Prevent Genocide: The Case of Banyamulenge (Tutsis)

The Banyamulenge (Tutsis) people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are facing another wave of inhumane emotional and psychological terror and being subjected to genocidal acts of violence. A coalition of local militias has been carrying out killings of Banyamulenge people, who have been in a dire humanitarian situation in the central African region for years. In addition, popular politicians, both in the provinces and the capital city Kinshasa have started campaigns whose main goal is to demonize Tutsis, the Banyamulenge community in particular, by denying their inalienable right to Congolese autochthony and scapegoating them for the woes that the country has been through since the 1990s.

Retrieved from iStock Photos

This is on top of accusing them of being behind a balkanization plot to divide the country and make the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo part of Rwanda. Shockingly, this combination of scapegoating and dehumanization has occurred not only in the Democratic Republic of the Congo but also in neighboring countries where the Banyamulenge people continue facing persecution due to their identity. This small community of Tutsis in the Congo is under threat of extinction in this region, if no intervention is made to stop and end this injustice.

To understand this community’s story better, it is imperative to dive into a little bit of history that led to this perilous situation. When Belgian colonialists carved up South Kivu into different territories along tribal lines, the Banyamulenge community was one of the few communities in the Congo left without their own administrative leaders or entities, while many other tribes were given administrative entities under their respective tribal chiefs or kings. The current wave of terror and genocidal acts has been linked to the establishment of a district in which the Banyamulenge people are the majority population. Populist politicians and extremists have called on the masses to resist and fight occupiers because this is a perfect example of territorial occupation. I must remind the reader that the Banyamulenge people have been living in this region for more than 200 years.  

All this has happened mainly because of the lack of state authority, solidarity, or cohabitation amongst local communities, as well as foreign conspiracies. The Congolese government has failed to prosecute those inciting ethnic hatred both in the provinces and in the national capital Kinshasa, which could be a step closer to establishing stability in a very polarized society where populist politicians and extremists are resorting to anti-Tutsi hate speech in the parliament, and on different media platforms, inciting violence and fueling genocidal hatred toward a minority group in an already-bleeding region. Also, regional governments have failed this minority group in many ways and abstained from prosecuting or punishing those who kill or abuse its people in many locations, including refugee camps, over the last three decades. If history has taught us something about major genocides, it is that their precursors share one thing in common — they all revolve around “dehumanizing or demonizing” the target group, mainly a minority group. In other words, the utterance of hate speech becomes a norm among politicians and other entities of power. 

Gatumba Massacre 2020 commemoration ceremony. From left to right; Enock Ruberangabo, Azarias Ruberwa, Moise Nyarugabo, Charles Mukiza, and an unaffiliated member of the Banyamulenge community (Photo attribution prefers to remain anonymous)

According to the WYA Declaration on the Human Person, “We believe that the freedom of the human person is most fully and rightly lived in the gift of ourselves to others. In the act of self-gift, the human person answers the question ‘Who am I?’ through the experience of love.” In fact, we will never be free while witnessing the human dignity of others being threatened or abused, collectively or individually, because of their innate or adoptive identity anywhere in the world, but will always be free when we do the opposite and strive to be the best we can ever be and do good in the world through love for ourselves and others. We must come together in pursuit of freedom, not of indifference but of excellence. When we use our freedom wisely by being the best human being we can ever be and doing the good in the world through love, for ourselves and others, we mirror the freedom for excellence and reflect the dignity in us into the world. It is true, without a doubt, that the true definition of freedom rests on a holistic understanding of the human person full of dignity and that the fundamental attributes and ideals of the foundation of human dignity are inseparable from freedom for excellence. Therefore, we must embrace and practice freedom for excellence.

Almost 10 years ago, I fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo and eventually resettled in the Triangle Area of North Carolina, USA. Over time, in addition to many uncertainties and civil unrest we have been facing in the USA, I have been forced to worry about whether my country, my family, and my friends back home will live to see the next day without machine guns’ sounds in the background. Due to this conflict, many people, including myself, have been forced to live most of their lives as refugees. Of course, some of my childhood happiness, along with that of many other children, was stolen by the barrel of a gun, but I must say that it is my duty not to remain silent when this is happening to any child or anyone else for that matter. It hurts me to keep quiet when I see injustice being committed either in my face here in the US or following international news.

The writer inside the National Museum of African American History and Culture

Over the last 4 years here in the US, I have watched politicians fight over, and even taunt, core ideals of the American identity. Honestly, these ideals are not only American, but they are also universal human ideals. Out of this set of ideals, I have fallen in love with liberty and equality. Now, you might wonder why I am bringing this story of a small Tutsi community from the Great Lakes region of Africa into American politics, but I assure you that this is a way of breathing more life into our common humanity. While many of us have wounds from unending wars all over the world, there is hope that this, too, will come to an end, if forces from far and near join in solidarity to push harder for a better world without discrimination and oppression.

Jozef Tischner, writing about solidarity, once said, “We are bound to each other even if we do not know it. The landscape binds us, flesh and blood bind us, work and speech bind us.” He then added, “When solidarity is born, this consciousness is awakened, and then speech and word appear – and at that point something that was hidden becomes manifest. All our bonds become visible. Then one person shoulders the burden of another.” We will never be free until all of us are free. 

That being said, Congolese youth must come together to stand up and speak up against this kind of injustice and persecution to make sure history does not repeat itself. Congolese youth must stand up and take full ownership of Congo’s future by starting with standing up against divisive speeches from populist politicians encouraging exclusion and dehumanization of fellow citizens, and acts that have held Congo as a hostage of poverty and violence for decades, if not centuries. Persecution of a minority group does more harm than good in the world. Even in the face of opposing claims or coercive ideology, Congolese youth must unite and love one another and build friendships based on mutual recognition of the value of each person, and the truth of this value, to form a more perfect union.

Published: Nov. 10, 2020
Written by: Patrick Sabineza, a WYA Headquarters intern from the DR Congo and USA