A few days ago I was caught in a thunderstorm by the river. The lightning cracked over the Uele river and the rain came down hard. They say it was the first big rain, ushering in the saison de pluit (rainy season). After months of dust and dry earth, it is welcomed. But in the midst of the heavy winds and thunder, the looting of a school near Dungu centre sparked mass panic amongst the population, causing people to flee across the river, fearing the looting was an LRA attack. Over the last few weeks there have been confirmed LRA attacks moving progressively closer to Dungu. The fear of what comes next has mounted within people and the combination of heavy rain and a few shots fired by the FARDC sent dozens if not several hundred people running with their belongings. I was walking back to the UN when I saw a line of people stretching in both directions as children, men and women, balancing what they owned and could carry, faces drawn taught in fear, told us the LRA was attacking Dungu.
Rumors spread fast, but no one wanted to risk the potential that it might be true. And so they fled. The history of what the LRA has done in this region has left a formidable trail of terror that people are ready to abandon their homes and run at the mention of their approach. “This is our life,” says Ferdinand, who lives in Dungu centre and fled with his community across the river that night. “We sleep but we don’t, we are always alert, in case the LRA comes,” he said, exhausted after a night in the rain, convinced the LRA was near.
For now, though it was confirmed by OCHA that it was not the LRA, people in Dungu question that conclusion, blaming Congolese politics and ulterior motivations for potentially discounting other potentially actual LRA attacks as mere banditry.
The LRA’s method of serial abduction, murder and looting has rendered the people in Dungu on high alert.
That night as the wind blew and the rain came down, knowing dozens, perhaps hundreds of people were huddled somewhere, too scared to go back home, put this madness in perspective. It is just that.
– Written by Lindsay Branham from Dungu, DRC