Conflict Escalates in Eastern Congo

Goma is relatively calm, but political solutions not forthcoming


For a city recently conquered by a rebel movement Human Rights Watch has accused of "widespread war crimes," Goma is, by all accounts, a fairly quiet place. On Monday, I talked to two NGO employees based in the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo's North Kivu province, a city of up to 1 million inhabitants that was taken by the Rwandan-backed M23 rebel movement last week. 

"Things have been relatively calm," said Dominic Keyzer of World Vision. Compared to the group's past atrocities, "the occupation itself is much more measured." Christina Corbett of Oxfam told me the city is returning to some semblance of normalcy -- or to whatever normalcy is possible in a region that has basically been at war for 20 years -- now that the initial shock of M23's offensive has worn off. "People are trying to get on with life. It isn't the beginning of the conflict, so Goma's no stranger to his kind of uncertainty […] the city has not ground to a halt, by any means."

Economic activity is resuming, even though the price of basic food staples has doubled. And while some sources have reported attacks on civil society targets, including the assassination of a local judge, there is no fighting in the streets, and M23 has had a light presence inside of Goma itself. "It doesn't feel like a heavily militarized city," said Corbett. "We're not seeing guys on every street corner." But the city still sits at the center of a vast and seemingly insoluble political and humanitarian crisis. As Keyzer pointed out, the fighting, which includes armed groups other than M23 and the Congolese military, has put parts of North Kivu out of the reach of humanitarian organizations. "My concern is that for all of these groups, what happens in the rural areas is far worse than what happens in the urban ones," he said, noting that his organization's biggest challenge is tending to internally displaced persons [IDPs] caught along the conflict's rapidly-shifting front lines.