Historically, Banyamulenge arrived in Eastern Congo before the scramble for Africa which happened during Berlin conference in 1884. They are culturally pastoral community with one of foundation pillars of keeping cows. Cow is the symbol of source of provision for life as well as the pillar for dignity. But currently it is no longer there. The question that one would ask is, what happened?
The highlands of Minembwe have been undergoing a very terrible situation when armed groups have been uprooting anything associated with life for Banyamulenge community. These militias are composed by Mai Mai groups originating from Babembe, Bafuliru and Banyindu tribes in coalition with Burundian rebels of Red Tabara, FOREBU and FNL. Three Burundian rebel groups have been fighting the current Burundian government since 2015 when a coup d’Etat to overthrow President Pierre Nkurunziza who passed away while this note was being written failed. With support from some countries in the region, these Burundian rebels got financial and military support and were established in the Highlands of Uvira.
The coalition Mai Mai & allies has destroyed and burned more than 300 Banyamulenge villages, looted more than 150,000 cows, killed around 300 people and caused more than 200,000 people to flee the country. They were all (cows) looted and sold openly in different markets surrounding Minembwe, including Kilembwe, Lubuga, Kaziba, Bukavu, Uvira, Kamituga, Salamabila, Misisi, Lulimba, etc. It was all done when local administrative and security leaders were watching. This practice stands as a determinant proof that Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) elements have plotted with the killers in one way or another.
It is astonishing that since when the crisis escalated in May 2019 until now, there is no government intervention whatsoever to stop ongoing violence. The highlands of Minembwe has become a jungle where the only governing rule is the use of guns. Banyamulenge as minority group are the victim of that jungle rule. The government did nothing to obstruct the evil plan to happen. Mai Mai militia and their Burundian rebels are the one making the law by making repetitive attacks to civilian Banyamulenge as they wish.
Though there is no independent report outlining the complicity of some elements of the Congolese Forces (FARDC), there are evidence that these militias have used some means from Congolese forces to attack internally displaced people (IDPs) in Minembwe and Mikenge, two sites which accommodate Banyamulenge IDPs. Given the fragility of the current DRC government due to the complexity of its political context, some FARDC commanders with influence were involved in the evil plot to uproot Banyamulenge in the land, together with Burundian rebel groups who wished to make Minembwe their military base. They sow the hatred and now they are enjoying their harvest.
In fact, this situation has created the unprecedented humanitarian crisis where more than 120,000 IDPs Banyamulenge were concentrated in Minembwe, in a small area of 5 Km radius. Since then, almost 2 years no humanitarian assistance has been provided by humanitarian organizations. Of course, the area is remote and hard to reach due to lack of accessible roads. But this should not be the reason to not assist the needy. In principle, UN mission (MONUSCO) troops deployed in Minembwe uses plane, helicopter and trucks that are appropriate to bad roads for transport of necessary commodities. This confirms that these humanitarian agencies could have used the same possible means to reach out these IDPs abandoned by the government. Only few local NGOs with little means have tried to provide a very small support to them.
Due to repetitive attacks by Mai Mai and their allies, these IDPs could not access fields beyond Minembwe center to pick up their crops (food). Whenever they try, they are killed. In the recent events, the killing of four women were inhumanly decapitated as a signal sent by the killers to have the rest of IDPs traumatized. They have been lockdown for a long period.
In this dilemma, a self-defense spirit arose from Banyamulenge youth commonly known as Twirwaneho. They also have built themselves militarily for the survival of their community. We even heard FARDC Colonel Michel Rukunda from Banyamulenge tribe who deserted his military position because he saw that Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) were plotting against innocent population. He claimed that he had no reason to stay in his position while the so-called National Army is killing or being accomplice in the killings of population. Since the fourth week of May 2020, they (Twirwaneho) made attacks in different places where Mai Mai and allies have their military bases. Of course, in the surrounding areas there were Banyindu and Bafuliru population, keeping these cows looted during the whole period of violence. The escalation of Twirwaneho attacks against Mai Mai and allies has made a new wave of displaced people. From Kamombo to Chakira and other surrounding villages, more than 15,000 Bafuliru and Banyindu population have fled to Mutambala, Anguli and Mboko, along Tanganyika lake.
The new wave is adding more need for humanitarian assistance. While IDPs especially children in Minembwe are starving to the point of dying by hunger and have no promises to be assisted, we are observing the number of vulnerable people increasing. This time from Bafuliru and Banyindu community.
Due to its remoteness, local, national or international media have no access to the true version of information. Sometimes, official and true source is hard to reach. As matter of fact, we assist to many biased information circulating which far from the reality. As peace Activists in the area, we get the verified information by phone call to local residents. This is the reason why the hardship these IDPs are facing is not known at all by international community.
We call upon international community to intervene in such situation where the role of the government is almost absent. UN agencies and other International Non-Government Organizations (INGOs) should play a role in such emergency situation. These IDPs need shelter, hygiene and sanitation as well as healthcare. Note that this could lead to a critical sanitary crisis diarrhea and infectious diseases and mental distress, without ignoring the current period of COVID-19 where there is a high risk that one case could spread rapidly. In addition, Minembwe is a very cold area. Winter clothes and blankets would also be needed.
We reiterate again to the government of DRC to not stand idle in front of life destroying practices. DRC diplomatic office should cooperate with neighbor countries, especially Burundian and Rwandan governments to ensure Congolese population live peacefully without any overlapping hand from outside. Congo judiciary should open cases to pursuit authors of these violence, which serves as a lesson to anyone who would take low value the fundamental right that everyone should enjoy. The security organs should be reformed and convey everyone to respond properly on his duties while bringing back the order between and within communities.
Human Rights and Peace Building Activist
Several sources claim that Banyamulenge arrived in Kivu, before Congo became a colonial state. Turner, T. (2007). The Congo wars: conflict, myth and reality. Zed Books. https://books.google.de/books?id=PvpiDgAAQBAJ&lpg=PT73&ots=NbanI9w-4h&dq=weiss%20and%20the%20origin%20of%20banyamulenge&pg=PT73#v=onepage&q=weiss%20and%20the%20origin%20of%20banyamulenge&f=false
Voice of America article was written in the midst of the conflict. https://www.voanews.com/africa/drc-unrest-sparks-concerns-regional-refugee-crisis#:~:text=Since%20May%2C%20attackers%20have%20burned,and%20reconciliation%20among%20Congolese%20tribes.
Who is Col. Makanika Michel and why he decided to desert his military post, https://easterncongotribune.com/2020/01/09/colonel-michel-rukunda-makanika/