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Local Voices – Power, land and identity: the origins of violence in Masisi

2013 December 20

Since independence was declared in the Congo, the history of Masisi has been marked by high tensions over the control of power and land between the three major communities in this territory: the Hunde, the Hutus and the Tutsis.

At the heart of these tensions is the issue of land rights and the power exercised by, or denied to, the different communities. Since 1994, regional conflicts have heightened these local tensions and reshaped the landscape of conflict in Masisi, and eastern Congo. Right up to the present day, the distribution of power remains a particularly sensitive stumbling block between local communities.

A member of the royal family within the Hunde community, Mwami Michel Bapfuna, has been the head of the Bapfuna groupement since the early 1960s. For the past twenty years he has not been able to access the majority of his land. Masisi Town, North Kivu, August 2013.

A member of the royal family within the Hunde community, Mwami Michel Bapfuna, has been the head of the Bapfuna groupement since the early 1960s. For the past twenty years he has not been able to access the majority of his land. Masisi Town, North Kivu, August 2013.

The traditional Hunde leaders in the Masisi territory almost all share the same complaint: they can no longer wield their power freely, as they did in the past when Mobutu ruled Zaire. For the past 20 years, large parts of their customary entities (divisions of land) have effectively been in the hands of armed groups; they simply do not have access to their land anymore and fear for their lives if they dare to go to the villages which they are supposed to administrate. Some heads of the groupement (a local customary and politico-administrative division) whom we met in central Masisi provided specific examples to illustrate these facts. The head of the Bapfuna groupement controls only one of the six villages within his groupement, the heads of the Buabo and the Bihiri groupement each control one out of their respective five villages, and the head of the Banyungu controls half of one of his two villages.

 

“Some people gave themselves permission to use weapons to take our power,” the eldest of them tells us, whilst the others agree. These big men, named ‘usurpers’ by the Hunde leaders, have, for the most part, come from the Hutu community and, through war and rebellions, have managed to bring about the recognition of the right for which they have been advocating for years: the right to administrate the land where they live and where they are the largest ethnic group.
These demands are unacceptable to the Hunde leaders. For them, this land comes from the ‘ancestors’ and can only be looked after by the traditional leaders. The Hunde believe that the people who came from Rwanda (the Hutus and Tutsis) only several generations ago, could not possibly carry out such a role. In the Hunde discourse, only the ‘autochthonous’ can be traditional leaders, by which they mean the Hunde.

Masisi in the morning mist.

Masisi in the morning mist.

This belief in the Hunde primacy of customary power has its roots in the history of the settlement of eastern Congo, and in Masisi in particular. The Hunde community settled in Masisi before the Hutu and Tutsi communities, who arrived in the area in the 1930s to 1950s as a result of migrations organized by the Belgian colonizers, who were looking for workers for their colonial plantations, as well as due to the political situation in Rwanda in the 1950s.

As time went by, the Hutu community grew larger than the Hunde community who had originally occupied the land. The Hutus (and, with them, the Tutsis) wanted to liberate themselves both economically and politically from the authority of the Hunde’s traditional leaders. The Chef de Poste d’Encadrement (an administrative – non customary – official) for Lushebere, a Hutu leader, disputes the Hunde leaders’ complaints by saying, “The Hunde leaders are our traditional leaders, and we accept them as such.” Despite this, Hunde leaders often rise up against him when they accuse Hutu leaders of having stolen their power. They cite him as the ‘big man’ of the area, and claim that he has authority over the Nyatura, a Hutu militia who are active in the area. He defends himself against these accusations by saying, “I am the Chef de Poste d’Encadrement for Lushebere. My aim is to develop my area. The traditional leaders don’t do anything. They don’t have offices. They are weak and almost never work!”

Maman Angelique has spent the whole day in the fields. At the end of the day, she goes home, overloaded with firewood which she will use to prepare food. Buabo group, Masisi territory, North Kivu, June 2013.

Maman Angelique has spent the whole day in the fields. At the end of the day, she goes home, overloaded with firewood which she will use to prepare food. Buabo group, Masisi territory, North Kivu, June 2013.

Even if inter-community tensions date back to the colonial period, they worsened after independence and throughout the 1970s and 1980s, due to the huge inequalities in land rights between small cultivators and large land owners. These grievances stemmed from both land owners reshaping local ethnic divisions through the introduction of a political system based on elections, as well as from changes to the law on nationality which, at the beginning of the 1980s, called into question the nationality and Congolese citizenship of Rwandophone populations. Twice, at the beginning of the 1960s and in 1993, during electoral seasons and due to influence by political leaders who manipulated ethnic allegiances for their own ends, the situation broke down into open confrontations between ethnic militias.

Emmanuel Munyamariba, the Chef de Poste for Lushebere recalls this period of unrest. At the end of the 1980s, tribal “mutualités” get organized with the Hutu MAGRIVI, the Virunga Farmers’ Association, and the Bushenge Hunde (literally, the Hunde’s meeting place). Originally a means of solidarity between members of the same community, these two associations became the spearhead of ethnic militias who confronted each other in 1993. In 1989, M. Munyamariba became the Secretary of the MAGRIVI. He explains, “the MAGRIVI quickly understood that the Bushenge Hunde planned to drive out the Hutus, to send them back to Rwanda. For me, for example, my grandfather arrived in Masisi in 1930. Where would I go in Rwanda? Thus the young Hutus put up a fight and took on the young Hunde. That’s how we came to exterminate each other.”

Displaced young people in the Katale Camp. Masisi, North Kivu, August 2013.

Displaced young people in the Katale Camp. Masisi, North Kivu, August 2013.

The NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) estimates that the interethnic violence in Masisi territory in 1993 caused between 6,000 and 15,000 deaths over a period of three months. For the local population, this first round of violence marked the beginning of a war which was not going to stop easily.

A woman and her two children go home after a day of working in the fields. Masisi, June 2013.

A woman and her two children go home after a day of working in the fields. Masisi, June 2013.

Apart from the huge displacement of populations and the change of the ethnic layout of the territory, this violence also reshaped the local political landscape in Masisi, as the Chef de Poste for Lushebere went on to explain, “Before 1993, all the positions (traditional and administrative) were in the hands of the Hunde. There was not a single Hutu Principal, for example. As well as the traditional leaders, all the secretaries and the administrators were always Hunde. The tribal war of 1993 changed that; we started to govern ourselves. The Hutus became the heads of the area. We had tasted authority and, once you’ve tasted it, it’s hard to stop! We often say that it is better to die than to give up power…”

After fleeing violence for several months, Biringiro rebuild a home for his family in his native village of Bibotobolo. Their house has been destroyed during interethnic violences in November 2012. Bibotobolo, Masisi territory, June 2013.

After fleeing violence for several months, Biringiro rebuild a home for his family in his native village of Bibotobolo. Their house has been destroyed during interethnic violences in November 2012. Bibotobolo, Masisi territory, June 2013.

He continues, “But then, Laurent Kabila’s AFDL (the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of the Congo) arrived (in 1996) and told us to put an end to the tribal wars. They told us that we would overthrow Mobutu’s government and that, in the new government, there would be room for everyone. At that point we said to each other, ‘let’s share the responsibilities, let’s put Hutu secretaries to work with the Hunde leaders….’ That’s how, today, the area chiefs are often Hunde and their secretaries are Hutu.”

The Chef de Poste’s secretary rejects as well the Hunde leaders’ accusations. “It’s completely untrue to say that traditional power was usurped by force!” he says. “Right until today, there is not a single area which is managed by a Hutu or a Tutsi. There are obviously traditional leaders who fled their areas because of insecurity, but they left an intermediary who continues to report back to them. Look for just one official document signed by a Head of groupement from the Hutu community! There aren’t any!” he explains, without recognition of the Hunde traditional leaders’ complaints.

A Hutu family from the Bibotobolo village, in the Masisi territory, in the ruins of their former home, which was destroyed during the interethnic violence at the end of 2012. Having spent several months in a camp for displaced people, they have just finished building a new home (behind them), specifically by reusing the charred corrugated iron sheets from their former lodgings. Bibotobolo, Masisi, June 2013.

A Hutu family from the Bibotobolo village, in the Masisi territory, in the ruins of their former home, which was destroyed during the interethnic violence at the end of 2012. Having spent several months in a camp for displaced people, they have just finished building a new home (behind them), specifically by reusing the charred corrugated iron sheets from their former lodgings. Bibotobolo, Masisi, June 2013.

Regional wars and rebellions: the emergence of the Chef de Poste administrative positions.

The arrival in 1994 of two million Hutu Rwandan refugees, including many genocidaires (genocide perpetrators), into the Kivus, and the two Congolese wars of 1996-97 and 1998-2003, increased the existing tensions between communities in Masisi. The communities were swallowed up by the regional dynamics of these wars which involved almost all of the countries in the Great Lakes Region.

A child’s toy lies on the ground in front of a home belonging to a family who were displaced by clashes between armed groups. Nyabiondo, Masisi, August 2013.

A child’s toy lies on the ground in front of a home belonging to a family who were displaced by clashes between armed groups. Nyabiondo, Masisi, August 2013.

The belligerents exploited the fears of the local ethnic groups in order to win them over to their cause and to swell the numbers of their combatants. For their part, numerous local leaders made use of the wars and its many opportunities for new alliances to develop their political and land-related agendas. In Masisi, the second war from 1998 – 2003 set the Congolese government of Laurent-Désiré Kabila against the rebellions supported by the neighboring countries. The Hunde community (with a few key exceptions) aligned itself with the government (through joining Maï-Maï armed groups) while the Hutu and Tutsi communities (also with a few key exceptions) took the side of the RCD (the Congolese Rally for Democracy) which, with the support of Rwanda and Uganda, occupied a large part of the Kivus.

By the end of the war, with massacres committed along ethnic lines, the hatred between the communities in Masisi and the Kivus had grown exponentially.

A former colonial house for TEKI workmen, the colonial business for tea production in the Kivus, destroyed by the war. Nyabiondo, Masisi, August 2013.

A former colonial house for TEKI workmen, the colonial business for tea production in the Kivus, destroyed by the war. Nyabiondo, Masisi, August 2013.

The RCD era coincided with further changes to local power structures in Masisi. As elsewhere, the RCD leaders wanted to bring power closer to the rural, and often landlocked, populations. The rebellion created several new state Postes d’Encadrement, taking their number from 12 to 27. The Hutu community was the largest in the territory and supported the RCD, and they benefited most from the new positions, to the great displeasure of the Hunde traditional leaders who saw their roles taken over by the new Hutu leaders.

The Chef de Poste for Nyabiondo, from the Hunde community, explained to us that this expansion of the Postes d’Encadrement and their recognition by the central government had been as well a strategy to try to end the war. “It was a way to keep the former warlords busy,” he said. It was a strategy that certainly made the traditional leaders ‘uncomfortable.’

However, as part of the decentralization process, a new institutional structure will now be implemented, and this does not include the Poste d’Encadrement positions. What will happen to the Hutu leaders who hold most of these positions in Masisi? “They will go and work in the new communes (which will be created through decentralization),” explained the Chef de Poste for Lushebere. “Even I have got to try to get myself elected as mayor, if I’m lucky!” Another leader in Lushebere is still concerned that decentralization could lead to unemployment for a large number of the current local leaders. He told us, “This would have a huge impact on peace in our area!”

Two young girls from Lukweti carry firewood home. Lukweti is the village where the armed group APCLS set up their HQ several years ago. Lukweti, North Kivu, August 2013.

Two young girls from Lukweti carry firewood home. Lukweti is the village where the armed group APCLS set up their HQ several years ago. Lukweti, North Kivu, August 2013.

Whether power has been usurped or not, these statements demonstrate how bitter the disagreement over local power sharing is between the community leaders in Masisi.

While the most recent national elections (in November 2011) were heavily contested, particularly in the territory of Masisi, the provincial and local elections will be the next key date for the territory’s leaders and all of the communities. Before this major event in local political life, the priorities must be to establish a more peaceful environment between the communities in Masisi and between their respective leaders. Amidst the games and sometimes deadly political calculations, it is always the local populations who find themselves trapped first.

 

Disclaimer

Adopting the voice of the local actors does not mean that International Alert, Local Voices or Search For Common Ground endorse their views or defend their ’cause’. Instead we seek to communicate the fears, beliefs and wishes of local people in order to contribute to a search for sustainable peacebuilding solutions. To find out more about the approach of the project, see here.

Young Sifa, 18 years old, in front of the shelter where she has been living with her parents since November 2012, in the Katale camp. Masisi, August 2013.

Young Sifa, 18 years old, in front of the shelter where she has been living with her parents since November 2012, in the Katale camp. Masisi, August 2013.

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Text and photographs: Alexis Bouvy.

Facilitation in the field: Chrispin Mvano and Rodolpe Mukundi.

For more information on the context of armed conflicts in North Kivu, see Jason Stearns (2012), North Kivu. The Background to Conflict in North Kivu, Usalama Project, Rift Valley Institute, Nairobi.

See also the International Alert report, including a critical perspective of peace actions carried out or supported by the Congolese authorities and international actors: Ending the Deadlock. Towards a New Vision of Peace in Eastern DRC.

On negative discourses and stereotypes in DRC, see International Alert’s report: Words That Kill. Rumours, Prejudice, Stereotypes and Myths Amongst the People of the Great Lakes Region of Africa.

Local Voices – Congolese Communities & The Kivu Conflict enjoys the support of International Alert and Search for Common Ground.

© Local Voices 2013 with International Alert & Search For Common Ground.

Remembering Mandela

2013 December 6

By Susan Collin Marks

December 6, 2013

Photo Courtesy of www.parcbench.com

Photo Courtesy of www.parcbench.com

Washington, DC – As we collectively mourn Nelson Mandela’s passing, it is fitting to reflect on his life, and celebrate his greatness as a leader, and a man. His passing is a loss for our planet, but his spirit will live on in the fabric of the world, and in all of us.

At the age of 44, Mandela was imprisoned in a 6 x 9 foot cell on Robben Island by the apartheid regime. He was 71 when he was released on February 2, 1990, and I waited all day with 80,000 other people in the hot sun in Cape Town’s city square. Suddenly, there he was; a tall, strong, smiling, laughing Xhosa man with eyes dancing. We shouted and sang and danced our adulation and love. He dazzled us with his vision of a future where all South Africans, black and white, would live equally in their homeland. His warmth and spirit settled in us, seeping into our hearts and bones. The firebrand had come home to his wise elder self, and now he was going to take the rest of us home to the “new South Africa” with him.

As much of North Africa and the Middle East continue to push through the growing pains of the Arab Awakening – including interethnic violence and challenges in governance – Mandela’s truly uncontainable spirit and leadership style can perhaps help light the path forward for other nations, and for all of us.

He embodied the core elements of great leadership, even as he remained fully human with flaws and shadows. And he illustrated a profound truth, that we are great not despite our failings, but including them. We cannot pretend to be someone other than who we are, and much of the controlling, rigid leadership we see in the world today is armour against fear of personal failure and weakness. His authenticity taught us; he was always himself. Despite his hot temper, he was compassionate and empathetic towards those who imprisoned him, even as he lamented his inability to have a good relationship with some of his family.

He was a leader for all South Africans – never swerving from his vision of a rainbow nation – and a courageous problem solver, with pragmatism built on core values that translated into a deeply held personal and professional ethical framework. His inspiration came from a purpose bigger than himself and his presence, voice and discipline inspired others to be better than they ever imagined.

Who he was as a leader at this time of global upheaval matters. As old certainties are uprooted, the challenge is how to create a new world for the benefit of all, not just for “my” group or faction or party. He showed us not only what to do and how to do it, but also who we need to be as leaders – and citizens.

I was recently in Libya, where people hunger for a leader able to unite Libyans through their common humanity. A local leader in Sirte told me wistfully that Mandela had been South Africa’s secret ingredient, and he wished they had one too.

Next door in Egypt, people also long for a leader able to save the country from violence and continuing division. And Syrians hope for a peaceful solution that will unite the nation.

As we consider Mandela’s life and legacy, we might ponder his favourite poem, Invictus, by Victorian poet William Ernest Henley, and the lines that he said sustained him during 27 years in prison:

I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.

Mandela understood that life will throw many things at us, and it is up to us how we respond. He knew the power of forgiveness and took tea with Betsie Verwoerd, widow of Hendrik Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid. He learned that love is the greatest power in the universe, and invited his prison wardens to his inauguration as the first democratic President of South Africa. He taught us how to live with ourselves, and with each other, embracing our common humanity.

I am grateful to have been one of the thousands who stood in his shadow that day in 1990 when he came back to us, and showed us how to step into the new democratic future that, together, we would all create.

A version of this article was published by forbes.com earlier this year.

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Susan Collin Marks, Senior Vice President of Search for Common Ground, is an internationally respected peacebuilder, mediator and author from South Africa. Her book, Watching the Wind, chronicles her experiences during the transition from apartheid to democracy. An earlier version of the article was published by Forbes.com in April 2013. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 6 December 2013,

Photo Courtesy of www.parcbench.com

www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

Local Voices – Masisi, the Wound of Kivu

2013 December 5

Torn apart by a 20 years bloody conflict, the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the most stricken areas of the world. In a region with colossal economic potential, many armed groups without specific goals regularly engage in fighting with dramatic consequences for the local populations. The armed conflict in the Kivus is extremely complex and made up of a mix of regional politics, anarchic exploitation of mineral wealth, ethnic rivalries, land conflicts, weakness of the state and political opportunism. A seemingly inextricable maze in which the territory of Masisi, North Kivu, occupies a central place. If the recent dismantling of M23 opens a new window of opportunity for peace, many deep-rooted challenges remain of great concerns.

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Widuhaye, a ten-years-old displaced girl in front of Katale IDPs camp. Masisi territory, North Kivu, July 2013.

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Warning for the readers:

Adopting the voice of the local actors does not mean that International Alert, Local Voices or Search For Common Ground legitimize or support their positions or defend their ’cause’. Instead we seek to communicate with people who live far from this reality, the fears, beliefs and wishes of local stakeholders in order to contribute to the search for sustainable solutions. To know more about the approach of the project, see here.[1]

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A paradise without armed groups

Without the armed groups, Masisi would be a real paradise!, Joseph Sukisa, deputy administrator of the Masisi territory in charge of economy and development stated. We have everything here! Fields, pastures, minerals! Our lands are very fertile!

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This young boy is walking with a plastic bag with cigarettes that he sells one by one in order to help his parents to pay for his school fee. In Masisi, poverty is generalized and families hardly cover basic needs such as medical care or schooling.

Despite its peaceful mountainous and green landscapes with promising potential, Masisi has been for 20 years the scene of a deadly armed conflict leading to dramatic humanitarian consequences. United Nations agencies speak of some 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDP’s) because of war in the territory of Masisi alone, out of a total of two million in North and South Kivu combined, the two provinces most affected by the war in DRC.

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A young IDP girl with her brother in her arms. Behind her, down the hill, the IDPs camp of Lushebere. Masisi territory, North Kivu, September 2013.

Ten years after the signing of the Sun City peace agreement (2003), seven years after the first democratic elections (2006), which had to open a new era of peace and prosperity for the country, the east of DRC remains prisoner to a cycle of wars that never seems to end. FDLR, APCLS, Nyatura, FDDH, Mai-Mai Cheka, Guides, MAC… So many acronyms that refer to the many armed groups that continue to clash in Masisi and its surroundings.

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Young members of APCLS armed group, the Peoples Alliance for a Free and Sovereign Congo, in their military camp in Lukweti. They are just coming back from military operations in Pinga, Walikale territory, against elements from Cheka armed group. Lukweti, Masisi territory, August 2013. 

The reasons for this violence?

They are as numerous and complex as the participating armed groups. Joseph, the deputy administrator of Masisi, gives us his point of view on the continuation of the war in his country: If armed groups continue to exist in Masisi, this is not because of tribalism, but because of the M23 which, with the support of Rwanda, seeks to balkanize our country he said, without appeal. But the children of Congo are hardworking and cannot accept this balkanization. That is why they continue to create armed groups! He adds without flinching.

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This woman and her two kids stand on the remains of their home in the village of Tunda, that has been destroyed in November 2012 during fighting between armed groups. Eight months later, inhabitants from Tunda are coming back to their village in order to rebuild their homes, but still live in nearby Katale IDP camp. Tunda, Masisi territory, July 2013.

This discourse of ‘balkanization’ of Congo by external forces remains widespread in Kivu and in the territory of Masisi in particular. It finds its justification in the existence, until November 2013, of the M23, and before that of the CNDP and RCD, three successive rebel movements evolving in eastern Congo since 1998 and who have, according to many reports by the United Nations, received broad support from neighboring countries, in particular from Rwanda and Uganda. But it is also a political discourse that oversimplifies the profound and multiple causes of the armed conflicts and masks the internal responsibilities in Congo.

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Mama Mirimo had to flee her village because of fightings between APCLS and Cheka groups. She took refuge in an IDP camp in Nyabiondo. One of her sons recently died from disease in the camp. Access to medical care remains problematic in the area, although several humanitarian agencies intervene in the health sector. Nyabiondo, Masisi territory, North Kivu, August 2013.

For this reason, a leader of the Tutsi community based in Goma condemns in strong terms a discourse that he considers manipulative: Pointing the finger at Rwanda is a way to distract the people! he tells us. The discourse of balkanization serves the interests of the politicians in power. It allows them to divert the attention from the real issues, namely the lack of good governance and the incompetence of the authorities.

Sixty kilometers north from Goma, in Masisi, Hutu women displaced by war will tell us exactly the same: What brings armed groups here? It is the weakness and the incompetence of the government! Its our MPs themselves who stir up our youths, who organize them and distribute weapons among them! Its the people in power who create these armed groups! the women exclaim, disgusted by what the candidates for whom they voted for in the last elections in November 2011 are doing.

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Wyduhaye, a ten-years-old displaced girl, and her Grandma in their shelter. Katale IDP camp, Masisi territory, North Kivu, July 2013 

Whether real or imagined, the discourse of balkanization today continues to reflect the fears and feelings of insecurity (physical insecurity but as well economic and political insecurity) of a large part of the population in Masisi and Kivu. Masisi is indeed the center of a particularly sensitive issue, namely the return of the Congolese Tutsi (but also Hutu) refugees who, having fled the war and ethnic violence that began in Masisi in 1993, remain in Rwanda and Uganda to this day and now have to (or at least a large part of them) go back to Masisi.

However, many people from other ethnic communities in the territory are not really in favor of these returns, describing them instead as a way to steal their lands for the benefit of populations who are often farmers. They dispute for that reason the nationality of a large number of refugees and the number of 70,000 advanced by the UNHCR.

To understand this refusal, one should know that the abandoned or cheaply sold lands by refugees when they fled have often been occupied by those who remained in Masisi. The ‘new’ occupants who have sometimes exploited the land for 20 years now consider themselves as the owners and often don’t intend to give their land back to anyone. Moreover, in a context where politics are strongly influenced by ethnicity, the arrival of thousands of Hutu and Tutsi electors in Masisi doesn’t serve the interests of the Hundu community at all. In such a context, the return of the refugees, if poorly managed, can be a real time bomb for the peace process in Kivu.

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A woman walks in front of an IDP camp, Lushebere, Masisi territory, September 2013.

The return of the refugees also depends on another particularly problematic factor for the end of the armed conflicts in Kivu: dismantling the FDLR, the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda. These Rwandan Hutu rebels arrived in Kivu in 1994 and many of them have actively participated in carrying out the genocides (especially those in the higher ranks). The Congolese Tutsi refugees won’t ever be able to return without fearing for their safety as long as the FDLR is still there.

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A member of APCLS armed group, on the road between Nyabiondo and Lukweti. Masisi territory, North Kivu, August 2013.

While these two particularly complex problems were never met with complete and satisfactory solutions, some armed groups have used them to stake some claims of their own. This only heats the discussion on these topics even more and diminishes the chances of finding a solution that all parties involved can agree on. For example, the M23 rebel group, a month before being defeated militarily by the national army in early November 2013, posed as its main condition for its disarmament the repatriation of the refugees and the dismantling of the FDLR.

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A young female merchant set up her small shop just below a military camp of the national army in Katale. The camp is empty, as Congolese soldiers left for Goma and Nyiragongo territory in order to fight with M23 rebels. Katale, Masisi territory, July 2013.

Although the military dismantling of the M23 in October constitutes a victory without precedent for the proponents of the discourse of balkanization, it should not ignore the many and profound challenges that reside both on the internal level (local and national) and on the external level. In Congo, armed groups are also the result of a corrupt and failed political system that, under the trappings of democracy and multi-party elections, hardly try to cover predatory, brutal and violent dynamics. This system didn’t just pop out of the blue. It is rooted in a long, complex and tortuous history, dating back at least to the Belgian colonial era, if not further…

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Text and photographs : Alexis Bouvy.

Facilitation in the field : Chrispin Mvano and Rodolpe Mukundi.

For more information on the context of armed conflicts in North Kivu, see Jason Stearns (2012), North Kivu. The Background to Conflict in North Kivu, Usalama Project, Rift Valley Institute, Nairobi.

See also the International Alert report, including a critical perspective of peace actions carried out or supported by the Congolese authorities and international actors: Ending the Deadlock. Towards a New Vision of Peace in Eastern DRC.

On negative discourses and stereotypes in DRC, see International Alert’s report: Words That Kill. Rumours, Prejudice, Stereotypes and Myths Amongst the People of the Great Lakes Region of Africa.

Local Voices – Congolese Communities & The Kivu Conflict enjoys the support of International Alert and Search for Common Ground.

© Local Voices 2013 with International Alert & Search For Common Ground.

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The Masisi territory : basic informations

Chief-town : Masisi center ( located at approximately 70 kilometers North of Goma)

Area: 4734 km2

Main communities: Hutus, Tutsis and Hunde

Masisi is one of the six «territories» of North Kivu, border province with Rwanda and Uganda, on the eastside of DRC. Masisi consists of a mountainous and forested area and is located in the southern part of North Kivu, between the territories of Walikale, Rutshuru, Nyiragongo, Goma and the province of South Kivu. The ethnic communities in Masisi are traditionally engaged in agriculture, breed small livestock such as goats (for Hunde and Hutu) and big livestock such as cattle (for Tutsis). There are historical tensions between these three communities, in relation to the management and usage of the land and to local political and administrative positions. These tensions were subject to manipulation by political elite during the Mobutu era (and after) and were greatly aggravated by two Congolese wars (1996-1997 and 1998-2003) and the armed conflicts continuing until today.

Names and Acronyms

AFDL           Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo – insurrectional movement led by Laurent-Désiré Kabila who, with military support from neighboring countries (Rwanda and Uganda), overthrew President Mobutu on May 17, 1997.

APCLS         Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo – active armed group in Masisi associated with the Hunde community and controlled by Janvier Karairi.

«Collectivité Chefferie»     A “Collectivité Chefferie” is a local entity both customary and politico-administrative, which is under the authority of a Territory. The head of leadership comes from the royal family of the ethnic community traditionally occupying this entity. This is an inherited function.

«Collectivité secteur»        A “Collectivité Secteur” is a local politico-administrative entity that is under the authority of the Territory. Unlike a «Chefferie», a sector includes several ethnic communities among which the Chief of «Secteur» is in theory elected.

CNDP           National Congress for the Defence of the People – armed group established by Laurent Nkunda associated to the Tutsi community. The CNDP was integrated into the Congolese army in early 2009, after Laurent Nkunda has been arrested.

FARDC         The Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo – national Congolese army.

FDDH           Forces for the Defense of Human Rights – active armed group in Masisi and associated to the Hutu community. The FDDH are also often presented as a subgroup of the Nyatura.

FDLR           Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda – an armed Rwandan Hutu group active in South and North Kivu. Many members of the FDLR were involved in the genocide of Tutsis and moderated Hutus that took place in Rwanda in 1994.

 Armed group active in Masisi territory

«Groupement»       The «groupement» is a local politico-administrative and customary entity. The «groupement» is under the authority of the «Collectivités» («Secteurs» or «Chefferies»).

MONUSCO            Observation Mission of the United Nations for the Stabilization of Congo – the biggest mission of peacekeeping in UN history, with 20,688 uniformed men (including 18,751 soldiers).

Mai-Mai     Group of armed fighters claiming to be “indigenous” and defending the national integrity against so called “invaders”. The Mai-Mai were opposed to the RCD rebellion between 1998 and 2003.

Mai-Mai Cheka       is an armed militia of the Walikale territory (North Kivu), associated with the Nyanga community. Cheka is opposed to the FDLR and APCLS. The group is also called Nduma Defence of Congo, NDC.

MAC            Action Movement for Change – armed group active in Masisi territory, associated with the Hunde community. MAC is however opposed to the APCLS, another armed group associated with the Hunde community.

M23             Movement of March 23, in reference to the agreements signed on 23 March 2009 between the Congolese government and the CNDP. The M23 is an armed group associated with the Tutsi community and enjoyed, according to the reports of the expert group of the United Nations, support of Rwanda and Uganda. The M23 was militarily defeated by the national army in early November 2013.

Nyatura        Armed group active in Masisi territory and associated with the Hutu community.

PARECO    Coalition of Congolese Resistance Patriots – armed group that was active in North and South Kivu and was integrated into the national army in 2009. PARECO was associated with the Nande, Hutu and Hunde  communities and was opposed to the CNDP.

RCD             Congolese Rally for Democracy – the rebellion that occupied a large part of eastern Congo from 1998 to 2003. The RCD enjoyed the support of neighboring countries, in particular of Rwanda and Uganda.

 


There will be a link towards the page « about this project » on Local Voices website, where the approach of the project will be further described.

iPads ensure impactful programs in DR Congo

2013 December 3

By Brad Fondak

“It’s exciting to be on the cutting edge; I’ve done surveys like this for several organizations and no one else is doing this.”- Participant

The survey team and I on the steps of town hall (I'm in the bright blue shirt)

The survey team and I on the steps of town hall (I’m in the bright blue shirt)

Search collects data on the impact of our programs in the region. The data is crucial not only to ensure our programs are reducing violent conflict, but also for our donors and the communities we serve.

We have always collected this feedback the old-fashion way; a surveyor with a pen and a clipboard. The data is then copied from the handwritten form into a database for our evaluation teams to analyze.  With hundreds of projects and thousands of surveys around the world, this is a daunting task even for the most efficient team.

But recently, we’ve found a better way, and because of it, I found myself halfway around the world from my home in the suburbs of Maryland to the city of Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu Province, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

We’re entering the 21st century of data collection, and with it brings innovative ways to gather information in the form of iPad Minis.

Our Bukavu office is our second largest in the world, and the epicenter of much of the work we do in the Eastern Congo to combat sexual violence, promote the rule of law, and provide paths to positive conflict resolution to end violent conflict.

The situation in the DRC is far from stable, and millions live in the midst of destructive conflict.  Violence against women is endemic, and rebel groups fight the government and each other.

Our program ‘Vrai Djo’ promotes strength and understanding in men. ‘Mopila’, a highly successful comic book series, reaches a wide range of Congolese dealing with real-life situations such as good governance, working with the police, and sexual abuse in schools. These are just a few of the more than thirty different projects we do in the country a year.

Measurements and evaluations are required for each program in order to check progress and make the necessary changes.

I arrived at our office and found a survey team waiting with pen and paper, ready for an average day of training with a new survey in the morning and then heading out into the community to fine-tune the questions.

To their surprise, we introduced the new equipment and showed them how to use the new survey system. They were thrilled!  Many of the surveyors had never held an iPad before, but with the ease of the system, they quickly picked it up as we went through a few practice runs.

SFCG DM&E Coordinator Rodrigue Birego, demonstrates the iPad system to the survey team.

SFCG DM&E Coordinator Rodrigue Birego, demonstrates the iPad system to the survey team.

After lots of questions and a thorough introduction by both the DRC evaluation chief and the team leader, it was time to hit the road.

A final pep talk before setting out on the steps of town hall.

A final pep talk before setting out on the steps of town hall.

We drove a short distance to the outskirts of Bukavu, a city of over a million people, to the smaller town of Bagira. Bagira is a great example of a typical Congolese city, and a perfect place to begin the project. It has hundreds and thousands of hardworking people in small shops, walking to and from their fields. Most of them live in small, one or two room houses without running water or consistent electricity.

In pairs of two, the surveyors headed into a different section of the neighborhood to locate and interview members of the community with their new tablets in tow.

Analyzing the data…

After the initial survey collection, we received lots of feedback from the team:

“This is so much easier than before; I will be able to complete more surveys now,” said one person.

“It’s going to be so much easier to analyze and collect the data,” another added.

It felt incredible to be a part of this project. It was amazing to see a tool that I use daily bring so much assistance to the people performing the surveys, our standard of work in the region, and the communities we serve.  This new method of data collection has great potential.  We’re already looking to expand it throughout the DRC and in many of the other country programs.

_______________________

Brad Fondak is Webmaster with Search for Common Ground. He manages sfcg.org as well other internet and new media-related projects, and is based in Washington.

Radio inspires 2 women to strive for reconciliation in Rwanda

2013 October 30

By Jean Baptiste Ndabananiye

I listened to the program “Turi Umwe” and felt convinced that true pardon giving and requesting can restore unity among people.”- Mukamuhoza, a survivor of the Rwanda genocide.

“Turi Umwe,” is a USAID-funded radio broadcast aiming to promote and strengthen unity and reconciliation in the Rwanda. Search has also established listening clubs, throughout the country, that give people an opportunity to ask for and give pardon, with the goal of maximizing the impact of reconciliation in Rwanda.

Two weeks ago, I visited a listening club in the rural Mushubati Sector in west Rwanda. The club recently asked me to witness their work towards unity and reconciliation, something deemed nearly impossible in area.

As soon as I arrived, I spoke with Mukambonera Liberate, a genocide survivor. “There are people who killed such a lot of my people that I don’t know the number. My brother is one of those who killed others, whom I used to love too much. When I saw him, I instantaneously felt so traumatized that I suddenly took another way to avoid meeting him and he even did the same because of fearing me.”

I asked Mukambonera how her relationship is now.

“The situation has changed. This woman, Niyonemera from the listening club, has convinced me to change,’ she said.

I talked to Niyonemera to learn how she was able to change this sensitive situation. “Two Turi Umwe episodes motivated me to try until I help her because it used to shock me when I saw her traumatized. The episodes involved Giraneza John and Mudenge Boniface who actually exhibited unusual courage in unity and reconciliation. They fortified me highly,” she said.

Giraneza, a Tutsi genocide survivor whose beloved father was killed in the build up to the 1992 genocide, decided to marry a Hutu girl. He wanted his decision to become a model for other people to get committed to unity and reconciliation.

Mudenge Boniface was running for his life from 1992 to 1994 during the genocide against Tutsis. He noticed there are good Hutus and bad ones, just as there are good Tutsis as well as bad ones. While some Hutu church deacons wanted him dead, other Hutu deacons protected him. Mudenge says he has survived owing to the intervention of a lot of Hutus.

Niyonemera formed her beliefs, based on the broadcasts.

(From right to left) Niyonemera, Mukambonera & Mukamuhoza

(From right to left) Niyonemera, Mukambonera & Mukamuhoza

“I asked Mukambonera to listen to the program regularly. After listening, she was convinced to pardon her brother. She asked me to accompany her to go to her brother. I’d also persuaded him to ask for pardon, but it was Mukambonera who took the first initiative to reconcile with her brother,” said Niyonemera.

Mukambonera explains she has now developed a very good relationship with her brother, “A short time ago he invited me to the wedding of his child and I went there. This was a dream before.’

Niyonemera has also helped Mukambonera reconcile with another woman, Mukamuhoza, whose deceased husband plundered Mukambonera’s possessions in the genocide.

Niyonemera says there is another man she’s working with. “The man is still too malicious. Once he wounded his brother and the wife with a machete for the mere reason that his brother’s tree had fallen on his field of crops, then, damaging the crops. I told him he should change and he replied me God cannot pardon him for what he committed in the genocide, but I highly believe I’ll change him.”

To learn more about Search’s radio programs, click here.

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Jean Baptiste Ndabananiye is currently a program assistant with Search for Common Ground: Rwanda. 

Peacebuilding and Development: The Virtuous Circle

2013 October 15

By Donald Steinberg, President of World Learning

Don Steinberg was the special guest speaker at October’s Conflict Prevention & Resolution Forum in Washington DC, moderated by Sandra Melone of Search.  He is the former Deputy Administrator at USAID and a former Ambassador to Angola. 

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Don Steinberg and Sandra Melone at the CPRF

“The U.S. will join with our allies to eradicate extreme poverty in the next two decades: by connecting more people to the global economy; by empowering women; by giving our young and brightest minds new opportunities to serve; by helping communities to feed, power, and educate themselves; by saving the world’s children from preventable deaths; and by realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation.”  ~President Obama’s State of the Union address:

These words are inspirational, but they are not a pipe-dream.  Working together, we have brought 600 million people across the poverty line in the last decade and a half.   We have reduced infant and maternal mortality by a third.  More students, especially girls, are getting quality educations in school than ever before.  Reportedly, Google has set aside money to build a poverty museum, because the expectation is that by 2035, the only place you could see extreme poverty will be in a museum.

But we cannot achieve these objectives without peace and rule of law.  Armed conflict is a development destroyer.  Literally decades of painstaking efforts to build good governance, ensure physical security, and address the challenges of human security in health, education, housing, nutrition, can be wiped out within weeks as soon as the guns start blazing.  It is reported that not a single Millennium Development Goal has been met in a fragile and conflict state.

There are natural linkages between development and stability, and no place demonstrates that linkage better than Afghanistan.  The far-from-perfect peace in Afghanistan has permitted momentous improvements in socio-economic and humanitarian conditions.  Afghanistan has achieved one of the fastest growth rates in the world since the Taliban’s fall.  Infant and maternal mortality rates have plummeted by nearly two-thirds, along with similar achievements in other health and socio-economic indicators.  As a result, life expectancy has increased by 15 to 20 years in little more than a decade – from 47 years when the Taliban was in control to 62 years or more today.

For women and girls, the changes are even more remarkable.  Today, three million Afghan girls are in school, in contrast to none when the Taliban ruled.  Last year, some 120,000 girls graduated from high school; 40,000 young women are in university; and the percentage of women in the Afghan parliament (25 percent) is greater than in the U.S. Congress.

The question is whether these achievements will be matched by progress in the political and security arenas, and whether they can survive the withdrawal of international combat forces.  Will the achievements of women in particular be sacrificed on the altar of a false peace with the Taliban?  Part of the answer to that question depends on whether they are going to have international support for their transition.  It will be harder for spoilers to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people if there is a continuing “peace dividend.”

By contrast, the landscape is less promising in other regions.  In the Sahel, resource conflicts, poverty, international migration, climate change, extremism and governance deficits come together in a witches’ brew that threatens not only those countries, but countries and people around the world.  In Central America and Central Africa alike, the end of formal conflict in recent years has led to an even more pernicious pattern of death and suffering from criminal violence, domestic violence, and sexual violence — the key word here is “violence” — that has killed more people than the war itself.

There is a growing international recognition of the connection between development and stable and just states.  The New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States established a very clear link between development and conflict.  This is a promising development. Two years ago, I led the U.S. government delegation to a U.N. conference in Istanbul on the least developed countries. Based on pre-conference consultations, I wasn’t allowed to even mention the word “fragility” as a factor in continuing poverty in least developed countries.  Now, dozens of countries are self-identifying as “fragile,” and calling for special treatment as a result.

What does this mean for our efforts?  If we are going to respond to conflict through development, or more importantly, if we are going to seek to forestall or defuse conflict around the world, we need to know where to focus.  So where and how does conflict originate?

Seven Deadly Synergies

At the risk of over-simplification, I want to draw from my own background and the research done at World Learning.   I can summarize my own experience and research into seven factors which, when they come together, can build more dangerous tensions than the sum of their parts.  I call these the “Seven Deadly Synergies.”

  1. Rapid urbanization and population pressure coupled with weak economies. One of the quickest routes to conflict is when the potential demographic dividend from a large youth population gets transformed into dangerous youth bulge.  Young people who do not see opportunities for positive contributions within their societies, are more susceptible to fanatics and zealots.
  2. Lack of political participation, responsive governance, and rule of law. Societies must have safety valves to permit the peaceful redress of grievances.
  3. The absence of institutions of civil society that draw populations together across potentially divisive religious, ethnic, class, regional, and political lines.  Having multiple identities such as journalists, women, academics, lawyers, etc., tends to emphasize the centripetal forces at play in societies
  4.  “Location, location, location,” the role of neighbors in either mediating or fueling disputes is fundamental. Countries in bad neighborhoods risk spill-over from armed combatants, refugees and arms flows; those in good neighborhoods receive a powerful dampening effect on political and potential violence.
  5. The degree to which the society is militarized or, put another way, whether there has been a “normalization of violence.”  Are human interactions carried out and normal conflict resolved in the presence of a gun?  Factors at play here include the role of military and security forces in political structures and the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.
  6. The extent to which the society is closed, especially to international influences. Closed political systems, economies, and media environment are dangerous.  Conflicts are like mushrooms: they grow best in darkness.
  7. The final factor is something you hear about in investment perspectives. Except that in this case, past record is an indicator of future performance. The single most reliable determinant as to whether conflict is going to emerge in a society is whether there has been conflict in the last 10 to 15 years.

So, if these seven factors are the ones we are focused on, what does this mean for our efforts?

Interlocking Challenges for Successful Peace Building

Throughout the conflict prevention and peace building community, we have all studied dozens of successful and failed peacekeeping and peace building efforts since World War II.  We have found that five key challenges must be addressed nearly simultaneously in order to build peace and justice.  These are restoring security and stability, building a political framework, kick-starting the economy, establishing a sense of justice and accountability for past abuses, and promoting civil society.

Security:  In post-conflict societies, the international community tends to rely on the security blanket of international peacekeepers.  Indeed, the 100,000 or so U.N. peacekeepers and lesser numbers of other regional peacekeepers can provide a buffer.  But, as soon as possible credible local security forces must take over to provide a sense of stability, normalcy and rule of law to everyday life.  International support for security sector reform is key to ensuring that forces are well-trained, disciplined, and adequately paid so that they do not exploit and abuse the populations they are supposed to protect.

There must be effective programs for disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration, and we need in particular to address the tragic phenomenon of child soldiers.  Children must be permitted to put down their AK-47s and pick up schoolbooks.

Governance:  The second challenge is to restore legitimate political frameworks. Confidence in government must exist at national and local levels; armed movements must be transformed into political parties; and effective legislatures and judiciaries must be restored to counter-balance the power of the executive.  A culture of accountability is necessary along with an effective system to protect human rights.  Decentralization and empowerment of provincial and local institutions is essential but it also has to be balanced against the need for central authorities to take tough steps to rein in regional warlords and other recidivist actors.

Development:  Third is the question of economic renewal. We can define this in two ways. First is the physical reconstruction of damage from the conflict:  the rebuilding of roads, clinics, schools, power grids, and houses.  At the same time, the challenge of reviving agriculture, creating conditions needed to attract local and foreign investment, and ensuring job creation must be addressed in order to build popular support for the benefits of peace.   Again, it is no surprise that in countries that have 90 percent youth unemployment, renegade leaders like Foday Sankoh in Sierra Leone, Joseph Kony in Uganda, and Jonas Savimbi in Angola could lure or kidnap disaffected youth with a siren song that offers quick, if venal, empowerment and meaning to their lives.

Growth must be inclusive.  It is not enough to ensure high economic growth rates. Given the depressed state of the economy in most countries coming out of conflict, high growth rates are relatively easy to achieve.  But growth has to be evenly distributed; it has to create jobs; it has to be free from corruption; and it has to result in improved housing, health care and education.  Countries affected by the Arab Spring achieved rapid growth rates of up to ten percent.  But jobs were not created.  Economic benefits were badly distributed, subject to corruption and did not create socio-economic advancements. The result was a social revolution – a revolution that I believe was absolutely necessary but one that comes at great cost.

Transitional Justice:  The fourth challenge is coming to grips with past abuses and atrocities.  Nations and individuals who have suffered grievous treatment must balance immediate accountability and long-term national reconciliation.  Too frequently the urge is to try and forget the past, but that generally doesn’t work.  Transitional justice addressed through generous amnesties means that men with guns forgive other men with guns for crimes committed against women and children in the conflict.

There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to transitional justice.  Whether it is action by local courts, the International Criminal Court, a truth and reconciliation commission, the gacaca community court system in Rwanda, or ad hoc international tribunals where local courts are inadequate, ensuring accountability is essential to rebuilding the concept of rule of law and eliminating a culture of impunity.

Civil Society:  The final challenge, one that is often ignored, is the re-building of civil society. Groups like Search for Common Ground and World Learning are working to develop institutions of academics and lawyers and journalists and women. This is the glue that holds society together.  Put another way, it provides the safety valves that permit the peaceful redress of grievances.  Such groups are frequently polarized and/or marginalized during conflict, often as a conscious effort by governments or rebels to “divide-and-rule”.  Disadvantaged minorities, including IDPs and refugees, along with women, people with disabilities, the LGBT, and indigenous populations must be drawn into the mix.

Women, Peace and Security

Women are not only the primary victims of conflict, but a key to peace.  I have found, throughout my career in negotiating and implementing peace agreements in half a dozen countries that, bringing women to peace tables improves the quality of the agreements reached.   Involving women in post-conflict governance reduces the likelihood of a return to war.

The single best investment — to revitalize agriculture, restore health systems, and improve other social indicators after conflicts — is girls’ education.  It has been said: “Educate a boy and you educate an individual; educate a girl and you educate a community.”

These issues — restoring security, building a political framework, kick-starting the economy, ensuring justice and accountability, and promoting civil society — used to be considered the “soft side” of peacebuilding.  We used to draw this hard line between the physical security dimension and the human security dimension. I believe that this line has been blurred.

There is nothing soft about stopping traffickers who turn young people into commodities.  There is nothing soft about preventing armed thugs from abusing people in refugee camps, or holding warlords accountable for actions against civilians, or insisting that girls’ health, education, and safety are addressed in peace negotiations and post-conflict reconstruction and reconciliation.

These are among the hardest challenges we face in international peacebuilding and international development.