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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.

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