“Politicians” never mind with their contradictions and declarations wherever they are contextual fitting and can save them from being publicly blamed. Sometimes, when you go back to their early statements, they choose to skip and bring in a lot of issues to confuse their stand to a given point if they went wrong in judgment or stating.
It was on 22th August 2002 in Kigali, Rwandan main city when the then Rwanda Defense Forces/Rwanda Patriotic Army (RDF/RPA) Chief of Staff declared that Banyamulenge are not Congolese, but they are rather Rwandese. The choice of venue was so important as to persuade the public, especially during a complicated period when James Kabarebe had to convince Rwandans about RPA military intervention in Minembwe/DRC against Masunzu’s resistance. Kigali Independent University (Université Libre de Kigali ULK in French) is situated in Kigali main city and well known of having students from both Banyamulenge community residing in Rwanda and mostly people from Masisi and Rutshuru of North-Kivu province.
In a debate-conference with students and staff of ULK, seating alongside Charles Murigande and Azarias Ruberwa, James Kabarebe expressed publicly that Banyamulenge is neither a clan nor a tribe or nationality. He compared the term “Banyamulenge” as if you can say ‘Banya mont Kigali’ , a large mountain surrounding Kigali city; referring to the fact that Mulenge is a locality in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with a top hill commonly referred as Mulenge. While, it is largely agreed that the name Banyamulenge found, among others factors, its origin from that locality as most of members of Banyamulenge community lived and had their own chieftaincy in Mulenge, the comparison made was so elementary. The Banyamulenge’s Congolese citizenship, though contested by some extremists within the latter’s neighboring communities in DRC, is widely being accepted across communities and worldwide. Advised people have realized that the strife originated from political self-interests and the absence of state to reinforce the rule of law.
This article intends to clarifying on the ongoing translation and interpretation of the Kabarebe’s declaration rather than discussing the origin of Banyamulenge and their citizenship. The reason is that, Banyamulenge citizenship can’t be granted or denied based on individual statement with full of contradictions within a wrapping context. The recent article published by “The Rising Continent” blog motivated to bring his writer round of what could have been behind the declaration. The title of the article posted on 19th December 2013 is “Thabo Mbeki wrong analysis on Eastern Congo and Rwanda”. In a very consistent analysis, the former South-African president discusses his viewpoints on Eastern-DRC and others issues in Africa. The rising continent blog writer considers Thabo Mbeki as “wrong” based on Kabarebe’s declaration discussed above. The blogger believes that Mbeki’s view on Eastern DRC
“shows that he has been listening too much at the official narrative of Kigali about what is happening in the region. He forgets that even the Rwandan Patriotic Front of Paul Kagame – through the voice of General James Kabarebe, Rwandan minister of defense, speaking publicly in Kigali to an audience of students -, acknowledges that the Banyamulenge issue was a PR stunt created to justify the invasion of the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1996/97”.
Few points can remind the writer of the blog that Banyamulenge have existed in DRC well before Berlin Conference in 1885. Many researches have corroborated that their settlement in Eastern DRC dated before the territory of DRC got shaped as it is today. Banyamulenge problems found their origins in colonial era that favored some communities and gave them right over Banyamulenge customary chieftaincy. Since 1964 to 1978, Banyamulenge came across massacres, discrimination and harassments from rebel groups in the region to the extent that their properties were regularly looted by rebels. In 1982, Banyamulenge were denied to participate in national poll and their identity cards got confiscated. The situation went worse in 1990, 1996 onwards. As a matter of being short, I hope that 90s history is recent for anyone to get in touch of it. Consequently, Banyamulenge grievances are not a stunt from Kampala or Kigali; though they may have been a bridge to serve country’s political and economic interests in the great lakes region.
Rwandan government, through the former president Pasteur Bizimungu announced to support Banyamulenge as Congolese (Zairean) who were being persecuted by their own government because of origin in 1996. Rwandan officials including Kabarebe himself have several times recognized that their intervention in DRC intended to protect Rwanda against Interahamwe militias, while mentioning the existence of Banyamulenge community as Congolese. The reader will be reminded that during the debate-conference in which Kabarabe declared that Banyamulenge are Rwandese, he was seating alongside with Azarias Ruberwa, a member of Banyamulenge community who led the RCD, a Congolese rebellion. Ruberwa further got appointed as vice-president of DRC.
During the debate-conference at ULK, Azarias Ruberwa chose to ignore the Kabarebe’s statement as a way of probably responding to an unwisely contradiction. But what went wrong with the RPA chief of Staff? During the debate, Kabarebe expressed that Banyamulenge is an opportunistic concept to gain Congolese citizenship coupled with superiority or inferiority complex towards Rwandese citizenship. If you read carefully his declaration, you can realize that he ended by calling Banyamulenge to choose between Congolese and Rwandese citizenship. That is, he recognized finally that Banyamulenge have the right of being Congolese as they can be “Rwandese”, referring on his statement. However, it is worthwhile to emphasize that citizenship is not a marketable bundles that you can choose whenever you want; put it simply that he was not referring to citizenship in his statement, it was another issue.
In February 2002, RCD-RPA fell out with some Banyamulenge soldiers, especially Masunzu Pacifique. They went into heavy fighting that resulted into losses for both sides. It was likely unexplainable politically since RCD-RPA were operating in DRC under Banyamulenge grievances umbrella, as one of the motives. The escalation of fighting between Banyamulenge military against RCD and its ally RPA created political and military drawbacks for the latter side. RCD-RPA tried even to use Interahamwe colluding with Masunzu as a justification of the clashes. By going through the reporting of newspaper of the event, you will find that Ruberwa use indiscipline and lack of grounded education to describe Masunzu’s attitude. Briefly, the question that was being discussed was neither Banyamulenge citizenship nor their origins and affiliation to Rwanda; conversely, it has to do with the failure to manage the RCD rebellion as he, Kabarebe, expected.
NTANYOMA R. Delphin
Twitter account @delphino12