Blog: A journey to the top of Congo

Wednesday 06 March 2013 11.07
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A journey to the top of Congo
A journey to the top of Congo

RTÉ's Ray Kennedy continues his blogs from the Democratic Republic of the Congo with this report on a journey to the top of Congo

They live on top of a mountain in the most idyllic place on earth. Looking across the vast green valleys of the Democratic Republic of Congo – one of the largest, greenest and troubled places on Earth. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the poorest.

Life here is far from idyllic, despite its mineral and agricultural wealth – let alone scenery and people, which anywhere else would attract literally millions of big spending tourists. Nobody comes here though.

Tribes have fought with central governments of all types, for centuries. As recently as last November tribes joined together in armed militia fighting other tribes. The government forces melted into the jungle.

They attacked the mountain top village of Shoa, different sides of the tribal make up in the region joined the rebels of either side at various stages - in defending or burning the village - depending on which side their allegiance fell.

I climbed up to it with a group of aid workers and local guides just this week. It is a full five hours drive to the starting point from the border city of Goma - if it hasn’t rained. If it has rained, the mud roads that make up most of this country turn to wet dirt tracks.

At the arrival point, watched over by young AK47 toting rebels, we began the ascent of the 5,000ft mountain which the people of Shoa live on. A vertical sheer climb though jungle and mud. Breath becomes scarce as altitude works in addition to the heat to make it a most energy sapping expedition in the heart of Africa. The Heart of Darkness as Joseph Conrad called this difficult massive centre of the continent.

The climb is vertical at times, some of our party fall on the mud and slide back down. We reach for water, wipe our brows, the landscape unfolds in dramatic beauty all around us. It seems never ending as we plough on in the heat, hearts beating, fighting through the jungle. Some of the local guides wait impatiently, as the tired and the well meaning take constant breaks. In the distance, our first sound of jungle drums.

Then jungle clears to plateau and the plateau to village. The children run towards our group cheering like we were explorers of old. We are the first of any type of outsider they have seen for a long time.

Aid workers from Concern Worldwide step forward as the Chief greets us. The workers have mixed news. They are here to assess, but must wait for funding before they can grant the wishes of rebuilding, which the chief has given them. What that help may be, will be assessed during our mission. A plan will be drawn up.

This centuries old way of life is under threat from the constant internal wars in the Congo. In November while the village split, the Chief now draws them together saying “we are brothers and sisters”.

They are at risk, they are alone and when we leave for the treacherous descent, the brothers, sisters, children and babies of Shoa go back to keeping their village alive as we gaze at the world’s most incredible landscape and wonder where the world is?