Zaire: Nzongola Article, 12/10/96

Zaire: Nzongola Article, 12/10/96

Zaire: Nzongola Article
Date Distributed (ymd): 961210
Document reposted by APIC

This article was originally posted on-line by the zaire-news listserv. To subscribe, send email to: listserv@RS6000.CMP.ILSTU.EDU Leave the Subject area blank. In the Message area put: sub zaire-news YourFirstName LastName Or send a request to: The list owner is Dr. Andre Kapanga, Illinois State University.


Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja
Harare, Zimbabwe November 19, 1996

The author is former Vice President of the National Electoral Commission of Zaire, President of the African Association of Political Science, and Professor of African Studies at Howard University.

The restoration of the Mobutu regime, with the installation of the Kengo government in July 1994, came in the wake of the genocide in Rwanda and at the time of France's intervention there to erase the traces of its own role as an accessory to crime. Having supported the Habyarimana regime and trained its genocidal machine, including the extremist Hutu Interahamwe militia, the French were relieved to have in Kinshasa a regime that would let them permit the Rwandan killers, both soldiers and militiamen, to cross into Zaire with all their weapons. The fact that these killers were now free to use Zairean territory to launch raids into Rwanda, and to slaughter Tutsi citizens and residents of Zaire, is the immediate cause of the current fighting in eastern Zaire.

The roots of this violent conflict lie deep in the history of the Great Lakes region as well as in the political alignments of the Mobutu regime nationally, regionally and internationally. There is, in the first place, the question of whether or not people of Rwandan origin, or Banyarwanda (Hutu, Tutsi and Twa), can claim Zairean citizenship on basis of being native to Zaire as of August 1885, when this country came into existence as the Congo Free State. If so, they would, as other indigenous people all over Africa, lay claim to ancestral lands in eastern Zaire. In the second place, the conflict has to do with the consequences for Zaire of the Hutu-Tutsi conflict in both Rwanda and Burundi. In either case, the actions and decisions of the Mobutu regime since 1972 have helped to exacerbate tensions and to bring about the present crisis.

Rwanda and Burundi are two of the major precolonial kingdoms to have survived Western conquest and occupation as more or less viable political entities, with the monarchies being destroyed between 1959 and 1961 in Rwanda and between 1965 and 1968 in Burundi. The population of both countries is made up of three social groups traditionally distinguished on the basis of occupation: the Hutu (roughly 85%), the Tutsi (14%) and the Twa (1%). The Twa are a pygmoid people, who also have important settlements west of the great lakes in the equatorial forest of Central Africa, including the nearby Zaire's Ituri Forest. Contrary to colonially created myths, the Tutsi-Hutu conflict is not a centuries old struggle between "Hamitic" pastoralists (Tutsi) and Bantu agriculturists (Hutu). For the Tutsi are not "Hamites." They are a Bantu people who share a common Bantu culture with the Hutu, with whom they speak a common Bantu language, Rinyarwanda or Rirundi, depending on the country.

Immigration and settlement in eastern Zaire by the Banyarwanda occurred at different moments, and for a variety of reasons. As in other parts of the world, the entire Great Lakes region did constitute a commercial frontier for relatively powerful states like ancient Rwanda. And there is historical evidence that Rwandan agricultural colonies were established in the islands of Lake Kivu, now part of Zaire, in the 18th century. In addition to this, a group of ethnic Tutsi claims to have settled during the 17th century in the hills they have named "Mulenge" between Lakes Kivu and Tanganyika, or between Bukavu and Uvira in the South Kivu province of Zaire. Accordingly, they call themselves Banyamulenge.

This oral tradition is hotly contested by other indigenous Zairean groups. One of these, the Bafulero, actually contests the right of these ethnic Tutsi to call themselves "Banyamulenge" on the ground that "Mulenge" is the title of a Bafulero chief whose land is located some 200 kilometres south of the area occupied by these Tutsi.

However true this dismissal of the Banyamulenge's oral history might be, it would be difficult to deny that some Rwandan settlements may have found themselves west of the colonial boundary as drawn in 1885. Moreover, the Banyarwanda who lived on Idjwi Island, the largest of Lake Kivu islands, became Belgian subjects in 1910, as did other Kinyarwanda speaking colonies in North Kivu, when Germany ceded the lands they occupied to Belgium, in a boundary adjustment between the two imperial powers.

The legal distinction between them and other Congolese became academic after Belgium took over Rwanda and Burundi in 1920 as League of Nations mandatory power and, in 1945, as United Nations trusteeship authority. For all practical purposes, Belgium governed Zaire, Rwanda and Burundi as a single colonial entity known as "Le Congo Belge et le Ruanda-Urundi", with a single army, the Force Publique, a single governor general in Kinshasa and two lieutenant governors general in Lubumbashi and Bujumbura, respectively. As a teenager growing up in the Belgian Congo in the 1950s, it never occurred to me that these three territories were destined to become three separate nation-states.

Belgium moved thousands of Banyarwanda peasants to the eastern Zaire districts of Masisi, Rutshuru and Walikale m North Kivu between 1937 and 1955, for purposes of easing the demographic pressure in heavily populated Rwanda, and recruited thousands more for work in mining, transport and agricultural enterprises in Shaba, Maniema and South Kivu provinces throughout the colonial period. Most of these Banyarwanda voted in the first municipal elections of 1957-58, and in the general or independence elections of 1960. Representatives of their communities, albeit few ones, were also elected to public office in Zaire. In spite of a new influx of Banyarwanda in 1959-61, mostly Tutsi political refugees fleeing their homeland as a result of the Rwandan Revolution, Zaire continued to welcome them with open arms.

Problems began to appear when the numbers of Banyarwanda grew progressively due to both natural increase and clandestine immigration in the postcolonial period. In January 1972, under the influence of his Tutsi chief of staff Bisengimana Rwema, Mobutu signed a decree giving Zairean citizenship to all natives of Rwanda and Burundi who had settled in Zaire before 1950. In addition to their success in professional and business activities, the Banyarwanda in general and the Tutsi in particular were now in a stronger political position to use their proximity to Mobutu for greater economic and social gains. This they did with gusto, using their financial means and their newly found political power to acquire more land in heavily populated North and South Kivu provinces. Needless to say, they could always find indigenous chiefs who were willing and even eager to privatize ancestral lands in exchange for money and/or political favours. All this increased the resentment that other Zaireans had towards them, which was partly based on the latter's distaste for the Banyarwanda's apparent social exclusiveness.

The 1972 decree was so unpopular that Mobutu himself accepted to sign a law passed by his one-party parliament in June 1981 invalidating the decree and defining Zairean nationality or citizenship on basis of membership in an ethnic group known to exist within the borders of Zaire as defined in August 1885. By this token, only those Banyarwanda who had actually solicited and obtained naturalization in Zaire could be declared citizens. All those who were citizens by virtue of being descendants of pre-1885 settlements, of the 1910 boundary change, and of the pre-1950 migratory movements were automatically deprived of their Zairean citizenship. The question that this action raises with respect to international law and fundamental human rights, and the one that the Banyarwanda raised at the national conference in 1992, is whether it is legally and morally acceptable for a state to deprive a section or stratum of its inhabitants of their citizenship rights.

Stripped of their citizenship, Banyarwanda peasants are also denied land rights, as the land they occupy and use is being claimed as ancestral land by the indigenous groups among whom they live. The land question is at the heart of the conflict between them and other Zaireans in both North and South Kivu. Before the genocide in Rwanda, thousands of people died in interethnic violence in 1992-93 in North Kivu. Instead of finding ways of resolving the conflict in a responsible manner, Zairean authorities added fuel to fire with xenophobia appeals, while soldiers and military officers became implicated in arms trafficking on both sides.

An example of this state-sponsored terrorism is the xenophobia campaign waged by the provincial authorities of North and South Kivu before and during the current war in eastern Zaire. In September 1996, South Kivu Deputy Governor Lwasi Ngabo Lwabanji stated in a radio broadcast that if the Tutsi Banyamulenge did not leave Zaire within a week, they would be interned in camps and exterminated. The Banyamulenge's reply was succinctly put by a young fighter who told Chris McGreal of the Mail and Guardian that "we don't come from Rwanda and they cannot force us to go because we know how to fight and the army does not" (M&G, 25-31 Oct. 1996). Being basically a praetorian guard, Mobutu's army was decisively routed in a very short time, as the Tutsi and their allies took control of Uvira, Bukavu and Goma, the major cities of the Kivu region.

At the present time, the plight of the Banyarwanda is inextricably linked to the Hutu-Tutsi conflict in Rwanda and Burundi. The 1990 invasion of Rwanda by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) from Uganda; the assassination of the first democratically elected President of Burundi, the Front Democratique Burundais (FRODEBU) leader Melchior Ndadaye; and the genocide in Rwanda are part of the political background to the current conflict in eastern Zaire.

Like Tutsi communities all over the world and in the Great Lakes region in particular, the Tutsi of Zaire did raise funds for the RPF cause and send some of their young people to take part in the struggle as fighters. This participation in the RPF war effort, at a time when the Zairean government was supporting the Habyarimana regime, did raise questions as to the loyalty of Zaire's Tutsi in particular and that of the Banyarwanda in general. To many patriots in Zaire, this type of behaviour meant that the Banyarwanda were using their Zairean citizenship in an expedient manner-for purely political ends or pecuniary advantage-while their real heart and loyalty were elsewhere. However understandable such feelings are, they do not justify officially led or sanctioned xenophobia campaigns against all Tutsi. Statements broadcast by South Kivu Governor Kyembwa wa Lumuna and his deputy Lwasi were, according to McGreal, "remarkably similar to the extremist Hutu messages broadcast during the Rwandan genocide" (Mail and Guardian, Nov. 1-7,1996).

The Mobutu regime bears a major blame for the current situation, for having allowed the French through their Operation Turquoise, to assist Habyarimana's army and the Interahamwe to regroup in Zaire for purposes of reconquering Rwanda. These killers then used the Zairean refugee camps to raid Rwanda on a regular basis and to organize the slaughter of Zaire's Tutsi. For two years and a half, Zaire and the international community watched and did nothing to stop this, while the UN and the major powers continued to be more preoccupied with feeding refugees, including the killers, rather than searching for a solution to the whole crisis. Like any other responsible government would, Rwandan authorities have given military support to the Tutsi of Zaire as a way of putting an end to the Hutu extremists' raids into Rwanda.

Now that the rebel alliance is doing the job that the international community failed to do, the only justification for humanitarian intervention in the Great Lakes region is to pursue and arrest all the remaining killers to bring them to justice for genocide, and to prepare an enabling environment for the resettlement of the returnees in Rwanda. There is no need for foreign military intervention in Zaire. The UN-mandated intervention does not inspire confidence, because it was initiated by the French, whose motives are suspect. Jean-Francois Medard, a world renowned professor of African affairs at the Institute of Political Studies at the University of Bordeaux in France told Newsweek magazine in 1994 that "French policy in Africa is erratic and criminal," as his country's "government operates not on principle, but on cynicism" (Newsweek, November 21, 1994, p. 30).

Finally, a word about the so-called rebel alliance. The Tutsi are not fighting alone. They have been joined by several non-Tutsi groups of rebels who have waged for years a low intensity and at times sporadic campaign of armed struggle against the Mobutu regime. The best known of these groups is the Parti de la Revolution Populaire (PRP), a remnant of the 1964 eastern front of the "second independence" movement, which is led by Laurent Kabila. For over 30 years, the PRP has maintained a maquis in the mountains of the Fizi-Baraka area near Uvira, and has not succeeded in playing its once expected role as a spearhead of the second phase of the national liberation struggle in Zaire.

The alliance's administrative control over Goma, Bukavu and Uvira is the latest but much larger version of the state-within-a-state that the PRP has maintained for years over its Fizi-Baraka enclave. Mr. Kabila, the PRP chief, had for all practical purposes become a typical African warlord rather than a revolutionary guerrilla leader. If he and his allies are to be congratulated for once again showing to the whole world the bankruptcy of the Mobutu regime and, above all, for ending the Rwandan refugee problem in Zaire, they are far from being the liberators they hope to be. For a strategy of genuine national liberation requires the kind of political work that the PRP has not done, nor has the capacity to undertake.

Only a legitimate and democratically elected government can resolve the land and citizenship issues involving the Banyarwanda of Zaire. The PRP-led alliance is part of the popular struggle for democracy in Zaire, and needs to be brought into the ongoing process of peaceful change initiated by the democracy movement since 1980. As for the Great Lakes region as a whole, there will be no durable peace and security without democracy and social progress in Zaire, on the one hand, and until a just and lasting solution is found to the problem of coexistence between Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda and Burundi, on the other.


Message-Id: <> From: Date: Tue, 10 Dec 1996 21:38:35 -0500 Subject: Zaire: Nzongola Article

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

Previous Menu Home Page What's New Search Country Specific