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Eastern Congo


Mike ThomsonMike Thomson
Our reporter Mike Thomson compiles a number of reports from his travels into Eastern Congo.

Go to this page to listen to Mike's Congo series.
Eastern Congo

Eastern Congo

See more pictures from Mike's travels. 

Read Mike's piece for BBC online.


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My taxi comes to a sudden halt as we round a corner not far from Goma, Eastern Congo.

A tatty piece of rope stretched between a large rock and a rusting metal post blocks our path. In this violence plagued region where hijacks and robbery are common, we wait for the men with guns to emerge.

Instead, a small hand taps on the window. It belongs to a gangly boy of around ten years old clad in a blue Boss t-shirt. He is soon joined by a ragged looking accomplice who looks even younger. Neither are after my money or valuables. “Sir, give us vaccinations,” shouts the first boy in French. “Do it now and we will let you pass,” adds his partner in this medical heist.

With more than a thousand people a day estimated to be dying of disease in a country still suffering the consequences of unremitting bloodshed, corruption and poverty, their requests for vaccinations are understandable.

Although a ceasefire in 2003 brought an official end to a savage war that cost upwards of three million lives, gun totting militia and government soldiers still terrorise much of the population, particularly here in the east.
Medicines donated by the international community often land up lining the pockets of local officials who demand money for drugs that are supposed to be free. These boys appeared to be trying to beat these ‘middle men’ to it.

Sadly, having neither needles, medicines or syringes, I am forced to negotiate my freedom. A half-eaten packet of extra-strong mints and a packet of dry roasted peanuts change hands and I’m on my way again.

A little further on, as we drive north from the city of Goma, our pot-holed road becomes blocked once more. This time by a large heavily laden truck that is leaning, rather alarmingly, to one side. It’s front left hand wheel spinning uselessly in a deep gully that scars the crumbling tarmac.

Fearing that we might soon fall prey to any passing militia gangs or drunken army soldiers my driver grows increasingly concerned. But within minutes dozens of people pop up from just about every direction and descend upon the crippled truck like a plague of do-gooding locusts.

Hands grab bumpers, wheel arches, wing mirrors and anything else they can get a grip on. A synchronised bout of heaving, bouncing and pushing finally gets the lorry back on four wheels.

If this bunch look like professionals, it is probably because they are. My taxi driver tells me that he has seen the same crowd come to the aid of numerous drivers on this particular stretch of road.”?, I ask. He smiles and points to the scene unfolding before us. The driver of the rescued truck is handing out money to all those that helped him. My question is answered. Evidently far more is to be made from leaving the holes than filling them in.

As I finally arrive in Goma the resilience of local people shines out even more brightly. Five years ago this city of 200,000 people was almost buried by lava as the volcanic mountain that overlook it erupted, spewing molten rock. Never ones to give up in the face of ongoing adversity locals have simply rebuilt their city on top of the rubble using the black volcanic rocks as bricks. 

The hope is that they will be able to reconstruct their lives shattered by war and random violence in a similar way. Yet with government forces beginning a new offensive against  the ruthless Rwandan Hutu militia hiding in the forests not far away, survival may well be their highest priority for now.

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