Warring militias are stealing cows to perpetuate a conflict sparked by spillover from the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo
For years, African militias have used proceeds from precious natural resources to fund conflicts – a practice dramatized in the 2006 Hollywood film "Blood Diamond." Now, there's a new twist: blood cows.
Vast and volatile, the Democratic Republic of Congo has long suffered from conflicts fought over its reserves of gold, copper, uranium, and coltan, a mineral needed in cellphones and other electronics. For years, armed groups have sought control over mines and forests, their acquisitions of wealth fueling cycles of violence. Cattle may sound less glamorous than precious metals, but they're accessible.
"It's just like the mining resources," says Alpha Sow, head of the local office of the United Nations Mission in Congo (MONUC). "Part of this money goes to buy munitions."
In January, the Congolese Army and two major rebel factions agreed to a cease-fire and opened peace talks. As MONUC redeployed to help pave the way for peace, both factions moved quickly to establish or strengthen their grip on territories across North Kivu province. Fighting resumed and cattle thievery soared.
"They came en masse. They stole night and day," farmer Gervais Ruhubika says, referring to the most notorious cattle thieves – a mostly Hutu militia known as PARECO (Coalition of Congolese Patriotic Resistance). He and his partners, who have a small farm in army-controlled territory outside Goma, saw their herd dwindle from 200 to 120. To make matters worse, Congolese soldiers also claimed a stake in the cows.
"Every morning," he says, "they came and demanded almost all the milk."