This is a time to get rid of you”: The Cycle of Settling Accounts in Minembwe High Plateau

  1. Snapshot Background

On 4th May 2019, Kawaza Nyakwana was killed by armed men loyal to commandant Semahurungure. Semahurungure is, up to recently, a commander of the Banyamulenge’s affiliated armed group, knowns as “Gumino”. When affiliating an armed group commander to his ethnic community is likely oversimplifying a complex setting. Being a commander would put someone to a position that cannot be always mingled by his family. As matter of fact, Semahurungure’s group killed another local chief belonging to their own community. Nkunzingoma, the locality’s chief of Kinyoni (Bijombo groupement) was harshly smashed by gunmen who bit him until he died. Early April 2015, Semahurungure is cited among primary responsible of this felony. However, there were limited reactions over Nkunzingoma’s death not because many have validated this type of mistreating local chief but rather because they were unable to fairly deal with. Briefly, one can see that this is the Eastern Congo’s jungle where guns allow young people to decide over a fate of anyone.

Semahurungure is a native of Mikarati locality, within few miles of the Kanihura village. Though part of the “Gumino” group for years, he had seen his stance likely willing to integrate the national army. He might have, few months ago, decided to distance himself with hardliner of ‘Gumino” and he promised to join the national army. The process of negotiating Commander Semahurungure might have been run through maneuvers that can objectively be questioned. Informed observer would widely agree that since 2012, Gumino had been waiting to integrate FARDC; though, it remains a puzzle to clearly determine what went wrong for roughly 7 years. They even have had Colonel Tawimbi Richard as their representative in Kinshasa. The later flew from Minembwe High Plateau to Kinshasa by late 2012. Since 16th January 2019, Tawimbi is up today in jail for yet unknown motives. Informal sources refer to Tawimbi’s arrest as probably linked to his group, Gumino. Besides this wrapped process of trying to convince Semahurungure to integrate the national army or demobilize, it is unlike that systematic efforts have been deployed to curb armed groups’ phenomenon in the High Plateau of Itombwe-Uvira-Fizi. It is in this context that Kawaza was killed by a ‘military’ commander with a blurred position.

Thousands gathered while no shelter nor foods

Kawaza is arrested on Saturday in a market place. So humiliating. He latter manu militari be forced to be taken to Semahurungure’s home where he was beaten to death. Kawaza was up to this date a ‘contested’ locality chief of Kanihura village. Kanihura is mostly inhabited by members of Banyindu ethnic community. Next to Kawaza, Nyerere contended also this position as the locality chief and gunmen would support everyone in this struggle to manage one single village. Kawaza killed by Semahurungure, local communities have in large interpreted this as something made in the name of an ethnic community.

All started as plot to get rid of Kawaza out of Kanihura management. Nyerere would have pointed a finger to Kawaza as someone who had killed Gumino’s soldier. Kawaza was accused of having killed Byiringiro Matare, one of Semahurungure bodyguards. Byiringiro disappeared when he was crossing Kanihura’s neighborhood. It is a contender to Kanihura’s management who points a finger to Kawaza over his plotted to kill Byiringiro Matare. It is believed that the dead body of Semahurungure’s bodyguard was found in a grave to confirm that Kawaza is a culprit. However, one can also think that pointing a finger to Kawaza would have been an opportunity from Nyerere’s group to get rid of the opponent. Then you get rid of him one and for all.

Internally displaced, mainly children are in conditions that will lead to disaster

Collective mobilization: Revenge “ours”

Subsequent to this killing, Maimai groups mobilized from Ndandja, Mirimba[1], Lulenge, Gipupu, and Kamombo’s neighborhood to settle account to Gumino but also getting rid of their foes. While yet localized, on 5th May 2019, two villages were burnt from both sides of Banyamulenge and Banyindu; Gitasha and Sanganya respectively. While local and community leaders were yet trying to find ways out of this new crisis, Maimai embarked into violent settlement of accounts by attacking and burning on 8-9th May 2019 villages of Mikaratai, Kamombo, Mutenja, Ngoma, Kabara. Kabara was mainly attacked by force loyal to Commander Ibuela Kibukila based in Gipupu/Kipupu. Meanwhile, Tulambo’s villages (Nyabindi-Kuwimbogo) were also attacked and burnt by elements of Ibuela. In retaliation, Twirwaneho from Bijombo and Gumino counterattacked and pushed back Maimai towards Gipupu. Roughly 6 villages around Gipupu were burnt bya Twirwaneho, including the village harboring the bureau of Collectivité d’Itombwe. In the meantime, FARDC could not respond timely as its intervention delayed reaching Kamombo neighborhood from Gatanga (Bijombo groupement).

A forthcoming and expected intervention of FARDC was interpreted as an alignment behind Gumino and Twirwaneho. Therefore, Maimai from Mirimba, Lulenge started to pull back from Kamombo-Mikarati towards their localities. While pulling back on 10th May 2019, Maimai attacked Rwitsankuku and its neighborhood; around 6 villages were once again again burnt. The attack from this direction reached Kalingi and failed short to occupy Bidegu[2]. On the same day and likely coordinated, Maimai attacked Biziba, Kabingo, Gaseke, Irumba, Kivumu and Gakangala. Biziba is located southward of Minembwe; while Gakangala is situated Eastward of Minembwe. Between 10-14, huge combat opposed Twirwaneho and Mamai who failed short to control Minembwe from Ruhemba-Kivumu axis. The last village burnt from Westward of Minembwe is Rudabagiza next to Ruhemba. Rudabagiza is within 2-3 Kms from Minembwe aerodrome, Kiziba.

Besides mobilization through Social Medias against Minembwe “Commune Rurale”, on the battlefield, putting an end to this decentralized entity had been a slogan sang during the combat. During this week, Nkango and Malanda in Mibunda were burnt on 13th May 2019. Mibunda and Tulambo mainly are distant of 40 Kms from Minembwe; while these villages are likely distant of 30 Kms from Kamombo-Mikarati where Kawaza’s incident took place. On 17th May 2019, villages of Tulambo neighborhood, that is Tulambo, Linjanja, Marunde and Kivogerwa are again attacked and burnt by Maimai armed men. On 18th and 21st May 2019, Kamombo, Nyamara, Gitasha (noth-east of Minembwe) are once again attacked by militias to finalize this macabre project. Some of these villages were burnt while provincial delegation on a behalf of the South-Kivu Governor representative were in Minembwe to enquire over this situation. The question remains how could have all these likely coordinated attacks been planned within hours following the death of Kawaza?

Get Rid of You: Villages Attacked and Burn down

In total, more 41 Banyamulenge’s villages were destroyed and more 11[2] villages belonging to Banyindu and Babembe were burnt down. Banyamulenge’s Localities around Kamombo (north of Minemwe): Kitasha 1 (Gitasha), Kitasha 2 (Gitasha), Mikarati 1/ Ndahangwa, Mikarati 2, Mikarati 3, Kamombo, Ngoma, Kanogo, Bishigo, Nyamara, Kabara, Mutenja, Kanihura, Mu Rwondo, Rwikubo; Around Tulambo-Marune (Noth-West of Minembwe): Tulambo, Nkango, Bijanda, Linjanja, Rushasha/ Ruchahanira, Tulambo, Wimbogo, Kigazura, Kivogerwa, MArunde 1, Marunde 2, Nyaruhinga, Tulambo (chez Muganwa); Around Minembwe Centre (South and South-West): Biziba 1, Biziba 2, Irumba, Gaseke, Kabingo, Ruhemba, Kivumu, Rudabagiza, Nyamiringa; around Minembwe Centre (North-East and East): Kalongi1, Kalingi 2, Rwitsankunku, Gakangala… Babembe and Banyindu  villages destroyed are Kipupu; Bukunji; Nyabindi; Kalingi; Goka (chez Japonais); Ruvumera (chez Mubaki); Ruvumera (chez Pierre); Ruvumera (chez Nagabele); Sanganya; Luhemba (Ruhemba) Nord; Kanihura. Besides these burnt villages, around 40 people have died and mostly due to consequences of fire and countless injuries. It is estimated that 20000 civilians are internally displaced in Minembwe, Mikenke and Itombwe. Dozens of school and “health” facilities  have been destroyed and abandoned. No one knows clearly if this the end of the turmoil though one can yet predict that nothing credible has been done to prevent such violent move in a near future. This is a huge number of displaced people adding to those from Bijombo estimated around 15000.

Houses with durable materials had been harshly destroyed.

To this complexity of security vacuum in which everyone resorts to gun to protect himself, regional crises have amplified local tensions. On one hand, the fighting is said to have involved Red-Tabara and FNL who have actively participated next to Maimai. Red-Tabara and FNL/Nzabampema are both Burundian groups willing to overthrow Nkurunziza’s regime. Both groups are believed to have a in/direct support form Kigali willing to get rid of Bujumbura’s regime. Hence, one can easily read an indirect (some are suspecting direct) link between Maimai and Kigali. On the other hand, Gumino is said to have elements loyal to Kigali’s dissident, Kayumba Nyamwasa. With an implicit support from Bujumbura, Rwanda National Congress (RNC) of Kayumba Nyamwasa is likely to have a support from Nkurunziza’s regime and they are also willing to overthrow Kagame. All these foreign groups as well as local ones had established their strongholds in this region under a blessing eye of DRC security services.
Why do we keep confusing an administrative entity that would comprise and serve individuals from all over the world would be confused by an ethnic group? That is a legacy that we also need to question. Regardless of sensational feelings, the way all contenders keep referring to memories and prejudice caused by these violent conflicts, it is very urgent to find durable solution to this recurring situation.

NTANYOMA R. Delphin

PhD Researcher in Conflict Economics

The Institute of Social Studies/

Erasmus University Rotterdam

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Delphino12

Blog: www.easterncongotribune.com      

[1] Ngandja and Mirimba is distant of approximately 100 Kms to Kamombo-Mikarati; while Lulenge would be around 60 Kms. Grappling motives behind such huge mobilization is a key to determine the role that the killing of Kawaza has played into the complex and deep-seated local grievances.  

[2] Bidegu, Kalingi, Rwitsankuku are mainly inhabited by Banyamulenge community and situated Eastward of Minembwe. Particularly, Bidegu is the native village to former Vice-President and currently Minister of Decentralization and Institutions; Reform, Azarias Ruberwa Manywa.  

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PhD fellow @ErasmusUnivRotterdam/ISS: Microeconomic Analysis of Conflict. Congolese, blogger advocating 4r Equitable Redistribution of Ressources & national wealth as well as & #Justice4All #DRC In the top of that, proud of being "villageois"

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