The Mutarule killing, as nth massacres in the region, happened on 6-7/06/2014. In July 2012, in the same village, 5 people were killed during clashes between Bafuliro and Barundi; conflicting over chieftaincy management. The Mutarule killing culminated in 38 deaths including women and children, dozens of injuries, houses were also burnt. Most of these killed people belonged to the Bafuliro, one of the communities living in the Rusizi plain. The circumstances of killings look as insane and recall these types of unpunished massacres that have happened, long ago, in the South-Kivu particularly. If interested, the reader can check this link to check some of the cases of these killings.
The killing constitutes another blow within the fragile socio-political context of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in general as well as inter-community cohabitation. The massacre can hardly be dissociated among series of killings that went unpunished in Congo. It must have been planned as did others that have happened in the region, specifically, since 90s. Though revealing inter-community unsolved grievances, responsible of the Mutarule killing must be treated as killers outside of their ethnic community appurtenance. On the other hand, the killing recalls the way impunity and state absence make people behaving in an insanity manner.
As investigation is still going on, it remains difficult to determine clearly who the killers are so long as there is a possibility, due to interferences, that these responsible will remain unnoticed or hidden. The article discusses the potential suspects based on the socio-political landscape of the Uvira region. The article considers 4 footprints of the potential killers while reminding that embarking a community would possibly fuel inter-community tensions while assailants did not consult or work on behalf of their whole community members. Furthermore, it is time to warn about the escalation of these unfortunate events benefiting to invisible hands. Thus, considering the current political mood in DRC, there is possibility of scaring about safety in the region as experience have shown in the past even though South-Kivu had remained roughly as much as calm compared to North-Kivu since 2012.
So long as revenge and mob justice is the sole ‘justice’ reliable in the region, it is possible to suspecting on the first place members of the communities whose disputes with Bafuliro can motivate them to kill. Those are individuals belonging to the Barundi or Banyamulenge communities living in the area. However, the existence of manipulated Mayi-Mayi and Forces Nationales de Liberation (FNL) armed groups all around Mutarule neighborhood can lead to find a footmark of other suspects. The Mayimayi groups are Congolese militia under control of different warlords while the FNL is a Burundian armed group established in DRC, especially in the Rusizi plain. These two groups can work as proxies from outside forces aiming at stoking tensions between communities. On the other side, the laziness and inaction of Forces Armées de la RDC (FARDC) can also indicate the complicity of some individuals or its weaknesses to deal with security matters.
For comprehensively understand the potential suspects of the Mutarule massacre, it is worthwhile to review its landscape and that of its neighboring villages. Mutarule is located in the contested collectivité of Rusizi plain (Collectivité Barundi), bordering with Burundi through Rusizi river and few miles for reaching Kamanyola border, Rwandan border to DRC. The region is inhabited by mostly Bafuliro, Barundi, Banyamulenge and probably few Bavira community members. The Rusizi plain’s population is mostly farmers conflicting sometimes over livestock and cropping land use. Westward of Barundi collectivité chieftaincy, there is a Bafuliro chieftaincy (Collectivité de Lemera) and these two are regularly subjected to disputes over who is the owner of what. Their dispute turns mostly around land control and citizenship as Bafuliro consider themselves as indigenous Congolese compared to Barundi and Banyamulenge who are seen as foreigners.
Even though the constitution is clear on the citizenship of each of these communities in South-Kivu, the question remains as a stumbling block and it may sometimes constitute the Mayimayi existence wrapper. In recent years, the region has come across clashes between communities, opposing Barundi and Bafuliro over chieftaincy management. Consequently, on 26/04/2012, the Barundi chief (Mwami in Swahili) Floribert Ndabagoye; while in his Residence in Luberizi, was assassinated by individuals who served for unknown hands. The Mwami had returned from exile and expected to get rehabilitated in his rights as a chief. The killing seemed to signal that his death was related to the chieftaincy conflict between his community and Bafuliro. The trial of his killers looks slowing as they are being tried in 2014 and the result may be unconvincing for informed observers. The killing of Mwami Ndabagoye has fuelled largely the tensions between these two communities; sounding that self-protection and jungle laws are the sole prevailing structures. As it appears, the region is roughly uncontrolled by the government forces with many civilians holding guns and working for their own protection and survival. It results into widening breaches as well as complicating cohabitation.
In the same vein, the kidnapping of FARDC colonel Gatoki that happened on 18/03/2014 in Bwegera must have fuelled again the tension between communities; while involving the survival of some military visiting their relatives in the region. Col Gatoki went kidnapped in an environment that is approximately planned as he was the sole person that was taken by his assailants when they attacked Bwegera village. His disappearance sounded as settling accounts within FARDC soldiers; though it might have involved Mayimayi commanders, namely Karakara or Rusagara Bede. While he was in an official leave, ordered by his military hierarchy, the dead body of Col Gatoki never got retrieved by the FARDC soldiers who intervened to find it. The Mayimayi militias propelled by invisible hands are prime suspects over the disappearance and suspicion seemed to finger point neighboring communities of having played a role in the killing.
On the wake of the Mutarule massacre, a civilian belonging to Banyamulenge community were shot dead by unknown people in the same village. Beyond these targeted killings, the area has been characterized by looting Banyamulenge’s cows to the extent that it has occurred frequently. The pillage of cattle has been orchestrated by Mayimayi militia, mainly composed by Bafuliro youth. The Mayimayi militia, as many armed groups in Eastern DRC, seem to work within dynamics that are hardly understandable for observers who are unfamiliar with the region. During the looting, Mayimayi operating mode is unlikely to save people owning their “loots”. Moreover, for the last two years, the Rusizi plain came across different series of clashes that even ended in displacing people outside of the country as refugees in Burundi or elsewhere in the great lakes region. That is, failing to tackle all these issues sounded that the Rusizi plain inhabitants would simply rely on their own and exercising revenge.
It is also important to note that these Mayimayi groups have had connections with foreign militias such as FNL; Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) as well as foreign armies. Observed reader will recall the 2012 UN report of experts disclosing these connections between M23, Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) with Mayimayi Bede Rusagara, whose group is still working in the neighborhood of Mutarule. Furthermore, within few miles of the village, Luberizi commando camp is known as having a group of FARDC soldiers who had spent several months waiting their appointment. These soldiers constitute a frustrated group of people that can be manipulated easily for interests of different actors. The fragile and militarized socio-political context, where everyone relies heavily on his militia would simply explain such horrible killings.
So long as the state cannot guarantee individuals security and that of their properties; different actors can interfere within the fragile environment to reach their hidden agenda. One of the signal is, before the investigation took place, some protesters during the burial of these innocent killed people in Mutarule have started to single out some military commanders and provincial authorities accusing them of having worked behind the scene. Though investigations in DRC are slightly reliable, the Mutarule massacre has to be deeply undertaken to dig the leitmotiv of these killers and what would be its consequences in terms of backsliding the existing social-political climate in the region.
Finally, there are few lessons that can be drawn from Mutarule massacre? On one hand, as the region has been characterized by unpunished crimes, there is a need of establishing justice by trying all suspected criminals for all crimes that were committed in the area. Moreover, due to fragile climate, there is a need of avoiding amalgam as embarking ethnic communities may largely again widen tensions. It may happen that those who played behind the scene during the Mutarule massacre were interested in opening up such breaches and finding the way of reaching their agenda. The DRC government, its partners and the international community in general have to learn from the past and establishing mechanisms of protecting impartially local population and their properties. This would save the region to fall again into different traps snared by invisible hands as the escalation wouldn’t benefit them.
The population of Rusizi plain and that of Eastern DRC in general has been experiencing manipulated inter-community confrontations requiring reconciliatory solutions. Trying criminals won’t in itself work as these communities are largely divided for identity constructions. Thus, future cohabitation needs fair and honest discussions, away of manipulation, on these issues dividing them. In addition to that, land reform, the rule of law and capable security services are urgently needed to get rid of these imperfections within public administration as well as army forces.
Ntanyoma R. Delphin
Twitter account @delphino12