Tag Archives: Interhamwe

The State of the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Part One

6 Jan

 Laurent Kabila

President Laurent Kabila Inaugeration   framepool.com

What if a movie script was pitched to a group of Hollywood moguls about a war that never seemed to end in a country where ethnic cleansing was practiced daily on a scale infinitely larger than the 100 days of genocide in Rwanda in 1994, where 30% of all the diamond resources in the world were located, where an estimated $157 billion dollars (US) in minerals such as cobalt coltran, and copper lay under the ground, and where gold worth billions of US dollars could be had for the taking? What if the greediest players in this conflict were a band  of international arms dealers, former Russian and Israeli soldiers and intelligence agents who fueled the conflict by keeping everyone in the region armed to the teeth with an endless supply of automatic weapons and the ammunition to keep them continuously shooting back? And what if one of those Russians took control of an entire island in order to store his enormous cache of arms and ship all matter of deadly munitions to the mainland?  And what if other countries surrounding this unfortunate nation crossed its border at will in order to loot and pillage whenever possible- even maintaining illegal mining operations there for decades. What if business transactions that in no way benefited the residents of this country were conducted there on a daily basis by corporations based in some of the wealthiest nations on earth; like the United States of America, China, and Great Britain.  And lastly what if the rest of the world looked on in silence and did nothing.

Seem like too fantastical a plot for a blockbuster movie? Even James Bond might fail when charged with sorting out problems of this magnitude.  But this is the real state of the Democratic Republic of the Congo as of December 2012. In my next several blogs I shall attempt to explain each step in this highly complicated drama, piece by piece, in a logical fashion so my readers can come to understand just where the DR Congo is headed and who the major players might be.

But in order for my audience to watch this movie and have it make any sense at all, they will have to know something about the country first. I have removed less important dates so that the reader is not distracted and can concentrate on what actually occurred but all of my facts are current, accurate, and truthfully stated. The reader can Google each date by searching for specific topics. I have collected the citations and references for all of my facts and keep them with me.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is located in Central Africa. A total area of 875,520 sq miles makes it the second largest country in Africa and the eleventh largest one in the world. It is about one-fourth the size of the United States and has a varied terrain that contains many different ecosystems within its borders: The central plateau in the heart of the country is covered by dense tropical rainforests fed by large and small river systems, mountainous regions occupy the west and north west regions, expansive savannas top the south and southwest plains, a large area of grasslands fills the northlands gradually turning into the Ruwenzori Mountain Range in the east, a high, steep line of mountains shared with the bordering countries of Uganda and Rwanda.

According to International Rescue Committee, the DR Congo “is the world’s least developed country  in terms of life expectancy, education, standard of living and key health indicators, like maternal and child mortality. The government is unable to provide protection and basic services to its people, who continue to suffer from dire poverty and neglect.”

And the latest United Nations Development Index (UNDP, 2011) which rates the quality of life in 187 countries and territories around the world ranked the Democratic Republic of the Congo as the last one on their list, number 187 out of 187 countries.

The Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index (BTI) for 2012 reported that “The Democratic Republic of the Congo has recorded very little democratic or economic progress during the period under review (January 2009 – January 2011).  According to the BTI factors such as severe human rights abuses, the inability to follow constitutional law, widespread corruption within the administration, and the president’s inability to create and implement essential policies has left the government weak and barely functioning in some of the country’s more remote districts. BTI is a global assessment of transition processes in which the state of democracy and market economy as well as the quality of political management in 128 transformation and developing countries are evaluated.

 The report continues on to reveal that the country’s economy has not progressed satisfactorily  even though there was some growth in the GDP during 2009 – 2010, but this had no affect on the people of the country who live marginal lives at best. And the BTI blames the government for this, stating,“The implementation of economic policies has only been possible as a result of constant pressure from the IMF, World Bank and other international donors. The country’s leaders have not really shown the willingness or the capacity to devise appropriate policies and implementation strategies to set the country on a sustainable course for democracy and economic development.”

http://www.bti-project.org

While the western section of the country has managed to achieve a relative level of stability, the eastern part of The DR Congo has faced constant war and destruction as a host of different militias, warlords, and the Congolese army vie for control of the vast mineral reserves located there. The UNHCR has reported that over 64,000 more villagers left their homes just in the last month of 2012 due to the most recent battles between M23 rebels and the Congolese army in Goma.  Hundreds of thousands more have been forced out of their towns and villages in the past few years and trudged down extremely treacherous roads to make it to the UN- subsidized refugee camps like Mugunga III as well other UN camps established in the countries of Rwanda and Uganda. These UN camps have had to service millions of refugees due to the unstable and violent conditions encountered in East Kivu District. According to the UNDP, it is not easy to live in the DR Congo where life expectancy is a mere 48years, the education rate for adults is 3.5 years, and the majority of the population survives on less than $1.25 US a day.

http://www.unhcr.org/50d049206.html

The current president of the DR Congo, Joseph Kabila, is the son of the man who liberated the country from its previous dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in May of 1997. Mobutu, who was originally supported by countries such as the United States and Great Britain, squandered the wealth of his country on himself and his friends. Laurent Kabila was the first revolutionary leader in Central Africa to recruit “child soldiers” and he used thousands of them to fight his way from Katanga in the East of the country to Kinshasa, its capital city located in the west. But unable to create a trained army of professionals he also used  forces provided by  his allies, Angola and Zimbabwe to hold fortifications in the west, and on the Hutu Interhamwe  to launch attacks on Mobutu’s Congolese troops in the east.  Once Kabila secured Kinshasa he claimed the government offices, there and named himself President of the entire country. Then he changed the name of the country from Zaire to what it is today, The Democratic Republic of the Congo- not to be confused with the Republic of the Congo which is another country in Central Africa altogether. Laurent Kabila remained president for less than four years. Meanwhile the First and consecutively the Second Wars in the Congo raged on despite the Sun City Peace Agreement signed in 2002. By April 2002, more than 2.5 million people had died but the fighting had not stopped.

 In August 2007, a rebel militia leader, named Laurent Nkunda, who had once fought with Laurent Kabila in the First War in the Congo, resumed fighting in the Kivu Districts uprooting 200,000 civilians again. Nkunda who had fought in the Rwanda- supported RCD durng the Second War had been taken into the Congoloese army at the end of the Second War where he earned the rank of General. But by 2007 he with many of his former soldiers deserted to form a new version of the RCD. Nkunda who was a Tutsi, maintained that he was forced to do this to save  his fellow Tutsi from the Hutu Interhamwe living in the DR Congo. He accused Joseph Kabila of protecting the  Hutu Interhamwe , the ones responsible for the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, and claimed that Joseph’s father, the former president had  allowed the Interhamwe to live in these districts after they had fought for him during the First War in the Congo.

Nkunda was detained on January 22, 2009 by Rwandan forces after he had crossed into Rwanda to help them hunt down other Hutu  Interhamwe operating in the area. Joseph Kabila had made a deal with President Kagame of Rwanda: he would allow Rwandan soldiers into the DRC to eradicate the  Hutu Interahamwe  militants there  if Rwanda would stop Nkunda  from waging further war in the Kivu Districts.  Although there has been an international warrant issued for his arrest Nkunda has not been tried either in Brussels or in Rwanda. He is currently being held under house arrest in Gisenyi, Rwanda and has yet to be charged with any crime.

 As part of the terms of  Nkunda’s capture his Tutsi militia would be re-absorbed into the Congolese Army once more and awarded the same ranks they had held in Nkunda’s militia. Also, as part of the agreement, forces from DR Congo and Rwanda would work jointly together until all of the Hutu Interhamwe had been exterminated from the eastern region of the Congo. This mission lasted about five weeks but then the Congolese soldiers were abruptly reassigned to other duties in the area and the Rwandan forces were asked to pull out of Kivu Districts for good and return to Rwanda. Now some of the elders in the region say that the troops left as ordered and others say that many of the Rwandan soldiers were ordered to insert themselves into smaller Tutsi militias that had refused to disband and continued to hunt down the Hutu extremists. Either way, this region was much too isolated and inaccessible for anyone to know for sure.

In a report released in January 2008, The International Rescue Committee found that “despite billions in aid, the deployment of the world’s largest peacekeeping force, and successful democratic elections, some 45,000 people continued to  die each month in DR Congo, mostly from starvation and disease.” (IRC, 2008)

I will continue on with this story in my next Blog Posting: The State of the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Part Two

Kat Nickerson             Kingston, RI                   USA

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Kivu Mai- Mai Return: Raia Mutomboki

30 Jul

Members of the Raia Mutomboki

The word Mai-Mai was taken from the Kiswahili word meaning “water” which is actually “Maji” ( pronounced Ma-gee, like Ma as in mother and gee as in Gee Whiz!). The name currently refers to any of the community militias composed of male Congolese villagers, young and old, who came together during the Second War in the Congo to defend their land and their homes in the northeast region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Although there are Mai-Mai groups throughout the Congo, it was Mai-Mai of North and South Kivu Districts who played the most crucial role in the Second War in the Congo. These groups were composed of local men from districts in the northeast region of the country who loosely grouped themselves together in order to resist the forces of the Hutu Interahamwe ( Hutu soldiers responsible for the 1994 Rwandan Genocide) who had been driven out of Rwanda and across the border by the victorious Tutsi army in power in Rwanda. The Hutu guerilla fighters called themselves The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda( FDLR) and settled in both Kivu districts. The Mai-Mai also fought against the Congolese Tutsi- supported militias such as the CNDP who were also fighting the FDLR in the area. The enemies of the Mai-Mai were any non- Congolese troops located in the Congo and they sought to either kill or expel any non-Congolese troops. Their goal became difficult to reach when during the second war Laurent Kabila’s new Congolese Army accompanied the Rwandan Army throughout Kivu District helping them locate and kill all Interahamwe living in these districts but many Mai- Mai fought with their own Congolese army when trying to rid their districts of non-Congolese soldiers.

The Mai- Mai had no charters, no commissions, nor were they paid by anyone. They had leaders but no officers in the true military sense of the word. Most came together without guns carrying the hoes and the pangas (machetes) they used in their fields as weapons. These are extremely localized groups that were formed to defend a small number of villages against specific crimes and injustices and have never been connected to district or national political movements. Mia- Mia or Rega societies are local groups that usually serve to protect the residents in no more than several villages. And each Mai- Mai group has its own initiation ceremonies into its own secret society with its own set of rituals and protective charms.

A few culturally insensitive and poorly informed journalists, especially Americans in their attempt to make publishing deadlines, have not bothered to identify the localized nature of Mai- Mia groups within specific Congolese villages, and have glibly attributed the name Mai- Mai to the water used in  pre-battle rituals. First of all, each, Mai- Mai group is its own secret society and performs its own unique set of rituals in order to prepare for battle and as protection from bullet wounds and death. And secondly, the choice of the word Mai- Mai has far greater significance than the use of water as a protective charm.. It refers to the way in which free men of the Congo choose to come together or disband depending on the defensive needs of the people, to the fluid sense of unity which comes and goes, or ebbs and flows – just like water. If one understands why the villagers enter into these loose groupings in the first place then it would be evident why the groups have been named- Mai- Mai. If these journalists would have investigated the history of tribal warfare in northeast Congo before the white man arrived they would have recognized the same sense of fluidity in Congolese tribal warfare. The concepts behind Rega, Mai-Mai, secret societies, and battle rituals are not new; the villagers have simply restructured them in order to meet the needs of a more current struggle.

The membership profiles of specific Mai-Mai groups are hard to pin down and include a wide range of individuals. Some groups that would be considered “Mai Mai” are: private armies led by warlords, tribal elders or village leaders and currently there are a few Mai- Mai groups that espouse limited political agendas. Certain Mai -Mai groups have been known to ally themselves to: established guerrilla groups, terrorists, and even other foreign governments if it helps them to survive. It has been documented that several groups of Mai- Mai are far more harmful than helpful to the villagers placed in their care and are considered to be no more than killers and thieves.

Many Mai- Mai in north and South Kivu districts were historically committed to stopping the infiltration of Rwanda- supported militias in the area but even their allegiances were fluid and changed frequently. Although these groups took part in the Second War in the Congo they were never included in the peace accord that brought an end to the war and were never made to disband. In 2007 The Mai Mai in north and south Kivu districts which border the country of Rwanda repeatedly clashed with the Tutsi militia, The Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD-Goma), a Rwanda- supported military force that had taken over the Congolese city of Goma. Some of the larger Mai-Mai groups received money and supplies from the government of the DR Congo during and after the war. But smaller groups of Mai- Mai were reported to have aligned themselves with the Tutsi militia, the RCD in Goma.

Currently there is a deadly tug of war being played out between the Congolese army, the rebel militias in the area, and the Mai- Mai. The Mai-Mai are often viewed as opportunists who take over land, even occupy towns when the Congolese Army is engaged in fighting the rebel militias elsewhere.  And in true Mia-Mai fashion as the Congolese Army was occupied fighting with M23, an older Mai- Mai group reappeared on the scene, The Mai-Mai, Raia Mutomboki which means “Furious Citizens” in Kiswahili have killed hundreds of innocent Hutu. These killings started at the end of 2011 and seem to have been carried out in revenge against Hutu villagers that The Raia believed were supporting the FDLR. It has been reported by the UN that around 100 civilians have already been killed.

The Raia Mutomboki was established in 2005 in Shabunda territory in order to protect the villagers in the area from the Interahamwe and the forces of the FDLR Twelve Congolese civilians were massacred by the FDLR in March 2005 in the tropical forest outside of the village of Kyoka, in Shabunda. These villagers were hacked to death with pangas (machetes) and fueled the indignation of the Congolese males in the area to the point where they willingly came together to pledge themselves to serve in the Mai-Mai, Raia Mutomboki. Eventually the Raia Mutomboki pushed the FDLR out of Shubunda.

 In the beginning of 2011, the Congolese army left Shabunda, and merged with other units. This caused soldiers of the FDLR to enter the area. They immediately started stealing from the villagers and killing innocent civilians in the area causing the men to come together and talk of resurrecting the Raia Mutomboki commenced among the villagers

 Then the Congolese army returned to the area in late 2011. Initially it used the Raia to help it locate and fight against the FDLR. The Raia helped the Congolese Army track the movements of the FDLR within the local forests. But in time the Raia forces began to resent the presence of the Tutsi soldiers, the ex-CNDP troops serving in the Congolese army which the Raia considered foreigners who had no right to be living in the Congo, let alone serving as soldiers in the Congolese Army. This animosity caused the Raia Mutomboki to attack the Congolese Army on several occasions and open warfare commenced between the two groups.

 As the Raia continued to hunt for the FDLR soldiers, it also began to kill the dependents of the Interahamwe  including women and children, mutilating them before they killed them. FDLR deserters told UN officials that the Raia Mutomboki were their greatest worry and pursued them relentlessly throughout the local forests. The brutal tactics employed by the Raia caused the FDLR to retaliate in kind, causing the massacres of many civilians on both sides of the conflict. In late 2011, the Raia killed close to one hundred people and burned several villages to the ground in northeast Shabunda and in January 2012, over 50 civilians were reportedly killed by the FDLR around Luyuyu, in retaliation.

 In May 2012, the Raia moved into northern Kivu in Tembo and Kano/Rega . They continued to kill FDLR dependents and massacred close to  one hundred people. But now they began killing Hutu villagers with no ties to the FDLR. Members of the Raia Mutomboki have no love for the members of the Hutu or the Tutsi ethnic groups and want them expelled from their country but especially from their district. The Congolese army moved into this area quickly in order to squelch the ethnic violence that once occurred in Masisi and Walikale in 1993.

 Last month, at the end June 2012  a newer and broader Raia took over Walikale town which is located to the west of Goma, but were pushed out when the Congolese army showed up in the town and took control again.

 And now the issues become murky as so often happens when Congolese events play out in the Kivus. First the Raia said that it would “fight the soldiers in the M23 Movement and push them from DRCongo into Rwanda where they rightfully belong.”  But then rumors have been spreading around both Kivu districts that the Raia have been receiving arms and ammunition from M23 and from Rwanda in order to hunt the FDLR.

 What do I think? The Raia Mutomboki hate the Hutu Interahamwe most so will take support from M23 and the country of Rwanda to get rid of them once and for all. Then they will come after the Hutu civilians even if they are Congolese citizens. The Raia want them gone as well. But after that they will turn on M23 and Rwanda in order to either drive all Tutsi from Kivu District or kill them if they will not leave. Nothing has changed- the Hutu and Tutsi are still hated by the rest of the tribes in the Congo and seen as usurpers even though many of their families have lived in the Congo for hundreds of years.  The soldiers in the M23 Movement know this and fight to call attention to this critical situation. Of this I am certain- if the Congolese and the Rwandan governments do not work together to stem the ethnic violence and alter the villagers’ prejudicial attitudes; it will only be a matter of time before a Congolese Genocide will occur that will match the Rwandan Genocide of 1994.

 

Kat Nickerson                 Kingston,   RI              USA

 

 

First War in the Congo:Tribal Hostilities Reappear

28 May

 The most important cultural and political unit in East Africa is one’s “tribal affiliation”. Usually when a Kenyan or Ugandan is asked, “Who are you?” He/she will usually respond by naming the tribe to which he/she belongs such as Kikuyu or Lango. These tribes have coexisted together for centuries and have fashioned many different types of relationships with one another. Some have built harmonious collaborations together while others have engaged in open warfare. Many tribes in the Congo considered the members of other tribes their mortal enemies and fought in vicious battles where they enslaved the vanquished until King Leopold and then the Belgian parliament intervened and introduced strict, punitive measures which helped to end most of the tribal conflicts. But even though the tribes were no longer permitted to fight, they never forgot just who their enemies were and passed down these grudges and resentments to subsequent generations. Once the Belgian administrators returned to Belgium and the Mobutu government demonstrated that it could not  rule the country as efficiently as the colonials had done, tribal leaders came forward to manage the Congolese people as before. Once the tribes were in control again, age-old feuds and quarrels resumed as their leaders resurrected old hostilities and past offenses. And it was both old and new tribal hatreds that helped to sustain the First War in the Congo

 Revolution, liberation, ethnic tension and feuds, as well as a ceaseless influx of refugees from Rwanda and sometimes Burundi were primarily responsible for the First War in the Congo which lasted from November 1996 until May 1997. It was a short war but in order to understand its impact and the reason for the Second War in the Congo, it’s necessary to know something about the different ethnic divisions and the tribes who became mired in this conflict.  Ituri province is located in the northeast section of the DRC and shares Lake Albert on its eastern border with the country of Uganda. The largest city in Ituri is Bunia. Members of the Lendu and the Hema ethnic groups make their homes in this area and have done so since before Leopold of Belgium took over in the late nineteen hundreds. Traditionally the Lendus lived off of the produce they grew in the soil of Ituri. They were farmers who tended to their family-owned fields and maintained their plots within the tribal compounds. 

Over a century ago, another tribe began frequenting this area of the Congo. They called themselves Hema and maintained a living as pastoralists who moved their camels, cattle, and goats from water hole to water hole over vast ranges of grazing land. The Hema eventually settled in this area. In many ways these two tribes mirrored the Hutu and Tutsi who lived in Rwanda and in sections of Burundi at this time. The Hutu had established an agrarian society like the Lendu and the Tutsi depended on herding their livestock like the Hema. Historical accounts confirm that both tribes, Lendu and Hema complimented each others’ lifestyles and managed to live together in relative harmony until the Belgian colonialists took over in the late eighteen hundreds and instituted new administrative policies which favored the Hema over the Lendu in the Congo in the same way they had supported the Tutsi over the Hutu in Rwanda.

 The area eventually called Rwanda was originally settled by the soil- loving Hutu but the semi-nomadic Tutsis who had traveled down from North Africa eventually established migratory patterns for grazing routes throughout Rwanda as well. For almost half a century the two groups survived by trading their animal products and crops with one another. Eventually they shared a language, some common traditions, and the same nationality- they even began to marry one another. Then everything suddenly changed when the Belgians assumed control of the country of Rwanda and implemented a British colonial policy to rule the people of Rwanda. The Belgian colonialists selected one ethnic group over another in an attempt to keep the tribes’ divided and in contention with one another rather than with the colonial government.  The Belgians chose the Tutsis as their “favored” tribe because they preferred the “look” of the Tutsis. They thought that the tall, willowy Tutsis with their sharper Ethiopian features were “esthetically more pleasing to the eyes” and they realized that many members of the Tutsi tribe were already landowners giving them a certain level of status in the area. The Belgian colonial governors enforced policies that required Tutsi males to attend primary school in order to train them to serve in intermediary positions between the white colonials and the Hutu natives.  This blatant discrimination deliberatley employed to denigrate the Hutu caused a great deal of tension between the two groups.

 The colonial governor did the same thing in the Belgian Congo by openly preferring the Hema over the Lendu which caused the Lendu to break off the close connections they had once had with the Hema.  But the Belgians went on to openly interfere with the ownership of the tribal lands that historically had belonged to the Lendu by providing the Hema with a legal technicality to help the them steal away Lendu real estate by enforcing the “Land Law of 1873.”

 This law allowed the Hema to buy land that they did not live on and then wait two years and the land would become legally theirs. The residents living on the land at the time had the legal right to buy the land within two years but most were never informed that they did not own the land. The concepts of deed transfers and land ownership were not something the Lendu understood. So the Hema patiently waited out the two years required by law then evicted the Lendu families from their homes and fields. According to the law there was no way for the Lendu to appeal this eviction after two full years had elapsed because the Hema had followed the letter of the law if not the moral intent. Many times the Lendu had been living on ancient tribal lands which had been farmed by their families for hundreds of years. The Hema, with the help of the Belgians, managed to accumulate vast tracts of land throughout Ituri District this way. Years later both tribes would learn that rich mineral deposits existed beneath the Lendu tribal lands- the same ones that had been taken over by the Hema. Knowledge of this would lead to open warfare between the two groups.

There were also Tutsi groups living in Northeastern Congo who were citizens of the Congo not Rwanda although they had originally entered the Congo by way of Rwanda.  The earliest Tutsis settlements in the Congo were established in Ituri District long before King Leopold of Belgian arrived in the late 1880s. Another large group of Tutsis had been brought into the country by Belgian colonials to serve as laborers at the turn of the century. They never returned to Rwanda  but stayed in the Congo when the Belgians left the country after the Congo declared its independence from Belgium. Again in 1959 large numbers of Tutsis crossed the border into eastern Congo to avoid living under the Hutu government that had just claimed power in Rwanda.

The Kanyarwandan War raged on for three full years from 1963 to 1966.  Congolese tribes, Hunde and Nande who had traditionally lived in North Kivu pushed the Rwandan emigrants (Hutu and Tutsi) entering their lands out of their tribal territories and were responsible for brutally massacring thousands of Hutu and Tutsi refugees. In 1965, President Mobutu gave those Tutsi groups living in Ituri who were actual citizens of the Congo administrative control in the district even though they were in the minority compared to the other tribal populations living there. His motivation for awarding this special power to the Tutsi community was never clearly understood but his actions turned the other tribes in the area against the Tutsis turning an already volatile situation into outright war.

In 1972 thousands of Hutu refugees fled Burundi and entered the Congo after a coup by Hutu armed forces failed against the government of Burundi. Tutsis who previously resided in the Congo before 1960 were referred to as “Banyamulenge”.  In 1972 all Tutsis living in the Congo before 1963 were awarded official Congolese citizenship by the Mobutu government. All Rwandan and Burundian Tutsis residing in the Congo from 1959-1963were also granted citizenship.The Tutsis who settled in the Congo after 1963 were not considered legal citizens of the Congo. Most of the tribes native to the Congo did not consider any of Tutsi ethnic groups, no matter how long they had lived in the Congo legitimate members of the Congolese union of tribes.

By 1981 the political situation gradually worsened for the Tutsi. Citizenship was restricted to those who could prove that their ancestors resided in the Congo as far back as 1885 or earlier. This law was enacted to counter the growing economic power of the Tutsi groups in the Kivu region. Tensions worsened as the Banyamulenge openly supported the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), Tutsi rebel forces hiding in Uganda whose goal it was to topple the Hutu-supported government currently in power in Rwanda.  By March 1993 the governor of Kivu, caving into demands made upon him by the other Congolese tribes in the area, proclaimed that all Tutsis must leave the Kivus and if they remained, he would have them executed. His announcement prompted the other tribes to declare war upon the Tutsis and 14,000 Tutsis were killed in the next two months. By May 1993 President Mobuto had managed to stop the killing but then in an illogical move ordered Tutsi representation in the local Kivu government increased.

In 1994 the “Rwandan Genocide” began in the country of Rwanda where in three short months 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis but some moderate Hutu as well, were systematically killed by the army of the Hutu-backed government. It has been estimated that three fourths of the Tutsi population then residing in Rwanda at that time were killed and that thousands of Hutus who opposed the genocide were also murdered. The slaughter in Rwanda caused the previous tensions between the Hema and the Lendu in Ituri to escalate into physical violence throughout the district. Armed Lendu who indentified with the Hutu army roamed the country side looking for vulnerable Hema to kill and terrified Hema turned to the local government for help but the government turned a blind-eye to the violence.

In 1995 Mobutu’s Parliament ordered any people from Rwanda or Burundi living in the Congo to return to their own countries of origin, including any Tutsi who did not qualify for Congolese citizenship.

By 1996 Laurent Kabila began a unified revolt against the thoroughly corrupt President Mobutu who had been kept in power by the efforts of the United States and its European allies. Immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union relations between Mobutu and the West totally deteriorated as the need to support Mobutu in order to keep Communism from spreading throughout the governments in East Africa petered out.

Mobuto Sese Seko had ruled Zaire, his new name for the Belgian Congo, for thirty years and left the country destitute.  Kabila named his forces, The Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of the Congo ( AFDL) and began recruiting tens of thousands of children from among the local villages in Eastern Congo to serve as soldiers within its ranks. Millions of Hutu swarmed across the Rwandan border into the Congo once the Tutsis in Rwanda had won the Rwandan War for Independence. Some of these Hutu were dangerous soldiers who had been involved in carrying out the genocide while others were merely Hutu civilians fleeing for their lives. Most of these refugees sought asylum in the Ituri and Kivu Districts.

In 1996 the First Congo War began as Rwandan forces invaded eastern Congo to protect the Tutsis there and to destroy any extremist Hutu militia camps they found in the Congo. Kabila’s government opposed this action but did not have the military strength to stop the Rwandan army’s movements and needed their help to bring down Mobutu. Kabila had no choice but to allow Tutsi soldiers from the victorious Rwandan Army to accompany his AFDL troops in order to capture and kill the Hutu extremists now hiding out in the area of eastern Congo.  It has been proven that both AFDL and Rwandan Tutsi troops killed defenseless Hutu refugees who had no connections to the genocide and even killed local Congolese villagers in their quest to locate the Hutu extremists.

Still some of the Hutu extremists responsible for the genocide in Rwanda managed to survive the wrath of the Rwandan army and the Congolese troops. Small groups settled in North Kivu and Ituri District and eventually formed the guerilla group, Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). They are still there to this day and are presently living in the tropical forests around The Virunga National Forest. Their primary goal is to return to Rwanda to bring down the Tutsi government currently in power there. 

 Laurent Kabila and his ADFL troops backed by Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, and Burundi finally marched into Kinshasa in May, 1997 and toppled the Mobutu Government ensconced there. Mobutu fled the country and was granted asylum in Morocco. Laurent Kabila named himself president of Zaire on September 17, 1997 and directed his new government to change the name of the country from Zaire to The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Uganda also played a major role in the First Congo War. Ugandan soldiers were present in Zaire throughout the conflict and were responsible for training AFDL troops.

The ethnic feuds in Ituri and Kivu continued. All Tutsis regardless of their Congolese citizenship continued to be hated by the rest of the Congolese tribes except for the Hema in Ituri. Tutsis were considered “outsiders” especially after the Rwandan army had come to their defense. Meanwhile, the Hutu extremists had not been eradicated by the Rwandan army as expected and were still living somewhere up in the eastern mountains of the DRC. Without leaving troops in the DRC, the Rwandans would not be able to successfully remove the threat of an attack on their country by the Hutu guerrillas who had participated in the Rwandan genocide. There was no doubt that they would try and reclaim their country once again and reestablish a Hutu-based government in Rwanda. The Rwandan army dug in their heels and refused to leave North-eastern DRC until it had successfully accomplished its mission and Uganda would not agree to depart either. Uganda and Rwandan had begun to mine “conflict minerals” in secret although each country denied it when asked by UN mediators in the Congo in 1997

By the end of 1997 President Kabila was strong enough in his position as President of the DRC to demand the withdrawal of all Rwandan and Ugandan forces from his country. This request and the hatred between the Lendu and the Hema led to The Second War in the Congo in 1998.

 Kat Nickerson   Kingston, RI  USA