It is now a decade since the Gatumba massacre had happened in Burundi. Gatumba is a few miles from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Uvira-Kiliba borders. The massacre was carried out on the night of 13-14/08/2004, within a refugee camp, roughly targeting one ethnic community group, Banyamulenge. For a total of 800 refugees, 166 were gunshot, burn under tents and 106 were seriously injured. While living in Uvira and Bukavu, most of these refugees fled to Burundi fearing over their lives. In between the period of 2003-2004, the socio-security context in Eastern part of DRC, especially Uvira-Bukavu, was so explosive, partly due to the confrontation within the transitional government. The transitional government parties were striving to have a hand on these cities, previously controlled by the Congolese Rally for Democracy (Rassembelement Congolais pour la Démocratie); hence assuring forthcoming phases of the transition.
These manoeuvers leading to control military these cities brought on disagreements and military confrontation between provincial army commanders. As most of issues in that Confederation are likely community oriented, the fighting between military commanders reversed and never saved civilians lives. The army forces looking as community militias was either siding or scapegoating civilians for the only reason of ethnic belonging. It is in this context that Banyamulenge and few Bafuliro fled to Burundi looking for their safety. It was reasonable that they fled because these two parties of the “army” conflicting have been exercising extra-judicial or even targeted killing. Some of those who fled have had their properties rooted, homes burnt; and fleeing remained probably the sole mean to survive.
Unfortunately, it lasted only four months to have them attacked again on a foreign territory, under United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). What was behind such evil plan of hunting people until crossing borders?
To shortly understand these motivations, the reader needs to consider that generally criminality in DRC is a tool of boosting individual or a specific group agenda. Foremost, the Gatumba massacre has to be analyzed within the impunity culture that reigned since long ago in Zaire. These types of killings do involve ethnic groups manipulated by greedy ‘politicians’ willing to benefit from the chaos, “uncontrolled” armed groups, national army forces; and recently, these crimes have involved foreign armies. Killing has become as a normal response to every grief and observers recall that these crimes are still occurring right now. As matter of fact, last month we’ve witnessed the Mutarule massacre expressing how impunity culture has gained grounds.
Moreover, the last two decades have been shaped by an involvement of regional powers worsening the existing fragile context. Illustratively, below are some cases benchmarking the only month of August. The reader wouldn’t believe how killing went rooted into habits since 60s to the extent it has become a source of being remunerated or awarding public positions.
- August 1960 : In Kassai, a conflict opposing Baluba and Lulua has led to the killing of undetermined number of Baluba and two parliamentary members from the Batshoke community accused of supporting Baluba;
- August-December 1960: A Military attack of the Armée Nationale Congolaise (ANC) fighting against the independence of Kassai has caused the death of undetermined number of civilians, extra-judiciary executed;
- 1st August to 29 October 1964: Hundreds of people were assassinated by the Armée Populaire de Liberation (APL) in Sankuru;
- 14-19 August 1964: Simba rebels led by Alphonse Kingis have slaughtered hundreds of civilians in Stanleyville (Province Orientale); while others were thrown alive in Tshopo river;
- 19 August 1964: After the defeat of Simba rebels led by General Olenga, ANC soldiers under command of Col Mulamba have executed undetermined civilians, mostly Tutsi in Bukavu;
- 30 August 1964: While ANC under the leading of Lt-Col Kakudji was defeating rebels in Albertville (Kalemie), 4 hundreds of rebels were extra-judiciary executed and some crucified on Palm trees;
- August 1998: 300 Banyamulenge military soldiers were assassinated in Kamina; while 78 were executed in Kalemie. Hundreds have also been burnt on tyres in different cities of DRC.
- August 1998 : Hundreds of military soldiers loyal to L.D Kabila forces were executed in Kavumu-Bukavu by RCD-APR forces;
- 18 August 1998 : Around 133 , whose origin was likely Rwanda, were executed by L.D. Kabila forces à Kalima-Pangi
- 24/08/1998: A number of civilians estimated to 1000 civilians Banyindu were butchered by RCD-APR forces in Kasika, Mwenga Zone, South-Kivu.
Based on the illustration above, the reader may wonder what makes Gatumba specific. From my viewpoint, it looks that Gatumba massacre is specific but not strictly isolated. Though there hasn’t been a reliable and independent investigation, the fact is victims of Gatumba were selectively slaughtered while under international protection. Informed reader recalls that next (opposite side) to the refugee camp that got attacked by assailants; there was another camp that remained roughly calm during the night of attack. The massacre has the specificity of having people who acknowledged of carrying out the attack. Using a public and international media, a former Burundian rebel group admitted of having orchestrated the attack. On the other hand, United Nations agencies have conducted an investigation on what had happened in Gatumba; surprisingly, nothing has yet been done.
The quick glance of the Gatumba massacre pushes to link it to the history of settlement in Eastern DRC and its corollaries such as citizenship, inter-community conflict over power and land management. It brings back some targeted killings that members of the Banyamulenge community have been undergoing since 60s onward and which remained uninvestigated as did others in that jungle country. The situation went worse in 90s due to regional factors involving sometimes foreign militias and armies operating in Congo. To some extent, there have been other planned crimes that may be considered as committed by different armed groups and armies while covering some communities’ grievances as pretext. In a specific way, the targeted killings of some communities in Eastern Congo were ordered (directly or indirectly) by public officials through campaigns or public speeches. These campaigns resulted into selective killing and execution of civilians, children, women and military servicemen/women as well as people victimized by physical traits.
From the above reasoning, it remain hard to qualify in exact terms what happened in Gatumba in connection to the general criminal context in DRC as well as specificities around the likely targeted communities. It is up to the reliable independent investigation to determine and qualify these crimes. Therefore, while considering that willingness and capabilities of rulers are unlikely reliable, the article suggests that:
- Campaigns and advocacies need to stress on the creation of an independent and reliable inquiry commission investigating thoroughly all these crimes committed inside and outside the Congo. An independent commission means members must have a mandate that can’t be influenced by powerful rulers in DRC or elsewhere, willing to conceal any involvement. In addition, besides determining responsibilities and complicities, the commission, if in place, would work on identifying key drivers so that they may got appropriate responses for the long term stability;
- In case the investigation accomplished, there is a need of having a courts and tribunals able to try independently these criminals without distinction. Trying in justice wouldn’t in itself suffice, reconciliation initiatives are required too for a matter of establishing a long term peace and stability;
- These crimes have left countless victims who need at least to see the truth established. However, they need also rehabilitation mechanisms to ensure they can still have life run in such difficult conditions.
- To sustain these efforts leading to long term stability, there is a need to think about appropriate political and administrative system that can manage socio-cultural diversities characterizing the country. This aspect has been partly underlined while constituting a key element in establishing good governance grounds. It would quickly respond to the question of making the state viable and accountable.
- Deepening reforms in terms of governance are necessary. It is worthwhile to point out establishing and maintain operational judicial system, security sector reform, empowering local entities etc.
Let us bring together our efforts to get justice for all established.
Ntanyoma R. Delphin
Twitter account @delphino12