Blog: Bandits and Bridges: The Streets of Uvira and Beyond

The eastern DRC is known for a number of things—sexual violence and conflict minerals topping that list. The everyday realities of the roads rarely make it to the front page, yet in terms of daily lives and livelihoods, for the population in Uvira, roads matter! In this post we address two themes related to the roads: bandits and bridges.

Although there is no lack of awareness about the ongoing access to small arms and the presence of various armed groups- FDLR, FNL, Mai Mai- to name a few, their activities and interactions with civilians remain unclear. Local populations are often uncertain about which, if any, armed group perpetrated a given act of violence against civilians. However, they are aware that many of attacks happen on the roads connecting towns and villages.

On 15 April, a group of sports fans were traveling from Uvira to Baracka for a soccer match. They were stopped on National Route 5, between Makobola and Mboko by a large crowd of young armed men sporting military uniforms, but who were not identified as military personnel. Their identity and affiliation was unclear to those who were stopped. The group stole everything right down to underclothes.

Similarly, in an attack that occurred the night before, around 7:00 pm, a motari (motorcycle taxi) was stopped on the road between Uvira and Makobola by individuals trying to steal the motorcycle. They physically attacked the rider, cutting off fingers, but he escaped on his bike. Again, the perpetrators were armed, but their identity was unclear. A military station was established between Uvira and Makobola in Lwanga, but insecurity and bad luck define the rest of the road. In preparation for our upcoming trip to Mboko, perhaps the most relevant analysis of the security of the route is that everything depends on luck.

The insecurity of National Route 5 is juxtaposed by its scenic landscape.

This picture was taken on the on National Route 5, between Uvira and Makobola.

This picture was taken on the on National Route 5, between Uvira and Makobola.

Due to the geography of the road, numerous bridges exist in order to make travel by car possible. Or, more precisely, the remnants of bridges exist—many are crumbling, broken and in desperate need of repair in order to avoid being a death trap. Some have completely collapsed. The bridge in Kivovo, just outside Uvira, recently collapsed, killing one motari and injuring another. The problem is not limited to bridges; roads have also collapsed, due to natural degradation, in addition to poor maintenance.

Degradation of National Route 5, between Uvira and Makobola.

Degradation of National Route 5, between Uvira and Makobola.

Of the numerous bridges in a state of disrepair, perhaps the most notable is the bridge in Kavimvira, which connects Uvira to two major hubs: Bukavu and Bujumbura. Currently vehicles are largely restricted to either side of the bridge and all merchandise must be brought across by hand. We have witnessed truckloads of soda being passed across by workers. Vehicles containing fretins (small fish) or rice are unloaded, walked across and reloaded on the other side. The impact on economic activity is evident. Additionally, the chaos that now defines this bridge is beyond manageable, with motorcycles, bicycles, women returning from fields with baskets of cassava on their backs, young children, and herds of goats all trying to pass on the narrow makeshift crossings and find alternative transportation on the other side. Recently, an alternative path has been utilized, but it requires a vehicle that can pass through the water of the river that runs under the bridge.

Goats, bikes and motaris share space on this makeshift bridge in Uvira.

Goats, bikes and motaris share space on this makeshift bridge in Uvira.

In order to improve the potential of development and commerce, rehabilitation of roads and bridges requires serious attention, as does the amelioration of the security situation. Locally, it is understood that everyone including the local population, the state, and the international community have a role to play in improving the condition of roads in Uvira.


Field Blog: South Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo

This is a series of co-authored posts that draws on the knowledge of local populations to discuss the difficulties faced in everyday life in South Kivu, particularly in Uvira Territory. The goal is to move away from a sensationalist accounting of conflict to a grounded narrative based largely on daily life and experiences in a context characterized by ongoing violence and poverty. Posts will explore current events, difficulties and successes from a local perspective, meaning the posts will be primarily informed by ‘everyday’ people’s perceptions, experiences and concerns.

Clarisse Mema is an activist and advocate for peace, justice and development in South Kivu, DRC.
Holly Dunn is a Doctoral student in Political Science at the University of Minnesota.