Africa: ‘We Are No Longer Called ‘Displaced”

After fleeing the violence perpetrated in her village in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Julie* settled with her family in Mangina, North Kivu. It took her two years to obtain the title deed for the plot of land she now occupies. The deed is a crucial document that helps her feel at home in her new community.

Julie is in her thirties and is married with eight children. She now works as a pig farmer. A modest activity, but enough to support the family. Two years ago, Julie worked as a teacher. But then her life, like that of thousands of civilians in the east of DR Congo, was turned upside down.

Armed groups infiltrated Julie’s village, Beu-Manyama, in the vast region of North Kivu. Many civilians were killed in the attack, including four of her pupils and five of her neighbours. Julie fled with her husband and children. She found herself without a home or a source of income.

The family arrived in Mangina. They initially settled in a site for people who had been displaced, and then obtained a small plot of land with the support of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). “We started farming to ensure our survival,” says Julie. “Gradually, the income from our field enabled us to buy a small plot of land in the housing estate, where we built a small wooden house to live in.”

Julie quickly realised that she needed to obtain a title deed to secure the land she owned. “Our plot ran the risk of being plundered, because anyone could claim it as their own,” she explains. “We were also exposed to potential conflict over the division of our plot with neighbours who had land titles.”

A property deed to restart her life

Aware of this lack of essential documentation, Julie asked NRC for legal support. A few weeks later, NRC paid the sum of USD 50 to the local authority to cover the costs measuring and drawing up the plot of land. “It’s a great victory for us,” exclaims Julie. “We’re very proud to have this document because the procedure to obtain it was long and tiring”. In Mangina, 150 families have been supported by NRC in their efforts to obtain title deeds.

With this document, Julie’s prospects changed. She became a member of a group of women involved in village savings and loan activities in her neighbourhood. She always pays her contributions on time. This local initiative, which is part of a drive to boost women’s socio-economic empowerment, allows its members to pay their weekly dues. Anyone in good standing is entitled to a revolving loan at an advantageous interest rate, unlike microfinance institutions and banks, which are often too rigorous for the most vulnerable.