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Horror and fear grip survivors of Congo's hidden war

President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to leave power at the end of his mandate in 2016 has undermined the legitimacy of the state in the eyes of many Congolese, with deadly consequences.

People look on as protesters burn tyres during a demonstration calling for the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)to step down on 21 January, 2018 in Kinshasa. Picture: AFP

LONDON - The last thing 11-year-old Mave Grace saw before falling unconscious was men with machetes cutting open her pregnant mother’s belly and killing the unborn child.

When Grace woke she was surrounded by dead bodies. Her left hand was cut off just above the wrist.

“Around us we saw corpses everywhere,” Mave Grace says. Wearing a green patterned dress, she squints into the sun as she holds up her handless arm, the scabs of the stump still not fully healed.

Mave Grace’s home village of Tchee lies in the eastern Ituri region, where ethnic strife between Hema herders and Lendu farmers has cost untold lives and forced tens of thousands to flee since it started earlier this year.

Information from Ituri is hard to come by since the region is very remote and volatile, but the violence there is driven in part by a breakdown of government authority which has sparked conflict in other parts of the country as well.

President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to leave power at the end of his mandate in 2016 has undermined the legitimacy of the state in the eyes of many Congolese, with deadly consequences.

The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR expects 200,000 refugees to reach Uganda from Ituri this year, stretching limited humanitarian resources there.

Other survivors like Grace and her family have been forced into camps inside Congo.

Mave Grace’s camp, on a hillside on the edge of the town of Bunia, is a sea of makeshift blue and white tarpaulin tents, inside which its temporary residents huddle from regular rainy season downpours, and the cold. Many spend their days praying together for a way out.

Their bodies and faces show what they ran from. Mave Grace’s two-year-old sister Rachele-Ngabausi bears a diagonal scar that runs from the bottom of her left cheek, past the inside of her left eye and up to her forehead.
Her father, Nyine Richard, is full of despair.

“Even if I go back to my village, I do not know how to live anymore. I have lost all hope.”

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