Tag Archives drcongo

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

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

The decision of the indigenous Batwa to reoccupy parts of eastern DRC’s Kahuzi-Biega National Park by force shocked many outside observers. They were further shocked when the Batwa started to ...

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

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

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.

Are you looking for more content about Global Development and Social Justice? Subscribe to Bliss, the official blog of the International Institute of Social Studies, and stay updated about interesting topics our researchers are working on.

“Whose responsibility is it anyway”? Questioning the role of UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO in stabilizing the eastern DRC by Delphin Ntanyoma

“Whose responsibility is it anyway”? Questioning the role of UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO in stabilizing the eastern DRC by Delphin Ntanyoma

In the highly volatile eastern DRC, where over the past decades violent conflict and political instability have claimed the lives of thousands of civilians, UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO has intervened ...

Complexity of Micro-level Violent Conflict:  An ‘Urban Bias’ lenses of a Native Researcher? by Delphin Ntanyoma

Complexity of Micro-level Violent Conflict: An ‘Urban Bias’ lenses of a Native Researcher? by Delphin Ntanyoma

Micro-level violent conflict is complex, and the triggers of violence are unpredictable. Building on long-seated unresolved grievances coupled with the presence of foreign armed groups in Eastern Congo, the South-Kivu ...

Kidnapping in the Eastern Congo: ‘Grievance-oriented’ struggles and criminality? by Delphin Ntanyoma

From August to November last year, 83 cases of kidnapping were reported in Ruzizi Plain alone, part of Uvira territory in the Eastern Congo. While kidnapping can be viewed as a major problem in the DRC, Delphin Ntanyoma argues that it’s important to consider that violence in the Congo is deeply embedded in the demands for better living conditions coupled with other socio-political loopholes that have been created since the colonial era. 


Late last year, in November, I visited Uvira, one of the largest cities in the South Kivu region, Eastern Congo. The city constitutes an administrative center of Uvira Territory, having both the same name. For practical and security reasons, some passengers travelling from Bukavu, the capital city of the South Kivu Province, to Uvira pass through Rwanda and/or Burundi—two countries that border on the DRC. The choice of taking the Rwanda-Burundi route is not only linked to safety concerns, it is also connected to hazardous transport and road conditions. From Bukavu to Kamanyola, one must pass Ngomo escarpments[1]. What makes one think twice before undertaking the journey is the way in which you can, at any time, fall into the hands of kidnappers. Kidnappers are currently active in the Ruzizi Plain—from Kamanyola up to Uvira.

Though thoroughly criminal, kidnapping has become another form of violence in the Eastern Congo region. It has recently been practiced in the neighboring province of North Kivu, mainly in Rutshuru Territory to the extent one can guess that this practice has been imported in Uvira territory from the neighboring province.

Violence in the Congo is deeply embedded in the demands for better living conditions coupled with other socio-political loopholes that have been created since the colonial era. Following the country’s independence from Belgium, the public had had high expectations regarding the improvement of their standards of living. Rebel groups started to be formed, demanding an increase in living standards that many thought is unlikely to be achieved. Recently, the proliferation of and reliance on armed maneuvers has entered an era of unprecedented crises currently involving kidnapping.

From August up to late November 2018, more than 83 kidnapping cases had occurred only in the Ruzizi Plain region[2]. The kidnapping nightmare culminates in the paying of ransoms that average around $150-200. These incidents of kidnapping are widely spread in the vast region that borders on Burundi and Rwanda. However, localities of Ruzizi Plain such as Lemera, Kigoma, Luberizi, and Kabunambo are considered epicenters of these incidents. In most cases, these localities are targeted due to the way in which power confrontation occurs here at the local level. In addition, kidnappers exploit an absence of the national army in order to operate freely.

Kidnapping targets single persons to groups of people, and in Ruzizi Plain more men than women have been targeted: Out of the 83 reported cases, 71% of those kidnapped were men. In addition, kidnappers target individuals who may be able to pay. These are generally schools’ headmasters and teachers, villages’ chiefs, traders, motorcycle drivers, but also others targeted by their opponents settling accounts through arranged kidnappings. That is, armed groups can benefit from a clash between two parties, as they could then turn to them for revenge through arranged kidnapping. Kidnapping also targets village chiefs suspected of siding with the national army in their efforts to contain armed men. Some are targeted for having played the dubious role of pleasing both sides. The complexity and dynamics around armed mobilisation in the region explains decisions behind targeted kidnapping. However, one needs to recognise that even commuters are sometimes rounded up by these armed men desperately seeking to diversify their funding sources.

Kidnapping in Rutshuru and around the Volcanoes-Virunga Park is widely multifaceted. But behind the scenes, the same armed groups belonging to Maimai[3] are specifically cited among those engaged in the kidnapping of civilians. Engaging in such criminal activity is yet another expression of the failure to sustain their struggles. In Ruzizi Plain specifically, kidnappers are young militants and armed groups’ leaders who have at some point been reluctant to engage in reintegration or demobilisation processes. Whenever defeated or fallen into internal dissidence, these groups find shelter in remote regions where their strongholds are hardly attacked by the national army. By being unable to sustain conventional military wars, disconnected to sources of funds, armed groups resort to all means to survive. By getting involved in such criminal activities, observers tend to overlook the relevance of struggles that generally aimed to express anger over wide social and economic inequalities.

Though not yet deeply researched, it seems that kidnapping needs to immediately be contained and all means deployed for the sake of protecting the local population. However, the socio-political and economic conditions of the region and specifically that of the youth must constitute a primary concern. Hundreds of desperate young men mull around on the sidewalks, with no hope for their future, justifying the choice of relying on risky means to air their grievances. Moreover, a better understanding of kidnapping in the Congo could help to understand the meaning of urban violence that is mushrooming across some of the country’s cities.

[1] The Ngomo escarpment is the hazardous route that links Bukavu City to Uvira via Kamanyola. Kamanyola is a growing agglomeration on the side of Congo bordering on Ruzizi Plain and Rwanda-Burundi countries. The escarpment is constituted by steep hills coupled with muddy conditions of the road that cause many accidents. For years, these conditions have ensured that passengers rather choose to go through Rwanda to reach Kamanyola.

[2] I am indebted to Oscar Dunia, a local researcher who keeps an eye on this tragic issue in the region. Oscar has helped to gather the data and provided some insights on the ways kidnapping is organized, and also about motives behind the kidnappings.

[3] Maimai are local armed groups falling under the ‘Autochthonous’ and nationalist fighters. The group is differently spelled into the literature to the extent that they are either called Mai Mai, Mayimayi or simply Mai. Maimai is a Swahili word meaning ‘water’ and expresses historical beliefs in the power of witchcraft to turn bullets into water.


About the author:

Delphin

Delphin Ntanyoma is a PhD candidateat 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.

 

 

 

 

 

Elections in the DRC: Compromises, surprises and the ‘game of gambling’ by Delphin Ntanyoma

Elections in the DRC: Compromises, surprises and the ‘game of gambling’ by Delphin Ntanyoma

The results of the general elections recently held in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) after being delayed for two years show interesting developments. The opposition remained weak despite ...