An Unsafe Journey

By Muhango Innocent Amani

Mwenakaya is a Congolese citizen. He lives in the Congo’s South Kivu Province in Uvira territory, in the village of Sange. He generates income mainly from commerce. He treats his customers politely, and he is generous. One time, he paid the school fee for a neighbor’s child who was studying at a school that charges monthly fees. People love him because of his generosity and the fact that he sells his goods at prices that are slightly lower than his competitors. On Mondays and Fridays, Mwenakaya travels along National Road Number 5 (RN5) from his village to Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu Province. He goes there to purchase a variety of goods such as shoes for both men and women, belts, and clothes, which he then sells in his shop in Sange. He travels with people who are going to Bukavu to visit their families, students who attend the colleges and universities there, traders, and others. Every single passenger is unsafe because looters might attack them at any time and place along the road.

On a Monday morning in July, during the dry season, Mwenakaya got on a bus in Uvira, a town about forty-five kilometers from Sange, to purchase goods in Bukavu. Like the other passengers, he paid $5 for his ticket. At 9 a.m. a group of armed men stopped the bus at Kitali and forced everyone to hand over everything they had. The passengers gave them everything. Mwenakaya had $500 and some fish that was a gift for his relative, and this was also taken. Then everyone was told to get out of the bus and lie on the ground. The looters took everything they could carry and then set fire to the bus. As they were leaving, they decided to take four passengers with them, including the driver and Mwenakaya. One of the other four passengers, a thirty-two-year-old man, refused to go with them. He was shot there and then. As the looters were afraid of being caught by soldiers, they left quickly with Mwenakaya, the driver, and a twenty-five-year-old man.

Ten minutes after the looters had gone, some soldiers from the Congolese National Army arrived at the scene. The remaining passengers explained what had happened and pointed them in the direction the looters had gone. They said that the men had headed west, to where they lived in the forests of the South Kivu highlands. These men regularly came down to the villages and cities to loot properties and sometimes destroy them, to kidnap people or even kill them. They also stopped buses that traveled along the main road to do the same. They kidnapped people in order to demand ransom. The soldiers followed the looters and after a few minutes gunshots were fired. The looters immediately started running but two of them were killed. They each had an AK-47 that was taken by the soldiers. They threw away some of their loot, but the soldiers found it and brought it back. Two of the people who were kidnapped—the driver and the twenty-five-year-old man—were able to run away, so the looters went on with the one remaining passenger, Mwenakaya. At 5 p.m. the looters called the kidnapped person’s family to demand a ransom. They demanded US$5000 in exchange for releasing their relative. Otherwise, Mwenakaya would be killed. The family did not have the money to pay the ransom. Mwenakaya was tortured repeatedly.

The following morning, the soldiers from the Congolese National Army went to look for him. When the looters saw them coming, they ran away and left the victim behind. The soldiers found Mwenakaya tied to a tree. He had been tortured—he was badly wounded and his body was covered with blood—and deprived of food. The soldiers had nothing for him to eat, but they untied him and took him home. The family and the entire community were grateful to the soldiers for rescuing Mwenakaya. Currently, looters are still operating in South Kivu Province. Among them are militia groups that harm members of the community. They continue to kill, kidnap, rape, and loot people’s properties. Mwenakaya has temporarily stopped his commercial activities.

12 June, 2023