Eyewitness in Congo: Godefroid Marhegane

By Oxfam America
In eastern Congo, a recent surge in violence has forced hundreds of thousands to flee camps and homes.

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At the end of August, 2008, intense fighting resumed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo between government forces (FARDC) and the rebel CNDP, leaving in tatters the peace process that began in Goma in January 2008. This fresh wave of violence forced hundreds of thousands more people from their homes in a region where more than a million had already been displaced, and it hampered access to many of those in need. Oxfam is working to provide water and sanitation facilities to displaced people in the affected areas, including Goma. The following is a first-hand account from staff member Godefroid Marhegane, who lives in Goma with his wife and six children.

My neighborhood was one of the worst affected by the fighting, which went on all last night. About two kilometers from my house, the gunmen went into a compound and killed seven innocent civilians. Our neighbors were attacked by gunmen who came into their compound and robbed them, taking mobile phones and money. We were okay, but I found some bullets in my compound.

I was in the Oxfam office when the panic started yesterday. People saw the national army troops leaving Goma with their tanks and vehicles, and at the same time they saw the UN troops shifting civilians to a safer compound. No one informed the population about what was happening, and they thought the rebels were going to take control of Goma. People panicked.

Many people took advantage of the panic yesterday to make trouble. They looted shops and robbed families. It was a mixture of people fighting, criminals, and undisciplined soldiers, using small arms like AK-47s. But in other areas there was a deployment of national army units who were disciplined and protected the people. I haven't seen UN soldiers anywhere myself.

Today, it's calm and very quiet. Usually the traffic here starts at six in the morning, but I looked out at 10AM and all I saw was one motorbike. The shops are all shut. Life hasn't started up yet.

A lot of people are displaced and are living in the suburbs of Goma in very harsh conditions, and the fighting is making those conditions even worse because there's no access for humanitarian workers.

In particular, one group of displaced people has now been forced to move for the third time in a couple of months. They are living in schools and hospitals, or with host families in and around Goma. They desperately need water, food, and shelter. There's no health care or medicines. People are living in the open air, and if they do get a little food it's not enough to feed the whole family.

This current crisis has made it harder for Oxfam to respond. We are watching the situation and I'm going out this afternoon to check out our work in the camps.