While the situation has been worsening in the southern part of South Kivu, one of the survivors of the double targeted carnage Bibogobogo-Mboko (1996) and Gatumba (2004) Lucie Nyamwiza (nicknames) shared her ordeal that dates two decades back. An important element of her testimony is the impunity that had accompanied atrocities committed in eastern Congo, particularly around her community. “The most shocking feature of the double carnage is that perpetrators of atrocities are completely free, part of state institutions, while no one is even able to point a finger to them. What would deter these criminals from repeating what they managed to do in 1996 with impunity? These events are the most painful that we have experienced in our life. Since they were never bothered by anyone, this makes me believe that the same perpetrators continue to conspire other dangerous plans against my community until now. The state has always lent them a hand in all their plans, and they have always used it to protect themselves against any prosecution. What would stop them from repeating what they had done without being in any way worried” said Lucie.
My name is Lucie Nyamwiza (nicknames), I am from Abasita clan, and my father is one of the Free Methodist Church pastors. I was born and raised at Gitavi/Minembwe; but later our family moved to Bibogobogo/Fizi mid-plateau (1980-90). I will share with you the story of hard times I went through together with other Banyamulenge families. Though miraculously, I survived two major massacres that could have taken my life. The first took place in 1996 in DRC; while the second happened in 2004 when Gatumba refugee camp was attacked by assailants. In Gatumba, 166 Banyamulenge have lost their lives. I apologize that after 24 years I might not remember all details. However, I will try to mention the main events that marked my experience as a survivor.
On 18th or 19th September 1996, we learned that Banyamulenge families in Kabera (near Lac Tanganyika) had been arrested, rounded-up from their homes, and imprisoned in different places. Members of the Banyamulenge community in Kabera and Bibogobogo had the custom of going down and up the hills to visit each other. The day before people were arrested in Kabera, some of our neighbors in Bibogobogo went down the hill to visit their relatives. On their way to Kabera, they learned the bad news and had to return. They did not know that an attack was already coming their way from the direction of Kabera towards Bibogobogo. The next day, Bibogobogo was under attack, and people were rounded up in a place called Kwa Matare, locked into different houses, women, and men separately. The news spread quickly in Bibogobogo that the attack is underway, and we started to panic.
Situate Bibogobogo & le Long Way of Lweba Ordeal
Banyamulenge villages in Bibogobogo localities were surrounded by members of the Babembe localities on all sides. Therefore, we knew our chances of escaping were very limited. However, when you are desperate, you seek help even where you least expect to find it. That is how people decided to try everything they could. We sent a delegation of men from Bibogobogo region to go and meet the authorities and ask for protection against the attacks we were facing.
The delegation was composed of representatives of Magaja, Bivumu, and Nyagisozi villages (one of the dozens Banyamulenge’s villages in Bibogobogo). My father was part of the delegation, as well as Pastor Rusingizwa, Reverend Surintendant Gaparasi, and either Pastor Ndasarara or Kigarigari. I do not remember exactly who members of the delegation from Magaja village were.
In Lweba, a locality on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, the delegation met Chief Mulumba, the newly elected administrator (chef de groupement) who had recently replaced chief Salamba. The delegation came back to announce that they had talked to the chief who promised to protect. But the next night, most of the people had started to flee in two different directions; some northward (uphill) to reach Minembwe (Rwitsankuku), though they had to go through Babembe localities. Also, to reach towns downhill in the valley, you had to go through other Babembe villages. There was no easy way to decide in which direction to flee, you just had to follow your instinct and run away.
Those who fled up the hills, went through Mugorore village, inhabited by Banyakarama families. People from Bivumu and Magaja villages did not wait for the delegation to return and tell us what the authorities had decided. Instead, we moved downhill behind the delegation and spent the night at Tubondo locality just a few miles from our villages. The next morning, 20th September 1996, we were in Lweba locality. We had our cows, goats, and other household belongings, and people carried whatever they could. Once in Lweba, they rounded up altogether. We did not receive any compassionate message from the authorities. Nonetheless, authorities were telling us we were going to be sent back to Rwanda, back “where we came from”.
While we had no hope that the government authorities would intervene to save our lives, we hoped that the residents of Lweba would have pity on us as members of the same church, mainly Free Methodist Church. However, it turned out that even church members had no intention to save and rather played a similar role as the government in plans to exterminate us. Babembe residents of Lweba were our fellow Methodist believers, and many of us had and were still serving the church as pastors together, with our parents. The bishop of the Methodist Church had his office in Baraka. I remember we saw him in Lweba while we were imprisoned there when only women could go to the market. We stopped his car and pleaded with him to come and talk to his jailed pastors, but he did not want to. The Methodist Bishop was a respected authority and was perceived to have the power equivalent to that of a provincial governor. But he did not want to save any of the Banyamulenge pastors who had been serving under him. I remember Pastor Mahota who lived in Lweba with his entire family, the Methodist Bishop had all the possibilities to hide him and save his life, and that of his family, but he did not do this.
Assault Moments: We Were Condemned as “Genetically Enemies”?
Instead of being helped, we stayed imprisoned in Lweba for a week in different houses, and every day we would hear that the war was expanding across the country. These were difficult moments of waiting without knowing what was going to happen to us the next day. Day and night looked the same. It was around the 26th or 27th September 1996, around 5 PM when someone who seemed to be drunk came to where we were imprisoned and said, “this night, Rwandans must die”. He said that government soldiers in Bibogobogo had been attacked and killed by allegedly “Inkotanyi”. The drunk guy asked who killed them though you seem to refute having no clues of these “Inkotanyi”? The fact was since we were rounded up and moved to Baraka we had no idea of the AFDL rebels.
With my group, we were imprisoned in a two-room house. The drunk man was right, during the night, it was raining. The killers came and threw grenades into the house, shooting bullets into the room next to ours. The attacked room was occupied by around twenty families. We heard people screaming, crying; and at some point, everything became silent. We were waiting for our round. We were expecting them to continue to kill in our room. But after a time, they started to bring wheelbarrows and collected the bodies in the room where they had already killed people.
Growing up as a Munyamulenge child, I had heard stories of massacres and other atrocities that our parents lived [Simba rebellion] through but seeing in person the massacre of the night of Lweba still extremely shocked me. It was the first time I saw innocent people being killed mercilessly and hopelessly. Then they took their bodies and dumped them in a pit that they had dug near the former market in Lweba. I remember seeing the killers chopping a man named Pascal, a resident of Magaja village. He was tall, and his body could not fit into a wheelbarrow. In the morning we went into the room where the people were killed, and we found people on the floor who were still agonizing, uttering some words as they died. We found babies who were breastfeeding on the dead bodies of their mothers and we managed to remove around eleven young children still alive next to their dead mothers. While we were still in Lweba, there were members of a paramilitary group called “garde civiles” who were guarding our prison. They took five men among us to help them carry what they plundered from us, mainly cows and goats. Among those taken were my brother, Sabahinda from the Abasinzira family, Muhubiri from the Abasita family, Dudu from the Abahiga family, and Kajonga. It was the last time we would see them all.
The morning after the massacre, some government soldiers arrived from Mboko locality and said that those who killed our families in Lweba were just a group of bandits and drunken. The soldiers told us that we were safe now, and that we should not worry, and that the army was there to protect us. They informed us they were going to take us to Rwanda for our safety. The men of our group asked the soldiers to allow us to take with us our wounded people, but they refused. When we were leaving, our wounded relatives pleaded with us, saying “are you going to leave us?” I remember a pastor named Muhanda who wanted to go back and bring some wounded children with us, but he was beaten by the soldiers.
Those who we left behind had grenade burns, some have had their legs or arms cut off, and we never knew exactly what happened to them after we left. We suspect that some were killed and that some children were brought to Tanzania as captives within Babembe families. We even suspect that those wounded children served the Babembe families who used them to claim they themselves were survivors of massacres (when many were among the perpetrators who had committed atrocities against us). Those who had taken Banyamulenge children in Tanzania thereby got the chance to be relocated to Western countries as refugees, we have been told.
Double Carnage: When Lake Tanganyika Became a Common Grave
Before departing from Lweba, they brought a few survivors from Baraka. We saw them dropping people from a truck, just as you would drop stones or unload objects without value. We approached and saw that they were our fellow Banyamulenge. Among those who were being unloaded, I remember Athanase from the Abagabika family, Jonas, and a girl named Nyajoro and her young sisters. They were the ones who told us what happened to the Banyamulenge residents of Baraka. They told us that people were executed in those places where they had been rounded-up in Baraka. All men who survived the Baraka killing and joined us perished together with the men of our group when we reached Mboko locality.
The soldiers packed us into a boat. We were not allowed to take anything with us. We could not even take the food we had cooked. We were transported from Lweba to Mboko, two small towns on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. I cannot tell what time of the day it was, maybe around noon. In such periods you even lose your sense of time. All I remember is that it was during the daytime. We reached Mboko locality in the night, and again I cannot tell what time it was. At first, they left all of us in the boat.
After a time, a group of people composed of soldiers, garde civile, and other people speaking Kinyarwanda came towards our boat. I remember that one of the Kinyarwanda speakers was being called himself the name of Gahutu. I do not know if this was his real name or just a nickname because of the circumstances we were living in. Those people took the men out of the boat. They handcuffed their arms from behind with the belts or shirts they were wearing. Then they unloaded the women and made us sit on the side. They came back, started to take the men who were lying down on the beach handcuffed, and they started to load them into the boat again in small groups. They would take a group of men and drive the boat away from the lake’s shore and dump them in the waters of Lake Tanganyika. After drowning every man who was with us, they came toward us and said, “your husbands have reached Uvira, or probably Rwanda”.
That day, at Mboko, I cannot remember the exact number of men who were killed there, but certainly around hundreds. This is where my dad perished. My uncle who is second to my father, and another brother of my father. Another brother of my dad perished in Kabera. My whole extended family from Bivumu, Magaja, and Bibogobogo, all of them perished in Mboko locality.
Zairian Women whose Destination must be Rwanda!
Basically, all men who were not killed in Lweba, and the survivors who joined us from Baraka were killed in Mboko. After that massacre, they took us in a military barracks, a sort of warehouse and we spent the night there. In the morning, the Babembe local population came to the barracks, surrounded us. They were celebrating and doing all sorts of humiliating scenes you can think of.
In the evening they packed us into the boat. There were only women and children left. While packing us in, some women begged the soldiers to kill us there instead. The man speaking Kinyarwanda in the group of killers replied “no, we are not killing you, you will die of sorrow”.
The boat took us to Uvira. When we reached the port area, they dropped us on a sand dune that formed a sort of island in the lake. We were not allowed to leave the dune for two days. It was getting unsanitary, as this was where we had to collect our water and do our toilets. We were all starving and the women had to pick some mangoes on the ground, chew them and spit the liquid in their children’s mouth. One child died on the spot from starvation and we moved the sand and buried the body.
On the dune, the military and civil authorities came to see us. Then they asked if there was someone among us who could speak Swahili because they had some information they wanted to ask. We were only women, so other women pointed at me. I went to talk to them. I do not remember everything they asked. But among the questions, they asked if I was Rwandese or Congolese, and then asked why do we speak a Kinyarwanda-like language if we were Congolese? They asked why we had wounded people with us. Where did the massacre happen? Some seemed not to believe what I said but others did. They asked if I had ever met Inkontanyi, and they asked where the men were. They asked if we wanted to go to Rwanda or to die, and many other questions that were too complicated for my age.
One of them said “I cannot do anything for you because I do not have control over what is happening currently in the country, but I wash my hands, I do not want your blood to be on my head”, and he left. To the question of whether we wanted to be killed or brought to Rwanda, I asked the women of my group, and they responded that they preferred to die. They did not want to live without their husbands and children, some of them did not even have a single child left. They could not contemplate the possibility of a life without a family. Regardless of our response, they told us that we were going to be deported to our country, Rwanda. On the third day, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) brought us some biscuits. We were so weak after many days without eating that we had to dip the biscuits in the lake’s water to be able to chew them.
We were then packed in a truck, and they drove us from Uvira across the plain of Rusizi. During the entire journey, the roadsides were full of Interahamwe and Hutu refugees who had fled the new government in Rwanda. When our car drove past them, they would throw whatever they could find at us. I remember that they threw spears on us, and these spears went through the car, and some of us were again injured. After some hours we reached Bwegera and then they packed us into a very small room. The house is still there. I went back to visit it after surviving. We were around two hundred people, women, and children to be packed in there. It was terribly hot, and we could hardly breathe.
There was human blood on the floor and a horrible smell. Apart from young children who did not know what was happening, we were all sure that this was the place where we were going to be killed. But we were not afraid of dying at all. We wanted them to kill us quickly. We thought that life would no longer be possible without our lost families anyway. Also, that small house was next to a Hutu Rwandan refugees and Interahamwe. Interahamwe spent the whole night moving around the house telling the soldiers who were guarding us, “please let us kill them if you don’t want to do it”. The soldiers refused to reply “leave them alone, they are just women and children, let them go to Rwanda”. For some reason, one of the soldiers who were guarding us came multiple times during the night. He would open the door and spill water on us. The water kept us hydrated the whole night and we were able to stay alive until the morning. I believe that we could have hardly survived the lack of oxygen and dehydration if it were not for the water that the soldier spilled on us.
Statelessness & Desperation
Going back to the day we arrived in Mboko, that day the local population was shouting at us. These were some class colleagues who were in the crowd. Some have studied together with those who were being killed. It was during the school holidays and many people there knew many of us. One of these came and told us, “you know those five people who were abducted in Lweba including your brother are still in prison, but I heard people saying that because they look like Kagame they will be burnt”. I have had many sufferings in my life, but not knowing about the death of my brother, when we were almost the same age, has been a constant trauma in my life.
I spent a long time in my life thinking that maybe he did not die; that maybe they had pity on him, or that maybe the rescuers arrived and found them in prison and liberated them. Or that maybe those people who were found alive in their hiding places after the war, one of them might be my brother. On the other side, I feel like I was able to see the death that my father died and that we had enough time to say goodbye. We had a very long talk. He was telling me a lot of things that I should do, and I asked him, “Why are you telling me those things as if I won’t die just like you. They will kill us together”, but he said that I was not going to die. At some point I told him, “Why don’t you then tell all of this to my mother instead”, but he replied that I had to listen and that I will tell my mother what he said later. My mom did not have her spirit since the day they took his son away in Lweba. She did not know what was happening around her and was struggling to eat anything. I think this might have happened to many others who were not able to see where their family members were killed.
In the morning they removed us from the small house and drove us from Bwegera to Kamanyola, near the DRC-Rwanda border. When we reached Kamanyola, they started to check for male children. They put them aside. We instantly understood that after our men were exterminated, they were going to kill the young male children to avoid that we might be able to reproduce in the future. I do not remember exactly how they got distracted, but we managed to take back those children with us and we dressed them like girls. We were able to continue the road with them and we reached the other side of the Congolese-Rwandan border, Bugarama.
At the border, came a truck that brought us some clothes. We changed our clothes that were worn out and dirty after weeks of moving. We were then driven into Rwanda in Bugarama refugee camp. It is there that we met other people who had survived in Uvira, Bwegera, and others who were scattered in different places when the killings broke out and who had managed to survive. It is at that time that people were asking each other the whereabouts of our respective families. We were finally able to cry. During the weeks of our detention and the killings of our families, I had not seen anyone crying. People were instead numb. You could see people who were lost in their thoughts, and we could not understand what exactly was happening around us. I think that we were not able to cry because we told ourselves that we were going to die soon and join our families. There seemed no hope for any kind of rescue, and we were convinced that even God had approved our deaths. In Bugarama camp, we realized that we had survived and all together we burst into tears.
When we reached our safety in Rwanda, our group that had fled in the same direction from our villages of Bivumu and Magaja, had lost around a hundred men. Most were killed that night in Lweba and dumped in a communal pit, and those who survived were finally drowned in Lake Tanganyika in Mboko. When the killings took place, people saw what was happening. Until today these places are surrounded by villages, and the people who live there saw our people being killed. They were going about their daily activities as usual, and they saw it, and no one has been held accountable till today or asked about these atrocities. We were two hundred widows and girls who reached Bugarama camp, without any male child above the age of fifteen.
Trauma & Lack of Justice
Those who organized or participated in those massacres are still in public institutions until today. No wonder we still have no peace and killings are spreading once again over our country. “Why would they stop killing if there is no risk of accountability”. In this testimony, I talked about those who were killed in front of our eyes. But many members of our families were killed in Baraka, Bibogoboga, Kabera, Uvira, Bwegera, and many other places, and we did not see them die. I think that those who killed us in 1996 are still the same who steer the killings you see in our country today. They do it under the watchful eyes of the government, and even with its complicity. If I am talking about massacres that I survived in 1996, I know what my parents lived through even before we were born, and what has happened after 1996. I do not understand why innocent people must die. When I think of how innocent the people of Bibogobogo were, the death they died breaks my heart.
After the war, I remember that one day we traveled via Mboko and we had to spend the night there. We found that the priests had built a bar and hotel at the same place where our fathers were made to lay before being killed. We spent the night there with other travelers, but all the memories of the massacre came back into my mind, and the pain was unbearable. I felt like I was sitting over my father’s skull. I spent a sleepless night recounting my story to people who were with me there.
Why this fate for my community?
Another pain I live through is that till today, twenty-four years later, I still do not know how my brother died. I went back to Mboko locality as we had heard the young men were imprisoned there during the war. I knew many people there and I tried to ask as many residents as I could what had happened. Some were afraid to say anything. Others told me my brother and his co-detainees were burned. Sometimes I want to move on and tell myself “What does it matter, death is just death”, but I cannot stop with the need of knowing how my brother’s life ended. I again remember my dad’s word, when he told me I was going to survive, and I believed him during those difficult times when we did not hope to survive. He told me I would make it to Rwanda alive. There are many details about what was going to happen in my life that he told me, and my friends know about it, and I have seen most of it happen. People from Bivumu might remember that around two weeks before our parents died when the insecurity was growing, we started fearing an attack on our villages was imminent.
Our parents gathered us in a church, and they told us what God had told them in the 1970s before we were born. I remember it was a pastor called Muturutsa who delivered the message. They told us what happened and what would happen. I remember that Muturutsa’s son, Irihose. was dumped in the lake like the others and managed to open the belt and swim out, but they beat him and took him back and drowned him again. I remember him calling his mother when we were watching hopelessly. I cannot forget all those hopeless screams in Mboko. I always remember the children we buried in the beach sand who died from starvation. In life, I try to be strong and move on but there are things that the memory cannot get over. But also, those bad memories are always brought back because we are still hearing the news of our people being killed today in Congo. I feel hopeless and always wonder “Why does the world ignore our sufferings”?
Survival Story of Gatumba/Burundi Carnage
I am going to briefly talk about how I survived the massacre of Gatumba refugee camp. After surviving in 1996, we lived in Bugarama refugee camp in Rwanda and after few years we returned to Congo. I was living in Uvira in 2004 when another war erupted. It started as a conflict between two senior officers of the national army in Bukavu before it took on a tribal dimension. Pupils, students, and residents of the Banyamulenge community were killed in Bukavu. The tension of the war and insecurity quickly reached Uvira, where we were living. It became hazardous for Banyamulenge to leave their houses. Other tribes started to throw stones at us whenever they would see us passing by the street. It reached a point where we had to flee to neighboring Burundi, where we were received in Gatumba refugee camp. It was probably in June 2004.
I guess that I personally crossed into Burundi on the 11th or 12th of June. In fact, Banyamulenge families did not all flee at the same time. My children fled before me, and a friend of ours managed to take them for me. I had to wait for two days until I was able to find my way to Burundi. To escape into Burundi, we had to be cautious and try to hide, because of the risk of being stoned on our way. A few days before 12th August, I went back home to Uvira. The Gatumba refugee camp in Burundi was close to our hometown of Uvira. Some of the refugees in the camp would take the risk of going back to visit their homes to look after their houses, or to pick up something important they had not managed to flee with. There were even some Banyamulenge residents of Uvira who did not flee and stayed in town. It was somehow possible though dangerous to travel back to Uvira. That is how I went back home to take care of some possessions I had left with my neighbors.
On 12th August 2004, I went to the military barrack to ask for a kind of travel clearance. The refugees had to get a document that proved that they were returning to their refugee camp, which would facilitate their crossing the DRCongo-Burundian border. When I arrived there, the Congolese soldier who oversaw the delivery of documents told me, “why don’t you wait for tomorrow, please come back tomorrow”. I explained to him that I had children that I had to go and take care of. He insisted a lot, almost begging me to go back home and come back the next day. When he saw I was determined to get the document and cross the same day, he added “Please go home and come back tomorrow, mark my words, you will remember me for the rest of your life”. That is how I went back home and spent the night there.
During that night, at around 10 PM when we were sleeping, we received a call saying that all the people in Gatumba refugee camp had been massacred. I instantly understood that the soldier who had told me not to travel to the camp the day before knew what was going to happen. Accompanied with Nyamahoro, and another friend of mine, that morning we went to look for the soldier to ask him how he knew about the plan of the refugee camp massacre, but he was not at the military barracks.
We went back home and together with other Banyamulenge of Uvira we crossed into Burundi toward Gatumba refugee camp. When we arrived, we saw the horror with our own eyes. Our people were burnt down in their tents, many survivors were wounded and were in the hospital. I did not have any hope that my children have survived. When we heard the news of the camp massacre, I was very afraid to ask what happened to my children, because we were being told that all the people had perished, and I did not dare to ask for more details. Luckily, I had rented a small house that was not in the middle of the camp but a bit outside, and that is how my children survived. The killers did not reach our house but the bullets they shot into the camp went through the house where my children were sleeping.
Until today, I still wonder, how did this massacre happen? The refugee camp was next to a Burundian army barracks, and the camp was under national police protection. But when I remember the soldier’s words in Uvira, I understand that this might have been a plan put together with the complicity of many people. The killers killed people without any fear of an external intervention from the Burundian army or the police. Agathon Rwasa and his FNL rebel group claimed responsibility for the massacre but considering how the soldier had warned me not to go to the camp that night, I suspect that many Congolese personalities were behind this massacre as well. Until today, the Congolese government has not tried to inquire into what happened to its citizens who were killed whilst seeking safety in a neighboring country.
My life has known many difficult periods but there were also some good moments. What makes it impossible to move on in life is that until today the Banyamulenge are threatened with massacres every single day of their lives in DRC. That was my testimony.
I thank you.
See the original version in French: Double Carnage : Témoignage d’une Rescapée de Bibogobogo-Mboko & Gatumba/Par Lucie – Eastern Congo Tribune