Trapped in a Conflict within a Conflict, Five Siblings Escape the Civil Strife in the Democratic Republic of Congo

News Mon, 04/25/2016 - 10:05 Share

*Names have been changed to protect their identity


Three children from the Malala family* decided to ran away to Kenya from the Democratic Republic of Congo after their mother, father and elder sister were killed during during prolonged periods of fighting in the country. Trapped in a series of targeted attacks between two militia groups, they did not want to take their chances and thus boarded a Nairobi bound truck that was coming from Burundi to collect raw materials from Kenya. Two of the siblings sat down to narrate their ordeal after successfully undergoing a Canadian Orientation Abroad session at the IOM Transit Centre in Nairobi.




“Our quandary started in 2001, during the conflict between the Government and a rebel group known as Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD), but I see this as a story about my late sister, Esther Malala*. Charles Malala*, the older boy begins.


“Soldiers allied to the rebel group were returning to their camp from duty and passed by our house. You see, our home stood along the path used by many people. They kidnapped our Elder sister, Esther, and disappeared with her into the forest for three days, before she wandered back home. One of the RCD commanders followed her home, allegedly to take back the wife of their Major General who had ran away. The arrival of the commander at our home placed us in a difficult situation with the community members.


They felt that we were betraying them because we looked like we were entertaining the rebels who had burnt down their houses, tortured, kidnapped people and killed many. Worse, Esther had returned home alive yet women who were kidnapped the same day as her, never returned to their families. That was the beginning of our problems.


The community members reported us to the **Mai-Mai militias because they believed that my father had married his daughter off to the Major General, who led a group that was killing them.”
**Mai-Mai refers to a community-based militia group active in the Democratic Republic of Congo and formed to defend their local territory against other armed groups.


“The rebel commander then took Esther away and just like that, my sister was married.” Charles continues. “We were all forced to accept that the Major was now our brother/son-in-law, because resisting his marriage to my sister would mean death. My sister returned home after a while and the Major General would then frequent our home, coming to visit his ‘wife’. We were not happy about it but there was nothing we could do. He was a very powerful man.”




“In 2006, the Mai-Mai - acting on a tip-off - came to our house to ambush the Major General and after a harrowing search, found a briefcase and military fatigue he had left behind during his brief visit the previous day. They demanded to know from us the whereabouts of the Major and when they could not derive much, they took me with them, saying that they needed someone to carry the briefcase to their camp.” Charles continues.


His sister *Lucy then takes up from there.


“We were saddened because we thought they would kill my brother and although we told the Major what had transpired after his visit, he did nothing to help us get our brother back. We were joyful when my brother returned home a month later. He had managed to escape from his captors, unfortunately his escape added to our troubles. The Major General was not happy to see him return without his stolen briefcase and military fatigue. He now branded us traitors and that we had alerted the Mai-Mai to come for the belongings he had left at our house.”


“We were now caught in a difficult divide. The Mai-Mai were looking for my brother and the Major General had turned against us. It was a hard place to be.” Charles pauses before continuing. “At this point, the Mai-Mai were not pleased that I had escaped. They had attempted to initiate me in to their group and they knew where to look for me so they came home, but they were late. The Major General had already sent his soldiers to take me away.


My mother could not bear it and was not letting me go without a fight. They shot and killed her and then turned on Esther who was also trying to hold on to me. In the long run they took me with them. I was tortured by the Major General in his effort to make me reveal who exactly had his suitcase and what they were doing with it. I lost my two front teeth in the fracas.”




The now visibly distressed Charles continues with his narration….. “It was a confusing and distressful moment for us. The community, Mai-Mai and the RCD were out to get us and there was no stable government to speak of, that we could run to for help. We now set to search for my father who had run away during the scuffle that saw my mother and sister killed. We found his lifeless body in a creek nearby. The hostility was too much and the villagers were now taunting us saying that my father was killed by the Mai-Mai because he was supporting the RCD rebel group.


We learnt from the son of the area chief who was my brother’s friend that the villagers were planning to burn down our house. He advised us to run away and we left that very night. With just the clothes on our back, we made it to the Burundi-DRC border and crossed in to Burundi. However, we could not stay long in Burundi because the country was allegedly involved in the politics in DRC. It was therefore not a safe place for us to hide in that sense, especially considering what a powerful rebel leader the Major General was. We were advised to leave.”


“We arrived in Kenya in November 2009. We chose Kenya because we felt it was far from Congo. We realized on arrival, that there was a large Congo community in Nairobi and were led and introduced to the community leader. We had stayed in Kangemi for two months, when one day Charles ran into one of the General’s bodyguards who had also somehow made his way to Kenya. He knew who we were and there was no way we could risk staying in Kangemi because rumour had it, that he was looking for the Malala siblings that stayed in Kangemi. It was time for us to leave and we eventually found ourselves in the Zambezi area, in a different part of the city. It has not been easy for us living here and constantly looking over our backs.”




The Malala siblings describe living away from home as refugees as the most difficult thing one can go through. “In one occasion we were attacked by people who felt that refugees were trouble makers. We were looked down at and we felt extremely alienated. A neighbour led us to register with UNHCR as refugees and somehow, and after many years, we were selected for resettlement to Canada.” Lucy says.




“I expect that things will be different when we get to Canada. It has been a long journey towards our resettlement to Canada. We went through the first interview in January 2012 and we underwent cultural orientation with IOM in December 2014. Things can only get better for us, as a new horizon beckons. “




IOM Kenya has resettled 1,746 Congolese refugees in the last five years. In 2014, 684 Congolese refugees were resettled by IOM out of which 141 were resettled to Canada. The United States accepted 405 refugees from the DRC. The chart below shows Congolese refugees and country of resettlement, spanning back to 2010.