On Monday, I awoke to news that rebels have taken over Goma, a large city in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on the Rwandan border. This news was profoundly surreal, since I had visited Goma on November 2nd. Given the relevancy to current events, I wanted to post a few pictures.
Near Goma is a national park where one could hike an active volcano and see mountain gorillas. Sadly, the park is closed. We happened upon a park employees packing up the office:
A captured thief is forced to sit in a water-filled pothole:
Decommissioned planes at the airport:
More after the jump…
Back in 2002 the nearby Nyiragongo Volcano erupted and took out a chunk of Goma. Yes, Goma is that unlucky–a series of wars with a lava eruption to break the tedium. But life goes on and people rebuilt. The large black rocks are chunks of lava that were broken through after the eruption:
(Aside: to see how unlucky Goma could be, read about the possibility of a CO2 eruption from Lake Kivu, the lake Goma sits on the shores of)
The potholes mean almost every vehicle is four wheel drive:
Gasoline (petrol) is sometimes in short supply. Luckily there’s a lively black market, and you can gas up your car, motorbike, or generator with petrol (likely diluted) you buy on the street:
The UN Peacekeepers have their own personal gasoline stockpile:
Let’s take a closer look at electricity in Goma:
Up high we have real electrical lines, although the power isn’t on very much. But far more interesting (and reliable?) than the high electrical lines are the lines running on the bent poles closer to the ground. The lower power wires aren’t hooked up to the electrical grid (this entire neighborhood isn’t hooked up to the grid). Instead they are part of small, local power networks. A handful of people will pool their money, buy a generator, put up a few poles, run wire to their homes and businesses, and share the cost of fueling the generator.
The military presence in Goma is serious. We have police and Congolese military rolling around (with the occasional fashionable tracksuit):
(apologies for the quality of some of these photos…military types don’t really enjoy having their photos snapped and the guys I was with were getting nervous, so I had to be stealthy)
UN fortifications are everywhere, especially around the airport:
Why the airport? It’s the only real link between Goma and the government of the DRC. Kinshasa, the seat of the national government, is a month by land and 2 weeks by river. Hence the importance of keeping the airport intact. (Even after the rebels entered the city, the UN has continued to guard the airport).
But the real tragedy of the situation in Goma is the tens of thousands of displaced people. As the rebels have captured territory, residents of villages around Goma have fled. With no place to go, huge camps of these displaced people have sprung up on the outskirts of Goma:
And with the rebels now in the city, my guess is many of these internally displaced people have come into Goma proper, crowding an already overcrowded city.
Looming over everything is a very active volcano:
Goma’s location on the border with Rwanda makes the city especially jarring. Rwanda is nice. It’s clean, the roads are perfect, and the government, despite being a dictatorship, is relatively well run. People are crossing into Rwanda to flee the trouble in Goma.
Common knowledge in the local area (and in the international community) is that Rwanda is involved in arming the rebels, despite denials from the Rwandan government. Arming the rebels has caused Rwanda trouble on their border, earned them flack from the rest of the world, caused cuts in foreign aid, flooded western Rwanda with refugees, and may soon soil their hands with the blood of a human rights crisis (although many say the Congolese army is no better when it comes to ethical behavior, and Rwanda, despite many successes in post-genocide nation building, already has a spotty human rights record).
So what motivation does Rwanda have for getting involved in the DRC’s business? Some people say the president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, wants to hunt down the instigators of the Rwandan genocide, many whom crossed into the DRC when Kagame and his military force put a stop to the killing. But the real reason is likely the vast mineral deposits found around Goma: gold, tin, and coltan, a very hip ore likely used to make components in the electronic device you’re reading this on.
The constant lament about the DRC is despite being possibly the most mineral-rich country in the world, it remains in a state of perpetual instability. But when you break the problems down, it often turns out to be those minerals, and the many well-funded, well-armed people who want a piece of the pie that cause this perpetual instability.