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Nancy Say Kana,
Ghent University, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Dept of Social Work & Social Pedagogy

Armed conflicts in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo

The current world is shaken and surprises us in a negative way. It is a world agitated by all kinds of troubles, sensitive to cause stress and trauma. Armed conflicts, wars and disasters that affect people in different parts of the world, cause terrible destruction and affect the lives of human beings in all its dimensions. The consequences of these human and natural atrocities do not spare anyone; that is why the leaders of the victim states and regions are in a perpetual search for solutions to the situation in a particular, regional or international way.

In this contribution we focus on the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is one of the countries seriously affected by armed conflicts and natural disasters in the Central African region. The Democratic Republic of Congo is a vast country located in the centre of Africa and surrounded by nine countries at its borders including Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Angola, the Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Zambia and South Sudan. A large country rich in minerals, fauna and flora, Congo is victim of complicity and atrocities at the local, regional and international level. The East of the country is the region that has been affected by grave and recurrent armed conflict for decades (International Crisis Group, 2020) and has already caused enormous human and material damage. These long-lasting armed conflicts have embarked the population, especially children, into a situation of serious vulnerability in different ways (Mels et al., 2009).

Context of armed conflicts in Ituri

Our contribution focuses particularly on Ituri. Located in the North-East of Congo, the Province of Ituri shares its borders with Uganda and the Republic of South Sudan and internally Ituri is linked to three other provinces, including North Kivu, Haut-Uélé and Tshopo. Ituri is comprised of five Territories (ARU, MAHAGI, DJUGU, IRUMU and MAMBASA), all affected by the armed conflicts as well as the Province of North Kivu.

article 12 image Province of Ituri Democratic Republic of Congo / Democratic Republic of Congo

Ituri is one of the main mining regions of Congo with gold mines, oil, waters and forests, the reserve for Okapis fauna. However, it has been seriously affected by war for several decades, with a devastating ongoing impact until today (Vircoulon, 2021).

article 12 image Some of the natural resources of Democratic Republic of Congo

The impact of armed conflicts on human life in Ituri

Since 1997, the province of Ituri has experienced an increase and persistence in hostilities caused by multiple armed groups scattered throughout the region. Every day, the population is victim to new types of violence that constitutes real risk factors to its overall well-being. The civil population are victims of violence and human rights violations in all forms. The mass killings have reached an extreme level of atrocity using all forms of weapons (guns, machetes, spears, knives, etc). The inhumane treatment of innocent people (even babies) has reached an unimaginable level (mutilation, decapitation, disembowelling of pregnant women, banning the burial of corpses). Several families are grieved by the killing of family members and relatives in the most atrocious way.

The region experienced a dark period of Hema-Lendu ethnic conflict between 1999 and 2006, causing approximately 50.000 deaths and about 500.000 of displaced people (Thierry Vircoulon, 2005), and now sexual violence is used as a weapon of war in order to hurt and weaken the opposite group. Women and girls, including children, are victims of sexual violence and are exposed to the risks of death and rape as they go to fetch water and firewood over long distances in isolated and dangerous environments to ensure the survival of their families. Children, especially girls, are obliged to work hard and take on great responsibilities when their parents are killed or when the parents are away to search for means for their survival. Another impact is the unavailability of education and healthcare for children due to the destruction of the public infrastructures such as hospitals and schools. All these are the source of trauma, destabilization and migration of people. Massive and repeated displacements from one locality to another to fly these atrocities and seek peace have become the most frequent activity experienced all the time. Several large camps have been formed and scattered throughout Ituri Province, yet in one camp there are around 10,000 people.

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Pictures of some camps in Bunia city

There are big camps set up here and there, there is still a need for more camps because of the increasing number of people coming from the afflicted neighbouring villages and other unsecured camps where the attacks are still made by the rebels. Therefore, many families are separated, and relatives are spread during attacks.

Bunia (capital of Ituri province) and some localities in the region are saturated with displaced people living in inhumane and vulnerable conditions (lack of primary needs such as food, clothing, primary health care, safety, etc.). There is a high number of orphans, widows and people who have been mutilated and living with painful physical wounds and scars. Among these serious consequences, there is the alarming increase of street children who are victims of exclusion and stigmatization, lack of schooling and the risk of severe physical problems, amongst other negative consequences (Coghlan et al., 2006).

Specific situations of children and youth

With regard to children, many of them are either orphans or separated from their parents, homeless, wandering and begging in the streets. A high incidence of infant deaths and severe malnutrition are observed in camps due to the precarious living conditions. Some of these children have even watched how their parents were killed causing several symptoms of mental trauma. School activities are disrupted and interrupted in the localities that are frequently attacked and affected by atrocities. In camps for displaced people, there are many adolescent girls who are mothers, pregnant or married by force. The lack of care facilities and programs for children and youth predisposes them to the street life and to many other risks that affect their rights and their future. A serious problem of child protection and education is observed. These thousands of children are deprived of their most fundamental rights and childhood.

Young people are not spared from the consequences of these persistent armed conflicts in Congo. Many minors are recruited willingly or by force and used by armed groups to commit all kinds of crimes and violence. Thousands of young people have lost their lives, others are victims of various forms of violence. Being displaced in new areas and without occupation, most of them fall into the trap of alcohol and drugs which leads them to violence, so most of these young people end up in jail. This condition of life leads them also to creates hatred and the feeling of revenge.

The systemic responses

Regarding the training and social work practices, we note that in the Democratic Republic of Congo there is only one public Institution that train social workers needed by the State for the various departments of the Ministry of Social Affairs, Humanitarian Action and National Solidarity. This is the “Institut National du Travail Social”, created and located in Kinshasa by Ministerial Order No. 175/CAB/MIN/AFF.SAH.SN/2013 of 28/01/2013 as part of the implementation of the Law on Child Protection.

In order to respond to the need of social assistance despite the insufficient number of social workers, various national and international humanitarian Organizations, including some training centers, try to do practical training to their employees, who work as social workers to assist vulnerable people affected by the armed conflicts and others disasters. The national education also includes a social techniques program in secondary school that trains social work technicians who help people, after additional capacity building in social work orientation.

Despite the intervention of all these organizations, the needs are enormous, because the atrocities continue and new needs appear and reappear. Some areas are difficult to reach due to insecurity. Witnessing everything that is happening, we admit that the consequences of armed conflicts are burdens on the people, so we took the initiative to support people and communities weakened by the persistent war. This is done through psychosocial activities in camps, helping displaced people to minimize the impact of the psychological trauma they have experienced and to overcome the daily challenges.

To ensure complementarity we offer the support as a multidisciplinary team including psychologist, social workers, community therapy facilitators, etc. The psychosocial intervention is composed of individual psychotherapy for systematic support, group psychotherapy for people with common problems such as girl-mothers, teenagers, widows, street children. The members meet once a week to exchange their experiences and to support each other in relation to the common problems. Psycho-education sessions are also organized for the community members on their feelings and emotions about the traumatic events they have experienced.

The social workers offer support by listening to vulnerable people in order to identify their needs for orientation to different professional structures for an appropriated care. These are cases of unaccompanied children who need protection, children separated from their parents because of war or other reasons. Some children are chased away because they are accused of being witches, girls are chased away or married because they became pregnant. In these cases, social workers intervene by facilitating family reintegration or mediation between parents and children. In these camps there are also a huge number of women and girl victims of sexual violence, as well as minors who are pregnant or have babies. There are also people living with physical wounds due to the war, mutilated people, malnourished children, people living with chronic diseases. All these people are accompanied and referred by social workers to medical centers or other structures for appropriate care. Some children may need to be placed in special centers or transitional foster families to ensure their protection and safety. There are also cases of old poor people living alone or taking care of their orphaned grandchildren. In our team, social workers also conduct psycho-education and community awareness sessions on certain key topics relevant to the identified needs, such as domestic violence, drugs and alcoholism, peace, childcare and education. They help identify the source of stress, build coping skills and provide guidance to find effective solutions to the clients' problems. They also spend time consulting other professionals, such as teachers, doctors, and others involved in a specific case.

To conclude, armed conflicts have persisted in the East of Congo (Ituri) for several years, causing enormous damage. Despite the national and international military intervention to force peace, the situation is getting worse. Unfortunately, the number of qualified workers is very limited compared to the needs and most of workers are volunteers, doing unpaid work. Therefore, we would like to take opportunity through our contribution to this article to formulate the recommendation about the need of several training institutions for social workers.

We have the impression that the press and media do not sufficiently report about the armed conflicts situation that happens in Ituri. The situation remains unknown to many people both at the regional and international level. We plead for peace, the respect of human rights, dignity and equality for all, judgement of all those who are guilty of crime against humanity in Eastern Congo and in the province of Ituri in particular.


Coghlan B, Brennan RJ, Ngoy P, Dofara D, Otto B, Clements, M and Stewart T (2006) Mortality in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: a nationwide survey. Lancet, 367(9504): 44-51.
International Crisis Group (2020) RDCongo: En finir avec la violence cyclique en Ituri. Rapport Afrique n° 292.
Mels C, Derluyn I and Broekaert E (2009) Screening for traumatic exposure and post-traumatic stress symptoms in adolescents in war-affected Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 63(6): 525-530.
Vircoulon T (2005) L'Ituri ou la guerre au pluriel. Afrique contemporaine 2005/3 (n° 215), pages 129 à 146
Vircoulon T (2021) Ituri : Résurgence du conflit et échec de la politique de consolidation de la paix. Études de l’Ifri. Ifri.