fund relies on your support for the people of Kishishe. Your donation will go towards the purchase of everyday necessities: We want to initially provide the children and their families with food and clothing. However, they also need new houses and livestock as soon as possible to rebuild their lives. However, the war also leaves emotional scars, which is why SAVE is working to organize psychological support for the many traumatized people.
Report: Jasmin Sarwoko