By Joseph Ondiek
The second edition of the Ritshuru Community Festival is scheduled to take place on March 30- 31 in Rubare village, Rutshuru, eastern Democratic Repuplic of Congo (DRC). The festival, organised by the Association of Tourism Actors in Goma, aims at promoting tourism in the region and bringing together the diverse ethnic communities that call this region home.
According to Olivier Kamuzinzi, Adviser to the Minister in charge of Environment and Tourism, North Kivu Province, and one of the event organisers, Rutshuru territory was deeply affected during the past conflicts and the event is part of their efforts to heal the disparate communities by bringing them together through culture and tourism.
He also says since the end of the war about five years ago, the tourism industry has tremendously picked up and the locals should now be encouraged to take advantage of the upsurge to uplift their living standards.
“Five years back when conflicts were still raging in the region, only a trickle of tourists used to visit eastern DRC, despite hosting many attraction sites. But now the situation has improved and tourists are flocking Rutshuru to see its attractions,” says Kamuzinzi.
Rutshuru territory is mountainous and hosts a large portion of the Virunga National Park, which is famous for its mountain gorillas. Residents of this area are extremely poor. Since 1992, they have suffered from violent conflicts between different rebel groups and government troops.
At the peak of conflicts in November 2008, an estimated 250,000 people were left homeless. The violence has caused health issues, including the need for treatment after rape, which is common. Children have stayed away from those schools that are open for fear of being kidnapped by armed groups.
Promoting culture, conservation
Among other activities, the festival is going to feature traditional dances performed by groups representing each of the ethnic communities living in Ritshuru territory, a question and answer competition on conservation, and environmental conservation sensitization.
“We are targeting school children in our conservation awareness because we believe they’re the future of our heritage. Environmental awareness campaigns should target them when they’re still young so they grow up knowing the significance of conservation,” says Kamuzinzi.
He adds that the festival also aims to foster peaceful coexistence among different Ritshuru communities and to help in fighting climate change.
Kamuzinzi says they also aim to promote tourism within the Ritshuru territory, adding that it’s important that the communities know the significance of tourism and how they can fully gain from tourism activities within the region.
The festival comes after a successful one that was held in February this year in Masisi territory whose theme was to sensitize the local community about child labour in the mining industry.
According to the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, about 40,000 children work in cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo. For a shift of up to 24 hours underground, most earn less than $2 (1.80 euro) a day – many receive half of that.
“The working conditions in the Congolese mines are miserable,” says Faustin Adeye, who works with the Catholic charity, Misereor. “Many children are often physically ruined as a result. There are whole excavations which they dig up with their bare hands using machetes spades.”
Kamuzinzi says ATD carried out research last year and found out that not only is the situation of child labour deplorable since it ruins the future of children involved, but also that mining in the mountains around Rubaya in North Kivu leads to environmental degradation and catastrophes like landslides.
Children are legally barred in DRC from economic exploitation, so they’re technically prohibited from accessing the quarries atop the hills, even though those quarries are controlled by artisanal miners. Despite this, children as young as 5 spend their days learning to identify minerals and separating them from the sand.