The Eastern Congo, specifically the South-Kivu Region has been going through recurring violent trajectories. The region of Minembwe-Bijombo, the homeland of Babembe, Banyamulenge, Bafuliro and Banyindu, is currently facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. Since 2017 up to recently, Hundreds have died, more than 160 villages burnt down leaving 200,000 civilians without homes and shelter; schools and health facilities destroyed and Banyamulenge cattle estimated around 27,000-30000 have been looted by militias. One of the reasons behind ethnically affiliated confrontation is the sense of belonging. Referring to reproduced and distorted colonial ‘literature’, some communities are considered as ‘autochthonous’; while others are viewed as ‘immigrants’. Large of these written documents were oversimplified or simply lacking objectivity. Some features were politically motivated to halt and contain hegemonic colonial superpower. However, they ended by harming and it will take time to repair while some of the stories were swiftly and slightly presented. Nonetheless, we are the ones to pay from these loopholes. Therefore, this is a time to call upon experts to be fair and objective whenever writing others’ story.
Curiosity: The Flip side of Expertise?
Experts are amazingly curious when they want to know each detail regarding their subjects of interest. At some point, an unfamiliar of any domain of expertise may fail to understand what can be a motive behind scratching to get what we always think we know. However, what makes ‘pundit’ to be famous is how they dig deeper and tries to deconstruct the details. By trying hard to grapple everything, experts can bring up some features that may sound irrelevant in the context of knowledge production. Would this be the flip side of expertise? To some extent, some of these unnoticed―unnecessary features may harm some individuals, especially when they refer to violent environment.
Moreover, expertise can likely fall within a “raw generalization” of their perceptions by simply applying what they have seen from X individuals to Y gentlemen. This post recapitulates few features from Jason Stearns’ book; which need to be well written and noted as part of knowledge production. One of these is “Circumcision” of Banyamulenge which sounds irrelevant in terms of knowledge production though it might be harming. However, his book is worthy reading as it contains many characteristics of the complex Eastern Congo violence. Thus, this article agrees with many of the aspects presented by the author. I believe that it would be hard to contest Jason’s expertise in Eastern Congo experience. His book stands among my favorite scholars I have been referring to whenever looking back to see “who we are”. Besides its relevance, failing to mention such minor misinterpretation would lead to tremendous effects through reproduction and retransmission of scholarships and knowledge. Many would agree that minor omissions have been exploited by manipulators and led to huge and unpredictable consequences.
Jason Stearns and Expertise in Eastern Congo’s Conflict
Jason Stearns is one of the experts who have undertaken researches and wrote about the Eastern Congo conflict. He has spent roughly ten years in Congo studying the origin and causes of violent conflict, specifically in the Kivus. When trying to raise this minor interpretation, I struggled a lot to formulate my argument against a well-known scholar. He is an English speaker native; and the book is written in his first language. Referring to his succinct and concise way of elaborating an argument, I felt guilty when trying to find appropriate words to contest that he is wrong at some point. Nevertheless, I felt an obligation to point out that we would all be fine if these minor mistakes won’t be repeated several times.
I am indebted to Alex who has indicated to me one of the two ideas to be discussed in this post. If it was not his chat, I wouldn’t have easily realized that I am allegedly not “circumcised” as per Jason. Whenever I have read the argument, I kept feeling that this was others’ stance which Stearns was trying to quote. In end, following a long discussion with Alex, I came to realize that Jason has simply been convinced that around hundred thousand Banyamulenge are in large uncircumcised. Nonetheless, I would apologize if any misinterpretation from my side had occurred in reading Stearns’ formulation. I wondered and keep wondering how come so that an expert can easily know who are circumcised among males belonging to any given ethnic group. Besides the matter of circumcision, this post questions Stearns’ stance of downplaying the declaration of the former South-Kivu’s Governor Lwabanji Lwashi Ngabo. Lwabanji Lwashi Ngabo is currently the South-Kivu Interior Minister within Gwabidje’s team.
Fascinating “Dancing in the Glory of the Monsters”
As someone who has written books and many academic articles―papers on the Eastern Congo, this post refers specifically to one of Jason’s fascinating book. The title of the fascinating book is “Dancing in the Glory of the Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa” published in 2011. I largely agree in his understanding of what are the root causes of the Eastern Congo conflict. The book covers Zairean state fragility since its creation up to recently. The state decay for decades have widen frustration that in turn fuels violence. Dancing in the Glory of the Monster presents clearly the challenge of failing to redistribute public resources and its effects on pushing young people to violence. He likely agrees with Nzongola-Ntalaja on how a “real scandal” in Congo is that the “geological scandal” has failed to redistribute national wealth since King Leopold II up to Kabila.
Moreover, Stearns exposes clearly how the Congolese society is challenged and remain inclined onto ethnicity. Ethnic group has occupied a primary position whenever someone needs to undertake any initiative. This post could fall or be interpreted by Jason as falling in the same line of ethnicity. The sense of commonly shared nation is yet dragging behind and violence falls into intractability. Even revolutionaries/armed combatants willing to bring change are constrained by this sort of thinking that leans to ethnicity. Strikingly, violence ethnically oriented had created “popular prejudices” that keep fueling a cycle of massacres-killings. Stearns stresses mainly on how any incident can revive memories; and hence, leading to endless killing in which everyone does not want to see others’ plights.
Specifically, social and political projects are grounded on ethnic lenses. Stearns sees this mobilization as “usually exclusive in nature and does not form an equitable or truly democratic basis for the distribution of state resources…” (Stearns 2011:216). He rather warned that “It will take generations to rebuild institutions or social organizations that can challenge the current predatory state without resorting to ethnicity”. His warning seems bringing up an idea of a cycle of violence that would remain for years to come. “Dancing in the Glory of the Monsters”? A very worth reading for anyone willing to see how others see us.
Experts can easily know what is in your Panties?
Against this background, Stearns failed to consider dynamics around customary “rituals”. While Stearns would have unlikely undertaken an experiment to determine how many went through this ritual circumcision, he strongly confirmed that “Banyamulenge are usually not circumcised” (Stearns 2011:63). Usually not circumcised? He is totally wrong. I argue that, unless someone spends decades on watching and capturing pictures/taking notes of people taking shower on Kalimabenge/Karyamabenge river, so that s/he bring up such generalization. Why Karyamabenge? Those who are familiar with this type of open-air shower facilities would get the meaning of my viewpoint. This is an open-air space where people used to take shower while coming from the highlands.
Since 1984, DRC has not yet organized any systematic census from which one can rely on to thoroughly give a figure around circumcision matter. I am so skeptical that even the 1984 census had covered this aspect. Hence, it seems that Jason would have been misled by expertise confidence or relying on biased information. He might be referring to 40-50s generations. Though slightly meaningful, informed observers would testify that generations of 60s-70s have undergone circumcision not as traditional rituals but as something whose importance is sometimes Biblical. Moreover, one can slightly agree that circumcision marks a “graduation to manhood”, there is a possibility of questioning this stance that keep measuring being a man as going through circumcision. In addition, I am still struggling to understand the relevance and meaning of such argument―statement within the complex factors that characterize the socio-cultural context of the region.
At some point and this would be elaborated later, Stearns had likely downplayed Lwabanji’s declaration that culminated in mass killings in Baraka, Uvira, Mutarule, Kamanyola, Lweba, Ngandja… While trying to elaborate on the meaning of Lwabanji’s declaration that ordered military and security services to round up Banyamulenge community, Stearns (2011:58) states that
“Lwabanji later protested that the regrouping of the Banyamulenge community was for their own protection, and in villages in Zaire, not in Rwanda. His explanation was to little avail; for the Banyamulenge, his name was henceforth tied to eviction from their country”
Stearns’ book seems “playing the devil’s advocate” or downplaying the consequences of what is presented as “anti-Tutsi hyperbole”. The use of Radios as the sole means of access to information cannot be blamed to these locals. In addition, Lwabanji’s statement warned that anyone who would not leave these mountains would be considered as “rebels”; it was much threatening for local population listening to the voice of a Governor during Mobutu’s rule. Strikingly, there is unlikely such thing as ‘distortion’ so long as the Governor had confirmed that that “six days are enough” for Banyamulenge to pack their stuffs and leave. More shocking, there have been military orders to round up some groups based on his clear stance that singled out one ethnic community. For instance, following this order, Banyamulenge in Bibogobogo were manu militari rounded up by security forces up to Baraka. Corroborated sources referred to more than 500 Banyamulenge killed in Baraka, 250 killed in Lweba and up to now, the whereabouts of 146 children remain a mystery. Would this be written down as something that intended to protect?
NTANYOMA Rukumbuzi Delphin
PhD Researcher in Conflict Economics
The Institute of Social Studies/
Erasmus University Rotterdam