Managing land conflict in Congo DRC, Bunia

By on 06/09/2017

06 June 2017 – When land associated violence rocked her Bunia hometown in Ituri Province, Ms.  Louise Tajeki gathered her earthly possessions and together with her family fled to Beni in another part of the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2003.

Ituri district DRC Congo

It was not until months later when the situation stabilised that she was able to move back to her home, having tasted the bitter fruits of communal warfare. This flight made her experience firsthand the problems evictees go through.

As the president of the Land Commission of Ituri better known by its French acronym CFI , Tajeki now is in a position to stem such evictions from taking place, and she sees is as a calling. “There are a lot of underlying issues here and a small incident has the potential of erupting into a large scale feud and it is for people like me to work towards preventing such an occurrence,” she says in her office at the provincial land ministry offices where she is being hosted.

Tajeki’s is one of the organisations working with UN-Habitat on the  Community Participatory Land Use Planning (CLIP). Sponsored by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), USD 12 million land programme seeks to promote peace and stability and is jointly implemented  by UN-Habitat, the Government of DRC and several partners in  North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri (formerly Orientale) provinces.

Tajeko enumerates the many success stories she has seen and says they are on to a good thing. She says irregular land allocations had resulted in a monied minority getting huge tracts of land while the poor felt being marginalized day by day.

“Those who got the parcels then started evicting the poor who had already been living and using the land either by way of farming or as grazing land for their livestock. With the continued evictions they felt they had no choice but to take up arms,” she says.

As the violence spread, some people introduced a political angle to the conflict although it was initially about land, she says. The violence soon spread from the villages right into the urban centres including provincial capital Bunia where residents would move to go live in areas where they saw safety in numbers because of the members of their ethnic communities living there.

It was amidst these skirmishes that CFI was born and immediately hit the ground running. Their main work was mediation, a concept Tajeki admits was so foreign to the combatants at first. As the fighting went on and people moved out of their farms and homes, a new breed of grabbers took advantage of the situation and took over.

When the war ended it was a herculean task convincing the grabbers to move out. “They felt they were the rightful owners and saw any attempt to evict them as an invitation to another round of war, Tajeki says.

Patiently, CFI assembled some people in the affected communities who then moved from village to village sensitizing the residents on the need for mediation.

“They slowly began to see sense of what we were talking about. They embraced mediation as a means to dispute resolution and although we never achieved 100 percent success, I am confident that we have made a mark among the residents,” she says.

Some of those who had planted crops on the grabbed land were allowed to stay until after the harvest while some of those who had taken over residential houses agreed to pay rent to the lawful owners. Tajeki says they have had ups and downs but all in all believes the project will achieve its objectives.

The head of UN-Habitat Bunia office Mamadou Diallo agrees that the project has been a success. He says the many trainings held for those involved in the project before it started made them quite aware of what the project entailed.

“We had training on technical services as well as training for the members of the provincial assembly. We saw the enthusiasm of the people when they formed various groups for women and the youth and they all embraced the project.

We helped the people to understand the role of mapping and also offered some of them training on the use of GPS and local mapping which was done in a participatory manner,” he adds. There was also risk identification so that the beneficiaries are not harmed by UN-Habitat’s approach, he explains.

As the project moved forward, there was signed a Memorandum of Understanding as well as the development of a charter for all the stakeholders, Diallo explains adding that the next step is to make an assessment through a legislative framework.

Staffers José Mokbondo and Axel Kitoga agree that the sensitization of the beneficiaries was crucial because land is quite an emotive issue in DRC. They have seen better land use among the residents and the relationship between UN-Habitat and the government has been excellent, they say.

Chief Claude Mateso

Chief Mateso of Djatsi has seen positive results from the CLIP pilot project. He says his people are slowly learning about the benefits of taking good care of their land. “As the people are being made aware of better land use, even us as administrator from the very top to the bottom are becoming sensitized that the land does not belong to us but rather to the community and this has had a good effect on how our people live and work,” he says.

However, Mateso believes the biggest benefit from the pilot project is that the people have been made aware that they can use mediation as a tool for conflict resolution. “They are now aware that instead of arming themselves with machetes, spears and bows and arrows, there is an alternative and peaceful way of ending conflicts, which is a very good thing,” he says.

Tied to this, the chief hails the sensitization of the villagers to the fact that women too have land rights, a concept that was hitherto non-existent among his people. “Before this, women were sidelined and land issues were seen as the preserve of men but we are seeing a behavioural change whereby women are now getting more involved in such issues,” he notes.

The success of the pilot project is creating another unintended problem, Chief Mateso says. “People from the other areas, having seen the success of the pilot project, are now demanding a similar thing in their areas and the demand is too high that we cannot manage.”

He feels that something like a community radio if made component of the project, would go a long way in helping to create awareness. The station can also serve as a monitoring centre to keep an eye on the areas likely to erupt in violence,” he says.

Mateso also proposes a centre built purposely for women to discuss matter affecting them. “ As they say when you educate a woman you educate the whole country,” he concludes.

Gudza Justin

As the president of the youth of Pimbo, Justin says CLIP has been of great benefit to the members of his organisation. “In most cases it is us the youth who often participate in land conflicts. With this project we are realizing that it is possible to have other means of conflict resolution.

The other important learnt is that of good land use and that the youth can actually make a living out of land. He proposes a strong committee where the youth will have greater chance of expressing themselves. He also feels that regular meetings between UN-Habitat and the residents would bring better understanding.

Budha Ndjaza is a member of the Pimbo executive committee member said that CLIP is the most comprehensive project to address land issues in his country since independence. Squabbles had considerably lessened. Hitherto, land ownership has always relied on one’s financial strength, a habit CLIP was now addressing, he said, expressing the hope that the project could be replicated in other parts of the country.

For Jules Lobi Tsuba, the president of Civil Society organisations of Djugu Territory the project had changed many lives. He recommends that the executive committee gets an office space from where they can operate more effectively.

Kpadju Ndetchu says his fellow villagers have learnt to appreciate the value of land while mediation efforts have helped in reducing conflicts. Adelord Ndrodza appreciates the lessons they have learnt on proper land use while Nyisi Borive Esperance who is the local women group leader says the women have been empowered. Before the project they did not know their land rights, she adds.

Chief Ngabu Jacques says agricultural out has improved with better maize and cassava yields.

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