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  • Writer's pictureNicoletta Fagiolo

The Nande genocide in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

Updated: Oct 14, 2022

12 October 2022

The war in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is by far the worst crisis worldwide in the number of people killed and displaced, worse than Syria, Yemen, Ethiopia, Ukraine or other severely war-torn areas in this 21st century, yet this crisis rarely makes the news.

The recent wave of extreme violence that began in late 2014 in Beni, North Kivu, a region rich in oil and minerals in the eastern part of the country on the border with Uganda, began in 1996, killing nearly one million Rwandan Hutu refugees and over 10 million Congolese over the past 26 years.

The NGO International Rescue Committee (IRC) conducted four mortality surveys in the DRC between 1998 and 2004. According to the IRC since the start of the Second Congo War in August 1998 to the end of April 2004, around 3.8 million people died, either as direct or indirect victims of the armed conflict. The United Nations Mapping report published in 2010 speaks of more than 5 million deaths for the period March 1993-2003 alone. Figures that prompted Noam Chomsky and Andre Vltchek to define the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo as a super genocide. Since the beginning of this year, more than one million people have been displaced within the Democratic Republic of the Congo, bringing the number of displaced people to 5.5 million. Armed attacks are the main cause of these displacements.

To understand what is happening in Beni we interview historian and journalist, as well as law graduate from the University of Lyon, Boniface Musavuli who unmasks many false myths about this war. Currently the assassinations in Beni are attributed to a historic Ugandan rebellion, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) with alleged jihadist ties, a narrative that according to Musavuli is a fabrication so as to cover up the patterns of violence on the ground and the main perpetrators of these crimes. Drawing from a wide range of sources, both local and international, Musavuli comes to the tragic conclusion that a genocide is currently underway in Beni, targeting mainly the Nande ethnic group, but also other ethnic groups in the area, to appropriate their lands and natural resources.

Nicoletta Fagiolo:
Your book Les massacres de Beni: Kabila, Rwanda et les faux Islamistes (The massacres of Beni: Kabila, Rwanda and the false Islamists) published in July 2017, with an English version released in 2018, provides precise figures on the number of deaths between civilians and people kidnapped by the escalation of the conflict in the region in 2014 through 2017. What were your sources at the time and what do you think are the most reliable figures on civilians killed or kidnapped from 2017 to today?

Boniface Musavuli:
The number of deaths attributed to the ADF (Allied Democratic Forces) that I published in my book comes from civil society estimates. Civil society in Beni and North Kivu has well-developed networks throughout the territory. According to representatives of civil society in Beni in the region at least 3,575 civilians were killed and 3,877 civilians abducted from October 2014 to 2017. However, it is difficult to obtain the exact number of victims.

The most reliable data are those of the two Yotama reports, based on the names of the two parliamentarians, the national deputy and the provincial deputy of Butembo Katembo Mbusa Tembos Yotama and Mbenze Yotama who carried out rigorous investigations in the field and collected the identities of the victims of their families and family members. In the first Yotama report, the list of victims covers the period from January 12, 2008 to September 23, 2021 and retains 7,404 civilians murdered. In the second Yotama report, the list of victims covers the period from June 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021 and during these 10 months the number of murdered people are 2,757. The advantage of these two Yotama reports is that they provide details on the identity of the victims, dates of the attacks, locations and ethnicity. I emphasize that more than 95% of those killed belong to a single ethnic group, the Nande and therefore we are dealing with a genocide which I have already spoken about in my publications.

Nicoletta Fagiolo:
Some Western researchers and think tanks - I am thinking of Jason K. Stearns, director of the Congo Research Group and the Kivu Security Tracker, the Bridgeway Foundation; International Crisis Group; Human Eights Watch; Tara Candland, Ryan O'Farrell and Caleb Weiss of the Georgetown University Extremism Program or Paul Nantulya of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies - speak of the ADF (Allied Democratic Forces) as a rebel group whose identity "remains a mystery", but they all make a link between the ADF, historically a Ugandan rebellion, and the Islamic State, information widely reported by main stream media. In addition, on March 10, 2021, the United States Department of State designated as an affiliate of the Islamic State in the Democratic Republic of Congo (ISIS-DRC or Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP) a faction of the ADF led by Musa Baluku as a terrorist organization belonging to of the global enterprise of the Islamic State. The international and Congolese press also attributed the assault on 10 August 2022 to the central prison of Kakwangura in Butembo to the fighters of the Islamic State, an operation in which 800 prisoners have escaped.

But other researchers and above all the local people who were able to testify in the trials held for the ADF murders, which you documented in your book, tell a different story.What concrete evidence did you find that proves that the ADF are not jihadists?

Boniface Musavuli:
What is happening behind the “ADF” phenomenon in Beni since October 2014 has nothing to do with any Ugandan rebellion or with Islam. Islamist movements are radical organizations that advocate the primacy of religious laws and a forced conversion of society to a way of life consistent with their conception of Islam. Islamist movements thrive in countries with a high concentration of frustrated Muslim popular masses in conflict with the authorities. In Beni, Muslims are barely visible, they comprise only about 2% of the population, and have never made political demands against the authorities. There is not a single known radical imam in the Congo, and during the massacres even Muslims are killed by the attackers. An example: in September 2018 in Beni, Muslims who were returning from their evening prayers, although dressed in their white tunics, were killed with other residents of the neighborhood, and this was not the first time. In Beni the killers make no distinction between the religion, age or sex of their targets.

Still concerning the Islamic narrative, witnesses have several times seen the killers drinking alcohol and catching peasants' pigs to eat them, including in the middle of Ramadan. Islamists, that is to say radicalized Muslims who drink alcohol and eat pigs in the middle of Ramadan?... To speak of Islamists in the case of the Beni killers seems thus incorrect.

As for the concept rebellion, it is a politico-military movement of the citizens of a country who fight against the government of their country. On the military level, the strategy of rebellions in Africa is for the fighting forces to operate from the territory of a bordering country which serves as a rear base and strategic fallback zone. In Beni, the alleged ADF cannot be considered rebels because they are not carrying out any attacks against their supposed country, Uganda. They attack the Congolese populations, which is totally in contradiction with the philosophy of a classic rebellion. They obviously have no fallback base in Uganda, a country against which they are supposed to be at war. They have their bases and get their supplies inside the territory of the DRC, by obtaining arms and ammunition from the stocks of the FARDC, the Congolese government army. To speak of rebels is thus inappropriate in the case of the killers of Beni.

The official account portrays the killers as Ugandan rebels while victims and witnesses describe them as “men in FARDC uniforms speaking Kinyarwanda, the language of Rwanda, or Kiswahili and Lingala with a Rwandan accent. There is no village in Beni whose natives speak Kinyarwanda or Lingala. The only people who usually speak Kinyarwanda and Lingala in Beni are Rwandan soldiers who joined the FARDC under the mechanisms of brassage, mixage and regimentation. The population of Beni speaks Kinande and Kiswahili with an easily identifiable accent. As for the original ADF, the movement of Jamil Mukulu, they spoke in Luganda, the Ugandan language, or in Kiswahili with a Ugandan accent.

The “Ugandan” nationality of the Beni killers still remains a mystery, which is quite curious for assailants who have been carrying out deadly attacks, sometimes up to three times a week, since October 2014.

Nicoletta Fagiolo:
Historian and professor Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, representative of the DRC to the UN, who wrote the preface to your book, recently told the United Nations Security Council that Congo cannot guarantee the security of its national territory and its population because its army is infiltrated by Rwandan soldiers. He accused the international community of having imposed peace processes on Congo which called for the integration of Rwandan soldiers, with their respective ranks, into the Congolese National Army (FARDC) which had the effect of paralyzing the Congolese army. Nzongola-Ntalaja cited the names of Rwandan officers such as James Kabarebe, Dan Munyuza, Bosco Ntaganda and Sultani Makenga, who were imposed as officers in the Congolese army being in fact Rwandan soldiers, members of Paul Kagame's army since the war in Rwanda, which began in 1990. You wrote that it is the first time that a Congolese diplomat openly accuses the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) of being an army infiltrated by Paul Kagame's Rwanda. The "army in the army" problem, created through peace processes since 2003, has allowed Rwandans to integrate into the Congolese national army, soldiers who then desert and create rebellion (RCD-Goma, CNDP, M23). Is the phenomenon of "army within the army" important in the present destabilization of the DRC?

Boniface Musavuli:
It is in fact this phenomenon of "an army within the army" mentioned by Professor Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja which explains most of the tragedy of the populations of Beni camouflaged ibehind the Islamist terrorism narrative. There is no Islamist terrorism in Beni.

What is happening in Beni is a genocide.

This genocide is orchestrated from within the army and the governments of Kigali and Kinshasa with the aim of imposing a foreign population on the lands of the indigenous population, which must first be exterminated in the coveted areas. This process took place in two phases. In 2009, pursuant to the March 23 peace agreement signed between the government of Joseph Kabila and the Rwandan militia National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), Rwanda dumped thousands of its soldiers in eastern Congo where Kinshasa had given them almost all the front lines, from North Katanga to Ituri, South Kivu and North Kivu. For four years, Rwandan intelligence officers, present in the FARDC through brassage/mixage , took the time to explore every corner of the countryside in this part of the Congo, to identify small local conflicts easily manipulable and to prepare plans to hit fragile spots when the time comes.

The second phase began in December 2013 after the defeat of the M23 whose elements had been trying to resettle Rwandan populations expelled from Tanzania in Rutshuru, Northern Kivu.

The defeated M23 fighters and these populations found themselves in Rwanda and Uganda from where they soon began to return en masse to the Congo under a totallly made up identity: Banyabwisha, namely Hutu of Masisi. Aided by Rwandan officers mixed within the FARDC, in application of the March 23 peace agreement, these masses of Rwandans, including criminals whom Rwanda had released from prison, poured into the countryside of Beni and Ituri where their compatriots - the Rwandan officers within the Congolese national army FARDC - had identified favorable spaces for their installation.

The rest is know. As soon as they were in sufficient numbers in the FARDC and in the countryside of Beni-Ituri, they launched attacks against the natives under the acronym ADF and drove the people from their lands. Since then, in Beni, entire families have been exterminated almost on a daily basis using machetes, while several dozen villages have been emptied of their inhabitants.

Nicoletta Fagiolo:
At a recent conference in Brussels, a regional expert spoke of 2,500 foreign soldiers, mostly Rwandans, integrated into the national army. In your opinion, how can this problem be overcome, once the problem has been officially recognized, which still does not seem to be the case today?

Boniface Musavuli:
The FARDC is a compromised army, compromised by the peace policies of brassage and mixage that allowed a country like Rwanda to dump thousands of its soldiers into the Congolese national army, leading to its paralysis. It is an army that does not inspire confidence to anyone, not even President Tshisekedi who, at least twice, has publicly expressed his lack of confidence in this army.

One of the solutions he seems to favor so as to halt the massacres is to bring foreign armies into the Congo. The Ugandan army has settled in the territories of Beni and Ituri from November 2021. The Kenyan army is taking up position in the south of the province of North Kivu around Goma. The Burundian army was invited by Tshisekedi to take up position in the province of South Kivu. But in the long term, this presence of the armies of the countries of the region, in addition to the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), will end up posing more problems than they will have solved.

The responsible approach is for the Congolese leaders to work to reform the national army by gradually creating new units and getting rid of the elements resulting from the catastrophic policies of brassage and mixage.

The population in Beni wasalso caled ofr the departure of MONUSCO as it no longer supports the presence of this UN mission which, although well equipped, is a helpless witness of the proliferation of armed groups committing massacres, sometimes only a few meters from their bases.

Nicoletta Fagiolo:
In your opinion has the choice of a state of emergency introduced by President Tshisekedi for the region to try to stop the massacres changed something for the better or for worse for the population?

Boniface Musavuli:
The state of emergency was declared in May 2021 by President Tshisekedi, officially to eradicate armed groups. But more than a year later, armed groups are still active and the number of civilians killed is higher during the state of emergency than before its imposition.

Nicoletta Fagiolo:
Elected officials from North Kivu and Ituri are calling for the lifting of the state of emergency because the Yotama report of March 2022, which analyzes the number of deaths 11 months before and 11 months after the introduction of the state of emergency, notes that killings have increased 46%.

From the conclusions of the investigations of the report it emerged that 4,516 people were savagely massacred by the alleged ADF in 453 entities in the Beni region of North Kivu and in Ituri precisely in the territories of Mambase and Irumu after the introduction of the state of siege, while 3,098 people had been massacred in the previous 11 months. The Yotama reports note that for 2021 the average monthly toll is 256 civilians murdered in Beni and Imuru, and for 2022, after the establishment of the state of emergency, the average monthly death toll rises to 400 people. What do you think is the explanation for this significant increase?

Boniface Musavuli:
There are several reasons for this contrast. One of them is that by entrusting full powers to the army, the state of emergency was an opportunity for the military to take advantage of the management of civil affairs to enrich themselves by collecting taxes that already existed. , by creating others and by trafficking of all kinds, with complete impunity. They neglected military operations, which allowed armed groups to carry out attacks unmolested. The army has erected dozens of roadblocks, not to stop crime, but to ransom the population at each passage. Now that the military have access to easy money, they have turned away from risky operations against armed groups. The state of emergency is a fiasco.

Nicoletta Fagiolo:
There is talk of more than 120 armed groups in the eastern Congo, but this complexity seems to cloud rather than illuminate the balance of power on the ground. Shouldn't we first distinguish between self-defense groups born to protect the population from invading militias, groups linked to banditry and foreign militias? In North Kivu and in the Ituri region, which armed groups are currently present in the area?

Boniface Musavuli:
The main armed groups currently present in North Kivu and Ituri are at first sight the ADF (Beni-Irumu), the FDLR (Rutshuru), the NDC (Walikale, Rutshuru, Lubero), the CODECO (Ituri). But behind these acronyms, there are complex realities. These armed groups are divided into several factions which clash, some with the support of the FARDC and others with a multitude of other supports, including foreigners. It is therefore difficult to precisely define the phenomenon of armed groups without taking into consideration the questions of internal rivalries and the complicity with the civil and military authorities of the country.

The M23 is a special case. It is not an armed group strictly speaking but an army of occupation, the Rwandan army (the RDF) which hides behind the acronym M23 each time it deploys on Congolese soil. Rwanda, under cover of the M23, relaunched the war against the Congo in November 2021 and seized the border town of Bunagana in June 2022. Bunagana is as we speak still under Rwandan military occupation.

Nicoletta Fagiolo:
Looking at the statistics of the victims of the Nande, an ethnic group that represents 60% of the population of the region, it appears that they are also 95% of the civilians killed in recent years according to the Yotama report. Why are the Nande targetted? and can you give us an idea of ​​what this genocide is causing on the ground?

Boniface Musavuli:
The Nande have always represented an obstacle to Rwandan expansionism in eastern Congo. Since 1996, whenever Rwanda committed massacres in eastern Congo, the populations most targeted are the Nande. The government of Kinshasa, which has long functioned as a branch of the Rwandan government, does almost nothing to put an end to this genocide. Worse, Kinshasa aggravates it by sending businessmen or officers close to the Rwandan regime to Beni. There is therefore, to date, no hope of seeing the end of the Beni genocide.

Current estimates are around 10,000 killed since the end of 2014. The way things are going, we are heading towards 20,000 dead since no serious measures have been taken either by the government or MONUSCO to precisely identify and arrest the planners of these massacres. Seka Baluku, presented as the leader of the ADF, is still not officially wanted by the Congolese government (there is no arrest warrant or search notice against him). The crisis is also aggravated by waves of people fleeing which causes growing numbers of displaced persons. According to OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is a department of the United Nations Secretariat) in June 2022 the territory of Beni alone had 166,000 newly displaced people.

Nicoletta Fagiolo:
Which sources do you think are the most reliable if one wants to read and understand what is happening in eastern Congo since 1996?

Boniface Musavuli:
Faced with a crisis where official sources are discredited I always recommend diversifying sources of information, cross-checking them and forming your own opinion. But the world will understand more about what is happening in the Congo if the Congolese manage to set up an international criminal tribunal to deal with the crimes that have been committed in this country for more than two decades now. This is the struggle led by 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr Denis Mukwege.

Imagine from cover: The FARDC and their direct commander, Colonel Chicko Tshitambue (2nd from right) push their jeep out of the mud on the road near Sake, North Kivu, 2006. Copyright Keith Harmon Snow.

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