Humanitarian Crisis in Bijombo: Thousands under Gunfire and Have Nowhere to Go!

Bijombo groupement is currently going through the toughest moments of its crisis. Traced back from the colonial period, mutual exclusion among ethnic communities have taken a pace of discriminating some communities based on grounds of ‘natives’ versus ‘immigrants’. As Banyamulenge are considered as ‘new comers’, they seem to unlikely deserve holding traditional chieftaincy. Besides their heterogeneous composition, Babembe, Bafuliro, Banyindu and Bavira have a type of privilege of being ‘autochthonous’ and hence the rights to manage traditional chieftaincies. The contestation of Bijombo groupement as the only local entity held by Banyamulenge seems to be at the center of endless clashes among local armed groups. In a state of security vacuum, clashes in Bijombo have fallen within the wider violence and its corollaries of “brutalization”. Dozens of people have died as part of either settling accounts or targeted attacks against local population.

Thousands of civilians displaced by the recent clashes. Just imagine the fate of these children whose parents were born in wars!

The recent clashes in Bijombo have started in 2016 with a limited scope opposing Maimai against Twirwaneho-Gumino while the national army has had an ambivalent position. Twirwaneho-Gumino comprises mostly Banyamulenge on one hand and Maimai is formed by members of the Bafuliro, Banyindu, Bavira and Babembe to large extent. Armed groups are formed and expand their field and numbers as part of the strategy to curb the opponent. To some extent, one can implicitly read that armed groups create space and get trusted when there is a huge threat from the opponents. That is a type of violence that feeds reinforcement and expansion of armed groups through the chaos that can go on and on again. Since then, thousands have fled as their villages have been burnt during repeated clashes. From 2016, more than hundreds have died whilst private properties as cattle have been looted. Cows serve as a means of funding military activities or part of individual search to get richer. There are presently evidence of an intense involvement of foreign armed groups and armies. Burundi and Rwanda are cited as two countries settling accounts on uncontrolled territory. By forming alliances with local armed groups, these two respective armies exploit the enmity of local communities but mostly the void of security. As part of anticipation-defense mechanisms, the two countries seem to support rebel opponents of the other.

Villages in Bijombo being burnt

As we are trying to gather information from such volatile context, the Bijombo disaster has fallen within a forgotten humanitarian crisis. Below is a list of more than 60 burnt villages in Bijombo’ groupement and its neighborhood. That may sound, if on average each village was inhabited by 200 people, it would be that roughly 13000 are stuck under gunfire and have nowhere to go. Children under 5, young, women and men are displaced and have to find, by themselves, ways out. To our knowledge, neither MONUSCO nor humanitarian organizations, none have managed to at least visit victims and displaced families. This is a call for anyone feeling such sense of humanity to advocate for these innocent civilians who are victims of power struggle within the great lakes region.

Bafuliro villages:
1. Ishenge (vers Babumba),
2. Chanzomvu II,
3. Rugomero,
4. Rumagaza-Makongola,
5. Mugogo-Nakagumi,
6. Maheta,
7. Gashararo,
8. Gateja,
9. Mutara,
10. Masango-Bijige,
11. Mukumba,
12. Murara,
13. Masango-Mugomberwa
14. Kifandami
15. Rubarati
16. Gatoki
17. Gashararo
18. Bikuba
19. Ngongwa.

Banyindu Villages:
1. Murambi-Kabemba,
2. Murambi-Karuba,
3. Gikozi,
4. Karunga I**,
5. Karunga Koweit**,
6. Karunga-Nyaruvimbo**.

Babembe villages :
1. Maheta,
2. Gakuku*
3. Mikungubwe*
4. Magunda*.

Villages in Bijombo being under fire of armed groups.

Banyamulenge’s Villages:
1. Rubuga
2. Mushojo
3. Runywero
4. Kuwagahura
5. Rubenga,
6. Kugihuha,
7. Rubarati,
8. Rubibi,
9. Mbundamo,
10. Gatoki,
11. Murambya,
12. Murambya Catholique,
13. Kanogo,
14. Murambya Kwijimbo,
15. Bijanda,
16. Kuwingwa,
17. Rushimisha,
18. Rubarati,
19. Kanono,
20. Bikinga,
21. Mukumba,
22. Gongwa,
23. Bugogoma,
24. Migezi,
25. Kajoka,
26. Gashararo 1,
27. Gashararo 2,
28. Mugogo,
29. Chanzovu,
30. Kiziba,
31. Rumagaza,
32. Kumurara,
33. Masata,
34. Kagogo,
35. Rusuku.

*: Refers to villages located in Mwenga Territoire
**: refers to villages located in Fizi Territoire

***: Refers to an interference of the mother tongue. In some circumstances, Swahili language seem to prefer K instead of G. Some information collected in French from Bafuliro, Banyindu, Bavira may prefer also such spelling. For instance, Gashararo, Gahuna can be written Kashararo, Kahuna.
The rest are villages located in Bijombo groupement.

PhD Researcher in Conflict Economics
The Institute of Social Studies/
Erasmus University Rotterdam

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