The road approaching Bunagana skirts at times just a few miles from the conflict between Congolese armed forces (FARDC) and mutinous rebels of the M23 movement. Yet populations along that road bustle around the outdoor market selling fruit and vegetables from the lush hillsides. Further up the hill, some are carrying mattresses and their belongings, rather than bowls of bananas.
The town of Bunagana on the Ugandan border is emptying into Uganda; the population has largely fled, locked doors line the main road. Army soldiers are gathering in the towns, and occupy the strategic hilltops above it.
For the residents of Bunagana, it is time to pack up the belongings once again. I was first here a month ago, a few days after clashes between the FARDC and army defectors. Then, according to residents, the battle lasted a few hours, during which the town had emptied into Uganda until things settled down.
The displacement this time seems to be somewhat more enduring and involving populations from neighbouring areas. There has been no fighting in Bunagana in the recent clashes, but the M23 rebels now occupy Runyiony, just a few miles from the border town.
Movement into Uganda ebbs and flows; some coming through the official border crossing, but many through the adjacent bush. Yet people continue to cross back into Congo, carrying the ubiquitous yellow jerry cans to fetch water — “there is no water for them there [in Uganda]” said a border official. And trucks continue to traverse the border from Uganda, ferrying goods through this important supply line. They were trundling over the border shortly after a reported airstrike on an M23 position.
The situation is far from clear.