I’ve watched the past few days news from Goma in eastern Congo with a ghastly sense of déjà vu. Four years ago, to the day, I was in Goma, at that time still precariously held by the government army, but with rebel forces just outside the town, a few hundred yards away from vast camps of people displaced by decades of conflict. That time the rebels decided not to enter the city but used their position of strength to negotiate a deal with the DRC government. That deal has since disintegrated and this time they’ve taken the town. What will happen next is extremely unclear.
Despite its beautiful setting of volcanoes and lakes, eastern Congo has become a place of horror, especially for women and children: abducted children forced into becoming soldiers, rape used as a weapon against women and girls. While I was there I heard the story of one rape survivor, which you can see here. Lord Malloch Brown, then British government minister with responsibility for Africa was visiting the region at the time and talking about the use of rape as a weapon of war said,
it is a catastrophe, a human catastrophe, which has been largely hidden from international view, and we have to solve it as part of solving the overall problem.
But it hasn’t been solved, and the situation is still as bad, if not worse.
Today my thoughts are with my colleagues still in Goma and the many thousands of vulnerable civilians caught up in the turmoil, displaced once again and exposed to hunger, disease and multiple human-rights abuses. I can only hope that this awful spiral will be halted by concerted action by the international community, the African Union, the East Africa Community and the combatants to end the fighting and bring about a lasting peace that will, finally, allow the population of this fertile land to return to their villages and resume their lives with dignity and security.