In Mugunga, about 12km from Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), communities of Bambuti have been eking out a living at the edge of the city. The Bambuti are believed to be among Central Africa's oldest inhabitants, surviving from hunting and gathering. Among those living in Mugunga, some fled the war in eastern DRC in 2005 and others were evicted from their ancestral homes in Virunga National Park, home to DRC’s mountain gorillas.
Neglected by humanitarian organizations, the Bambuti are among the most marginalized communities in the country, without access to even the most basic of resources like shelter and potable water. They frequently face discrimination from other communities. One of their greatest challenges is access to land; despite being DRC’s original inhabitants, they have no title deeds.
“Where we were before, in Ngungu, there was a war between the DRC National Army (FARDC) and the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) several years ago. A lot of people died. When they saw children, the militias simply mutilated them. Now, we’ve been away for more than five years, but we have been unable to go back. We don’t even have our own land there. And here in Mugunga, the proprietor can tell us that we have to move after 2-3 days, so we will be on the move again.
“Recently the city’s water department cut off the water supply so we don’t have any access to water. And even eating every day is difficult. We live by depending on other people who were living here before. We work for them and they give us a small amount to eat. Like slaves.
“As Bambuti, we have no right to own land, so how can we even go back to where we came from? We need the government to bring about stability in land ownership. We are like birds: today we are here, but tomorrow we will move again. Even when someone dies, we have trouble finding a place to bury him.
“When some of our people were moved from Virunga National Park, we were supposed to get 40 percent of the profits from the park, but we got nothing. We can’t even change our lifestyle to fishing because of a lack of materials.
“When we try to go to the park, we are beaten by the security guards. They tell us we are dirty; some use their weapons against us. The last time one of us went there, his shirt was torn by the guards. How can we find our own medicines if the park is closed to us? In the health centres, we are refused treatment because we don’t have money. They tell us: `You are a pygmy - get out’.
“The whole of Congo has forgotten the Bambuti, but please tell me something, who does the Congo belong to? Who are the true people of Congo? If we raise our heads, the people of this country push us down again. If we had access to education, we could study - we really have a great deal of potential, but we have no access.”
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