Stories of Strength and Sorrow from Eastern Congo

Theodore Trefon and Noël Kabuyaya


A vivid and inspiring account of a Congolese city at the centre of international aid efforts, as told through the everyday struggles of its people.

A city of over one million people caught between volcanic eruptions and armed conflict, Goma has come to embody the ‘tragedy’ that is the Democratic Republic of Congo. Often portrayed by outsiders as a living hell, Goma is nevertheless a city of opportunity for others.

Drawing on a rich tapestry of personal narratives, from taxi driver to market trader, doctor to local humanitarian worker, Goma: Stories of Strength and Sorrow from Eastern Congo provides an engaging and unconventional portrait of an African city.

In contrast to the bleak pessimism which dominates much of the writing on Congo, Trefon and Kabuyaya instead emphasise the resilience, pragmatism and ingenuity which characterises so much of daily life in Goma. Resigned and hardened by struggle, the protagonists of the book give the impression that life is neither beautiful nor ugly, but an unending skirmish with destiny. In doing so, they offer startling insights into the social, cultural and political landscape of this unique city.

Author Bio

Theodore Trefon is a senior researcher at the Belgian Royal Museum for Central Africa, and a lecturer in environmental governance at ERAIFT, Kinshasa. His previous books include Congo’s Environmental Paradox (Zed 2016), Congo Masquerade (Zed 2011) and Reinventing Order in the Congo (Zed 2004).

Noël Kabuyaya is an assistant professor of human geography at the University of Kinshasa. This is his first book.

Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • Chronology of Events in and Around Goma
  • Introduction: A City in Search of its Future
  • 1. The Ups and Downs of a Businesswoman
  • 2. The Amazing Wooden Scooter
  • 3. Charcoal is Life
  • 4. A Stone Cutter’s Paradise
  • 5. Goma’s Public Health Challenges
  • 6. A Pragmatic Humanitarian
  • 7. Everybody Loves Beans
  • 8. The Motorbike Taxi Solution
  • 9. Private Security for Hire
  • 10. Gembloux-Goma Return
  • 11. Village Boy Makes Good
  • 12. Born under a Lucky Star
  • Afterword


‘News from the DRC is often so bleak, outsiders wonder how ordinary folk survive. The answer lies in these testimonies. Trefon and Kabuyaya's protagonists negotiate militiamen, lava flows and cholera outbreaks with humour, determination and remarkable grace.’
Michela Wrong, author of In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz: Living on the brink in Mobutu's Congo

‘A masterpiece of urban sociology. Zed Books are to be congratulated for making this outstanding book by Theodore Trefon and Noël Kabuyaya available to English language readers.’
Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, author of The Congo from Leopold to Kabila

‘One can only respect these life stories, which resonate like gunfire and silent screams with Congolese readers. They come closer to revealing the true state of the DRC than most theoretical accounts.’
Patience Kabamba, author of From Charity to Parity

‘In this moving and inspiring book, Trefon and Kabuyaya finally give voice to the ordinary people of eastern Congo. Reading these stories transported me back to Goma.’
Séverine Autesserre, author of Peaceland and The Trouble With the Congo

‘A fascinating dissection of Goma as told through the lives of its citizens. It reminded me why I passionately fell in love with this town.’
Kris Berwouts, author of Congo’s Violent Peace

‘Trefon and Kabuyaya’s superb research and clear-headed writing takes us into the everyday lives of Goma’s residents. In addition to hardship and resilience, it is by revealing the normalcy of their lives, and our shared humanity, that the book helps us connect with its protagonists.’
Pierre Englebert, Pomona College


Publication Date: 15 January 2018
256 pages

Product ISBNs: Paperback: 9781786991409
Hardback: 9781786991416
eBook ePub: 9781786991430
eBook PDF: 9781786991423
eBook Kindle: 9781786991447

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