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
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, 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]”.
Minembwe (Ntanyoma Rukumbuzi Delphin)
2. A Hegemonic Group Occupying the Land
Adolphe Muzito is a prominent Congolese politician who served as the Prime Minister between 2008 and 2012. He has recently likened the Municipality of Minembwe to the occupation of the DRC by King Leopold II of Belgium during the colonial era:
« L’érection de Minembwe en commune rurale sans avis conforme des représentants locaux est l’expression de la culture politique néocoloniale des héritiers du Roi Léopold II, un Monarque étranger, qui en 1885, s’est accaparé de nos terres, en les déclarant vacantes. Nous sommes les nouveaux occupants de la RDC. Nous confisquons les terres des communautés locales ou les cédons à qui nous voulons. »
“The erection of Minembwe as a rural municipality without the consent of the local representatives is the expression of the neocolonial political culture of the heirs of King Leopold II, a foreign monarch, who, in 1885, seized our lands, declaring them to be vacant. We are the new occupants of the DRC. We shall confiscate the lands of local communities or give them to whomever we want."
In a recent column, Pr. Voto (unidentified author) argues that a plan to occupy the DRC is already in place and the Municipality of Minembwe fulfils three features of an occupied territory moving towards autonomy. These features are a homogenous population, a determined territory, and the supplementation of authority with a strategy of waging wars in order to obtain international recognition. Moreover, the author argues that, while appointing a mayor represents very little in any other part of the DRC, it is a significant step in Minembwe because of the Banyamulenge’s loyalty to Rwanda and the legal and administrative power they could gain. His column denies the fact that there is nothing unusual about the establishment of a municipality in Minembwe, exactly like the establishment of the DRC’s other decentralized municipalities. This technique of distinguishing the Banyamulenge from the rest of the DRC population depicts the Banyamulenge as masterminds of a plan to create a Central African “Tutsiland”:
« Le projet de la création d’un Tutsiland dans les Grands Lacs qui n’est plus un secret rempli[t] valablement cette condition. Les Banyamulenge, hier Banyarwanda, constituent une communauté identifiable et se considèrent comme des Congolais entièrement à part et non des congolais à part entière. Aussi se revendiquent-ils d’une minorité au sein de la population congolaise, alors que toutes les ethnies et tribus congolaises sont minoritaires. »
“The plan to create a Tutsiland in the Great Lakes region, which is no longer a secret, legitimately fulfils this condition. The Banyamulenge, previously known as the Banyarwanda, constitute an identifiable community and consider themselves to be completely distinct and not fully Congolese. They also claim to be a minority within the Congolese population, when all Congolese ethnic groups and tribes are in the minority.”
Martin Fayulu was also untruthful about the size of the proposed municipality by pointing to a number of different territories he claims it would take up. In doing so, he further implied the municipality would pose a threat to nearby towns and territories in South Kivu:
« Quand vous regardez la carte de cette commune rurale… elle prend une partie de Shabunda… une partie de Mwenga… Il y a d’autres villages qui sont de Shabunda… de Mwenga… Ça veut dire quoi exactement? »
“Look at the map of this rural municipality… It takes part of Shabunda… part of Mwenga. There are other villages that are from Shabunda… from Mwenga. What does this mean exactly?”
The Roman Catholic Church and the Lay Coordination Committee (CLC)
The CLC (Comité Laïc de Coordination/Lay Coordination Committee) is a non-governmental organization affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church in the DRC. The Roman Catholic Church is the most powerful and respected religious institution in the DRC. It has approximately 35 million members and is well embedded across the DRC, even in remote areas. It is perhaps the sole institution filling the gap in the provision of public services created by the absence of the state. Due to the fragility of the state, the Roman Catholic Church and, in particular, the CLC have usually taken the side of the oppressed, ordinary Congolese population. Its voice therefore counts more than those of the DRC’s hundreds of political figures. This influence applies even when it makes ungrounded statements.
CLC/Kinshasa (Catholic Church)
The following speech by the CLC contains a common assertion that the Banyamulenge are the source of the violence from which they have disproportionately suffered for decades. While Genocide Watch does not condone any form of violence, it is important to understand that Banyamulenge armed groups (as opposed to Banyamulenge civilians) have often engaged in violence out of self-defense against the systematic persecution of their people. Such armed groups do not represent most Banyamulenge civilians. The CLC also refer to “the limits of existing chiefdoms and territories” to make their argument, an idea that has never applied to the hundreds of other decentralized entities, of which Minembwe is only one:
« Cette politique du défi et du fait accompli, appliquée à Minembwe, au mépris des limites des chefferies et territoires existants, loin de consolider les efforts de paix entrepris dans la région, est de nature à plonger la population dans un cycle de violences incontrôlables par la généralisation du climat d’insécurité et d’hostilité réciproque. »
“This policy of defiance and faits accomplis, used in Minembwe, with no regard for the limits of existing chiefdoms and territories, far from consolidating the peace efforts undertaken in the region, is likely to plunge the population into a cycle of uncontrollable violence through the spread of the climate of insecurity and mutual hostility.”
Monseigneur Muyengo (Catholic Bishop of Uvira)
Bishop Muyengo, who leads the church in Uvira-Fizi territories, has been praised by many leaders of the Congolese population. In the following speech, he refers to the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), a political party and former armed group that was partly composed of Banyamulenge fighters and supported by Rwanda during the Second Congo War (1998-2003). Although the RCD had a diverse membership of many different ethnic groups, it is seen as having been dominated by Banyamulenge. Additionally, though the Banyamulenge have since distanced themselves from Rwanda and the RCD, their former alliance has contributed to the lasting perception of them as Rwandan “invaders”.
« Pour nos populations, la commune de Minembwe est le dernier coup de maître après l'échec du pouvoir du Rassemblement pour la démocratie (RCD), d'obédience rwandaise à l'époque, de créer tout un territoire dans la province pour nos frères Banyamulenge, identifiés comme des Congolais d'origine rwandaise et d'ethnie tutsi. Hier, c'était la question de la nationalité, aujourd'hui, c'est celle de la terre. Mais si on peut attribuer la nationalité à qui la demande et la mérite, on ne distribue pas la terre sous n'importe quelle condition. »
“For our populations, the municipality of Minembwe is the latest masterstroke after the failure of the power of the Rally for Democracy (RCD), affiliated with Rwanda at the time, to create an entire territory in the province for our Banyamulenge brothers, identified as Congolese of Rwandan origin and of Tutsi ethnicity. Yesterday it was a question of nationality, today it is that of land. But though we can attribute nationality to whomever asks for it and deserves it, we do not distribute land under any condition.”
A native of South-Kivu, influential political figure, and Member of Parliament, Bulambo Kilosho has also exaggerated the municipality’s size and the potential outcome of its creation. He linked the Rural Municipality of Minembwe to what is commonly discussed as a “Congo Genocide”. By linking a rural municipality to the tens of millions of Congolese who have died in recent decades and to Rwanda, Bulambo depicts Minembwe as yet another Rwandan “invasion”. He has even threatened to take legal action against its creation:
« Nous avons perdu plus de 10 millions des Congolais à cause des conflits et les plaies sont encore fraîches. Nous voici encore une fois dans d’autres chose comme ce qu’on a connu hier. Tel que nous l’avons appris, la commune de Minembwe prendrait un espace plus grand que le fameux Rwanda. Commune rurale, ça étonne tout le monde. Mon village à moi, Bilalo-Mbili à 170 kilomètres de Minembwe est compris dans cette commune…c’est une imposture ça. Nous irons aux cours et tribunaux de ce pays.»
“We have lost more than 10 million Congolese due to conflict, and the wounds are still fresh. Here we are again facing something else like what we experienced before. As we have learned, the municipality of Minembwe would take up a larger area than the notorious Rwanda. For a rural municipality, this comes as a surprise to everyone. My own village, Bilalo-Mbili, 170 kilometers from Minembwe, is included in this municipality… that is a sham. We will go to the courts and tribunals of this country.”