As the world is grounded to a halt under measures for stopping the spread of #COVID-19, the Banyamulenge tribe in DR Congo’s highlands of South Kivu Province is being killed in broad daylight and the world is silent.
For example, on April 19, Banyamulenge women moved out of their houses to their gardens to harvest food for stocking under the lockdown. As a routine, they are escorted by Congolese army and allowed a few minutes in the gardens.
However, on this fateful day, a group of Banyamulenge women in the highlands of Fizi, Mwenga and Uvira were pounced on while in their gardens by armed groups.
They were brutally raped and mutilated. Some of them died. Others managed to escape. Many others are still missing.
Charles Mukiza, the leader of Banyamulenge Community living in Kinshasa issued a statement denouncing the acts of barbarity, killings and rape that members of his tribe continue to suffer.
He implored the justice system, both civil and military, to carry out meticulous investigations. The community is seeking justice for the victims. They demand that the perpetrators of these cruel and inhuman acts be punished.
Banyamulenge have lived in the DR Congo for centuries but for a long time were not recognized as citizens of this vast mineral rich state. Former President Mobutu Seseseko signed a decree granting the Banyamulenge tribe an irrevocable citizenship.
But since then, other tribes in the DR Congo keep harassing Banyamulenge, claiming they are not Congolese and that they should return to their country of origin.
According to the Central African Observatory, Banyamulenge are people from the former Kingdom of Rwanda.
“The Banyamulenge are Congolese,” President Felix Tshisekedi said in January during an interaction session with diaspora in London, UK.
The Banyamulenge question has been interpreted differently and on many occasions used by politicians to gunner support, yet leaving this tribe severely insecure.
President Tshisekedi at his inaugural speech said he would deploy the army and remove all foreign armies and neutralize all local militias that are a threat to national security.
The province of South Kivu is infested with many armed groups, in particular the Raïa Mutomboki in the territories of Shabunda and Mwenga, the Mayi-Mayi in the territories of Uvira and Fizi, the inter-ethnic conflict in the high plateaux of Bijombo, Minembwe and Itombwe, and many other groups.
Boniface Balamage, the Second Vice President DR Congo Parliament also from South Kivu, in March while on holiday in Kivu gathered provincial leaders to collectively discuss the insecurity problem in the region.
“The war that is going on in the highlands of Minembwe is not justified. We must begin to understand that it is time to make peace to give peace to the people and to secure our territory, our province,” he said.
Balamage challenged provincial leaders on what they have done to put an end to this situation with regard to their responsibilities, whether central government or the provincial government.
According to the Congolese Army, this region hosts various armed groups, especially the foreign rebel forces CNRD, FDLR (Rwandan rebels) and FNL (From Burundi)
The armed groups are mostly active in Uvira, Fizi and Mwenga areas and claim to be members of local communities. They clash regularly and have already displaced over 50,000 people, hundreds of them dead and villages burned down. Military efforts in the region have failed to overcome the violence.
National Liberation Forces (FNL) is a Burundian rebel group the crossed into South Kivu where they created rear bases to fight the Burundian armed forces. The FNL is currently in an alliance with Mai Mai Yakutumba and FDLR in South Kivu.
The FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) is the largest illegal foreign armed group operating in the DR Congo.
Why Rwanda is mentioned
Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame is the only leader that has openly and repeatedly denounced the barbaric killings targeting Banyamulenge people in the DRC and calls for an end to the insecurity.
On Monday April 27, President Kagame engaged the press via video conferencing and addressed several issues including insecurity in the Eastern part of DR Congo.
He said the newly elected government in DR Congo has fortunately agreed to work with its neighbours to resolve insecurity issues in the country’s Eastern Region.
President Kagame says his government has been collecting intelligence about the armed groups in DR Congo and passed it on to the Kinshasa government and the UN (Monusco) as Rwanda’s contribution in jointly dealing with the situation.
“Through our intelligence collection which we share with those supposed to be dealing with the situation in that part of DR Congo. We give it to them so that they can do what they are supposed to do,” he said.
For example, President Kagame said, “Our intelligence collection tells us Burundi government forces are operating in that part of DR Congo.”
The Rwandan President who is vastly knowledgeable about geopolitics of the Great Lakes Region said for the past 26 years, armed groups have been evolving but there is always one constant; the failure to deal with this problem.
“Even the discussion in the past 26 years has been to deal with the problem. What is even worse is certain people responsible for dealing with the situation end up perpetuating the situation by relying on rumours, lies and myths,” he said.
On the situation in South of Bukavu, Kagame is concerned that in this part of DR Congo, there are some experts who don’t see what is there that is supposed to be seen by anyone who is on ground but instead end up seeing what is not there.
“How could someone be talking about Rwandans or RDF in that part of the region? Because they are not there,” Kagame wondered.
He explained that Rwandans that are rumoured to be in DR Congo are not RDF soldiers but Rwandan armed groups formed after several breakups of the FDLR.
“Take it from me; there is not a single Rwandan soldier in South Kivu,” Kagame said, adding that the DR Congo government knows there is no single Rwandan soldier in that part of the world, but some NGOs and journalists claim otherwise.
According to President Kagame, Rwanda provides intelligence on the activities of the armed groups as a major tool in designing operations to remove them.
“We give information about rebel activities to our partners in the region including UN and others. They started acting based on our information especially in Northern Kivu,” Kagame said on April 27.
However, President Kagame is concerned that to some people based on their interests, DR Congo government should not be working with neighbours, because, for some reasons, they would want to preserve the insecurity.
Before the Congolese Army and UN force launched attacks against the armed groups in North Kivu, including FDLR, Ugandan rebels ADF and many others, the Rwanda’s intel was crucial.
“They started acting on information we gave them because they were also able to verify and see the trends in North Kivu,” he told journalists in a hour-long interaction.
“When they started operations and based on this information and collaboration we had with them, now the whole thing turned against them. Then a dynamic is set up internally to start questioning and harassing the DR Congo government. They create a monster that it is the RDF that crossed the border to carry out the operation.”
President Kagame wishes that the UN Peacekeeping force would deal with the problem but they are not as the plight of the innocent Congolese civilians hangs in the air.