Minembwe is a small area with a radius between 5 & 10 kms from its center. But it has hosted Banyamulenge population estimated to 100 Thousand who fled their respective dwellings. Main attackers are Mai Mai groups from Babembe, Bafuliru and Banyindu communities in association with Burundian rebels mainly Red Tabara. This coalition was the uprooting hammer where around 150 Banyamulenge villages were burned and hundreds of people were killed in targeted way. Note that Banyamulenge are cattle keepers. As of now, almost all their cows were looted by the same coalition while FARDC forces were indifferently observing. It is no longer news on the spotlight.
The Banyamulenge have been abandoned by the Government of Congo and the international community since the escalation of malice to uproot them in the Highlands of Itombwe, Fizi and Uvira, especially in Minembwe center. As matter of fact, we have observed an unexplained situation whereby no assistance whatsoever was provided, either by DRC government or UN agencies/ INGOs.
No hope for assistance
In fact, housing in Minembwe is still improving though it has a low capacity to shelter thousands of people and displaced. Largely, the housing is traditional with each family having a small house (in some cases built by trees covered by mud and straws on the roof). The same small house serves for cooking, sleeping and other household activities. In these conditions, the shelter for incoming IDPs should have been a subject of humanitarian planning of DR Congo government in partnership with its stakeholders in the area of emergency management. The fact is, no additional shelters were built in Minembwe regardless the great number of new people coming in. Until today nobody knows the real reason why nothing was done to increase the number of shelters in order to accommodate the waves of population displacement from their respective villages. It would be good if UN through UNOCHA DRC could provide clarification on this matter. Of course, the number one responsible to ensure the issue is catered for is DRC government through Sud Kivu Province office.
In terms of food, there were unprecedented humanitarian needs for all the categories of population in Minembwe, from IDPs to Minembwe residents. This need has been extremely high when it comes to under 5 years children. Undernutrition and malnutrition have become a common currency. At some point Minembwe is hopeless. Why?
First, because the area is surrounded by Mai Mai and Red Tabara who have besieged by regularly attacking villages in the periphery such as Kalingi, Kahwela, Kabingo, etc. This is the sign that, Minembwe residents have no option to go into their fields to collect at least some food for their survival. Minembwe has become a concentration center where hopeless people look at each other and nobody has the answer. Secondly, local leaders and civil society activists have advocated in almost every meeting, but nothing was done. The hope to get any support (food, shelter, etc.) as humanitarian assistance, has ended.
However, while waiting for the government and international community to act accordingly, signs of community self-resilience have never stopped.
Since the escalation of the crisis, Minembwe is in conditions where there is no additional shelter provided. Therefore, there was no other option apart from sharing what they do possess. The reality was that these small houses which normally accommodate 1 household, have hosted more than 5 + households. This model of accommodating new comers (IDPs) was adopted by community members as a way to adapt themselves to new settings. On average, a house has been accommodating between 4 and 6 families. Household activities could only be done in phases, each family having a limited time to cook food and other family arrangements.
Food and non-food items sharing
Almost all IDPs families fled without any food, given the military tactics which have been used by the coalition Mai Mai & Red Tabara to attack villages. In some cases, thousands of people could arrive in Minembwe villages finding no UN agency or INGO to provide food assistance. Only one principle was in function: “Let us share the little we possess”. It is an exceptional case which scholars and researchers who write on community resilience should visit and learn a lot from it. All was not perfect of course, that is why I would suggest research possibilities to understand the context, determinant factors and key actors in this highly exceptional community resilience.
Not only receiving families could share what they have in house with new IDPs coming, but where possible they could go together to harvest in their field. We have witnessed women who were wildly decapitated by Mai Mai in the same situation. Among them, there were Minembwe residents and IDPs.
Non-food items such as household kits, clothes, blankets, etc. were also shared under the same principle of sharing the “little we possess”.
IDPs assisting other IDPs
Recently on 8th-9th September 2020, the coalition Mai Mai-Red Tabara in complicity with some FARDC commanders have attacked Minembwe periphery villages through 4 axes (Kabingo, Muriza, Masha and Kahwela). Note that Kahwela villages located to around 10 Kms from Minembwe Center, were mainly accommodated IDPs who fled their villages in Kamombo, Tulambo, Mibunda localities since last year. During the 8-9th attack, these villages were completely destroyed and burned. The population have fled to Minembwe center. It has become an ending cycle of disciplacement.
In the following video, you will see that the next day a community meeting was organized to raise resources with the objective to assist Kahwela IDPs. In this community meeting, clothes, blankets, money and food were offered by Minembwe population whom the majority are already IDPs.
In this video, everyone stands voluntarily and say what he or she has to offer in order to assist new IDPs from Kahwela. A deep assessment made by analysts claim that the offering does not limit to “just giving to those in needs”. The reason being that even those who were giving are extremely in need. Instead, they could read a sense of resilience which loudly say: “our eyes were waiting to see and ears were attentive to hear from the Government or international community. However, signs of resilience meant that failing to do so, could not hold us back”. It is actually a sign of holding hands one another in tightening context.
Despite the fact that Minembwe was held in hopelessness, the ability to survive in these conditions keep a very positive sign that one day even villages will be rebuilt again. It is not as simple as we imagine. But the same energy which makes people with nothing sharing “nothing” with someone extremely in needy, will vibrate and life in Minembwe and other villages shall sprout again!
In conclusion, we reiterate DRC government needs to take its responsibility. Apparently, it seems as if officials are not informed of the apocalyptic situation imposed to the population of Minembwe. But in the reality, Minembwe has received more than 10 delegations from central government in Kinshasa and provincial level in Bukavu. South Kivu Gouvernor seems to have deleted Minembwe on the map of the province. He has kept absolute silence. We are all aware of the complexity of governance in DRC. But this should not be the excuse of opting for inactive attitude.
For the international community, history will speak a lot about your inaction. Having MONUSCO in Minembwe, you should be aware and of course you are ware of what is happening. Security for IDPs should be MONUSCO number one priority. In addition, humanitarian assistance has been at the forefront of Minembwe IDPs needs.
If FARDC are playing complicity games to associate with the coalition Mai Mai-Red Tabara, MONUSCO should implement its mandate of protecting civilians and report to the relevant UN organizations or INGOs the current humanitarian situation. Failure to do so, it is highly possible that any humanitarian tragedy can happen. Without being a doom prophet, here are two scenarios possible: First, massacre by the coalition Mai Mai- Red Tabara to Banyamulenge community is obvious. Secondly, we could assist to a humanitarian tragedy we have never seen.
The facts about community resilience we have observed; is now at the last drop. More than one year of survival in such hash situation sounds a great fight. But today Minembwe population seem to breath almost their last. There are issues which they cannot afford at all. If DRC government minds its population, Today is the right time, because Tomorrow the story could be different. If INGOs and UN agencies stand for their well stated and impressive mission statements, NOW is the only time you have to save Minembwe.
Human Rights and Peace Building Activist