From despair to hope: rebuilding trust in eastern DRC

For Anayey Bandingana Jacques, the trauma of his past informs his attitude to the future. After spending six years as a member of an armed group in eastern DRC, he has come to believe that political leaders manipulate young people to hate other communities under the pretext of defending their own. As he sees it, rebel leaders work for their own interests rather than for the genuine interests of their community.

Now dedicated to working towards peace rather than division, Anayey hopes to persuade young people to disassociate from armed conflict. But in his efforts to raise awareness among young people, he has encountered a reluctance from others to follow in his footsteps and walk away from violence.

During an experience-sharing workshop with young people from the Irumu territory of Ituri Province, he reflects on the armed conflict that has been present throughout his life. A breakdown in trust between ethnic groups had allowed young people to hate each other for no reason. Peace will not come from elsewhere, he says, but rather local young leaders need to come together and start from a point that they can all agree on: that Ituri deserves better.

Anayey had long sought opportunities to speak in public about his experiences and to speak directly to the authorities. By organising workshops with various community and governmental representatives, Nashiriki Kwa Masikilizano, a project funded by the EU and implemented by a consortium including International Alert and led by the Norwegian Refugee Council, had provided a platform for him to inspire hope in those who might be able to follow his lead.

Anayey Bandingana Jacques: “It’s possible to share with other young people without necessarily thinking about ethnic war.” Photo: Charles Bongwa/International Alert.

The provinces of Ituri and North Kivu in eastern DRC have been beset by cycles of violent conflict, often driven by political and elite interests being at odds with community needs, as well as structural factors like disputes over administrative boundaries. The Nashiriki project aimed to build community resilience in the face of these conflict drivers by promoting collaboration and trust. It brought together communities with local authorities, facilitated peaceful cohabitation between local people, and helped find durable solutions for the large numbers of people displaced by conflict.

Mambo Nguna Moise, a teacher from Djugu territory in Ituri Province, had been sceptical of working with INGOs. He assumed that being a member of the Lendu ethnic group would mean that members of other communities would have a negative view of him.

But joining the Nashiriki project reassured him. A road was being rebuilt to connect the majority Lendu community of Datule with the majority Hema area of Tchomia. Mambo often worked on similar projects during the school holidays but felt that they were often undermined by favouritism and that people from the Hema ethnic group wouldn’t see him as being on their side. This project, however, was based on the importance of young people from both communities working together, supporting both social cohesion and infrastructure development.

Selected as a supervisor, Mambo oversaw the work of his team regardless of their age, ethnic group or socioeconomic status. The small daily interactions with people from other backgrounds came to mean a lot to him.

“Today, I’m at peace in my neighbourhood and with the other young people we worked with,” he said. “The Nashiriki kwa Masikilizano Project has been a concrete response to our need to live together and build cohesion… The proof is that we can now have a group to share ideas and put together common micro-projects for the well-being of our families.”

Mambo Nguna Moise: “Teamwork with others creates confidence and a taste for living together.” Photo: Charles Bongwa/International Alert.

The need for improving social cohesion was also significant for Eugénie Angeango, a headmistress and project participant from Irumu territory. She is an active member of the Amani Basili Dialogue Group, which brings together 20 members of different communities to facilitate peaceful cohabitation, mediation and conflict management.

The sessions being held for people from different communities, including the Hema, Bira, Lendu, Ngiti, have brought about palpable change, she says. Two years earlier, it was unusual to see people attend church with people from different ethnic groups. Feelings of distrust and fear had grown following clashes between militias, to the extent that such mixed gatherings were avoided. It took a lot of time to bring these communities back together and rebuild trust. But now when she visits church on a Sunday, she finds mixed groups and preaching centred on peace and mutual trust.

Eugénie Angeango: “The sessions of the Dialogue Group were not a wasted effort in a city once known as the shadow of death and tribalism.” Photo: Charles Bongwa/International Alert.

When Eugénie shares her experience of the Nashiriki project, she focuses on a spirit of sharing and living together. In a region struggling to overcome violence and division, community leaders like Eugénie, Anayey and Mambo are providing an injection of hope.


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