It’s been for decades that the cohabitation between Banyamulenge and Babembe communities in South-Kivu Province looks as hairs being blown by winds during the autumn. It keeps flopping again and again wherever little event-disagreement comes in. The historical background had made each community’s reaction as blind as if no one takes time to crosscheck what the other side is feeling. My experience keeps reminding me on how we grew under a pressure of being shown “Babembe” as an instrument to limit kids’ movement. We used to get told, in an intimidating manner, “ohhhhhh, wahera Umubembe”.
The unfortunate message was regularly addressed to kids as if you contextually imagine yours being playing on the upper floor while getting scared that she can fall down and break apart into thousands pieces. In this specific context, we used to get warned that a “Mubembe is ahead of you” not as a human but rather a danger. Though the message wouldn’t express in deep what we came across, the social construction goes beyond these infant perceptions and expands in our minds to the extent that we keep seeing each other as enemies evolving in a human nature. The situation went worse during all the saddened identity contestations as well as the violent confrontations. The violence went further by involving guns fighting through armed militias or regular security forces where individuals do unlikely dissociate themselves with their legal missions.
Considering non-similar contexts, it wouldn’t sound as strange if a serviceman/woman is being driven by “community rivalry” for taking any decision falling into her mission. In this specific case to be discussed, the blogger can’t be surprised to see a Munyamulenge indifferently taking care of a Mubembe while caught in a stranded context. Similarly, a member of the Babembe community would react in the same way as does their compatriot Banyamulenge. This time, the armed proxies had wrapped themselves through Student Associations in Bukavu, South-Kivu Province. When going through the letters below, an informed observer wonders what the step made was in terms of community cohabitation. However, it’s noteworthy to point out that, despite key challenges around the state authority absence, land management issues as well as extremism in both sides, Banyamulenge and Babembe communities have largely focused on major concerns to the extent that the current socio-cultural context appears to be promising. There are yet many challenges to work on, but the established ground looks as inspiring for those willing to go forward.
The article aims to share with the reader how an inquiry demanding a protection of cattle herders and their cows turned into identity contestation as well as long-seated mutual accusations. The post reminds all parties involved in the debates/accusations to consider the interest of community cohabitation as the experience of decades has shown that nothing is worth that living in a harmony. It’s an opportunity to point out that communities’ conflicts do slightly consider whose the real responsibility of people’s protection to the extent that they keep accusing each other. Some of these post’s suggestions go beyond exchanged letters and incorporate what is embedded in the inner spirit of members of these two communities being discussed in the article. We have to review and reformulate the demarcation lines of our obligations as well as rights as human being but also as community sharing the destiny. The blogger considers unlikely the power of any given community to impose its will over the other or the ability of determining who deserves to belong or not to the statehood. Additionally, crimes and impunity in DRC have to be looked into individual responsibility and hence advocating justice and rehabilitation to all victims.
Back to this letters, the blogger tries to summarize their key elements. On one hand, Banyamulenge Students Association in Bukavu has written 3 letters (on 20/08/2016; 22/08/2016 and 12/10/2016) whose addressee is the South-Kivu Governor, Marcellin Chisambo; while informing as many offices as the reader can imagine. Copies were specifically reserved to the Presidency Office as well as key partners as MONUSCO and these three letters cover the number of issues in the South-Kivu. The students’ Association blamed the Lieutenant General Sikatenda Shabani in complicity with Mai Mai Yakutumba of orchestrating targeted attacks that have been killing cattle herders as well as looting their properties. With unverifiable statistics of 400000 cows looted since the earlier 2000, these letters didn’t mention the number of people who have been killed; though the information at my disposal counts for roughly 20 people since earlier 2016.
These students stressed on the “supposedly” involvement of a National Army General as well as the unlike effectiveness of the government security services to protect their parents and properties either in Salamabila-Kilembwe-Nganji region as well as the Rusizi plain. Moreover, these letters expressed the role of cattle owned in terms of financing their studies so long the DRC government hasn’t ever provide any financial support to them as it for many university students in the then Zaïre. That is, the plundering of their cattle implies covertly a “thought plan” to undermine their future. Specifically, the second letter stresses strongly on the assassination of the Colonel Elias Byinshi Rubibi who was killed in Bukavu few days before. The letter appears blaming the state authority of having done little to prevent that assassination as well as killings of civilians in these seemingly non-controlled regions. The third letter diluted the tone by suggesting to the provincial authority to establish a dialogue scheme between the two groups of students.
While exerting an effort to send a peaceful message, these Banyamulenge students suggested that the Government should do its best to find a solution over all these grievances by either containing Lt Gen Sikatenda but also the Maimai Yakutumba. They advised that also to launch military operations to crack them down in case there is no other solution. The stumbling note of these letters was that, if nothing is done or if the government fails, they requested to specifically deal on their own with Sikatenda’s case. In this formulation « et s’il est incontrôlé, qu’on autorise la communauté [Banyamulenge] elle-même de s’en charge[r] », the second letter stipulates. Though their wrongdoings imply their personal responsibilities, it might be that the sentence that fueled all the Babembe community around the world as both Sikatenda and Yakutumba belong probably to the latter community. The statement of dealing by their own with the cases has been interpreted as a “déclaration de guerre” and the Babembe’s responses sound as a type of “Proxy Student Militia Association” replying to another “Proxy Student Commando Association”.
Though the Albert’s letters never refer to the Babembe community, being Banyamulenge students who have been accusing individuals belonging to the Babembe community itself suffices to serve as a ground of community suspicions. Without considering the status of these two individuals ‘charged” by the Banyamulenge students, the Babembe Student Association in Bukavu (Famille Estudiantine M’mbondo” under the lead of Bienvenu slipped into defensive mechanisms in order to likely support the Lt Gen as well as the warlord Yakutumba operating in the Fizi county. It went further to the extent that an Umbrella of Babembe Community Association in Africa (Confédération de Mutualités M’mbondo en Afrique) came in for the sake of sweeping these accusations under the carpet. The matter took a wide dimension to the extent of frightening anyone familiar of the socio-cultural context in the Fizi-Minembwe-Itombwe area.
While ending with a suggestion of peaceful tone, these two letters from Babembe community have seemingly widened the scope as compared to ones they have to reply on. However, the experience of the blogger may lead to a biased interpretation that is why these letters are all shared. Nonetheless, both letters of Bienvenu and Jeremie resorted to the settlement history to extent of affirming that Babembe have welcomed Banyamulenge in the Itombwe as if this would explain the cattle’s looting. Moreover, Jeremie’s letter kept repeating, as a means of implicitly contesting the latter community existence, that these are “Rwandese” who called themselves as “Banyamulenge”. These two went further by insisting that the possible “Minembwe County” will never exist as its territory form parts and parcel of the Fizi Territoire. Though unrelated to what has stated Albert, the socio-cultural crisis had possibly remained volatile to the sense that breaking an egg in Baraka while coming from Minembwe can revive “all demons”. These letters found an occasion of reaffirming the will of opposing what’s called “land grabbing” from one community to the other.
The Bienvenu-Jeremie’s letters listed a number of sites where Babembe have been massacred during different rebellions—insurgencies that the region went through and stress that these killings had resulted from an extermination plan conceived by the rivalry community, Banyamulenge. The point might have expressly failed to recognize that innocent people who have been killed in the region belonged to different ethnic communities to the extent that they would have advocated to getting justice for all. From my standpoint, killers have to furthermore be held individually responsible than amalgamating their respective communities. Consequently, the narrow conception of where originate these messes led the Bienvenu-Jeremie to call on the government to rightly disarm Banyamulenge community herders who have guns. Therefore, an apparent interpretation would conclude that all these guns into Bafuliro, Babembe, Babwari’s hand do not constitute a threat or they are used to safeguard their communities. By finding a scapegoat, they even incriminate the rape of Babembe’s women to Albert’s community without making any distinction between community and a responsibility of someone belonging to such community. That sounds that Banyamulenge women who have been raped would indistinctly point a finger to the whole community of the rapist.
While suggesting that a control of cattle movement has to be taken as an ultimate solution, the blogger found it as interesting way to sustainably contribute to the future cohabitation of farmers (agriculture and cattle herders). However, the suggestion needs an involvement of public administration in order to establish individual farms through land re/distribution rather than leaving it on one community’s shoulder. Moreover, these letters would have relied of some misleading information such the “MAGRIVI, Gapangwa and occupation of the Kivu” as well as that of “Groupe Milima and Muller Mihigo” to the extent that wisdom imposes the restrain over any manipulation of information for the future of Congo and Fizi-Minembwe as well. Nonetheless, there might be a concern for a community to defend an army General than a rebel militiaman. Strikingly, the Babembe’s letters went further by eagerly defending Lt Gen Sikatenda Shabani who is an army general and would rather be supported beyond ethnic community schemes such as the army. Whatever socio-cultural context, the blogger would advise the Babembe community to think twice when supporting the famous “Gen William Amuri Yakutumba”. Even though there might be a possibility of disregarding crimes due to community revenge understanding, there is no reason of defending a warlord simply because he belongs to your community.
The article considers that the future of generations lies in the reconciliation and cohabitation than in confrontational moves. It is in this regards that the blogger had tried to phone contact both Bienvenu and Albert. I surprisingly found that they are friends who know each to the extent that they have established a structure in which they intend to bring Banyamulenge-Babembe students on the table for discussing wide range of issues in their province. The blogger found that they might be someone “pulling the string” behind the scene to drag them into an open conflict. Though advised reader recognizes the existence of grounded community grievances between these two communities, the right way of helping our young students is unlikely through violent confrontation, specifically involving students who are mostly concerned with funding their studies. The blogger also think that these types of grievances are rather to be, on first place, handled through the public and security services structures so long as creating community militias will inevitably lead to replicate the same consequences.
NTANYOMA R. Delphin
Secrétaire Exécutif & Coordonnateur
Appui au Développement Intégré &
à la Gouvernance (ADIG)
Twitter : https://twitter.com/Delphino12