The Banyamulenge are a group of mainly Tutsi Kinyarwanda speakers living in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). They are concentrated in the province of South Kivu close to the Burundi-Congo-Rwanda border. The ambiguous political and social position of the Banyamulenge has been a point of contention in the province, leading to the Banyamulenge playing a key role in the run-up to the First Congo War in 1996-7 and Second Congo War of 1998-2003.

Origins and early political status

Compared to the history of the Banyamasisi, the mostly Hutu Banyarwanda in North Kivu, the history of Banyamulenge is relative straightforward. The Banyamulenge form a minority of the immigrant population in South Kivu, most of whom are Kirundi speakers from Burundi, who are considered "indigenous" and have their own "collectivité" called Barundi. [Mahmoud Mamdani (2001) "When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda", Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, p. 247] The first influx of Banyarwanda into South Kivu is dated to the 1880s. Two reasons are given. The first is that the migrants were composed of Tutsi trying to avoid the increasingly high taxes imposed by "Mwami" Rwabugiri of the Kingdom of Rwanda. The second is that the group was fleeing the violent war of succession that erupted after the death of Rwabugiri in 1895. Banyarwanda migrants continued to arrive, particularly as labor migrants during the colonial period. The first of these was a recruitment by the Union Minière du Haut Katanga from 1925 to 1929 of more than 7000 workers. From the 1930s, Banyarwanda immigrants continued coming in search of work, with a major influx of Tutsi refugees in 1959–1960 following the "Social Revolution" led by Hutu Grégoire Kayibanda. While the early migrants were primarily pastoralists in the high plains, colonial labor migrants moved to urban areas, while refugees found themselves in refugee camps. [Mamdani, pp. 247-248] In 1924, the pastoralists received permission from colonial authorities to occupy a high plateau father south. [Mamdani, p. 250]

Unlike the Barundi, the Banyarwanda of South Kivu did not have their own Native Authority and they were thus reliant upon the local chiefs of the area that they had settled. The pastoralists were located within three "territoires": Mwenga, inhabited by the Balega; Fizi of the Babemba; and "Uvira", inhabited by the Bavira, Bafuliro and Barundi. [Mamdani, p. 248] The term "Banyamulenge" translates literally as "people of Mulenge", a "groupement". The precise time period when it came to refer to Banyarwanda Tutsi in Congo is unclear. Ethnic tensions against Tutsi rose following the end of the colonial period, as well as the 1972 mass killing of Hutu in Burundi. In response the Tutsi appear to have attempted to distance themselves from their ethnicity as Rwandans and lay claim to a territorial identity as residents of Mulenge. As they moved, they continued this practice, so that some Tutsi Banywarwanda in the Congo call themselves the Banya-tulambo and Banya-minembwe, after the places they were located. [Mamdani, pp. 248-249]

This practice were increasingly more controversial after 1972. The 1972 Citizenship Decree by President Mobutu Sese Seko granted citizenship to Banyarwanda who had arrived as refugees from 1959 to 1963. However, many saw this as an alarming sign of the growing influence of Banyarwanda in the administration, specifically Chief of Staff Bisengimana. In reaction, the majority ethnicities, particularly the Nande and Hunde of North Kivu, focused on dominating the 1977 legislative elections. Once accomplished, they passed the 1981 Citizenship Bill, stating that only people who could prove descent from someone resident in Congo in 1885 would qualify for citizenship. From the perspective of the "indigenous" ethnicities, such as the Bafuliro, the name "Banyamulenge" was thus a claim to indigeneity in Mulenge, of which the Bafuliro themselves claimed "ownership". However, the bill proved difficult to implement by the time of the 1985 provincial assembly elections, so the "indigenous" Kivutian majority came up with an "ad hoc" measure: Banyarwanda were allowed vote in elections but not run for political office. This appeared to aggravate the situation as those Banyarwanda who actually qualified as citizens under the 1981 law found their political rights curtailed. The response of some Banyarwanda, particularly Tutsi, was to smash ballot boxes in protest. [Mamdani, pp. 243-245] Others formed Umoja, an organization of all Congolese Banyarwanda. However, the increasingly tensions within the Banyarwanda led to the division of the organization into two Tutsi and Hutu groups in 1988. [Mamdani, p. 252]

The 1991 Sovereign National Conference (CNS) was a sign of the increasing coherence of the anti-Mobutu forces and came as the Congolese Banyarwanda were in a state of heightened tension. Following the beginning of the Rwandan Civil War in 1990, many young Tutsi men in Kivu decided to cross the border to join the Tutsi-dominated rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in its fight against the Hutu-dominated Rwandan government. In response, the Mobutu government implemented Mission d'Identification de Zaïrois au Kivu to identify non-Zairean Banyarwanda, using the end of the Berlin Conference as the division point. Many Banyarwanda whose families had come as colonial laborers were classified as aliens, resulting in yet more youth joining the RPF. The overall effect of the CNS was to strengthen the tendency of "indigenous" Congolese to differentiate between Tutsi from Hutu, and lump together all Tutsi Banyarwanda as "Banyamulenge". It also underlined the fragility of their political position to the Banyamulenge. Within the Banyarwanda in the Kivus, the Hutu began defining themselves as "indigenous" in comparison to the Tutsis, who were increasingly seen as owing their allegiance to the foreign groups. [Mamdani, pp. 245-247]

Conflict (1993-1998)

In 1993, the issue of land and indigeneity in the Kivus erupted into bloody conflict. Hutu, and some Tutsi, landlords began buying the lands of poor Hutu and Bahunde of the Wanyanga chiefdomship in Masisi, North Kivu. One thousand people displaced in this way then went to Walikale, demanding the right to elect their own ethnic leaders. The Banyanga, insisting that only "indigenous" could claim this customary right, then began fighting with the poor Hutu. The one thousand then returned to Masisi, where the Hutu landlords, and Banyarwanda in general, supported the claim of Banyarwanda to "indigenous" rights. The Division Spéciale Présidentielle (DSP) and Guard Civile were sent in to restore order. However, the security forces were ill-supplied and were forced to live off of the local population: the DSP off the rich Hutu and the Guard Civile off the Bahunde and ordinary Hutu. The DSP thus ended up protecting the rights of the "non-indigenous" (primarily Hutu) against the "indigenous (primarily Bahunde), sparking outrage and increasing the scope of the conflict. One estimate is that between 10,000 and 20,000 people were killed and another two hundred thousand people forced to flee their homes. [Mamdani, pp. 252-253]

Into this fray, about 50,000 Burundian refugees from the Burundi Civil War began streaming into primarily South Kivu in late 1993. They were followed the next year by almost one million mostly Hutu refugees from the Rwandan Genocide, creating the Great Lakes refugee crisis. However, the genocidal Hutu government came with the refugees, turning the camps into armed bases from which they could launch attacks against the newly victorious RPF government. The influx of refugees dramatically changed the situation of the Banyamulenge. The Congolese Tutsi population in North Kivu was threatened by the new armed Hutu camps, while the establishment of a Tutsi government in Rwanda gave them a place to which they could flee. Their peril was underlined by a commission led by Mambweni Vangu, which declared that all Banyarwanda were refugees and must return to Rwanda. In April 1995, Anzuluni Mbembe, the co-speaker of Parliament, signed a resolution stating that all Banyamulenge were recent refugees and enumerating a list of Banyamulenge who would be expelled from the country. Between March and May 1996 the remaining Tutsi in Masisi and Rutshuru were identified and expelled into refugee camps in Gisenyi, in which Bahunde whom the Hutu had managed to force out were also found. [Mamdani, pp. 253-255]

The situation in South Kivu took longer to develop. Once the 1994 refugees arrived, local authorities began appropriating Banyamulenge-owned property in the valley with the support of Mbembe. Threatened by both the armed Hutus to the north and a Congolese army appropriating property and land, the Banyamulenge of South Kivu sought cross-border training and supply of arms from the RPF. As threats proliferated, each Native Authority formed its own militia. Finally, in November 1996, the RPF-backed Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo, which the Banyamulenge militias joined, crossed the border and dismantled the camps, before continuing on to Kinshasa and overthrowing Mobutu. The success of the invasion led to revenge killings by the Tutsi Banyarwanda against their opponents. Perhaps six thousand Hutu were purged in the week following the AFDL capture of the town. [Mamdani, pp. 255-259] It was worse in South Kivu, as Banyamulenge settled local scores and RPF soldiers appeared to conflate the "génocidaires" with the Hutu with the "indigenous" Congolese. One intellectual in Bukavu who was otherwise sympathetic to the Banyamulenge claim to citizenship stated:

The Banyamulenge conquered their rights by arms but the rift between them and the local population has grown. The attitude of the Tutsi soldiers—during and after the war has made them more detested by the population due to the killings, torture. For example, they will go into the village, raid all the cattle, tell the population—since when have you learned to keep cattle; we are cattle; we know cattle. In Bukavu, they went into and stole from houses. Not so much in Goma. The result is the population is increasingly getting concerned over the question of the Tutsi presence. [Mamdani, pp. 259-260]

Second Congo War (1998-2003)

The situation became even more polarized with the beginning of the Second Congo War in 1998. Those who had carried out the massacres of Hutu became part of the ruling military forces in the Kivus. Meanwhile, the Congolese government of Laurent Kabila urged the "indigenous" population to fight not only the invading RPF, but the rebelling Banyamulenge and Tutsi civilians. Matching actions to words, Kabila armed "indigenous" Mai-Mai and Congolese Hutu in response to the RPF supply of arms to the Banyamulenge. [Mamdani, pp. 260-261] The two Mai-Mai groups most active against the Banyamulenge are the Babembe and Barega militias.Fact|date=May 2007

The various Banyamulenge militias and the Rwandan government forces are separate. In early 2002, there was extensive fighting on the Hauts Plateaux of South Kivu after Commandant Patrick Masunzu, an ethnic Munyamulenge in the Rwandan-backed Rally for Congolese Democracy-Goma (RCD-Goma) rebel movement, gathered Banyamulenge support in an uprising against the RCD-Goma leadership. [ [ Responses to Information Requests (RIRs): Current treatment of the Banyamulenge people in the Democratic Republic of Congo] , Research Directorate of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, June 2003]

By 2000, the Banyamulenge were hemmed into the Hauts Plateaux by Congolese Mai-Mai, the Burundian Forces for the Defense of Democracy, and the Rwandan Hutu Armée de Libération du Rwanda (ALiR), and were unable to carry out basic economic activities without the security provided through the RCD-Goma. Numerous families fled to the relative safety of the Burundian capital of Bujumbura. Nevertheless, Banyamulenge make up much of the RCD military wing, the Armée Nationale Congolaise (ANC), and control the towns of Fizi, Uvira and Minembwe.Fact|date=May 2007

In August 2004, 152 Banyamulenge refugees were massacred at a refugee camp in Gatumba, Burundi by a force composed mostly of National Liberation Front rebels. [See PDFlink| [ Burundi: The Gatumba Massacre - War Crimes and Political Agendas] |297 KiB , Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, September 2004] Vice President Azarias Ruberwa, a Munyamulenge, suspended his participation in the transitional government for one week in protest, before being persuaded to return to Kinshasa by South African pressure.Fact|date=May 2007

Notes and references

Further reading

* Koen Vlassenroot, "Citizenship, Identity Formation & Conflict in South Kivu: The Case of the Banyamulenge" in "Review of African Political Economy" - Vol. 29 No. 93/94, (Sep/Dec 2002), pp 499-515

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