Impressions from Goma and Bukavu

Greetings from Bukavu again. For the whole week iit was very difficult to obtain access to internet, since our schedule has been that tight for even the nights must be restricted to some 4 or 5 hours of sleep. The advantage in that was the fact that none of us had to go to appointments alone, which is favourable as we are not that familiar with the city Goma and the security situation there is more or less stable, but in overall unpredictable.

But to begin chronologically, a few days ago I spent the night in Bukavu instead or arriving in Goma as earlier planned. The next day I was supposed to take a boat and cross Lake Kivu up to Goma. Well, in the end it worked well out, but the boat took some 4 hours more than it should. We left the port of Bukavu at 7am in order to reach our destination at 1pm. Some moments after leaving we were informed that DRC’s First lady Olive Lembe Kabila was expected to come aboard and join us in going to Goma. Unfortunately, she was a bit late and so we set the anker in Bukavu’s bay. We waited until 10am before docking on again to take up the First Lady’s luggage. Then after an hour again the Presidential escort finally reached the beach and we could start after some strong security checks. Aboard, Mrs Kabila took the occasion to shake hands with the passengers and so I had some brief talk with her. So long…
After another 6 hours we arrived in Goma, it already began to become dark and I was looking for Nico and Philipp that would catch me at the port. As I tried to catch up my luggage I realised there was another problem to deal with firstly: My backpack was stored under Mrs. Kabila’s masses of lugagge. Of course I was not authorised to get it and I was even thrown out of the boat by some rather terrifying bodyguards and army officials. Just in that moment a heavy rain began to fall over Goma and I felt like swimming after a couple of minutes. Since I had no choice I was to wait till the Presidential entourage finished its check-out. Then a group of other passengers that faced the same problem encountered some sort of shelter bash – I ran to join them escaping the waterfalls and ironically I found myself with then 100 Congolese hiding under an UNHCR shelter – my first 20 minutes in Goma.

Later finally I met the other two guys and we went to Philipp’s home where the long and suroprising journey from Kinshasa to Goma found its successful end. The next days were fully charged, I had some very interesting appointments with humanitarians and observers working there and also Nico and Philipp continued with their research projects. In general Goma is a very challenging environment. Though basically a secured zone in the conflict topography of the Kivu provinces, one has to be extremely carefully, especially in two different regards: First, when doing politically sensible research it should certainly be avoided to behave as you would in a normal environment. Secondly nights are said to insecure and unfortunately they start at 5.30pm which means that we always had to finish our daily programme after dusk. Anyway we managed to care about each other and step out of risky situations up to this day. Another things is that Goma is a special city for the following reasons: The outbroke of Nyiragongo volcano a couple of years ago transformed the whole picture the city gives and it makes it more difficult to orientate, since the streets are quite similar and the need of rush rebuilding also harmonised the way houses are built there. Then, the whole setting in which Goma finds itself is deeply characterised by the events going on since the 1994 genocide and its subsequent refugee crisis in then Zaire and the civil war that is in close ties with it. In that way Goma even differs from Bukavu, probably since it was even more affected by all those events and always stood in a stronger limelight than the capital of South Kivu. But all that are just fragments of a high number of impressions we have had there the last days and I hope I will be able to draw on it in a more reflected way some weeks further.

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