The Peace Market, Congo
I was struck on my trip to DR Congo last week by how different markets are, especially at this time with Christmas approaching. I left wintery, festive London – full of European markets selling festive food, warm mulled wine and roasting chestnuts – to explore the impact of our partner Centre Resolution Conflits. On arrival in the small Congolese town of Bunia, deep in the bush, I visited one of the local market sites in the village of Kaya, where CRC had worked with ex-combatants as part of their reintegration into local communities.
The ex-combatants start their reintegration process with a programme of three months’ community service. Peace Direct supports these activities by providing materials to enable the construction of roads and markets – and this was one of these. It had been built by the former fighters as part of their return to village life. It is called the Marche de Paix.
Before they rebuilt it last year, this small market had only nine traders, all of whom were selling mangoes. Since the rebuilding of the market, the number of stalls has increased to 35 traders, most of whom are women. The market now is a central place in the town, other shops have opened next to it, and villagers have access to a much wider range of essential goods – rice, sugar, clothing and more. It has become a meeting place of community members.
I was struck by how vibrant and dynamic this small market is, and by how proud the vendors were of their relatively modern stalls – of course very different from those European markets I had just left, but so integral and crucial for the communities in which they are located.
Markets meet a practical need in a community – they are a place to run businesses and start life-enhancing small enterprises, and also to access and purchase products for shoppers hoping to feed their families well. But these markets are significant beyond that. Much of the work of Centre Resolution Conflits is aimed at reducing conflict in eastern Congo. Markets can be a meeting place, a gathering point where traders and shoppers, often from diverse and ethnic backgrounds, meet each other. They assist in building community interdependence and strengthening inter-ethnic understanding and empathy. And in this case, they can show commitment from ex-combatants to working with and assisting the communities that in many cases they have directly harmed.
I left this small vibrant market wondering what local Congolese people might be purchasing for their Christmas lunches, conscious that this would be very different from those purchases I am more familiar with, but certain that having enabled this humble market to be grow, we had increased what might be bought, and certainly improved the lives of those affected by conflict in this part of the world.