Hate Speech and Genocide in Minembwe, D.R. Congo

by Genocide Watch, Ntanyoma Rukumbuzi Delphin, and Thomas Shacklock

Minembwe (Ntanyoma Rukumbuzi Delphin)

Hate speech is one of the early stages of persecution and genocide. Genocide Watch uses the model of the Ten Stages of Genocide to predict whether groups of people risk facing Extermination, which is Stage 9 of Genocide Watch's model. Hate speech usually occurs at Stage 4: Dehumanization, following the first three stages of Classification, Symbolization, and Discrimination. While this model should not be seen as linear, it outlines a logical process throughout which efforts to destroy a group can incrementally occur. Within this process, hate speech has the potential to turn populations against groups they begin to see as subhuman. It facilitates the perpetration of human rights abuses against them, including genocide. Hate speech has led to ongoing persecution and genocide of the Banyamulenge, an ethnic minority in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This article presents recent examples of anti-Banyamulenge hate speech as an early warning of genocide against the Banyamulenge community.

Situated in the southern part of South Kivu Province, the Rural Municipality of Minembwe is nearly inaccessible by road. This remote region of the Eastern DRC (approximately 300 km from the Rwandan and Burundian borders) is where the DRC's Banyamulenge community lives. The Banyamulenge are related to the Tutsi of the African Great Lakes region. Even though the Banyamulenge are the majority group in Minembwe, the municipality is also inhabited by other ethnic communities, namely the Babembe, Bafuliro, Banyindu, and Bashi.

Minembwe is situated in South Kivu Province near the Rwandan and Burundian borders. (Google Maps)

A history of discriminatory politics coupled with the legacy of colonialism has led the other ethnic groups in the DRC to style themselves as “autochthonous” (indigenous), while the Banyamulenge are characterized as "invaders" or “immigrants”. This classification is inherited from the fictitious, imperialist “Hamitic Hypothesis”, first proposed by Speke and other racist theoreticians. The hypothesis theorized that black African "Bantu" groups were colonized by lighter skinned, more intelligent "Nilotic" groups who came from Ethiopia and the Blue Nile. The Hamitic Hypothesis claims that Ethiopians are descended from a lost tribe of Israel, the descendants of Ham. The racist theory claims that all “civilization” in Africa was the result of Caucasian invaders from North-East Africa. In this origin myth, the Banyamulenge are viewed not simply as “immigrants” but also as “invaders.” Other groups who consider themselves the original indigenous inhabitants of the region use this myth to justify their exclusionary ideology. They contend that the Banyamulenge should be forced to leave the DRC by all means necessary, including genocide. This same Hamitic Hypothesis was actively taught in German and Belgian schools under colonialism. It was the theoretical underpinning for the genocides in Rwanda and Burundi.

The Banyamulenge sided with the Rwandan Army at the start of the Congo Wars of 1996-97 and 1998-2003. The wars broke out when Rwanda, under the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front supporting Laurent-Désiré Kabila, invaded Zaire to overthrow President Mobutu Sese Seko. In Eastern DRC they remained to protect Tutsi civilians from systematic persecution and massacres by the "Interahamwe" and ex-Forces Armées Rwandaises (ex-FAR), the Hutu perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The Banyamulenge have since distanced themselves from the Rwandan Army. But they remain distrusted by the other groups in the eastern DRC.

A rural majority Banyamulenge municipality, Minembwe, was created from 2013 - 2018, along with hundreds of other municipalities as part of a wider process of decentralization of the DRC's governance. It has reignited tensions and mobilized armed groups who have vowed to finish off the Banyamulenge in the region. The creation of the Minembwe municipality has been contested as though other groups in the local population will not benefit from the decentralization process.

In September and October 2020, a Congolese ‘Commission of Inquiry’ investigated conflict in the rural municipality (commune in French) of Minembwe. On September 28, 2020, a delegation led by the Minister of Defense visited Minembwe to assess ongoing violence. He also visited other parts of the Eastern DRC. The Minister of Defense’s delegation included the Minister of Decentralization, Azarias Ruberwa, who is himself a member of the Banyamulenge community. The Provincial Governor of South Kivu and his Minister of Internal Affairs joined the Minister of Defense’s delegation.

The Governor decided to “officially install” the Minembwe municipality’s mayor, a minor decision usually made by the Provincial Minister of Internal Affairs. Following the official installation of the mayor, many voices, including those of religious and political leaders, voiced their opposition to this installation process that had been applied previously in many other decentralized entities. This opposition has come in the form of written articles, political declarations, and speeches, including speeches addressed directly to the Minister of Decentralization when he was summoned by Parliament.

Many of these declarations made claims of irregularities during the process of creating these decentralized entities, specifically in Minembwe. However, a closer examination of these speeches reveals the anti-Banyamulenge hatred that is actually driving the opposition to the creation of a Banyamulenge majority municipality in Minembwe. Influential figures are using scapegoating language to accuse the Banyamulenge of being the source of divisions in the DRC. In a sub-textual appeal to fears of Rwandan Tutsis, members of Parliament have repeatedly claimed that the rural municipality is being created for “foreigners” who will exploit the local population. The municipality has been described as a “cancer cell” aiming to destroy the DRC, a “neo-colonial occupation” of land, and a step towards the so-called “Balkanization” (fragmentation) of the DRC. While the municipality is approximately 10km2 in size, a propaganda campaign has portrayed it to be the size of Rwanda. References to Rwanda further lead the public to view the Banyamulenge not as Congolese, but as ‘Rwandans’ who seek to create a foreign country inside the DRC.

Publications in traditional media and on social media in the DRC have reinforced this dehumanization of the Banyamulenge. Hate speech has mobilized youth against the Banyamulenge minority. Such hate speech was a strong early warning of the Rwandan genocide. It is now an early warning of the danger of genocide against the Banyamulenge.

The discussion below includes excerpts of the original French versions of these declarations and their translations into English. Additionally, this article calls upon organizations working in the field of genocide and mass atrocity prevention to invest in monitoring hate speech against the Banyamulenge. Moreover, this is an appeal to these organizations and to Congolese and international leaders to openly denounce this ongoing hate speech campaign as a precursor of plans to exterminate the Banyamulenge. The discussion highlights some of this hate speech in bold to emphasize the mortal danger it poses to the Banyamulenge of the DRC.

1. Contesting the Banyamulenge’s Nationality

Eve Bazaiba

In a recent speech, well-known Member of Parliament Eve Bazaiba attacked Azarias Ruberwa for the country’s decentralization process as though it has been designed to only benefit the Banyamulenge. Although Minembwe is inhabited by several different ethnic groups, Eve Bazaiba claims that the creation of a municipality is an unnecessary, extra demand from the Banyamulenge and poses a threat to the people of the DRC. She further implies that granting any rights to the Banyamulenge – from nationality to land rights – also poses such a threat and could allow the Banyamulenge to transform Minembwe into a Lesotho (which is an enclave nation situated within South Africa) or a Vatican (within Italy) within the DRC:

« ….Nous craignons les revendications ascendantes. Après la nationalité, il y a la terre ; et ensuite, l’autonomie, l’indépendance, et le droit du peuple… (applaudissement). Parce que là, nous risquons d’avoir un Lesotho… en République Démocratique du Congo, nous risquons d’avoir un Vatican en République Démocratique du Congo… Comment est-ce qu’il [le Ministre] pense apaiser nos inquiétudes en ce qui concerne cette série de revendications ascendante : la nationalité, la terre, et après ? … Mais la campagne autour de la question de Minembwe… vous avez suivi la campagne, le spot, les clips, mais nous ne sommes pas dupes »

"We are afraid of these increasing demands. After claims to nationality come claims to land; and then, demands for autonomy, independence, and the right of the people [to self-determination] … (applause from Parliament). From there, we risk having a Lesotho… in the DRC, we risk having a Vatican in the DRC. How does he [Azarias Ruberwa] plan to allay our worries concerning this series of increasing demands? Nationality, land, and then what? ... And of course, the campaign around the Minembwe question… you have all followed the campaign, the adverts, the videos, but we are not fooled...”

Eve Bazaiba then argues that a municipality in Minembwe would set a precedent for other groups to make similar claims, including armed groups that have terrorized civilians in the Eastern DRC. She uses the examples of ADF-NALU, a Jihadist rebel group from Uganda, and the FDLR, a group of Rwandan former Interahamwe members, the Hutu extremists that perpetrated the 1994 Rwandan genocide of the Tutsi. By equating the Banyamulenge with these groups, Bazaiba adds to the vilification of the Banyamulenge, a vulnerable minority group. She additionally vilifies the Mbororo, a nomadic group that is persecuted and displaced across Central Africa, to make her argument against the Banyamulenge:

« Honorable Président, je voudrais aussi dire … loin de moi toute pensée de haine, de discrimination ou de xénophobie… nous devons parler clairement, sincèrement pour que nous résolvions une fois pour toute cela si non, nous allons avoir les mêmes problèmes avec les Mbororo, nous allons avoir les mêmes problèmes avec les ADF-NALU, nous allons avoir les mêmes problèmes avec les Interahamwe transformés a FDLR aujourd’hui. Nous allons avoir beaucoup de problèmes. »

“ Honorable President, I would also like to say… I do not mean to be hateful, discriminatory or xenophobic we must be clear and sincere so that we can resolve this issue once and for all. Otherwise, we are going to have the same problem with the Mbororo, we’re going to have the same problem with the ADF-NALU, we’re going to have the same problem with the Interahamwe, now the FDLR. We are going to have a lot of problems.”

Martin Fayulu

Martin Fayulu, a leading opposition figure in DRC politics and candidate for the 2018 presidential elections, has made the issue of Minembwe a key aspect of his populist platform. In the following speech, as in many others, he denies the Banyamulenge’s existence as an ethnicity from the DRC and significantly exaggerates the potential outcome of the establishment of a municipality in Minembwe. Claiming that Congolese communities are being displaced from such territories as Butembo, Beni, Rutshuru, and Tanganyika by people from elsewhere, he states:

« Le problème, c’est cette Balkanisation physique qu’on est en train de matérialiser… les gens vont être ici, nombreux… des populations qui vont, demain, dire que nous ne parlons pas les langues du pays (la RDC), nous parlons des langues similaires aux langues du Rwanda… Ce n’est pas une affaire de 5 ans… 25 ans… 50 ans, c’est une affaire de longue durée… Je n’ai de problème avec aucune tribu du Congo, mais… les Banyamulenge n’existait pas [comme tribu congolaise] ».

“The problem is the physical Balkanization that is currently being implemented… There will many people here… populations who, tomorrow, will say that we do not speak the languages of this country [the DRC], we speak languages similar to the languages of Rwanda. This is not an issue lasting 5 years… 25 years… 50 years; this is a long-term issue… I have no problem with any tribe from the DRC, but… the Banyamulenge have never existed [as a Congolese tribe]”.