Wendy MacNaughton

July 30, 2006
Bunia, Ituri Region, Congo

It’s election day.

I am sitting in the home of the EU reprentative for the Ituri region. The staff of FEWER has been staying here for the past few days – and we will remain here until we return to Nairobi. I will be heading back first to put together all the materials and information we have been gathering through interviews, video, photographs and tape recording. The borders of Congo are closed now, so it appears I am stuck for the moment. I’ll probably be able to get a flight out with the United Nations on the 2nd, though…. In any case, there are no flights back to the US from Nairobi until the 7th, so I guess the timing works out alright.

For the past few days, I have been traveling with the staff of Fewer (Peter Sampson, Director – Jean Marie Gasana, Senior Analyst – Themba Linden, Project Coordinator) and the head of their local partner in Bunia, African Initiative Program (Christophe Mehima) throughout the Ituri region – into areas that only months ago were highly insecure – considered red zones – assessing the civic education programs in rural areas outside of Bunia. We’ve been meeting with local community groups that have instituted senstiziation programs to assess their effectiveness, both their strengths and challenges, of which there are an overwhelming amount. One challenge that has been an interesting tie directly in to the work of FEWER’s conflict assessment and prevention is the development of community programs supporting the reintegration of ex-combatants (former militia group members who agreed less than one week ago from today to put down their arms). I will attach some photos here of one of the programs developed to retrain them and reintegrate them into society…

We’ve traveled to areas where no wazungu (white people and westerners) have been permitted before – fishing towns where militia groups will call in the middle of the night to tell the community to stay inside for the day, as something other than fish is going to be arriving at the port. We’ve met with community leaders, leaders of refugee camps (internally displaced persons, or IDPs), ex-combatants, leaders of women’s groups, peasants associations, international press, international and local NGO members, civil society members, members of the armed forces…

It is difficult to give an overview of such a complex situation, but in short, the take of people living in Ituri seems to be this: These elections could be a new start, a change for Congo… Maybe. People are naturally skeptical after what they have been through, especially in this region. Only three years ago, this place was in an unimaginable state of war… and now… But this could be a start. It might not be, but it could be. And that, at least, is something.

More soon. I am heading to travel to a few voting stations. Bunia itself is a ghost town – everyone is voting in nearby villages. Let’s hope this quiet will maintain for some time to come…

Wendy MacNaughton, a graduate of Art Center College and Columbia University, is a free-lance illustrator in San Francisco.

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