Minembwe Rural Commune, is situated in Fizi Territory, South Kivu Province, and it is situated about 370km from south west of Bukavu town. It is inhabited by various tribes including Babembe, Bafuliru, Banyamulenge, Banyindu and others. The main activities are agriculture, livestock and artisanal mining.
The population of Minembwe and surrounding area, including the highlands of Mwenga and Uvira, are about 200,000 people. However, this number might be less due to constant displacement of people fleeing armed conflicts in the area. There are about 200 primary and secondary schools, 3 high education institutions, 2 hospitals, and over 50 health centers, 1 community radio and telecommunication networks. The region has limited access by roads, access is only possible during the dry season (Minembwe center and Itombwe). Bijombo area has no road access. There is an airstrip in Minembwe, which is the only viable, but expensive means of transportation. Most people walk for about 30km to reach the road in Lusuku, which is the link to Bukavu via Fizi and Uvira.
Conflict and its consequences
Currently, over 20,000 people are displaced with no shelter nor food. Half of those are concentrated in Minembwe center. People have lost lives. Their villages have been burnt to ashes along with their food stores, which were run from their houses; livestock has been destroyed, and others have been looted. Note: There is no complete evaluation of casualties as it is still unsafe to reach some areas.
This time of year is the beginning of agricultural harvest for maize and beans, which are the main staple food to all local communities. Any crops that are not destroyed by fire, were left in fields, which will be destroyed without care. Remaining villages around Minembwe center, schools and churches are hosting fleeing families with tired old people, children and women. The concentrations of displaced people are in 3 main locations: In Minembwe center and surrounding villages; Kigazura, Mikenge and Kasilo in Itombwe, and Kalumio in Kamombo. In all these locations, people hosted and welcomed displaced families from all different tribes. They are all seeking refuge together and are being helped by local communities indiscriminately.
This is happening months after another conflict that broke out in Bijombo location sending more than 6,000 people seeking refuge in other safe locations. Many reached Minembwe in August-October 2018. The Center for Research and Community Development at UEMI and LaOlam Ministry organized emergency programs to help only 350 families through agricultural activities and training in theology of work and peace. Some of the villages that had hosted displaced families from Bijombo were this time also attacked and/or burnt down. These include: Kalingi, Bidegu, Kamombo, Rwitsankuku, Kitasha, among others. Many families are being displaced and losing everything twice in less than 8 months. Many hundreds of pupils and students were taken in schools to allow them to study with no charge in October 2018. Eben-Ezer University and its primary ans secondary schools have more than 100 students from those displaced families, frm different tribes of last year. Today, those in schools are 2 months away from completing their school year, and their families have again been displaced. Resilience of local population is worning out!
Due to the limited access to Minembwe and surrounding area, there are no humanitarian organizations intervening. Local communities, churches, and local NGOs have taken the responsibility of sharing everything they have for the last 10 months, basically ever since August 2018 to the present. The influx of displaced families has contributed to food scarcity in Minembwe, where 25kg of smooth maize flour now costs moved from $16 to $25, whereas the price for 1kg of beans went up from $ 0.43$ to $ 1.30 in less than 5 months. Food shortage in this period has become a pressing issue. Even if the armed conflict is stopped, the war on hunger must be conquered as well. Also health issues must be addressed. Minembwe has a hospital and clinics, but with very limited equipment and medicines to cater for thousands of people concentrated in the Minembwe area. Given the poor living conditions of the displaced people, there is now the danger of dysentery. Eben-Ezer University is about to complete its water project in Minembwe, which would help people to get clean water in Kiziba villages and the central market.
The cause of conflict
Different actors give differtn reasons for the outbreak of the current conflicts:
- A common explanation focuses on tribal issues. For many years, conflicts in the Great Lakes Region have been thought of as tribal or ethnic. This explanation provides an easy way for those who aim to exploit and polarize the situation politically. Local populations from different tribes have lived together for centuries and do have shared survival interests. Even if there have been domestic conflicts, traditionally there have always been ways to solve them. Unfortunately, the region has had so many uncontrolled local and regional extremists, bandits, armed groups and rebels who do not necessarly represent the interests of their ethnic or tribal groups. Whoever commits crime does so on the back of their communities. Today, affected families from all tribes are seeking shelter together and helping each other regardless of their tribal affiliation. Innocent people are victims of politics. Tribes of Bantu origin accuse Banyamulenge of being foreigners, having no rights to land and administrative entity, regardless of having been in the region, which is now the current Congo for centuries. Extremists contest the erection of Minembwe to Rural Commune, even when it is inhabitated by all tribes. On the other hand, Banyamulenge tribe accuses their neighboring tribes of hatred and envy against their prosperity. The coalition of armed groups from different tribes against one tribe is a dangerous sign of division and discrimination based on tribal/ethnic differences. However, they all belong to the same country. Their tribal and cultural diversities are power and wealth for their own respective development.
- Another explanation focuses on exploitation of incidents and a prolonged state of injustice. Eastern Congo has been a theatre of many atrocities committed by armed groups (killings of innocent people and many other human rights violations). In rural locations, it becomes even worse, as there, voices of the weak die in silence. The context of hopelessness, despair and revolt of many are expressed, unfortunately, through violent actions, which end up hurting everyone’s neighbor. Lack of state authority, in these rural places, is a serious challenge. Whenever there are incidents involving people from different tribes, they are exploited beyond the individual to community levels.
- Another issue that needs to be addressed has to do with poverty and the lack of community development programs. Young people from different tribes who turned into gangs, criminals and militia are equally born free and hopeful to build their lives and their country. Lack of socio-economic and political cadres to help them grow as good citizens, make them enemies of themselves and of their own communities. These challenges are put on the doorsteps of government and the international community, who miss opportunities to initiate sustainable programs to curb unemployment among youths, provide formal and vocational training, as well as possibilities for educational advancement and programs in entrepreneurship. Lack of road is a major handicap to rural peace and development. When youths have nothing to do, they are recruited into armed groups not as a coice but only as a means of survival. But as a result they lose their future.
- Furthermore, the current conflict is triggered by the killing of a local chief by an armed group whose members are from the Banyamulenge tribe, who had accused the local chief of killing their member. Similar incidents have provoked other similar tribal fighting in the past, where militia from other tribes killed members of the Banyamulenge community. Due to the lack of government authority in these rural areas to maintain order and administer justice the whole region is affected. Today, hundreds of villages are burned down, people have lost their lives, livestock and other goods have been destroyed or looted, and more than 20,000 people are now displaced with no shelter or food.
Although the fighting has stopped due to the intervention of the government and the national army with support of MONUSCO, there are urgent calls to help the victims of the conflict. Every support is highly appreciated:
- Food and clothing are urgently needed to help thousands of displaced people, particularly women and children.
- Temporary and permanent shelter in areas of refuge for those that are able to regain their villages to rebuild their lives again.
- Education for sustainable peace and development.
- Government and its partners to invest in durable infrastructures for rural development, namely road and electricity to allow young people access to other alternatives to enable them to establish sustainable socio-economic conditions for themselves and their communities.
- Support for peace initiatives to rebuild hope and mutual trust among tribes.
Fleeing families and smoke of burning villages.
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Situation in Photos.
Refugees seeking shelter at 2 different schools (UGEAFI and Eben-Ezer University of Minembwe) and other places.