Before Maombi was displaced from her a village in Rutshuru region, North Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), She had a good life, she and her husband had property, were successful farmers until when her family became a target of a ruthless armed militia that was determined to destroy them. Her only crime was that she was from a different tribe.
“December 2010, the army men raided our home three times; the first time, they robbed our house, looted everything. A week later, took me away, they raped me, tortured me, beat me up and dumped me at a bush near my house. The third raid was on a Sunday evening; this time, they took my husband away. I got worried when he didn’t return home, my neighbours knew what was going on, we began searching for him. On Monday evening after a long day’s search, we found my husband’s body lying lifeless in the bush with what looked like severe torture wounds. I was devastated. On the evening of the burial, an army vehicle came to my compound, the rugged-looking army commander that had captured and killed my husband stepped out, he said that he was asking me to marry him. He said that that he was giving me one week to get back to him with an answer. He pointed at my husband’s fresh grave. “You’ll follow him if you refuse to marry me.” We were sleeping in the bushes near our home. Two nights later, we heard people coming to our home, I held the younger kids; I told the older ones to run. I hid at my friend’s home overnight. My friend told me about a man that transported goods across the border to Uganda. She asked me not to worry about the two older kids. That she would make sure she gets them someone to bring them to Uganda. She was confident because she was from the tribe that wasn’t being hunted. He agreed to transport us. He put us in his truck with the maize that he was transporting. We reached Kasindi border through Bwera.
At the border, I was quiet, the truck driver is the only one that spoke. I had no paperwork, nothing. I dont know what he said to them but they did not ask me anything. He drove us to Kampala. I wasn’t thinking about my next move when I got to Kampala. He dropped me at the Gaaga bus terminal. I overheard a woman speaking Kiswahili, I walked to her, I told her all my problems. She didn’t know how to help but she told me that she knew a church that had several Congolese refugees. She paid my boda-boda fare. The church received me with open arms. They gave me food and a place for me and my kids to sleep. I asked people to take me to police but many were hesitant, two months later, I got someone that accompanied me to the police station. The police gave me a refugee card and told me to go to the Office of the Prime Minister where I received and an asylum seeker card.
I called Mama Gideon the kind lady that I had met at the Gaaga bus terminal, she was happy to hear from me. I told her that I wanted to start a business but I didn’t have start-up capital. Mama Gideon gave me 100,000 Uganda shillings. I began hawking necklaces around the city. So we formed a group as Congolese women. We started saving. I was able to rent a house in Makindye. Kampala City Council Authority was chasing away all vendors so trading on the streets was proving difficult. It is during this period that I began to feel sick, I didn’t know why because I had always been a strong woman. I went to InterAid because they give free medical care to refugees. After telling them my history, they carried out HIV tests. I tested positive. I couldn’t walk long distances like before, and I was tired of the running battles with KCCA. So I was not making as many sales as before. At InterAid, they told me about two children that had a story that seemed to fit mine. They showed me their files, they were my children. I was so happy that they had made it. We were reunited. When the children came, someone at church told me about Jesuit Refugee Council in Nsambya that sponsor children. They help with my kids’ education. I am hopeful that life will change. Life is difficult here, rent is due two months, one of my girls has dropped out of school to help support the family. I just wish they could find us a third country. going back home is not an option because those that tortured us and killed my husband will come for my children.”
Sexual violence has continued to be used as a tool for war, targeting victims on basis of their actual or perceived ethnicity. It has been employed as a tactic, of ethnic hatred, even ethnic cleansing. It is one of the least reported crimes, yet the victims suffer shame, stigma – consequences felt for a lifetime.
But seeking justice is the last thing on Maombi’s mind right now. The daily struggles with poverty in the Ugandan slums are her preoccupation as she seeks to give her children a better life against all odds. She is one of Kampala’s 350,000 registered refugees.