By Jean-Paul Ruhosha – Washington DC, USA – Tuesday November 26, 2019.
Mulenge is a locality in the East of the Democratic of Congo (DRC). It is located in the highlands overlooking the city of Uvira in South Kivu Province.
Mulenge was one of the earliest known settlements in this part of the DRC. Ethnic Tutsis who settled in the area chose this name prior to the establishment of boundaries by colonial powers on the African continent following the Berlin conference of 1884-85.
Generations of people who settled in Mulenge have subsequently been called the Banyamulenge, meaning ‘People of Mulenge’.
However, due to the fact that the Mulenge area is naturally endowed and strategically well placed, it has been a target of several forces in the region who want it for economic and strategic reasons.
As a result, Mulenge suffered from many wars propagated by local and foreign armed groups. Mulenge and the Banyamulenge ethnic Tutsis became the target of rebels, armed groups and other militia who want to annihilate them and take control of the area.
The latest spate of incursions started in May 2019 sparked by the Mai-Mai and RED-Tabara rebels. They attacked villages inhabited by Banyamulenge ethnic Tutsis, killed people, burned houses and looted cows and other valuable property.
The region has had different armed groups for many years, all fighting for different causes. The Mai-Mai group, composed of youths from local tribes (Bembe, Fulero, Nyindu,Vira). The Red-Tabara, FNL and Forebu (Burundi Rebel Groups).
The Mai-Mai militia group has vowed to kill or expel all Banyamulenge whom they consider to be their enemy – Tutsi Foreign invaders, burn their villages and take their cattle.
Since 2017 to the present day, Mai Mai groups have been receiving military, technical and financial support from foreign armed groups. The most known groups behind Mai-Mai are Red-Tabara, FNL, and Forebu (UN group of experts’ reports have confirmed this involvement since 2016-2019).
These foreign armed groups operating actively with locals continue to receive the support of Congo’s neighboring countries that have trained, equipped and facilitated their establishment in Congo (around Minembwe-Bijombo.
These countries continue to provide military support but also to reinforce their capabilities, National Telegraph has gathered. Harassment against the Banyamulenge is not new.
In the 1980s, the Banyamulenge were discriminated against and were denied rights to vote. Ten years later, in the 1990s, the Banyamulenge were initially denied their citizenship and official orders were given, calling on them to leave Congo around December 1995.
Around October 1996, the former South-Kivu Governor declared 6 days for Banyamulenge to leave Congo (then Zaire). As a matter of fact, some of these discriminatory decisions and policies partly triggered the 1996 Congo War.
In 1998, entire Banyamulenge communities of Vyura-Moba, Katanga region, were indiscriminately killed, forcibly expelled from their villages to Uvira, South Kivu.
In 2004, the hatred towards the Banyamulenge culminated to the “Gatumba Massacre” where over 169 Banyamulenge were slaughtered at night as they slept in the refugee camp in Burundi, less than 20 miles from the Congo border.
Sad enough, till date, an administrative entity (be it local or decentralized) managed by a member of the Banyamulenge community is highly contested by their neighboring tribes.
Social Media platforms are being used as propaganda tools to incite ethnic hatred and ethnic violence (hate speeches) against the Banyamulange by politicians and other “combatants” such as Honere N’Bbanda Nzombo- AKA Terminator and others calling for mass mobilization to ‘chase and kill Tutsi invaders’, reminiscent of the rhetoric’s of re-1994 Rwandan Genocide.
Currently, there is an ongoing humanitarian crisis unfolding in Mulenge due to these attacks. Since May 2019, 300,000 Banyamulenge people have fled their homes, 265 large villages belonging to the Banyamulenge have been burnt down, 300 Banyamulenge have been killed since March 2019.
Moreso, 120 schools and 40 health facilities have been destroyed, 40,000 cows and other valuable property have been looted since March 2019.
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are concentrated into small villages less than 15km away from Bijombo to Minembwe via Kamombo and Itombwe (4,000 Km2)
On November 6, 2019, internally displaced Banyamulenge were attacked and approximately 500 cows were looted. The UN peacekeeping mission did not intervene yet The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo – MONUSCO’s base in Minembwe was just meters away.
On November 10, a man (Munyamulenge) was killed again within MONUSCO’s periphery by unknown assailants and this raises the fear that anything can happen to these displaced people hoping to find shelter next to MONUSCO.
Humanitarian risks to the IPDs of Banyamulenge and other tribes are increasing by the day. They have no protection by DRC government’s National Army and MONUSCO, especially as targeted communities are always under siege.
They are regularly attacked while the national army stands indifferent. As if that isn’t enough, targeted communities cannot access their field while the region has no road infrastructures.
Many told National Telegraph targeted communities have had their economy destroyed in front of MONUSCO which has shown its incapacity to control the situation and observers say this is associated with starvation, hunger and diseases, especially being under siege.
It’s hoped the situation can be contained if the government’s authority is reinforced in the area, immediate ceasefire called on all fronts, de-freeze localities where communities are under siege, reinforce the presence of MONUSCO with Mandate to intervene and protect civilians, repatriate in their respective countries all foreign armed operating in this region.
Other recommendations to solve the problem include; reintegrate into civilian life or in the army local armed groups, undertake an independent inquiry to determine who takes responsibility in what is happening in this region.
Holding accountable and bringing to justice militias leadership for having committed these crimes, rehabilitate local communities that have lost all their belongings; especially at the time, it is yet possible to locate these thousands of cattle and put in place strategies to reconcile all Congolese tribes and encourage them to co-exist in their respective localities.