Democratic Republic of the War Congo-Wounded Face Life of Penury
|Publisher||Institute for War and Peace Reporting|
|Publication Date||11 February 2011|
|Cite as||Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Democratic Republic of the War Congo-Wounded Face Life of Penury, 11 February 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4d6c93361e.html [accessed 26 January 2015]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Just outside a military camp in Katindo, not far from Goma, a group of disabled former soldiers have gathered. Some have amputated limbs, others have lost eyes, and a few have been crippled by shrapnel.
These people are collectively known as kajorités, said to be a corruption of the English word casualty. They say that a lack of government assistance for former soldiers is condemning those that have been injured in battle to a life of misery.
To survive, they have to resort to begging or stealing, and many end up living on the streets and succumb to drug use.
"We suffer so much, left to our own plight and awful misery, that death is worth more than life," Rajabu Munganga Belge, a former captain who heads the group of war-wounded, said.
Belge fought for the government forces during the time of former president Mobuto Sese Seko. He was injured in 1996, during clashes between the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo, FARDC, and the Rwandan rebels the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo, ADFL. He still walks with a limp.
The kajorités receive a small monthly allowance from the government of 10000-17000 Congolese francs (11-18 US dollars), which they claim is barely enough to live on.
Moreover, the money is rarely paid on time and the former soldiers can wait months to receive it. In fact, now into February, many Kajorités are still waiting to be paid for the month of December.
The government, though, maintains that the needs of these men are being properly looked after.
Officials say they are doing what they can to help the war-wounded, including planned training centres to enable kajorités to acquire new skills.
"Apart from free medical care, the war-wounded are provided with enough food to eat," Bindu Mbusu, a colonel in the 8th military division, in charge of social affairs, explained.
He pointed out that a military hospital in Katindo had been built with the primary purpose of providing army personnel with cheap, or in many cases free, treatment, and this included those that have been disabled by war.
But the war-wounded deny that they receive free medical treatment from the government.
They say that even if they need to receive first aid in emergencies, they have to pay. If they are unable, then they are detained in hospital until somebody steps to do so. In many cases, this can take a very long time.
"Our situation is precarious," former captain Mbungu Matsanga, leaning on his crutches, said. "Some of us die because of illness and a lack of care. Not even an aspirin is given for free because the hospital has become very poor."
In despair, these former soldiers, unable to work for themselves, resort to begging. They wear dirty and torn military uniforms, and show their wounds in order to elicit pity from those that might give money.
Their presence has become normal in front of big shops, alongside the windows of cars stopped at traffic lights and at markets.
They say that often, the benevolent gesture of a donor is accompanied by words of ridicule, such as, "Go beg to your government."
Some of the less generous people chase the kajorités away, in spite of the misery that can be seen on their faces.
Mariam lost her husband to a bomb that exploded in her neighbourhood during the war with the ADFL. She has little time for the war-wounded beggars.
One day, in anger and impatience, she shoved a beggar who was asking for money. Losing his balance, he landed on the floor, his crutches in the air.
"I hate men in uniforms and even more these disabled men who have become an unwanted burden on the nation," she told IWPR. "The presence of these beggars in uniform revives the bad memories of the war in the heart of the people."
Chance Balumuna, a second lieutenant who served in the Congolese army for more than 15 years, lost his left leg during the war. He says that he regrets the sacrifice he made for a government that does not seem to care for him.
"Our leaders are glad when we die," he said. "Why are they ready to pay for the coffin if we die, but refuse to grant us assistance if we get sick?"
Balumuna spends each day in the public square, asking for money, but says that he never manages to bring home enough to meet the daily needs of his family. On a very good day, he can take back home 1,500 Congolese francs (1.7 dollars), but it is usually much less.
He said that he did not have enough money to pay for school fees and food for his children, and that the situation had torn his family apart.
Balumuna explained that two of his children have begun to smoke marijuana, whilst his eldest daughter, aged 18, has resorted to prostitution.
Many of the war-wounded use drugs and alcohol to forget the past. People often consider them rude and aggressive, and are keen to avoid them.
"We take alcohol to soothe our spirits, and it is just a shame that bars are not always open," said Mussa Barwanyi, a former commander in the armed forces.
It is in this state that the war-wounded often cause trouble in their neighbourhoods.
"They attack us and try to steal our property by force," complained one of the vendors in Kituku market, just outside of Goma. He claimed that he was often threatened by the war-wounded who, once they become drug addicts, lose control of their impulses.
Belge, the battalion commander, has tried to deter other former soldiers from begging by giving them pep talks to boost morale.
"You are valuable men. You should care for the respect of military dignity," he has told them.
But, surviving in such desperate conditions, many of the war-wounded ignore such advice.
Sarah Nsimire is an IWPR-trained journalist.