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Did we solve one crisis by creating another?

The detente between Kigali and Kinshasa has caused a lot of jubilation amongst diplomats. After all, the rift between the two countries that was a main driver of the Congo conflict since 1998. The arrest of Laurent Nkunda in January and the integration of thousands of CNDP soldiers in the Congolese army provided concrete proof that this thaw was not just rhetorical.

But did this solution create more problems? In particular, has the prominence of the CNDP in this agreement provoked resentment amongst other, non-Tutsi ethnic groups? There have been serious clashes over the past several months between the Alliance of People for a Free and Sovereign Congo (APCLS), a mostly Hunde militia led by “General” Janvier, and the Congolese army in western Masisi territory. The units of the Congolese deployed against Janvier are led by former CNDP officers, first Colonel Salongo and now Commander Mukiza. Why this violence? What is Janvier fighting for? (The Mai-Mai Kifua fua have also stirred up trouble, as have General Lafontaine’s new, most Nande militia).

On the one hand, Janvier has said that he is upset that the CNDP have been given preferential treatment in the peace deal. In other words, he wants a high-ranking position and money-making opportunities. But we shouldn’t underestimate the ethnic and ideological dimension – the ethnic tensions in Masisi are deep and have a bloody history. Between 1930-1960, the Belgian colonial administration facilitated the immigration of over 150,000 Rwandan to Masisi and other territories to work in farms, mines and plantations. This created deep resentments among the Hunde population, who were the traditional inhabitants of the area. By independence, the rwandophone population had become the majority in Masisi and over half of the land in the territory was parcelled away in large colonial plantations and the Virunga National Park. While Hunde stayed in control of the administrative apparatus for most of the post-independence period, Tutsi came to own most of the large plantations.

I won’t go into details about post-independence history and violence, but major clashes did erupt in Masisi in 1965 (the so-called Kanyarwanda war) and in 1993, killing thousands on either side of the Hunde-Hutu divide (the Tutsi played less of a role back then, as they were numerically not as significant). But every times violence did erupt, it was accompanied on the Hunde side by cries of Bulongo yetu! (Our land!). Citizenship and land were the two most important factors driving violence at a grassroots level, while national and provincial politicians used cynical divide-and-rule policies to further divide the population and secure their access to resources.

Fast-forward to what is going on now. I don’t think anyone knows exactly what are the factors driving the fighting between Janvier and the Congolese army, but consider these reports.

  • A MONUC official told me that the fighting had prompted ex-CNDP units to kill up to 750 civilians in Hunde-populated areas.
  • Government officials claim that around 11,900 Congolese Tutsi refugees have come from from Rwanda in recent months. However, very few seem to be coming from the refugee camps proper, implying that these are either Congolese Tutsi who integrated into local communities in Rwanda (of whom there are many), or that they are not Congolese Tutsi at all. There have been many allegations (some tainted with ethnic antagonism) that the Rwandans are infiltrating their own nationals into the eastern Congo. The Congolese government has complained that the returnees have refused to be registered at border points, and that ex-CNDP units have forcefully prevented their officials from interviewing them in their areas of return.
  • The fighting is concentrated in areas along (actually, a bit to the west of) the rwandophone-Hunde fault line in western Masisi, which also corresponds to the divide between the highlands and the lowlands.

The ethnicization of the army, the return of Tutsi refugees and the approaching local elections (which may or may not be approaching, as it doesn’t look like government really wants to hold them in 2010) have created a very explosive mix in North Kivu.

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