Since the permanent deployment in December 2021 of Malawian peacekeepers to the north-east of Beni town in North Kivu, the inhabitants of Bwerere Village have resumed the normal course of their daily activities.
The Malawian Battalion (Malbatt) has been organising motorised, pedestrian, day and night patrols to protect civilians alongside the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Congolese National Police.
These regular patrols have had a significant deterrent effect in the area on the activity of armed groups.
A local traditional leader in the war-torn part of the DRC said: “Previously, the Allied Democratic Forces [ADF] were everywhere.
“They used to attack us and chase us out of our fields. Today, the village has regained its former tranquility.”
Until now, there has been a gradual return of the civilian population who had fled the exactions by ADF and other armed groups to seek safety from danger.
The inhabitants are gradually resuming their rural and economic activities.
Major Flao Mwale, the officer commanding the “A” Company of Malawian peacekeepers, recalls: “The situation was disastrous when we deployed here. Most of the localities were in a ghostly state because the inhabitants had abandoned them.
“We had to go to work immediately to make sure that the people were convinced that they were protected,”
To consolidate the newfound peace, the Malawian peacekeepers regularly bring together different segments of the population around the same table, especially during weekly meetings called urafiki. The meeting is convened to raise their awareness about the need for community involvement in establishing a permanent climate of peace in their environment.
These meetings are held jointly with the Congolese armed forces, police, civil society organisations, traditional leaders and local government authorities.
They also serve as information-sharing platforms for all stakeholders, leading to a common awareness of the situation as well as proactive and preventive action by the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Monusco) force.
“As Malbatt, we understand that the problem here is complicated and requires more than military solutions. We, therefore, take all stakeholders into consideration to ensure all perspectives are taken into account,” Mwale explains.
The Malawi Battalion is also working to strengthen local protection committees and local security forces to be more active in achieving sustainable peace to ensure that the results achieved are sustained beyond the peacekeepers’ departure.
“We believe that peace is possible and we are looking to adapt our protection mechanism. We don’t want to just deal with atrocities forever, we intend to ensure that there is a sustainable peace in our area of responsibility,” says Lieutenant Colonel Philip Chitekwe, commander of the Malawi Battalion.
Malbatt is part of the Force Intervation Brigade (FIB) that also consists of battalions from South Africa and Tanzania.
The FIB has been deployed in North Kivu province since 2013 as part of Monusco’s mandate to protect civilians and neutralise armed groups.
The big issue
Between September and December 2021, residents of Bwerere, a small village about 35 kilometres South East of Beni Town, knew no peace. Every day, their lives were punctuated by beheadings, abductions and loss of household property. Farming, an important economic activity in the area, ceased as ADF rebels raided the village, attacking and chasing civilians from their fields.
*Kapeni is Malbatt information operations officer. Topeka works with Okapi, the official UN Radio in the DRC