Eastern Congo is one of the most unstable places on earth. In the war that has raged since 1996, over two million people have been forced to flee their homes. As people attempt to return, many find that their homes or land have been taken over by others. An influx of returning refugees often threatens to overturn any hard-won stability and can lead to further violence.
Mama Kabibi is 78 years old. She has watched her children die one by one, either in combat or through disease. Alone, she could not defend her land and was powerless when a former combatant forced her from her home and her one source of food – her cassava field. She approached the authorities, but heard nothing more.
Justice in Congo is hard to come by. In the area where local peacebuilder Flory Kazingufu works, a local lawyer disclosed that of the 2,000 cases that had gone to the state court last year, only 8 had been resolved: lawyers can make too much money by keeping the case open.
In recognition of this Flory is implementing a village-level system of justice based on traditional structures, which means that local people do have somewhere to air their grievances – at no cost to them. He is training a team of impartial observers to manage the cases, and plans to set up three community courts.
Mama Kabibi came to see the volunteers of peace in February. They immediately began work on the case. After just two hearings, the former combatant agreed to give the land back. For a project that has only just begun, it shows the immediate impact the courts can have on the lives of the most vulnerable.
The land was returned to Mama Kibibi in a ceremony of reconciliation in front of the whole community – reinforcing notions of justice and fairness among everyone present.
The three community courts that Flory will set up will span 32 villages – serving almost a quarter of a million people. And because they use traditional structures and are managed and run by the people of the communities, they will be sustainable for the long-term future.
Flory will train 200 volunteers, £50 could pay for one day of a trainer’s time, to equip these volunteers with the skills to mediate and seek justice. Once trained the volunteers will travel across the district to help those who need them – £5 could pay for a tank of petrol for their motorbike. Sign up to a regular gift of £6 a month today, and help these volunteers protect the vulnerable.