Seven months after Malawian soldiers were deployed to the North Kivu town Beni in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) life has – by and large – returned to normal for the local population.
The soldiers, part of the Malawi Battalion (MALBATT) contribution to the UN peacekeeping mission in the central African country, mount motorised and foot patrols 24/7 to ensure civilians are safe from opportunistic attacks by armed rebel groups. Support for the soldiers is in the form of FARDC (Forces armées de la république démocratique du Congo) elements with the Congolese National Police also contributing a MONUSCO communique reports.
“Regular patrols by the Malawian battalion have a significant deterrent effect in the area on armed group activities. A local traditional leader said ADF (Allied Democratic Forces) were everywhere. ‘They used to attack and chase us from our fields. Today, the village has regained its former tranquillity’.
“There is a gradual return of the civilian population who fled actions by armed groups to seek safety. People are gradually resuming their rural and economic activities,” the communique states adding Malawian Major Flao Mwale’s comments.
He is reported as saying: “The situation was disastrous when we deployed. Most localities were in a ghostly state because inhabitants abandoned them. We went to work immediately to make sure people were convinced they were protected”
Looking to consolidate peace, Malawian peacekeepers regularly bring together different segments of population, during weekly meetings known as “Urafiki”, to raise awareness about the need for community involvement in establishing a permanent climate of peace.
Meetings are held with the FARDC, the PNC, 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 and proactive and preventive action by the MONUSCO Force.
The Malawi Battalion works to strengthen local protection committees and local security forces to be more active with battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Philip Chitekwe saying:” We believe peace is possible and are looking to adapt our protection mechanisms. We don’t want to deal with atrocities forever we intend to ensure sustainable peace in our area of responsibility”.
The Malawian battalion is part of the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) of battalions from South Africa (RSABATT), Tanzania (TANZBATT) and Malawi (MALBATT). The FIB has been deployed in North Kivu since 2013, as part of MONUSCO’s mandate to ensure protection of civilians and neutralise armed groups.