Ethnicity in Eastern Congo: Among Wars’ driving Factors for the Interest of Few


Kurakiza’s article from South-Kivu

The pretext of most of the conflicts is always that there is a group of people that is claiming against the other to have footed over their rights. The African history shows that before the colonial period, different groups of people were largely living together despite their differences in culture, traditional practices and languages. Slowly with the start of colonial period, ethnicity became broadly worrying. It’s unfortunate that today ethnicity has taken an extreme point to becoming the justification of wars that makes people losing their lives or being internally or externally displaced.

Though the issue can be identified in many African countries, the story in this article brings us in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which has attracted my attention. Without focusing much on the legal context, this short article discusses the social aspect of different ethnic groups regarding their level of mutual acceptance and respect.

In Eastern Congo, Belgium made either intentionally or by ignorance the issues very complicated by creating a tricky hub that has been always the genesis of the conflict in the region.

For Belgium to differentiate what they called “indigenous and non-indigenous”; each so called “indigenous” ethnic group was given the land (chefferie) that belongs to them as a way of identifying itself. Informally cultivating and pasturing their livestock would be done along with the limit of that entity given to them.

This had divided the nation concept into many small area by which everyone would have being belonged to. Beside the diversity of differences in their cultures, the fact of being identified by your land (chefferie) amplified the non-recognition of the nation as whole.

For example there was established an area (chefferie) called Bufulero that belongs to Bafulero, Rwindi for Banyindu, Uvira for Bavira, Burega for Barega, etc. Deliberately some ethnic groups were not given land that belongs to them with a reason behind that they are not natives despite evidence that show they were in Congo before Berlin Conference that partitioned Africa to colonialists. Among these groups, we can mention the Banyamulenge, a Tutsi community in the South Kivu; the Banyarwanda constituted by Tutsi and Hutu communities and Batembo, a community which the origin has been a subject of debate in the Northern Kivu.

As consequence of not having a land that is theirs, I witnessed in my childhood a situation where taxes or fines sort of, were charged to Banyamulenge. The example of cows or money that were given to the kings/chiefs of communities like Babembe and it is a customized practices that Banyamulenge couldn’t escape in return of pasturing their cows herd. This is one of cases where the whole community was discriminated due to mistakes rooted from colonial power.

The issue grew up from traditional conflicts that were mostly based on access to land for pasture cultivating purpose to the point of forming armed groups who allegedly stand up to fight for  interests of their community.

Today we can confirm that all these communities were affected by different consequences of conflicts they have undergone. This has fuelled extended conflicts for many years in many places in Eastern DRC and the experience has shown that it was for the benefit of few, propagandas being made within that their fighting for their rights; with slogans claiming that everything  for the population while really nothing for them.

It went even far to the point where the concept of Congolité was a subject of discussion in the national parliament. The concept literally meant that there are Congolese by blood and others who are like counterfeited. It was probably borrowed from Ivory Cost with the concept of Ivoirité to mean a real child of the country (Ivory Cost).

The lesson learnt from the past has shown that the enemy of Congo has used the longtime unclosed doors to destabilize the region and spoil national wealth in spite of Congolese people were extremely in an unprecedented hardship. It’s obvious you can identify the so called elite people who operate as opinion leaders but many of them were obsessed by greediness to get powers and wealth for personal enrichment. Standing themselves as the ones leading the community opinion, some had accessed top position at national or provincial level but never local conflicts were prevented.

The fact that social cohesion was so fragile in a way anyone can pierce and cut the roots, it has been easy to the enemy to reach its target without any fence to block his hidden tactical way. Imagine the body that is sick, it makes itself a subject of being attacked by any kind of viruses and bacterium and consequently the body will be severely sick not far from the dead point.

The enemy is qualified as all outsiders who once or many time invade DRC with a notice that the gap of poor governance system was always utilized as an unclosed door to pass through; creating conflicts between communities a bridge that help them  to shake the one who was sick to the point of dying.

From what we have been experiencing from Mobutu regime, Kabila Mzee and today’s one of Joseph Kabila, everyone would ask himself how eastern Congo will be a conflict free zone? The question seems too complex and might have many approaches that may be applied. To appease local conflicts among communities which sometimes lead to creation of spread war, the government of Congo should apply the following among a long list of proposed actions to implement:

ü  To play the great role of putting in place policies and strategies for a national wide administrative reform. This must be established on a ground of strong political commitment.

ü  To strength a trustful local governance system that work for the interest of its people through capacity building and all ways of motivation.

ü  To review chieftaincy of communities established and overpowered since colonial era to  Mobutu regime into local structure that focuses on cultural aspect and serve for mobilization for social economic change to eradicate the poverty that the population had undergone for many decades.

In conclusion, a disclosure mechanism with a great focus on transparency and accountability aspects for the local population to know what is going on; what are reasons behind each conflict they have encountered would eventually help to prevent possible conflicts. With the same community opinion leaders (class of elites) corrupted by regimes that the DRC had known, it would be hard to hope for a change in the near future. A new generation of leaders with approaches that are different to the existing ones have to be mobilized, rise and fight for social cohesion among communities, so that their differences can never be an issue but strength for the better future of our land.

Follow Kurakiza @UkuKiza

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