Genocide Warning: The Vulnerability of Banyamulenge ‘Invaders’

International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University (ISS)

ISS Working Paper Series / General Series , Volume 649

Last updated by R.D. Ntanyoma November 2019.

CITE AS: Ntanyoma, R.D. (2019). Genocide Warning: The Vulnerability of Banyamulenge ‘Invaders’ (No. 649). ISS Working Paper Series / General Series (Vol. 649). International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University (ISS). Retrieved from

A MONUSCO delegation in Fizi, one of the territories affected by recent violences, March 16 2019 (MONUSCO/Jacob de Lange)


In the Eastern Congo, a little-noticed genocidal threat has been emerging in South Kivu which is in part the legacy of colonial and post-colonial patterns of excluding those known as the Banyamulenge from those defined as ‘autochthonous’ in the region. Instead, defined as ‘immigrants’, the vulnerability of the Banyamulenge is easily denied. In the past, the Banyamulenge’s involuntary involvement in armed insurgencies alongside Rwandan troops worsened their reputation, as well as radicalizing their Maimai (Mayi-Mayi) opponents. These armed groups have now vowed to wipe out the Banyamulenge community. The most recent confrontations have involved foreign armed groups from neighboring countries, including Burundians opposition groups. This genocide alert is based on the evidence of a serious intent to destroy villages and kill cattle so Banyamulenge can no longer occupy their few remaining localities and sustain themselves at all in their homeland areas of Minembwe and Bijombo. Local Maimai, armed groups, combine the surrounding Babembe, Banyindu and Bafuliro communities, and are supported militarily and financially by Burundians opposition. Regular and systematic attacks on the Banyamulenge are justified by calling these Congolese citizens ‘invaders’ and accusing them of being outsiders. Between October 2018 and May 2019, narratives emerged in media and on social media seem to presage a rapid movement towards the real risk of genocide.

1. Introduction

There is an almost unnoticed humanitarian crisis unfolding in Eastern DRC and especially in South Kivu, which is particularly affecting the Banyamulenge population. Given their past experiences, being victims of targeted attacks that has speeded up in recent months, there is an overlooked risk of genocide. During the successive wars in the country, I will show how Banyamulenge have been victims, and not only perpetrators, of violence. What makes their position more dangerous and vulnerable today is that their status as full Congolese citizens has been contested for decades, and their identity continues to be conflated with that of Tutsi in neighbouring Rwanda.

Given the resentment that has simmered between local Maimai rebel groups and Banyamulenge communities, rejection of President Kabila also grounded on contesting his conciliatory policies towards the Banyamulenge communities (Alida 2017, Stearns et al, 2013). Instead, the Banyamulenge are still consistently portrayed in the media, and especially in social media, as ‘invaders’ in the region, long after they broke free of their former alliance with the Rwandan army, the RPA. In the wider DRC diaspora, most social media have painted the Banyamulenge Congolese as the source of all evil in the East of the country, and have equated them with former President Joseph Kabila, now removed from power, and formerly associated with this small and now beleaguered community.

For decades, the Eastern Congo has been going through recurrent violent conflicts that have reinforced a toxic colonial legacy of ‘race’ that polarized ‘autochthonous’ Congolese and set them against supposedly ‘invader’ groups, notably the Banyamulenge people. In the specific context of North and South Kivu, ‘invaders’ are defined as those who use “military and cunning, aliens..” and serve as the “Trojan Horse” of neighbouring countries, aiding the hegemonic expansionism, notably of Rwanda (Hoffman, 2007:94, Jackson, 2007:494, Nzongola-Ntalaja 2002). Whenever tensions rise in the Kivus, media and leaders resort to these narratives of ‘invaders’, who are in a numerical minority and highly vulnerable to being targeted. The Banyamulenge have repeatedly been targeted as outsiders, first in 1996, then in 1998, and again in 2004. However most alarmingly, recent attacks on this community within the past year seem to now have the aim of ‘finishing off the job’. Public officials have in the past been openly calling for the extermination of the Banyamulenge as ‘vermin’ [1]. This article seeks to alert the international community to this clear and present danger of genocide.

The current political climate in the region of South Kivu covering Minembwe, Bijombo and the Highlands of Uvira-Fizi territories, is particularly worrying [2]. This warning builds on the classification of Genocide Watch, in which ten steps are identified as signaling an unfolding genocide or mass killing [3]. Several of these stages have been attempted and currently the stage of active persecution has been reached but has been hidden by blaming the victims collectively as ‘invaders’. The tragic truth of genocide is being hidden in accusatory language. What is happening at this stage involves systematic denial of the vulnerability of the Banyamulenge, who are consistently portrayed (as were the Jews in Europe between the wars) as being the source of evil, of conflict and of suffering. In this vein, since at least 1998, political campaigns have been painting the Banyamulenge as the principal perpetrators of massacres during rebel insurgencies across Eastern Congo, and even in the neighbouring Central African Republic (Ndahinda, 2013). Within Congolese society, these narratives have undermined any sense of humanity in relation to the ‘Banyamulenge question’ on the part of most commentators and political actors. This bias against vulnerability, regarding a people who are now facing their own extinction, once and for all, may be the filter that explains a startling failure to report on the crisis, whether in the Great Lakes region of Africa, or internationally and among NGOs and the UN. International actors working in the region thus appear to share the same view, that Banyamulenge people – civilians included – cannot be victims, since they are viewed, by definition, as perpetrators.

2. ‘Race’ as the Legacy of Colonial Rule

Banyamulenge are contested-small community living in South-Kivu province; mainly, in Uvira, Fizi, Mwenga territories (Vlassenroot 2002). Some members of the Banyamulenge community have moved to Katanga Province from 1967- 69. Following intense targeted attacks over their villages, Banyamulenge in Katanga (Vyura and Moba) were forced to leave this region in 1998. Being a contested community and living in a state with feeble schemes of updating data collection (the last census was done in 1984), Banyamulenge’s exact number is unknown and contested. Their eponym (toponym) is too contested as their estimation (Kakozi-Katembo 2005, Kibiswa 2015, Muhindo-Kambere 1996). However, some estimation ranges their figure between 50,000 and 400,000 as per different source (Mutambo-Jondwe 1997, Reyntjens & Marysse 1996, Stearns 2013). There have been debates have been going on over their exact figure. Consequent to cycle of wars, some have fled to different regions (the great lakes region) or settled as refugees outside of Africa.

Like other migrations in the Eastern Congo region, their exact period of settlement in what became Congo is not subjected to debate. However, most accounts of historians agree that they settled well before the arrival of colonizers. However, colonial archives have portrayed them as ‘Ruandas or Banyaruandas’ who settled in the South-Kivu region between XVIIIe and XIXe century (Hiernaux 1965, Reyntjens and Marysse 1996, Weis 1959). Being cattle herders, they have later adopted sedentarism lifestyle for seeking grazing pastu