There is unrest on the streets of Goma, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo's North Kivu province.
People are furious about a war they say was started by rebels from the March 23 Movement (M23), one of more than 120 armed groups operating across the region, which borders Rwanda and Uganda in the DRC's east.
M23 resumed fighting in late 2021 after lying low for years, despite the presence of UN peacekeeping troops in the troubled region.
The DRC accuses Rwanda of backing the militia, claims denied by Kigali.
"Today, as a sovereign people, we say that enough is enough and that we will save ourselves, said Espoir Aspirine, one of the protesters, who is also directing his anger at Rwanda. "We know that we have just signed our death certificate because their spies are numerous in the city, but we don't care."
Bringing M23 to the table
But Congolese Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula is hesitant about engaging with M23.
"As long as the M23 takes a position in the east, we don't see how we can negotiate. We don't negotiate with a terrorist group," Lutundula said.
Gustave Abedi (whose name has been changed for his protection) works in Goma, and said he felt threatened by the M23.
"My family lives in fear," he said. He has to leave his wife and baby home alone because of work.
Abedi said he remembers when the M23 invaded Goma 10 years ago. For days, one could hear the cannon thunder approaching.
Shells hit residential neighborhoods. When the militia arrived, the Congolese soldiers fled and the UN blue helmets stayed in their barracks. Fearing that M23 might retake Goma, some aid organizations are already evacuating foreign staff.
"It seems that nothing has been learned," Abedia said. "Maybe we need a revolution."
Anger at MONUSCO
North Kivu and the neighboring Ituri province have been under military rule since May 2021 because of the poor security situation.
Since then, dozens of activists and journalists have been arbitrarily imprisoned, according to reports by Amnesty International and the NGO Journaliste en Danger.
Some people in eastern DRC are not only angry at Rwanda, but also at the UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO, aid organizations and foreigners in general. They say these groups have not improved conditions for the population.
Protesters sometimes hurl stones at vehicles belonging to the UN and international aid organizations. Some people even try to break into the homes of UN workers in an attempt to get them to leave the country.
On Tuesday night, protesters burned a MONUSCO truck at the entrance to Goma because they were convinced the Blue Helmets were smuggling M23 rebels into the city. Many UN workers don't feel safe driving through Goma in UN vehicles. They prefer to hire local cabs.
UN troops on the firing line
The mistrust runs deep. Rebecca Kabugho, of the activist group Fight for Change, also wants the MONUSCO mission to leave. She told DW that she wants the world to know what's going on in her home country.
"When Ukraine was invaded, the West rightly rushed to help, taking in refugees and showing solidarity," she said over the phone. "But we've been dying here for many years, and no one cares."
The only thing that would interest foreign countries, she said, were Congo's rich mineral resources
Many in eastern DRC echo Kabugho's sentiment as the region has been rife with conflict since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. After the massacre, many perpetrators fled Rwanda for eastern Congo, which Rwanda used as an excuse to invade Congo several times.
Since then, the region has never been at peace. More than 120 domestic and foreign armed groups murder, loot, rape and greed for the business of mineral resources and charcoal.
Time for peace
"We need peace. Our children should be able to go to school without fear," she demanded. That's why she says M23 must be defeated. Her Fight for Change movement is counting on the Congolese army to do this, even though the military government has imprisoned her comrades, and soldiers are believed to have killed at least one activist. Kabugho is nonetheless collecting money and food for fighters on the front lines.
"We only have the army. The international organizations have been here for more than 20 years, but peace is not in sight," she said.
The UN said 186,000 people had been displaced so far by the fighting. Many live in the open without water or toilets.
"The situation is dire: Elderly people are dying of exhaustion every day," said Mwanza Hamissi Singoma. The member of Parliament is part of the presidential majority and represents the Nyiragongo constituency on the outskirts of Goma, where a particularly large number of refugees arrives.
MPs have already collected $1 million (€1.02 million) to support displaced people, he said. "But that is not enough, international aid is urgently needed," he pointed out.
This is no easy task. After all, there is fighting. And where the weapons are silent, explosive remnants remain.
"Some residents told me that there were military items on their plots and fields," said a village chief who asked to remain anonymous. "We collected them and brought them to the UN. But there are many other military items in the fields. We need people to help us get them out because people could get hurt."
Despite the tensions between Rwanda and Congo, the border remains open for now.
Edited by: Keith Walker