The conflict led by various armed groups in the region of Minembwe got intensified in recent months (September-October 2019) making more causalities and thousands of displaced people. Affected villages are in Itombwe (Mwenga Territory), Kamombo (Fizi Territory) and Lulenge villages (Fizi Territory). Minembwe center and its nearby villages are heavily burdened by humanitarian responsibilities.
Recent history of conflict dates from July 2017, with targeted assassinations and selective attacks by armed groups against civilians and retaliations. In escalation of conflict, the Banyamulenge villages in the Bijombo location in Uvira Territory became targets of a coalition of armed groups from different tribes (Bafuliru, Babembe and Banyindu) foreign armed groups from Burundi (FNL, Red TABARA, FOREBU). In retaliation, the armed group from Banyamulenge tribe also attacked villages of other tribes. In these circumstances, victims are innocent civilians. This situation degenerated a tension which destroyed many villages in Bijombo and ignited neighboring villages of Kamombo. The same wave of village destruction spread to Itombwe and finally to Minembwe. It is evidenced that these conflicts are manipulation of politicians highly placed in the government, who use their political influence to resist against the existence of the Rural Municipality of Minembwe and against Banyamulenge tribe. Speeches inciting hatred and discrimination are propagated by local and national politicians as well as Congolese extremists in diaspora intensified between from 2019. Government officials and DRC army are criticized for their slow action and passivity in intervention. Civil society at large has not gone beyond mere declarations condemning the atrocities committed against civilians. More actions are needed to stop this conflict.
Consequences from October 2018 – October 2019
- More than 100 people (civilians) are killed and many hundreds wounded
- Number of villages and public infrastructure destroyed:
- In Bijombo location, Uvira Territory: More than 2534 houses in 87 villages were burned;
- Kamombo location, Fizi Territory: More 1957 houses distributed in 82 villages, were completely burned;
- In Itombwe location, Mwenga Territory: More than 2421 houses divided into 42 villages were completely burned down;
- In Lulenge location and Minembwe neighborhoods, Territory of Fizi: More 513 houses, distributed in 43 villages were completely burned,
- Bibogobogo / Rutabura, Fizi Territory: More than 270 houses divided into 5 villages are burned.
- More than 150,000 people have been displaced, without adequate humanitarian assistance, some being confined to host families in Minembwe center, others are refugees in neighboring countries and others are still scattered in nature.
- Schools (over 10) and sanitary (over 15) facilities have been completely damaged or destroyed. In addition, out of about 300 schools, only about 20 are operational in Minembwe center and immediate surroundings.
- More than 39.000 cows had been looted and/or killed.
*Note: The number of people killed, villages destroyed, and cows looted keeps adding everyday as the barbaric acts are not yet stopped.
This situation has caused have devastating consequences on the population including:
- Extreme poverty;
- Jeopardy of a cultural heritage particularly for Banyamulenge whose tradition is based on cows;
- Health hazard due to lack of medical facilities, livelihood and shelter to thousands of displaced people;
- High risk of militarism of the region due to proliferation of small arms and vulnerability of young people, whose parents are no longer able to pay their education, who can easily enroll in armed groups.
Like many other local institutions and NGOs, Eben-Ezer University of Minembwe along its partners have been working in emergencies to support within their limited means few hundred of displaced families that sought refuge to the campus. At one-point early September, we hosted about 600 people in classrooms and conference hall. We were able to feed them for 3 days with maize flour and beans from the joint food storage project with LaOlam. We had got some support from our partners abroad which were used to help the crisis in May-July 2019 which helped us to work within our limits. Our agricultural projects had been hampered by insecurity along with local people’s activities, which signals a serious famine next year. However, some of the farms nearby are doing well and we expect good harvest even if this will be a drop in the ocean. The presence of humanitarian agencies is very limited as well as their actions in Minembwe.
One lady gave birth at our school with limited support where they sought refuge. She is fine with her baby. Her 2-year-old child woke up in the morning and asked her mother “mama I need milk”, we did not have milk as cows were all looted. We made black tea and gave her. She stunned at us and ran to her grand-mother and said “kaka wee bampaye amaganga! Grandma, they gave me cow urine!” Poor girl had never seen or been served with black tea. How can we ask for fish and be given a snake! The account of Jesus compels us to think how we can stand for Jesus. LaOlam Ministry has tirelessly been involved in working closely with orphans at AVOC house near the campus sheltering children from different tribes. Thanks for all those that have been supporting in one way or the other. Each family in Minembwe center is currently hosting at least 2 and 3 displaced families. There are no camps to shelter thousands of displaced people that are concentrated in Minembwe center. Humanitarian assistance has been slow to arrive to due bureaucratic procedures but also because of limited access to Minembwe. The road is not always practical particularly during the dry season.
Schools are operating in very difficult circumstances less than 20 schools in Minembwe center and its environs have opened their doors to thousands of children whose parents are not able anymore to pay for their education. The cow, the source of their traditional economy is destroyed. The leadership of schools in Minembwe has resolved to let children attend classes as a way of de-traumatization, counselling and rebuilding hope of these young ones. It is also a way of protecting them from enrolling into armed groups. At Eben-Ezer University primary and secondary schools (CODAP-UEMI), about 340 children come regularly. Many of them with fatigue that can be read on their faces, not only because they make a distant walk to the school but also, many do not have enough to eat. The school had a school lunch program entirely supported by parents, but with the current crisis, we are unable to continue the feeding program.
Hundreds of displaced people gather at the university hall for Sunday prayers. The university has offered its conference hall to joint church service of different denominations that fled from Itombwe region. This is a time for rebuilding their faith and connecting with each other.
Lobby and Diplomacy
Local elders met the President of DRC, Mr. Felix Tshisekedi, during his visit to Bukavu last week on 10/10/2019. In the audience, he was accompanied by his Ministers of Interior, Defense and Decentralization and the governor of South Kivu Province. We took the opportunity to explain to him consequences of armed group conflict in our area and the risks they can have on the rest of the region. He promised to work with his government for appropriate measures. We (local civil society and village elders from Minembwe) have also continued to engage various stakeholders (including armed groups) on local level, neighboring countries and civil society at national and regional levels, embassies and MONUSCO for them to understand the nature of these conflicts and bring about a lasting solution for the interest of all. At the same time, we want to continue with our local programs of peace and reconciliation (theology of work) approach mainly persuading armed groups, local communities to join peace and development programs.
Call to help
- Eben-Ezer University and its partners are making an appeal to whoever is able to support the end of this crisis is highly appreciated.
- Humanitarian assistance is much needed to support thousands of people in need (cloths, food, shelter and medical attention).
- Help us pray and work for peace of Minembwe and the region.
- Join us in any way you can and support local communities affected by wars.
Lazare R. Sebitereko
Eben-Ezer University of Minembwe
+243 812 400 999