CEDAC Surveys the Impact of Armed Violence on Community Relations

In light of the recent take-over in Goma, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), by the rebel group M23 and the continual rumours of opposition resurgence in Burundi, mistrust between the Congolese and Burundian communities on both side of the border has intensified. Adding further fuel to the fire is the increased cross border collaboration between rebel groups. For example, Front National pour la Revolution au Burundi (FNRB) has created a new alliance with the well organised M23. Consequently, any Congolese crossing the border is deemed to be facilitating the resurgence of armed violence in Burundi and Burundians crossing the border are suspected of illegally profiting from the DRC´s rich mineral resources; mistrust rather than cooperation is flourishing.

Responding to the escalating climate of mistrust, CEDAC with its international partners Action On Armed Violence (AOAV) and Search For Common Ground (SFCG) along with Vision GRAM – International (a local organisation in DRC) carried out a baseline survey in December.  This was done in conjunction with other activities to measure the impact of armed violence in the border communities and promote cross border cooperation.  In the four communities: Buganda and Rugombo in Burundi;  Sange and Ruvungi in the DRC. Two hundred participants were interviewed to gage their level of confidence in the ability of state agents to protect them; the general security context; and the impact of Armed Violence on their life/community. Further information was gathered through an additional 25 in depth interviews. 

CEDAC processed this information to come up with a course of action to promote cross border social cohesion. The survey data suggested that armed violence continues to be prevalent at the border of Burundi and DRC, with mostly adult males as targets but also male children being recruited as child soldiers.  54% of those surveyed felt that armed violence came from across the borders and the choice of weapon was usually firearms. A crisis of confidence has begun to settle between security services and communities, in which 54% have little to no confidence in law enforcement agencies to protect them. As a consequence of the armed violence, 37.2% of the respondents report psychological stress (insomnia, hopelessness and disconnection from community). These many signs of stigma and trauma among victims of armed violence deserve special attention at the community level to which CEDAC has carved its expertise.

A town hall meeting was organised in Cibitoke to share the results of the study and hold a discussion session where participants could ask questions about the research and provide initial feedback. Attendees worked in groups to provide ideas of potentially helpful programmes that CEDAC and its partners can develop in the region. Moreover, the validation meeting served as a forum for leaders and community members on both sides to hear new ideas put forth about possibilities for collaboration to reduce armed violence

A Eucalyptus tree planting activity occurred on the day following the validation meeting and held both practical and symbolic meanings.  The Eucalyptus tree is the national tree of Burundi but will grow and multiply quickly to be a visual symbol of burgeoning cross-border DRC/Burundian community cooperation. Furthermore, the Eucalyptus trees will anchor the loose topsoil stopping soil erosion and aid farming which is affected by heavy foot traffic sweeping away seeds before they have time to grow. Altogether 120 people took part in this activity and thanked CEDAC for initiating these cross border activities in which they can build vital links with communities on the other side of the border.

Rounding off CEDAC´s set of community building activities, a popular Burundian band Peace and Love performed to about 2,000 people in another area of Cibitoke. Holding the concert was a way of further publicising the projects aims of bringing people together.

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