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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

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

This article was originally posted on-line by the zaire-news
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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

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.

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the
Africa Policy Information Center (APIC), the educational
affiliate of the Washington Office on Africa. APIC's primary
objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States
around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by
concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant
information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups and


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