DRC: IRIN Update on Uvira zone, South Kivu, 12/18/97

DRC: IRIN Update on Uvira zone, South Kivu, 12/18/97

U N I T E D N A T I O N S Department of Humanitarian Affairs Integrated Regional Information Network for Central and Eastern Africa

Tel: +254 2 622123 Fax: +254 2 622129 e-mail: irin@dha.unon,org

IRIN Update on Uvira Zone, South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo, 18 December 1997


Uvira zone, flash point of the 1996-97 Zaire war and long a troublespot in the post-colonial history of the Democratic Republic of Congo, once again faces an uncertain future. At the same time as thousands of Congolese are returning from Tanzania, and hopes for recovery from conflict and economic paralysis were rising, low-level conflict and political uncertainty threaten the region's peace again. Humanitarian agencies are working in relief and rehabilitation under conditions of considerable political tension and security risk.

Despite the overthrow of former president Mobutu Sese Seko, local tensions in South Kivu have endured, as they have in the Banyarwanda-populated regions of North Kivu. The rebellion of the ethnic Tutsi Congolese of South Kivu (the Banyamulenge) began in self-defence, but their uprising also provided the springboard for a collection of national and international alliances which ousted former president Mobutu Sese Seko. Since the war, many key military and administrative posts in the Uvira Zone of South Kivu have been taken by ethnic Tutsis, and the sole permitted political party, the former rebel Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL) exercises control in all areas of government.

Resentment, rather than reconciliation, appears to characterize the reaction among many non-Tutsi in the region. Sources close to the Banyamulenge leadership expressed the frustration among the Tutsi community at the phenomenon: "overnight we seem to have gone from victims to oppressors". The right of the Banyamulenge Tutsi to Zairean nationality and threats to expel them from Zaire were one of the key catalysts for the formation of the ADFL in October 1996. However, the political advancement of the Banyamulenge, coupled with the presence of Rwandan and other forces within the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) seems to have reinforced prejudice against them as "foreigners". "Winning the peace" is the challenge for the Banyamulenge now, one administrator told IRIN.

Bazire Kushebana, the Administrator of Uvira Territory, (the post was formerly "Commissaire de Zone") in a recent open letter, acknowledges that the challenges for the government of Fizi and Uvira zones, which were seriously affected by fighting and looting during the war, include "corruption, chaos, embezzlement, xenophobia and tribalism". The letter also blames the Mobutu regime for these problems.

As well as disgruntlement, the government faces armed insurrection. The various armed groups operating against the ADFL in eastern DRC, some of whom are Rwandan and Burundian militia, while others are ethnically-based Congolese militia, have become known collectively as the "Mai-Mai". The term, meaning "water-water", originally referred to a superstitious belief that fighters are protected from bullets by water, and has been in use since the early part of the century. Rebel militia are known to operate northwest of Uvira (groups as large as 300) and south of Fizi, where armed members of the Bembe ethnic group have proved troublesome for the ADFL since the early days of the war. If anything, the Mai-Mai appear to have not only become more dangerous but more sophisticated in recent months, for example using a clandestine radio station to broadcast propaganda to Bukavu. Pockets of Mai-Mai activity are now also reported in a wider area.

ADFL forces have also been accused of abuses of human rights. Amnesty International has documented post-war incidents in the area and mentions attacks in the villages of Wimbi, Alela, Abanga and Talama on the South-Kivu-Katanga border, in August, in which up to 800 unarmed residents were killed, and the killing of dozens of demonstrators in May 1997 in Uvira town by government troops.

Banyamulenge sources further allege attacks and cattle theft in their heartland of the high plateau west of Uvira. For further background on insecurity in the Kivus this year, see IRIN Background Brief on Kivu, September 10 1997. For background on the situation in South Kivu, please refer to: IRIN Briefing on the conflict in South Kivu 10 September 1996, IRIN Update on the conflict in South Kivu 11 October 1996 and IRIN Update on South Kivu 26 October 1996.

Two incidents in November point to tensions within the DRC army - in both Kalemie and Baraka, units of the Congolese army clashed. Reliable sources indicate that in both cases, the clashes were between Tutsi and non-Tutsi soldiers. The formation of a unit called Detection Militaire des Anti-Patries (DEMIAP) was announced on 26 November on state radio. Its function is to maintain discipline within the DRC army. The arrest of Commander Masasu Nindaga, a founder member of the ADFL, at around the same time seems to have become a rallying point for the non-Tutsi soldiers of the DRC forces. President Laurent-Desire Kabila's statement on the arrest alleges that Masasu was collaborating with the Interahamwe.

The involvement of Rwanda and to a lesser extent, Burundi and Uganda in the Zairean civil war and their links with the Banyamulenge Tutsi of South Kivu seems to have led to a complaint that the region is "occupied". The only common theme of the Kivu opponents of the AFDL is a threat to expel Tutsis. While "Mai-Mai" remains a catch-all expression for many disparate and uncoordinated groups, a political umbrella called the Alliance pour la resistance democratique (ARD) was announced in August 1997, according to a Kinshasa newspaper, linking the Burundi Hutu-dominated Conseil national pour la defence de la democratie (CNDD) and Bembe milita.

The attack by Mai-Mai on Bukavu on 11 December, followed by a major incursion into Rwanda and the grim massacre at Mudende camp the same week, possibly launched from within North Kivu, illustrate the continuing volatility of the eastern DRC and its significance for security in the Great Lakes region as a whole.


The positive achievements of the post-war period are evident: people are particularly relieved the abuses of the Forces armees zairoises (FAZ) are a thing of the past. Officials say civil servants have been receiving salaries since September, and the military is paid. Water and electricity systems are restored, but supplies are intermittent in Uvira. Most roads are open, although occasional security incidents and fairly frequent military checkpoints add an element of uncertainty to the free movement of goods and people. Despite the sanctions on Burundi, Bujumbura offers a busy market for Congolese goods and a source of imported products, which benefits both the public and private sectors.

The Uvira zone was one of the worst affected in the country by the war. Rehabilitation programmes underway by international aid agencies include repairing public buildings such and schools and clinics as well as re-establishing health and agricultural systems. The human impact of the war was also widespread: a nutritional survey in and around Uvira showed a global (moderate and severe) malnutrition rate of about 13 percent among under-fives shortly after the end of the war. Thanks to interventions by UNICEF and NGOs, the rate has now declined to the point where no special feeding programmes are thought necessary in Uvira at present, according to the NGO Action Contre le Faim (ACF).

Real economic progress will be hard to deliver, and in the meantime, opponents of the ADFL have found fertile ground both among civilians and within the military. Local officials point to a hiatus in foreign assistance thanks to the long-delayed UN human rights investigation.

Until the recent 'Friends of Congo' meeting in Brussels and progress with the UN human rights team, few donors had made commitments to the DRC. Whatever conditions are attached to reconstruction aid and despite the role of the private sector in investment in DRC, it remains clear that in terms of basic infrastructure, the DRC remains ruined by 30 years of neglect and mismanagement which would test the ablest local administrator.

Hopes for stability

The government of Laurent Desire Kabila has made a number of efforts to defuse tension in the region. However, the outright victory of the Tutsi-led ADFL, seems, if anything, to have heightened long-standing antagonism between communities and genuine "peaceful cohabitation" seems a dim hope.

Missions by Commander Masasu and a General Lwecha of the ADFL, and a special commission headed by Ms Madishi Ramm, as well as efforts by civil society including a large christian meeting at Kinembwe (southwest of Uvira) in mid-September, have not yet borne fruit. However, reconciliation efforts have not yet been abandoned, and IRIN was told of several new mass meetings or Christian gatherings which aim to build confidence between divided communities in the area. A number of local NGOs include peace activies in their portfolios.

But gloom is not uncommon. A source close to the Banyamulenge leadership told IRIN that the neighbouring peoples were "preparing for war". The irony of the Tutsi-inspired Alliance victory, he said, is that the military victory was so swift (about eight months), that the political planning was left far behind. While a senior local administrator told IRIN that ethnic mistrust was a "false problem", he admitted that it was hard to convince the communities that life was improving in the absence of tangible economic improvement.

In the Uvira zone, it is apparent that a number of measures have been taken to counter the threat of insurgency or infiltration. In early November, many men in Uvira were rounded up by the authorities for questioning. Indirectly, this has led to the arrest of one of the two deputy Uvira administrators, who ordered the release of some suspects held after the roundup, and was then himself arrested. A house rented by an NGO on the lakeshore has been taken over by military (some sources claim they are Burundian), who intend to monitor the security situation on the lake. A system known as "chembe-chembe" has already been instigated in the region by the ADFL, which is a network of political and security cells at the local level.


Internally displaced people

ICRC has been the agency most involved in the resettlement and support of displaced Congolese people. Up to 200,000 people (40,000 families) have been assisted by ICRC since the establishment of the office in Uvira in March 1997. ICRC believes that most displaced people who fled their homes during the war are now back and will be winding up the program - its largest in the country - at the end of the year. ICRC have also been involved in transporting displaced people who have ended up far from their original areas. The last group of displaced people in Kinshasa were recently brought to Kisangani by ICRC on barges.

Repatriation of Congolese from Tanzania to DRC

About 74,000 Congolese remnain from those who sought asylum in Tanzania during the war in the former Zaire. They have been returning home in larger and larger numbers during the course of 1997. UNHCR says thousands have made the trip under their own means so far, but stresses that protection and assistance on return is much easier when the returnees come in organized "convoys". Almost all the refugee families depend on farming for their livelihood, according to UNHCR surveys.

On arrival, screening is conducted by the intelligence service Agence nationale des renseignements (ANR), and registration is done by UNHCR. Returnees have been searched thoroughly and a few temporarily arrested. ANR officials are said to pay particularly close attention to papers and documents carried by the refugees.

A recent UNHCR report declares that - apart from a month's supension - the operation is running "very smoothly". UNHCR suspended repatriation from late October to late November following what it said was a deterioration of security in South Kivu.

However, both Tanzania and the DRC were keen to see the operation resume. Following a visit by DRC reconstruction minister Etienne Mbaya to Dar es Salaam on 16-20 November, a joint statement between the two countries called for the operation to resume. Organized repatriations from 1 September to 8 December 1997 have brought nearly 10,000 Congolese home. UNHCR expects to complete the repatriation of about 55,000 registered for return by June 1998. Hundreds of Congolese have also been returning spontaneously from Zambia.

While all organized repatriations have arrived in Uvira so far, UNHCR is investing in building a jetty at Baraka so that large boats can offload people and cargo directly, thereby cutting the road distance required for the truck transport of returnees. The onset of the rainy season this month will be an additional factor for agencies involved in the logistics such as WFP and World Vision. The facility at Baraka could also contribute to trade with Tanzania in future. Over half of the returnees will go to the Fizi zone, rather than the Uvira area. One of UNHCR's programmes is the rehabilitation of the road and bridges between Uvira and Fizi. The operation is expected to cost about $500,000 and is executed by Oxfam Quebec.

Refugees and expulsions

On 18 November, UNHCR announced that several thousand mainly Hutu Rwandan and Burundian people had been rounded up, expelled from South Kivu and deposited at the Burundian and Rwandan borders. Humanitarian sources indicate that the operations were coordinated between the military on both sides of the border. In all, about 3,000 people were expelled in the first two weeks on the month. Between 800-1,000 were sent to Rwanda, while the rest went to Burundi. About 470 cases of "mistaken identity" - in which Congolese citizens were expelled along with Rwandans and Burundians have resulted in a low-key and successful effort to have them brought home again. Meanwhile, UNHCR believes "thousands" of genuine Burundian refugees may remain in DRC, keeping a low profile. If they come forward, UNHCR assists them to repatriate.

Unaccompanied children

Coopi, with funding from UNHCR and collaboration from UNICEF, runs a centre for unaccompanied children (UACs) in Uvira. An average of 50 Congolese, Rwandan and Burundian children stay at the centre while their families, immediate or extended, are traced, or foster families can be found. Coopi works with ICRC and UNICEF to assist tracing. Mobile teams monitor the welfare of 365 more children living with foster families, and pick up newly-found UACs. About 300 children have passed through the Coopi centre since June. All have been re-unified with family or placed in foster families. The sight of dozens of the children singing Christmas carols in a dusty yard is a bitter-sweet testament to the dislocation and conflict that has ripped through the region in recent years. See IRIN Special Feature - Unaccompanied Children 30 July 1997, for background on UACs.

Government - NGO/UN relations

Relations between aid agencies and the authorities remain cordial, but the recent seizure of a lakeside NGO house and store by the military has increased a sense of anxiety amongst international NGOs. News from North Kivu of the "suspension" of the activities of at least five international and two local NGOs has done little to allay the anxiety of NGOs based in Uvira. While government officials claim political bias and inefficiency in the work of international aid organizations, an NGO reporesentative said the NGOs fear being viewed as "milking cows".

Minister Mbaya took the opportunity of his visit to Uvira last week to renew his warnings that the affairs of NGOs will be more tightly regulated in future. In an inter-agency meeting, later reported by Uvira radio, he posed the rhetorical question: "does the government of the DRC have a problem with NGOs?"

His answer was "yes, almost". He announced that legislation was on the way to "redefine" cooperation, with a distinct preference for bilateral and multilateral cooperation above that of NGOs. Mbaya acknowledged that NGOs have been a "positive revolution" in recent years, and he accepted their usefulness and the role of the churches during the Mobutu era "in the absence of the state". However, describing the current period as the "renaissance of the power of the state", in future he rejected "any aid that passes into the state without consultation." Kinshasa has for some time been warning that NGOs should be prepared for a re-organization.

In Uvira, a regional development committee has been set up and provides a forum for contact between the administration and aid agencies. In an interview, Uvira Administrator Bazire Kushebana urged "new ways of working", and expressed frustration at what he said was a lack of consultation between aid agencies and the government. He said the government did not like to be "surprised" at the formation of projects without prior consultation. Also, he stressed the importance the government gave to making sure local people were employed by the NGOs and UN agencies in Uvira.

Rehabilitation and development

The majority of humanitarian programmes in the Uvira and Fizi zones apart from the repatriation operation are for rehabilitation of structures and systems - anything from fishing to mushroom farming. Aid agencies are trying to repair damage done both by the war and by the presence of about 220,000 refugees in camps north of Uvira until late 1996. UNHCR has committed about $6.7 million for rehabilitation programmes in the area, and currently has a portfolio of about 60 projects under way. Some projects not directly related to the repatriation have been put on hold, pending clarification of relations between UNHCR and the DRC government. Activites by NGOs include: rehabilitation of health centres and hospitals, electricity and water systems, bridges and roads and markets. Other sectors covered are: health education and training, sanitation, agriculture and livestock development, fisheries, credit schemes, vocations training and reforestation.


The irony of the victory of the ADFL is that the rebellion that began to protect the Banyamulenge of South Kivu has resulted in what local people agree is a spread of anti-Tutsi feeling. Opponents point to the strategic appointment of Banyamulenge administrators, commanders and other officials and complain of a young and inexperienced military. Aid agencies are working in a highly-charged political environment.

A regional analyst familiar with local Congolese NGOs told IRIN today that there is a lack of "space" for communities to find common ground and that the "fluid" situation is potentially dangerous for the DRC and the region as a whole. He says peace efforts are concentrating on "confidence-building", and urges a thorough examination of the causes of the inter-ethnic tension, which date back at least to the 1960s.

The only unifying theme among various armed threats to the ADFL government in the Kivus seems to be a rejection of Banyamulenge and Tutsi influence of any kind. The tension is also present within the DRC military. The Tutsi of South Kivu continue to look east for protection. The explosive mixture of Interahamwe, ex-FAZ, ex-Rwandan army, Burundian rebels and ethnically-based militia ranged against ADFL, Rwandan and possibly Burundian governmental troops has the potential for an alarming and long-running conflict. ADFL officials say the conflict is fuelled and funded by "Mobutists" in exile. Kabila's own history shows that the mountains of South Kivu are an ideal hideout for guerilla activities.

The situation in South Kivu will be an important test of the coherence of the Alliance nationally, as well as the effectiveness of humanitarian interventions in the post-war period.

Nairobi, November 18 1997


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Date: Thu, 18 Dec 1997 15:49:11 -0300 (GMT+3) From: UN IRIN - Central and Eastern Africa <> Subject: DRC: IRIN Update on Uvira zone, South Kivu 18 Dec 97 97.12.18 Message-ID: <>

Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D

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