Everything You Should Know About The Congo’s Reported “Ethnic Cleansing”

Similar to its neighboring country, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s experience with civil unrest continues to send shockwaves throughout the Central Africa country.

Over the past few months, residents of the DRC in the Djugu territory of Ituri have witnessed and become victim to spontaneous and repeated attacks on predominately Hema villages. This presumed genocide is the first one of its kind since the Rwandan genocides where intervention occurred after 800,000 Tutsis were murdered at the hands of Hutus, reportedly incited by French officials.

While the casualties are not yet known, the latest attack was on the village of Maze, the provincial capital of Ituri. Attacks are not demographically limited as infants and the elderly are included in the lives that have been taken.

With the strikes increasing in magnitude, here are a few things you need to know about the growing tensions.

1) The cleansing is informal and assumed:
Although there hasn’t been a public declaration of a Hema massacre, Lendu villages are being left intact and villages that are largely Hema are all being destroyed, but all are affected. An estimated 13.1 million people in the Congo are in need of humanitarian assistance, VICE reports.

2) Displacement is growing more rampant by the minute:
Due to the spontaneous attacks, over 150,000 people are displaced, some having fled their homes for safety and others have had theirs burned down. Many are fleeing to Uganda or to the town of Bunia in the Congo, building camps that have grown at a rate too large to trace over the past few weeks. Others are relocating to Iga Barrière and living in tiny houses where there could be up to 40 inhabitants.

3) Over 34 villages in the Congo have been attacked:
More than 85 percent of Hema people are now homeless due to continued attacks. Initially, the attacks were small-scale, reportedly commencing around December and graduating to village fires and mass executions. Militiamen, often identified as Lendu, are now beheading and mutilating villagers. A village in Maze, largely comprised of Hema people, was recently attacked, leaving around 50 people dead –  women and children included. Total casualties remain unknown as the Congolese government has not intervened.

4) The UN issued a warning back in August:
The United Nations warned the Congolese government that there were early signs of ethnic cleansing. Between March and June of 2017, around 250 people were victims of targeted killing.

The UN found that a group called the Bana Mura was formed in March 2017, comprised of Tshokwe, Pende, and Tetela ethnic groups. The groups had the support of police and other government officials. Over 80 mass graves were discovered but when confronted, the government led by Kabila called it a “misunderstanding.”

5) The Congolese government has yet to address the continued mass exterminations:
Hadji Ruhingwa Bamaraki, the president of the Hema community’s cultural association, told VICE News that he wishes for the government to discuss what’s going on and say whether they are in the midst of a genocide.

Many believe that the cleansing was incited, in part, by the extended presidency of Joseph Kabila, whose final term should have ended in December 2016. Kabila has delayed election many times but he announced at a press conference earlier this year that the next election would be held on December 23, 2018. It was initially slated for the end of December 2017 but authorities cited “logistical issues.” The president was asked to step down immediately but he continues to hold his position.

The Second Congo War, also referred to as Africa’s World War, was an ethnic conflict between the Hema and Lendu as they bordered Rwanda; its stature mimicked the state of an affected territory after World War II. Deaths were attributed to murder, malnutrition, or disease. The unrest remained dormant up until now.

Because this new “war” is not motivated by a competition for resources, many believe that ethnic crises are directly related to Kabila’s attempt to maintain power. If Ituri is in turmoil, elections cannot be held and political change cannot be made. Kabila is using this to his defense, stating that the country would be jumping “into the void” during a period of instability.