In 2014, Church on the Rock was planting a new church in Kudou, near Beni in North Eastern Congo (DRC). A pastor had been sent there with his family to lead the church. Two weeks later, rebels attacked their village and slaughtered 28 people, among them the pastor and his wife. The pastor’s little children saw an axe being planted into their mother’s head.
The children later reported, “some white stuff came out from our mother’s head.” Their father was slaughtered and chopped with machetes behind their house.
Bishop Damiri who’s based in Goma and oversees Church on the Rock went to Beni to ask for the bodies of the pastor and his wife. He says, “It was so terrible that the government buried the people using tractors, they just dug big holes and damped the bodies inside, some in coffins, others just like that.” He could not let that happen to the pastor and his wife. They were working for the church and their family deserved to bury them.
There were many more badly mutilated bodies, apart from the 28 who were murdered on the same night as the pastor and his wife.
He lobbied through people in the government and was finally allowed to take the bodies. “The governor showed up at around 5pm and they had to bury people the same day. They gave us the bodies at 6.30pm. We spent the night in the church in Beni with the corpses. The next day we took them to their family and did the burial. It was shocking.”
Many of the pastors under Damiri have escaped situations like that by a whisker. Two of them, on separate occasions while escaping attacks in their villages, met rebels in the bush who for some reason, weren’t interested in violence. They just asked for directions, sparing the lives of the pastors. They later confessed that when they were first spotted by rebels, they knew their date with the heaven had arrived.
Sometimes, rebel would start shooting in one part of the village, giving an opportunity for others to escape. Another village was attacked 30 minutes after the pastor had finished a church service and left the village.
“Of the 16 churches that we have, 6 have closed because of conflict. 2 in North Kivu province (Kudou and Mantumbi) and 4 in Ituri province (Mongamba, Apende, Membelenga and Biane). Some of those churches had schools and other amenities for the community. 5 are still operating in the war zone (Rutshuru, Oicha, Butembo, Beni and Ringeti),” Damiri adds.
The pastors, their congregants and thousands of Congolese have been displaced from their farms and homes and rendered helpless. The situation has been worsened by the recent resurgence of the March 23 Movement (M23) rebels. By October 2022, they had captured Bunadana on the border with Uganda and taken towns like Kiwanja and Rutshuru, cutting off food supply to Goma, the capital of North Kivu province.
In the recent weeks, the rebels have been fighting 20km from Goma. Over 20,000 people are on the streets of Goma with no food and water and nowhere to sleep. Food prices are skyrocketing in Goma. A bag of charcoal that was USD 25 is now USD 50. The border with Uganda is occupied by rebels and thus closed. That’s where Goma would get it’s supplies like cooking oil and flour. The locals are wondering what will happen in the coming weeks and months.
According to a World Vision report, 90,000 have been displaced since October 20, 2022 bringing the total of displaced people in Congo to 5.6 million. 1.8 million have moved in 2022. Some already displaced families are fleeing for their lives again, with almost nothing. They are surviving under trees, in school classrooms and churches with near to zero support. They lack food to eat, clean water to drink, almost no change of clothes.
The report says the need is huge and growing, yet help is only trickling.
Not forgetting that this is the same region that was hit by a volcanic eruption in 2021 that displaced 400,000 people. About 2000 families are still living in deplorable conditions in makeshift shelters.
There are over 100 rebel groups operating in Congo. One of them is Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a jihadi Islamic terror group with links to ISIS. They conduct raids in North Eastern Congo near the border of Uganda.
They are known to be exceptionally cruel and intend on establishing Islamic sharia law in the territory they control. Their killings in Beni have been described as genocide. Bishop Damiri explains, “They chop people’s necks and hands with machetes. They tie people’s hands and slaughter them like they are chicken or goats. They cut their private parts. They cut open the wombs of pregnant women, remove the babies and pound them in a mortar. They rape women in front of their men and children. They slaughter children, boil their heads and force the men to eat. Those who managed to run away from the jungle where they were kidnapped tell of this horror.”
In July 2022, ADF attacked Butembo and freed 850 prisoners. They radicalized them in Islam, changed their names and gave them weapons to go and kill non-muslims (Kafir).
A Catholic Bishop who spoke to the Pontifical Charity Organization, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International, gave an account of Christians being abducted and given Muslims names against their will and mosques being constructed everywhere. He said there is “a grand scheme to Islamize or expel the local populations.”
What Bishop Damiri and the catholic Bishop are reporting is collaborated by a DW report in which an interviewee said that they (ADF) want to ‘create a grey area where the state has no authority, to control and exploit the area. It’s what they call the Islamic state of central Africa.’
One of their fighters was a Kenyan terror suspect, Salim Rashid Mohamed alias Chotara, who had jumped bail in Mombasa was arrested by Congolese forces in Beni after slaughtering a Congolese civilian. Mohamed is a Mombasa resident and a suspected terrorist on whose head Kenya had placed a Sh10 million bounty. Some years ago, he was deported from Turkey on suspicion of being a member of Isis after being found at the border headed to Syria.
Newspapers in Kenya reported that Mohamed recruited youths in Mombasa and planned their logistics to DRC by getting them temporary jobs as turn boys for trucks destined to DRC. Young men from Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda, have also been reported to be fighting for ADF in Beni.
After his arrest in Beni in early 2022, Kenya wanted Mohamed extradited from DRC to face terror charges but it’s not clear where he is now.
The question is, who is behind all these? Why are the jihadists coming from different countries to join the massacre of the Congolese? What do they stand to gain? Congo has less than 1% Muslims with no history of discriminating against them.
Damiri says the plan is to weaken Congo from all fronts.
“For you to get minerals you have to go through many people and spend a lot of money. They prefer to kill people and take it by force. This war we are facing is a war of occupation. They are coming for our land. They want to take the territory, rule and control everything.”
Nightmare in Heaven
Congo has been described as a nightmare in heaven. It’s heaven because of its vast natural resources, strategic mineral deposits, fertile land and favorable climate. It’s heaven but its people are living in hell.
Congo can feed the whole of Africa if its land is properly utilized, it has 53% of Africa’s water, the 2nd longest river and 2nd largest rainforest in the world. It’s location at the center of Africa is strategic. Instead of blessing its people, the resources have made Congo a target for the worst of global villains, those who take and take with wanton plunder, at the cost of anything, in this case the lives of millions of innocent civilians.
People have been reduced to non-humans in DRC. The genocidal acts have numbed the people. It’s deliberate dehumanization that the world has chosen to ignore. 6 million people have died in Congo, half of them children. That can’t happen anywhere else in the world in this era.
Whoever is behind the massacre in Congo gets pats on the back from Hitler and Stalin, mainly because of how long they have been able to get away with it.
Kenya’s former President Uhuru Kenyatta was in Goma in November this year and the suffering he witnessed made him very sad. His words were heavy and full of empathy. You can tell from his speech in Swahili. The suffering he witnessed with his own eyes made him say, “Jameni kama wana wa Mungu, tujue binadamu sio mawe ama mnyama wa msituni. Yale nimeona leo ni kama kusema binadamu amekuwa mnyama… Tuokoe Maisha ya wale tumeona wanaumia. Hawa ni wanainchi maskini jameni hawana shida na mtu yeyote. Wanataka kulima mashamba yao na watoto wao wasome. Hawana haja na siasa inayotela huu mgogoro.”
Will Congo be left alone?
The saddest part of researching for this article is the realization that Congo will probably not be left alone. Because the supply chain of Congo’s minerals is well established starting with the biggest world powers as beneficiaries. Congo’s looters and oppressors are known and they are thriving. They are supported by bigger powers and they sit in the best chairs in the negotiation table where they have more say than their victims.
The vicious sharks within and without will only stop when the resources are depleted and there’s nothing left.
But the Congolese just want to be left alone, to go back to their businesses and their farms. They know that God has blessed them with land that will take care of their needs. They are crying for freedom, for self-determination and a chance to decide their destiny.
Will they be allowed to?
“We are here covered by the blood of Jesus,” Bishop Damiri’s says. “But anything can happen anytime. We feel like we are being suffocated. Life is very bad, but God is good.”
His message to the Kenyan and global church is: “I do believe in prayer so I would ask our Christian brothers and sisters to pray for the situation in Congo. It’s a complex situation. There are nations that envy Congo and want to take a hold of its minerals and land. Pray against their schemes. For a country that’s second largest in Africa, we need strong leadership. Pray for our president and for God to put the right people around him who can work for the nation. There are international companies that benefit from Congo’s riches (minerals). They fund the conflict in Congo for their benefit. Pray against them”
“There’s need for awareness. Kenyans and the world need to know what’s happening in Congo. We have lost millions of people. We are doing what we can and many have lost their lives in the process. If people can speak louder about Congo’s situation out there, if the organizations that benefit from the war in Congo can be called out and held accountable, that will be good. But above all pray, because only God can save us from this disaster.”
Some photos shared by Bishop Damiri – He has mobilized help for some of the victims. But the need far exceeds the resources.