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The next rebel leader in eastern Congo will be less astute and more brutal

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Displaced families in North Kivu, eastern DR Congo in February 2016. AFP PHOTO

Displaced families in North Kivu, eastern DR Congo in February 2016. AFP PHOTO 

By EMMA KABANDA

Posted  Thursday, December 1   2016 at  15:18

In Summary

  • The trouble in eastern DR Congo that persists to this day, can be traced to 1991 when Zairean authorities set up a commission to identify “non-Congolese” in North and South Kivu and Maniema.
  • Between July and August, 1994, eastern Congo experienced an influx of Hutu refugees fleeing Rwanda that included the defeated army and Interahamwe militia, many of whom were still armed. The refugees tilted the balance in favour of the Banyarwanda, but in the process split them and turned local Hutus against Tutsis.
  • It is from these forced migrations and refugees that successive Congolese rebel groups have thrived and it is also due to fear of return of these refugees that many people in eastern Congo do not want peace with the rebel groups.

The October downpour had stopped but the imposing Mt Nyiragongo in the distance was still shrouded in clouds. As the sunshine increased in intensity, sending small plumes of smoke wafting skyward from nearby fields strewn with molten lava, the long line of SUVs screeched to a stop.

The occupants were members of the UN Security Council on a fact finding mission in the DR Congo and it had been decided that they would visit and hear firsthand accounts of the victims of the M23 rebellion.

Established to accommodate Rwandan refugees in 1994, the Mugunga camp held close to 160,000 internally displaced Congolese. The diplomats were soon ushered into a single-room wooden structure where a group of women, all victims of sexual violence sat. The women, who had been talking in whispers, shook their heads and wailed in unison when told that the visitors had come.

With the visiting diplomats and their retinue standing before them, the gathered women were told to talk about their lives.

“White people come here,” one woman said through a translator while others sobbed, “but it didn’t get any better. The last time white people visited, the camp was bombed.”

Another woman with outstretched hands knelt before Samantha Power, US ambassador and wept, saying, “We don’t know the names of you people, but we know you are powerful. Every time we move out of this place, we are raped by bandits.” Ms Power, seemingly moved, wrote something in her notebook as the woman resumed her seat.

“The Security Council for the past two years has tried to improve the situation from a humanitarian standpoint and a security standpoint too,” said Ms Power.

“We understand from what you said here that it’s not been enough. But we’re here because we care deeply about your suffering… What would it take for you to feel safe enough to go home?”

The women, all trying to speak at once, did not ask for more food, shelter, warm clothing, medicine or school fees for their children. According to one woman, “We don’t want Rwanda to take a single metre of our land.” Another knelt down and requested that the diplomats put sanctions on Rwanda.

Trouble in eastern DRC

The M23 mutiny within the Congolese army (FARDC) cannot be seen as a singular event and must be understood within its historical context.

The trouble in eastern DR Congo that persists to this day, can be traced to 1991 when Zairean authorities set up a commission to identify “non-Congolese” in North and South Kivu and Maniema.

In the wake of the introduction of multiparty politics coupled with fear of an incredible opposition to then president Mobutu Sese Seko’s Movement Populaire de la Révolution long grip on the country, tribal allegiances were revived.

The first large-scale ethnic massacres against Banyarwanda (Hutu and Tutsi) by the Hunde and Nyanga began in the village of Mtutu, North Kivu Province on March 20, 1993 in response to a speech days earlier by the governor of North Kivu Jean-Pierre Kalumbo Mbogho questioning the nationality of the former.

Mobutu, while secretly encouraging the ethnic conflict to undermine the burgeoning opposition, visited Goma in July 1993, promised the Banyarwanda citizenship and voting rights and sacked the provincial governor of North Kivu.

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