Part 2 of 4 which I started writing in Gisenyi while I had downtime and no internet. Specifically I’m talking about Goma, as we spent a day in Goma which pressed it mold into our memory.
Yesterday, Thursday May 21st, we spent a day in Goma, DRC, which is literally a few hundred meters away from where I sit as I write this. Interestingly that arbitrary line drawn years ago is now a physical demarcation in both stability and economics. As some of you may remember Goma is still in a state of simmering conflict. More specifically its the areas outside of Goma a few kilometers into the Democratic Republic of the Congo in North and South Kivu. This conflict, which was exported to the DRC from Rwanda after the genocide, causes continued instability which is apparent in most walks of life within Goma. Security is the biggest point of differentiation, as although crime exists in Rwanda, there is a general feeling of safety that is enforced by the police state atmosphere. Angela and I crossed into Rwanda at the “Grande” (Trucks and Foreigners) Goma-Geniysi border yesterday around 6pm and it was pouring rain so we ducked into have a tea an wait it out. By the time the rain stopped and we started home it was dark. Although I was a bit worried we’d get lost, based on all reports a Muzungu like me would have little trouble with people on the way home, nor would anyone for that matter. (A Muzungu or Umuzungu as it’s more commonly spelled, is a descriptive term of any non-commoner. Generally children chant it at foreigners, but it can also mean upperclass people.)
Here’s another example, yesterday I heard a story about three muzungu at the beach in Genisyi where one left his passport and cellphone under a stack of clothes inches away from another muzungu while they swam. Several minutes later, after some background action that the muguzunu’s were unaware of, several locals say they’ve caught a thief and ask the Muzungu who swam where his cellphone went. Find it missing, they say someone’s returning it shortly along with the thief. Cellphone returned the muzungu’s go on about the beach business in a more aware state, but the young thief was given vigilante justice; i.e. beaten and and thrown into the water with his clothes. The thief then threated the locals claiming to be part of the militia and saying he’d return later. Not taking kindly to this, the locals broke a branch and “taught him a lesson.”
It’s heresay, that I heard directly from a witness, but which even if slightly exaggerated is indicative of the ethos that the people have about crime. Police are sometimes involved, but in Rwanda you take your chances if you disrupt civil society and you might pay with your life.
The DRC such an ethos seems to be lacking. Having only visited for a day, I can’t say that it seemed dramatically different then Genisyi in terms of crime or alike as I have insufficient data. I can say the police/officials near the border are different. Unpaid and apparently corrupt on the DRC side and polite on the Rwandan. I wonder if here in the Goma/Genisyi area, given the regularity (daily) crossing of DRC/Rwandan the ethos of stability might be leaking in, but I don’t know enough.
It’s a case that I look forward to returning too and investigating further. Perhaps eventually I’ll be able to report more.