The whereabouts of a Congolese journalist and media proprietor who went missing at the height of the renewed M23 insurgence in the war ravaged eastern parts of the country are still unknown.
Press freedom activists and media associations have condemned the kidnap and are urging the Kinshasa government to heighten investigations into the disappearance of Mr Innocent Garubanda Byamungu who was also the Director for la Vioix de Mikeno radio based in Kiwanja.
They also call upon any armed group that could have been involved is his kidnap to consider their appeal and stop targeting journalists who are doing their work.
Mr Tuver Wundi, the Chairperson for the Journaliste en Dange an umbrella of media practitioners in North Kivu province told our reporter that they have tried searching for their colleague who went missing on February 25,2023, but all in vain.
“We have kept in touch with the government officials in charge of security to trace the whereabouts of our colleague but until now we do not know where he is. But the government has continued to give us some hope in their investigations. We do not know whether he is still alive or not,” he says.
Journalist Byamungu went missing while he was in Goma city where he had gone to attend the commemoration of the murder of a female journalist in 2013.
Journalist Tatiana Kahashi who was working for a state owned ETNC Rutshuru was killed in a bomb attack.
Mr Jeremie Kighoma who was a news reporter and presenter at la Voix de Mukeno FM, said they were shocked by the news of their boss’ disappearance shortly after an attack on the radio in Kiwanda and closure of their station in Bunagana.
Byamungu’s disappearance and prior attacks against his radio put la Viox de Mikeno on the list of the closed radio stations and consequent loss of jobs of nine employees he had.
“Life for journalists has been becoming hard. Even if you are a correspondent for a media house far away, the security situation is very tough given the presence of various armed groups,” says Mr Kighoma.
The Congolese government Spokesperson, Mr Patrick Muyaya, has pledged to take a deliberate action to protect media practitioners in fragile area.
He told journalists’ leaders that the government appreciates the role of media in state and community development.
The key question is how the government will protect journalists in areas controlled by the rebel forces. Journalists remain in fear and in danger.
According journalists’ leaders, at least 68 journalists lost their jobs in the past six months following the continued advances of the M23 rebels and government forces’ efforts to repulse them.
Most of them were employed by 18 radio stations in Rutshuru and Masisi that were forced to suspend their operations for security.
The number of forces on a peace keeping mission including the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) and Kenya People’s Defense Forces (KDF) has been increasing to neutralise the M23 rebels allegedly backed by the Kigali government.
Analysts say, the impact is mainly visible on preventing M23 advances with little on restoration of peace and order that could allow resumption of business and movement on major roads like the Rutshuru-Goma Road.
Life is not only hard for journalists in eastern Congo but also humanitarian workers, the business community and the entire population that never got a chance to free the conflict hub.