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Environmental destruction and resistance: a closer look at the violent reoccupation of the DRC’s Kahuzi-Biega National Park

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COVID-19 and Conflict | Economic downturn, precarity, and coping mechanisms in the Eastern DRC

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The Kivus in the Eastern DRC do not seem to be getting a break. Besides facing a protracted armed conflict, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused an economic downturn in the ...

ALL Black Lives Matter in the Congo

On behalf of East Congo Tribune representing the Banyamulenge diaspora in the Netherlands

After decades of civil warfare, peace is the priority for the Democratic Republic of Congo. Yet the predicament of the Banyamulenge, a minority currently besieged and threatened by surrounding armed groups in South Kivu, illustrates that the poisonous legacies of colonial theories of ‘race’ are alive and well in people’s minds. This threatens prospects for peace in the DRC and the wider Great Lakes region. Belgium’s King Philippe recently issued a public apology for the cruelty of colonialism in the Congo, and following Black Lives Matter protests, a Parliamentary ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ commission has been set up in Belgium. Yet its findings will not come soon enough to help the Banyamulenge. Helen Hintjens and Delphin Ntanyoma call for urgent intervention to protect the civilian Banyamulenge who are facing genocide. They call for mental decolonisation from race theories to ensure that ALL Black Lives Matter in the Congo.

Displaced Banyamulenge in Congo
Photo 1: Internally Displaced Banyamulenge in Minembwe fearful for their future

Race Theories and the Colonial Present

Following Black Lives Matter protests in Belgium that toppled statues of King Leopold II, King Philippe expressed his ‘deepest regrets’ for ‘violence’ and ‘suffering’ imposed on Congolese people under Belgian colonial rule. Leopold’s cruel reign sacrificed an estimated 10 million Congolese lives in pursuit of profit. Since 1994, another 5 to 12 million Congolese died in wars to benefit mostly non-Congolese. Belgian colonial rule also left behind toxic ideas about race differences that now underpin violence against minorities like the Banyamulenge.

Their targeting as a minority living mainly in the eastern part of the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) has intensified as armed conflict in South Kivu has continued, leading to fears of a slow genocide as world’s focus is elsewhere. Due to their ‘Tutsi’ ancestry, Banyamulenge civilians are labeled ‘Hamitic’ invaders, oppressors, and even vermin. For decades they have been victims of pogroms and violence.

Map of attacks on Banyamulenge villages
Map of attacks on Banyamulenge villages and civilians.
Source: Delphin Ntanyoma (Eastern Congo Tribune) 8.9.2020.

This map shows a red circle, an area of less than 10 km2, where over 150,000 civilian Banyamulenge have fled seeking shelter after more than 3,500 square kilometres of land have been seized and 300 Banyamulenge villages burned and completely demolished (see Photo 2). They have no humanitarian assistance, apart from a few private fundraisers. The villages (marked X in green) have been attacked by Mai-Mai rebels and by FARDC (the national army) in early September 2020. For four successive days, 2-5 September, Gahwera and Kahwela villages were attacked. On 8 September, Runundu and Rutigita were attacked. In Kahwela, six were reported injured and two dead. Fighting is going on around southwest Minembwe town as we go to press. The A in purple indicates deployment of FARDC troops— 6,000 in total. Local information on 8 September indicates a row broke out among FARDC officers in Minembwe. Some were opposed to FARDC allying itself with Mai-Mai attacks on unarmed Banyamulenge civilians. Whereas in the past massacres took the form of pogroms, today the killings and military operations seem designed to wipe the Banyamulenge out completely. As Kivu Security Tracker (KST) has reported, as Mai-Mai ‘self-defence forces’ attack Banyamulenge villages, they force more and more civilians to flee for protection to a few tiny areas in Minembwe in South Kivu.

A demolished Bayamulenge home
Photo 2: A demolished Bayamulenge home; one of thousands since 2017

Mai-Mai rebels were joined in recent years by Rwandan-backed Burundian opposition rebel groups (Red Tabara, FOREBU and FNL) and civilian Banyamulenge stuck in Minembwe since March 2019 are now completely surrounded. There are an estimated 125,000 to 150,000 people in tiny ‘safe areas’. They are now starving. All humanitarian agencies have left Minembwe, even MSF, claiming it is unsafe to work there. With local roads almost impassable, almost everything has to be flown in. The Rector of the local Eben Ezer University, Lazare Sebitereko, suggest aid organizations are afraid to help Banyamulenge civilians despite their evident vulnerability because of the stigma against this group as ‘Hamitic’ or ‘Tutsi’ outsiders, among the majority communities in Eastern Congo, who define themselves as ‘Bantu’ or indigenous.

Banyamulenge exiles and leaders are calling for international action before it is too late. In April 2020, in an open letter to UN Secretary-General António Guterres, they called on the UN to “avert another genocide in the region, with the international community as bystanders”. Several petitions are circulating. Yet as in Rwanda in 1994, no-one wants to use the ‘g’-word. Everyone wants to avoid the obligation to protect. However, the international community has been warned – indeed warned repeatedly – of the possibility of  genocide. Pre-conditions for genocide are now in place, including discrimination, dehumanization, polarization, persecution and denial.

Editor of the Eastern Congo Tribune, Rukumbuzi Delphin Ntanyoma explains: “As a Munyamulenge from South Kivu, completing my Doctorate in Development Economics at the Erasmus University’s International Institute of Social Studies in the Netherlands, I am tracking the misfortunes of my community in Minembwe every day.” As a blog, the Eastern Congo Tribune has been an especially important source of information during the COVID-19 lockdown, when journalists and researchers could not enter DRC for months. The blog makes for grim reading, detailing armed violence against Banyamulenge civilians who have been horribly attacked, raped and killed, simply trying to find food. When the Banyamulenge’s precious cattle were looted, the proceeds were used to buy more weapons. MONUSCO is nearby, and there are an estimated 6,000 FARDC troops, and they are not protecting the Banyamulenge; on the contrary.

According to Ngugi wa Thiong’o, mutual understanding and peace require the “broken roots of African civilization” to be mended. As an example, the predicament of the Banyamulenge in South Kivu illustrates that colonial theories of ‘Hamites’ and ‘Bantu’ races continue to sow hatred and persecution today. The hope is still that in the longer run racism and violence against all Congolese people, including minorities like the Banyamulenge, can be ended by seeking out the truth behind Belgian colonial history.

However, the threat in Minembwe to civilians cannot wait for that process. The need for protection and humanitarian relief needs to be addressed right away. Otherwise this minority community will become another page in the history book of genocide in the Great Lakes region of the African continent in the former Belgian colonies. Time is running out to heal the wounds of colonial divide-and-rule theories of race, and to finally ensure that all Black Lives Matter in the Congo.

This article draws on two publications by Rukumbuzi Delphin Ntanyoma, one a Genocide Warning published on the Genocide Watch website (2020), and a related Working Paper, published by ISS (2019).

About the authors:

Helen HintjensHelen Hintjens is Assistant Professor in Development and Social Justice at the ISS, working in the field of migration.

Delphin NtanyomaDelphin Ntanyoma is a PhD candidate at the ISS. His research falls within Conflict Economics and is part of the Economics of Development & Emerging Markets (EDEM) Program. With a background of Economics and Masters’ of Art in Economics of Development from ISS, the researcher runs an online blog that shares personal views on socio-economic and political landscape of the Democratic Republic of Congo but also that of the African Great Lakes Region. The Eastern Congo Tribune Blog can be found on the following link: www.easterncongotribune.com.

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The credibility problem of United Nations official statistics on Internally Displaced Persons by Gloria Nguya and Dirk-Jan Koch

Our research, notably Gloria Nguya’s PhD research, which she recently defended at the ISS, focused on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in urban settings in eastern DRC, particularly Bukavu and Goma. Bukavu and Goma are provincial capitals of the Kivus with about 25 years of instability. According to the latest United Nations figures there are exactly 25.619 IDPs in Bukavu[1]. These very precise figures have surprised us, because when we started our field research we noted that there was a large confusion about who should be counted as an IDP. During our research we found people who considered themselves IDPs, even though they were just regular migrants according to official definitions. Others who thought they weren’t IDPs were actually IDPs according to these official definitions. In this blog we single out one key crucial question to which there are so many contradicting responses: ‘When is somebody no longer an IDP?’.


During the field research, we encountered confusions on when somebody is no longer an IDP. Whereas some actors, such as local NGOs, argued that somebody couldn’t be labelled an IDP anymore if he or she could rent a house, others argued that one remains an IDP as long as one has specific unmet needs related to their displacement. Partly because of this problem of identifying IDPs in urban areas, we noticed that virtually all international organizations stopped targeting IDPs in their urban programming altogether. They would focus only on general vulnerability criteria, such as a housing situation. They omitted specific IDP needs related to their displacement status, such as trauma, access to documents or to remedy. This is worrying, as the plight of IDPs is an important element used by agencies to attract attention and funding.

Overall, the main inconsistency relates to methodologies: whereas in reality there are substantial differences in when an IDP is counted as such by humanitarian actors in the field (especially in urban areas), the UN data gloss over these differences. To arrive at the number of 25.619 IDPs the UN only included people that were displaced in 2016, 2017 and 2018. So, if you are a displaced person from 2015 or before, you are no longer counted in the statistics. This is too bad for you; however, the interesting thing is that as such this cut-off point goes against the definition that the UN itself supports. The Guiding Principles on internal displacement do not mention anything about a duration, quite to the contrary: an IDP remains an IDP as long as no durable solution has been achieved (global report on internal displacement 2019, p. 68). Well, for the IDPs in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) these principles do not appear to hold: IDPs prior to 2016 in the DRC fall hence between stools.

We do not argue that the numbers provided by the UN are too high, or too low: we also do not know. In our research we noticed that to determine if somebody is an IDP according to the UN definition one needs to engage in conversations with the potential IDP in terms of the origin of the move, their needs or issues. The methodology that the UN has used, notably asking key informants, such as neighborhood leaders, instead of potential IDPs themselves, isn’t accurate enough according to us.

Luckily there is an interesting initiative from the United Nations Statistical Commission. They have launched an Expert Group on Refugee and IDP statistics in 2016, who finished their first report. Their sobering finding is that, while agreement on the IDP definition exists, ‘less agreement exists on when an IDP should stop being counted as displaced. Most states do not follow the definition and framework […] variations in state practice are widespread, making international comparability difficult.’ In 2020 they should have finished their guidelines (amongst other on how to measure ‘durable solutions’) and have started capacity building to roll them out (IMDC, 2019, p.56).  So, there is a hope that better IDP statistics will become available in the future if the United Nations and their backers follow through on their intentions.

To conclude, we feel that instead of creating some kind of fake sense of certainty, the United Nations may better admit that they only have rough guesses on the number of IDPs. We argue this because the confusion about IDP numbers does not only affect programming, but it also affects the relationship between the host government and the humanitarian actors, which has repercussions on the sustainability of humanitarian efforts on the ground. The DRC government even boycotted the DRC pledging conference in 2018 because the numbers weren’t correct, ‘the high numbers of displaced people are frightening investors, and the country is much more dependent on investment for development than development aid’ said the DR Congo’s Minister of Communications. By being more transparent about the challenges of IDP statistics, the UN has a clear argument about why more investments are needed in creating better displacement monitoring guidelines and mechanisms. Until these are in place, it is only better to have a moratorium on coming up with specific IDP numbers.


[1] https://displacement.iom.int/node/3911, p.2


About the authors:

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Gloria Nguya has just completed her PhD in livelihoods strategies of Internally Displaced Persons in Urban Eastern DRC at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam.

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Dirk-Jan Koch is professor by special appointment for International Trade and Development Cooperation at the Radboud Univeristy in Nijmegen and Chief Science Officer at the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.