Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

North Kivu Simmering on Eve of Elections

I have said previously on this blog that North Kivu would probably not be as marred by electoral violence as the hotbeds of opposition in Kinshasa, Mbuji-Mayi and Kananga. I was wrong.

The electoral divide in the East, which has pitted Kabila loyalists against Vital Kamerhe, has dangerously overlapped with pre-existing ethnic and political rifts. In particular, rwandophone candidates from the Hutu and Tutsi community have been resorting to divisive rhetoric. Human Rights Watch reported that Sylvain Seninga, who is campaigning for re-election as a national MP, said in a public speech on March 25 that Rwandophones should "free themselves from this domination, this slavery," that had been imposed on them "by a little people that does not even know the origins of its ancestors."

In September, another local Hutu leader, Nyunga Munyamariba, told a crowd in Masisi that "whoever does not vote for the Rwandophone candidates must be eliminated." In October, army officer Colonel Mudahunga told a crowd that had gathered for the opening of a new army center that if Vital Kamerhe is found voting in Rutshuru and Masisi territories "he will be shot."

Many of these people are linked to either former Governor Eugene Serufuli or to the ex-CNDP, and locally people are speaking of the rebirth of the "rwandophonie," a coalition of Hutu and Tutsi populations that was stitched together under the diligent watch of Serufuli and his Rwandan allies during RCD rule in the province (1998-2006). Many of them are now closely allied to President Kabila - the CNDP political party, for example, has endorsed Kabila, and ex-CNDP officers have been informally campaigning for him, in particular in Masisi and Rutshuru, where many of them are from. They point to the UDPS' anti-Rwandan statements and Vital Kamerhe's notorious opposition to the joint Congolese-Rwandan military operations in 2009 that integrated the CNDP into the army.

This campaigning has infuriated other segments of the population, in particular the Hunde community, which has felt under occupation by the CNDP in Masisi for some years (this is the main lament of the APCLS armed group of Col. Janvier). They claim that the CNDP is further encroaching on their land - indeed, the more radical Hunde suggest that none of the Hutu and Tutsi of Masisi, who are largely descendents of immigrants from Rwanda between 1930-1960, have customary rights to land there.

These tensions erupted into violence during the last week, when the popular Hunde singer Fabrice Mumpfiritsa was kidnapped by armed men from his recording studio in Goma. He had previously supported Joseph Kabila, but recently switched sides and began singing in praise of the opposition. After his disappearance, members of the Hunde community in Goma, but also in Masisi, set up road blocks and began protesting. A web petition was set up, titled "Give us Back our Poet." Police and soldiers cleared the streets by shooting in the air, and the UN injured one demonstrator by shooting him in the leg.

By Monday morning, Fabrice had been found, battered and bruised, in a suburb of Goma. According to some sources, a government delegation, aware of the outrage his kidnapping had caused, was in Goma today to help take him to South Africa for medical treatment.


Anonymous said...

thanks, Jason. For this, the blog, and this latest burst of reporting!

So, placing aside the breast-beating and repression, is this really a cause for alarm?

While we are all aware of the volatility of ethnicity/land conflicts/Rwanda meddling and this problem more generally in Congo (see poster "koko"), how much of a problem is this for what I will term "the good guys" here?

Is the combined "rwandaphone" vote outweighed by everyone else's? The math is fairly clear on that so, while concerning, this can't be that fundamentally concerning.

Friends in the East are nearly uniformly for Karmehe and they have witnessed or heard a good deal of this breast-beating and mostly are shrugging it off. In more volatile pockets I could see this holding back votes but the presence of the UN is, for all their flaws, a fairly reinforcing one that will encourage people to exercise their franchise. Finally, it would be truly foolish for Kabila and Company to continue to tacitly or openly encourage this stuff with the presence of the UN, the NGO's, a fairly strong local civil society, and a fairly substantial international press presence. The region also has a large number of internet/fbook users as well as your "web petition" makes clear. Finally, with American military advisers literally around the corner I don't see a scenario where these guys Rwandan or Ugandan sugar daddy's coming to the rescue. On this matter I would not be too surprised if a statement from Africom isn't released fairly soon calling on parties to campaign "peacefully" and with "restraint". Indeed, I actually hope that happens because it would quash some of the rumour and innuendo about so-called American intentions with the LRA effort and who we supposedly want to "win" in this election among the Congolese rank and file.

All this being said, this is concerning but not surprising and, I will just posit, not germane to the real the Congolese in the region exercising their vote.


Anand said...

Thanks for the update. The rhetoric is alarming, and I think it should be taken seriously. Whether or not A LOT of people are disenfranchised from voting, whether or not A LOT of people meet with violence is not the issue. If ANY Congolese suffer these fates, then that is a big problem. And that is already happening. I don't think it is a matter of degrees. LESS violence and problems voting is better, but LESS is not OKAY. The situation is already unacceptable. Viewing things in terms of degrees already makes the international community feel like things aren't so bad and maybe won't get so bad, but Congolese history tells us otherwise. The standard of living and general issues the population faces are still present and that means it may only take a little prodding to create larger eruptions of violence. I don't think foreign reporting will make that much difference. Most people in the US don't even know there are elections in Congo. It is not on the political radar at all. The stirring of tensions in places like Masisi is very alarming. And we are already seeing flare ups in the bigger cities like Goma. I sincerely hope that the rhetoric dies down and cooler heads prevail.

Anonymous said...

I think its good to have hope but, when it comes to this country, being realistic is what matters.

That said, we will have violence of a pretty severe nature running up to and likely past the elections. I have no doubt about this and, in my view, to doubt this is to ignore the history and present of this nation and its people. That’s not a knock on the Congolese. But, again, simply reading both history and the generally said state of political maturity among a good deal of the so-called African political elite. Let’s all just brace for a fairly painful December. As just an example, the rigging in the Kenyan elections in 07’ was, as rigging goes, fairly mild. This is a nation with a middle class that is rather progressive and increasingly large. Well, we all know what happened after the votes came in. Nearly 3,000 lost their lives.

Now, hopefully, the Congolese rebel. I’d really like to see the Congolese finally rise up, unite, and claim their destiny. I ofcourse would prefer it be peaceful and, if it is, it is more likely to engage the rest of the world that cares nothing if black people starve or bludgeon themselves to death. “Africa apathy”, as I like to call it, is why we have an international community that just wants the minerals and nothing else from the Congolese. Well, as my Congolese friends are so fond of saying, its up to the Congolese to work out their solutions to their problems.

I could not agree more and I hope this election is deeply flawed, sends the Congolese out to the streets for a sustained protest, and this leads to the change they need to right their sinking ship of state.

So just to wrap: the Congo “well wishers” should own a period of violence ahead and the Congolese should own their destiny and just rebel if their votes are stolen. As an American, I’m not some lefty that abhors all violence. Not realistic to think in those terms given the last 10,000 years of human history and the Congo’s 50 years of contributing to this history. I’m glad my people drew Brits into a valley in Pennsylvania and put some lead in them and I am REALLY glad we did it again with rebellious southerners at Gettysburg.

Congolese----> claim your destiny, rise up, and defeat these vampires the world calls your political class so your grandkids can look upon you with respect.

It’ll be the best thing you ever do.

Jose “The Real”

HUTU said...

Hi Jason, Thank You for your blog it is very interesting. Can you explain the word "rwandophone"? Is it a tribe? If yes why do you say Hutu and Tutsi in your next line? And why don't you use the word "burundophone"? Because there is also Hutu and Tutsi there. I'm a HUTU from Rutshuru.

Anand said...

@HUTU - Rwandophone would mean anyone who speaks the Rwandan language (in this case Kinyarwanda), Francophone would mean French speaking. I think the term is also used to sort of generally refer to Hutus and Tutsis in the DRC, allied to interests of the Rwandan Government. Hope that helps.

Anonymous said...

"I have said previously on this blog that North Kivu would probably not be as marred by electoral violence as the hotbeds of opposition in Kinshasa, Mbuji-Mayi and Kananga. I was wrong."

North Kivu principally; Rutshuru,Masisi and Goma districts have always been and will be a flash point and a crucible of inter ethnic conflict in Congo.
The conflict between Hundes, Nyangas,Tembos and Nandes against the Banyarwanda or rwandophones; Hutus and Tutshi pre date the RDC independance.
Unlike the Sud Kivu where the banyarwanda people or banyamulenge as they want to be called are mainly tutshi.

For the non banyarwanda in North Kivu everything started with belgian who gave in 1959 a legislative order that provided the right to vote and to be elected to anybody living for at least 10 years in (Belgian) Congo.
The objective was to give the Ruanda-Urundi nationals who had arrived before 1949 the right to vote and to be elected.
Since then Masisi, Rutshuru , and Goma, and in the small measure also Kalehe (Sud Kivu) have always been cases study in inter ethnic conflicts in DRC.

Lars said...

Hi Jason,

I know my comment comes late, but I am interested in the case of the recently arrested national deputy Dieudonné Bakunku Mitondeke. As you will certainly know, he was recently found guilty by the Cour suprême de justice to have incited hate-speech against the Rwandophones. Although it seems likely that this was a political case against him, as a sort-of political leader of the Hunde ethnic group in North Kivu + his connections to the APCL militia it does not seem that unlikely that he indeed incited ethnic hatred against Rwandophones. Did you ever come across any "proof" that he indeed did incite to violence against Rwandophones(links? reports?)? Possibly around the election period?

Also, you refer in this blog post to the "more radical Hunde" - but do you have any references to speeches/articles/pamhplets by Hunde organisations or politicians in the run-up or beyond the November 2011 election that could be interpreted as anti-rwandophone hate speech or incitement to hatred?

I have checked many different reports by HRW, AI, UN Group of Experts etc. but I could not find any concrete examples. Maybe I could have your email address for further discussion with you and to exchange links/reports etc..


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