At 2000 km from the east of Kinshasa, the capital city of Congo, the Lake Kivu is situated between the towns of Goma and Bukavu. Victims of different cases of injustice such as administrative harassment, racketeering and thefts for several years by ill-intentioned individuals and local authorities, the fishermen from Lake Kivu have joined forces to assert their rights. A year later, they are happy with the results.
It is seven o’clock in the morning in Goma, a town bordering Rwanda in the province of North Kivu. We are taking the direction of the West of the city to the port of Kituku, which is the biggest fishing port in the region. While we were thinking that we were early, at the entrance of the port, we realised that we were late. The port was already crowded.
Here, the activities start very early in the morning around five o’clock. Fishermen come and go in the sea with their materials, traders come to buy fish products which will be sold in town, and security agents ensure that public order and security are maintained.
Shamavu Hamuli Ezechiel, 49 years, is the president of the Union of Fishermen Associations of Kivu Lake since four years. We met him in his small office of 3 m2 in a new building that the Government has constructed, with the support of the International Association of Francophone Mayors (AIMF). This office is visibly well equipped which reflects the beginning of a new era for fisheries at the Kivu Lake.
Around 200 fishermen are part of the associations presided by Shamavu, and are categorised in four groups, which sell their fish products in different ways. This is done either by small traders who fill this place in the morning, or by partner organisations.
Being organised to maintain law and order
After berthing of each boat, part of the team takes care of the maintenance of the materials like nets, and others take care of selling the fish or to conserve what has been caught, explains the president. Some months ago, working in such harmony was unimaginable for many fishermen, who are often victims of attacks, over-taxation, thefts, and even murder. “Not only we were not getting much, but also our lives were in danger. Once, I was attacked by armed bandits who stole everything with me. It took me several weeks to recover from this episode,” relates Eric Cuma, a fisherman.
Today, there is law and order and Shamavu Hamuli Ezechiel explains how they have managed to do it. “We have been able to get a list of all fishermen operating in the Kivu Lake in Congo. This has enable us to identify different causes of our misfortunes, such as insecurity and thefts. Together with my committee, we have defined measures to overcome these difficulties. For example, we determine the times and zones where the fishermen are working and we organised mixed patrols with the sailors to protect the fishermen,” says Shamavu.
Next challenge: Lack of hygiene
Edmond Mushizi, a fisherman who we met is arranging his net, and does not hide his satisfaction for the current working conditions. “Anyone could come out at the port and ask for money, pretending to be a security agent. Even the military force, we know that they don’t have the right to do so, as only the naval forces are authorised to control us and take taxes here,” he explains.
Regarding the local authorities, they are also enjoying the peaceful environment at the fishing port. “The construction of the modern fishery of Kituku and the organisation of the association of fishermen have enabled us to easily identify the contributors for taxes,” explains François Mitima, the manager of the modern fishery of Kituku.
There are still difficulties at the fishing port of Kituku. These are related to the irregular power supply, because of which the cold room does not work well, but also the hygienic conditions are bad. According to Shamavu Hamuli, a committee for hygiene will soon be put into place to facilitate the construction of additional washrooms and to ensure the hygiene requirements in fisheries.
Sammy Balance Mupfuni
Translated by Nawsheen Hosenally (Twitter: @Nawsheenh)