Special report on war and peace in the Kivus

A major stumbling block to the achievement of peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo is the present showdown in South Kivu Province between the dissident army general, Laurent Nkunda, and loyalist government troops.

Fighting between loyalist and dissident troops erupted again following a brief lull since 9 June when the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC) persuaded Nkunda and his ally Col Jules Mutebutsi to withdrew from the South Kivu capital of Bukavu.

Nkunda first revolted against the Kinshasa government in 2003, when he refused to be sworn into the new unified army created on 3 September that year. His reason for doing so, he said, was that his security could not be guaranteed.

The government in Kinshasa has since then issued a warrant for his arrest, which, he has said, prevents him from retiring to a quiet life with his family in Goma. His condition for abandoning the rebellion and submitting to arrest is that the government also arrest the commander of the 10th military region, Gen Mbuza Mabe, for acts against humanity committed in Bukavu.

Until the Nkunda issue is resolved and other militias are disarmed humanitarian tragedies, already brought on by two wars, seem likely to continue.

Background to the conflict

The first series of recent armed conflicts broke out in 1996, when Rwanda and Uganda backed Congolese forces led by Laurent Kabila in toppling President Mobutu Sese Seko the following year.

Kabila then fell from grace with his erstwhile allies who backed rival rebel groups that tried to oust him. This started a second series of conflicts.

Fighting increased in ferocity, snaring the armies of seven African countries into the fray and threatening to plunge the entire region into what has been dubbed ‘Africa's World War’. Kabila was shot dead on 16 January 2001 by one of his palace guards. His son, Joseph, took power but the fighting continued.

Although all foreign forces left Congo following the Pretoria and Lusaka peace accords of July and September 2002, fighting erupts occasionally in the east.

The serenity of the River Ruzuzi belies eastern Congo's violent times.

A widely held view on the cause of the present conflict in the Kivus is competition for control over vast mineral resources - such as Coltan, Gold, diamonds - but some observers offer a more basic reason.

"Very high" population pressure on land is one reason, says Jean-Marie Katikati, a Goma-based researcher and member of a local NGO, Campaign for Peace. He said with a rapidly expanding population, controlled of land was a matter of survival.

For years Goma's fertile soil and pleasant climate drew migrants to the area, Katikati said. During the colonial period, the migrants encountered older inhabitants such as the Hunde, Hutu, Nande, Bashi, Bahuvu, Banyanga and others, whose chiefs held the land on behalf of their communities.

In an effort to ease land pressure in present-day Rwanda, Katikati said, and meet their labour needs in eastern Congo, Belgian colonialists organised the migration of Rwandans to the Kivus from 1937-1954 under a programme known as ‘la Mission d'immigration Banyarwanda’. Those migrants created a new chiefdom of Rwandan Hutus and Tutsis in Masisi, some 50 km northwest of Goma, alongside existing structures; thereby sowing the seeds of future resentment and conflict after independence in 1960.

In 1966, the Mobutu government abolished the Rwandan chiefdoms reverting the situation to the former status quo. This, Katikati said, "made the dispossessed Rwandans foreigners in the eyes of the original inhabitants".

The situation improved somewhat in 1972 when Mobutu adopted a law giving collective nationality to the Rwandans. They also received land he had seized from Belgian and Italians "settlers". However, Mobutu repeal the law in 1981 following strong public protest.

"This placed the Rwandans in a situation of legal insecurity," Katikati said.

In effect, it meant that while Hutu and Tutsi Rwandans owned land, they lacked the protection of citizenship.

During the 1980s, in an effort to resolve the Rwandan-Congolese citizenship issue, Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana declared that Rwandans outside their country should not return because there was no longer room for them. But most Congolese insisted that the Rwandans did not belong in the Congo and should return home.

In 1988, elections were suspended for the provincial assemblies of North and South Kivu to try to solve the nationality issue. They never did. Today the nationality issue is before the transitional parliament in Kinshasa. It remains one of the most contentious issues to be resolved if the Congo is to have a shot at lasting peace.

In debating the issue, parliamentarians may well consider claims that before 1884, when the Europeans colonialists began their conference to draw their boundaries in Africa, the areas of Rutshuru and those near the Virunga Forest were ethnically part of Rwandan kingdoms.

"Even Kinyarwanda [the Rwandan language] place names such as Mount Nyiragongo attest to the Rwandan origins of this area," said a Congolese Rwandaphone, who did not want to be identified for fear of reprisal.

Though the nationality question has always been contentious, armed conflict between the Congolese and so-called foreigners only broke out in the early 1990s when Mobutu appointed a governor and vice-governor who tried to stop Rwandans in Walikale from acquiring land. Out of this situation grew a politico-military movement called MAGRIVI, otherwise known as the Mutuelle Agricole de Virunga. That led to inter-ethnic conflict that still continues in one form or another.

Rape and sexual violence

The most recent major fighting occurred from 28 May to 8 June when dissident and loyalist Congolese soldiers battled for the control of Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu.

In addition Rwandans, some of whom took part in the 1994 genocide in the country, have turned against their Congolese "hosts"; committing atrocities that would shake the most hardened heart.

Observers say that all armed groups have committed acts of sexual violence and rape but that the Interahamwe from Rwanda have been largely responsible.

Since 2002, a German technical aid body GTZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit) has been documenting the various forms of sexual violence on residents in South Kivu. The violence includes rape by individuals and gangs; incidents in which entire families are forced to watch their wives and daughter being raped, as well as forced incest. In addition, GTZ has documented victims who have had cassava stalks or gun barrels repeatedly rammed into their vaginas. Some were also shot in their organs.

"Most of these rapes were by the Interahamwe but some were by members of the national army," Stanilas Bya Mungu, GTZ project manager in Bukavu, told IRIN.

Army dissidents led by Mutebutsi and Nkunda carried out rapes systematically during their occupation of Bukavu, he said. The dissidents, he said, targeted neighbourhoods then went from house to house to rape victims ranging from one to 80 years old.

"We noticed that Viagra was attributed to [Mutebutsi's] military," he said.

The dissidents, he added, broke into four medical distribution centres in the city and took the viagra.

The woman, left of photo, blinded by her rapists in Goma, North Kivu Province, to prevent her from identifying her attackers. Similar acts were carried out in South Kivu Province.

Combatants were brutal with women who resisted rape. "In some cases they dripped melting rubber into their vaginas and onto their breasts," Bya Mungu said. "Sometimes, after raping a woman they would spread her legs until they snapped like chickens."

In one report, combatants killed the husband of a family and raped the wife and daughter all on the same spot. "The woman recounted how her husband's warm blood was seeping onto her as his Interahamwe killers raped her," Bya Mungu said.

In acts seemingly designed to belittled the men further, the Interahamwe reportedly beat men's penises with rifle butts while telling them they would never have use of their organs again.

Why the Interahamwe should turn against their "hosts" is unclear. Bya Mungu offers one explanation: The Interahamwe fought for the Congolese transitional government against the Tutsis but Kinshasa failed to help them regain power in Kigali.

Another opinion offered by an observer is that before June 2003, the Interahamwe had worked with the pro-government Congolese Mayi-Mayi militia but were angered when the Mayi-Mayi agreed to join the government. The Interahamwe reacted by fighting them and refusing to abide by the 1999 Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement that calls for their disarmament and repatriation.

Some consequences of rape

London Pauline, coordinator of Action pour l'encadrement des Soeurs Dinah (AESDI) a protestant church centre caring for raped women and children of rape victims.

A Bukavu woman, London Pauline, has set up a centre in Bukavu for women and child victims of rape called Action pour l'Encadrement des Soeurs Dihah. She cares for 53 children up to four years old who were conceived by rape during the earlier conflicts. Now, she also cares for 42 women and girls who were raped during the weeklong occupation of Bukavu by Mutebutsi's forces. Eleven of the rape victims endured the ordeal more than once. The youngest is 13 years old and pregnant.

GTZ has documented cases of scores of women raped during the occupation. Some have had their wombs destroyed. Others are suffering from fistula, a medical condition whereby a tear is created between the anal cavity and the birth canal.

Many of the schoolgirls at Pauline’s centre were caught by Mutebutsi’s forces when they rose against the government. "Most of them were girls on holiday," she said.

Some of these girls have now been rejected by their families and society and may never find husbands.

Rape victims in Bukavu, South Kivu Province, learning new skills as seamstresses at AESDI. The instructor in red dress, standing, is not a victim.

Pauline's centre is the only support these women and children have. Initially Pauline had no support to care for the children. Later, a Swedish missionary from the Pentecostal Church visited the centre and donated money.

With this money, Pauline embarked on a micro credit scheme for the girls and provided seeds and farming implements for those rape victims from rural areas. Some of the girls at the centre have returned to school; others are making a living from petty trade.

The centre also provides legal aid to victims who can identify their attackers. "Some were raped by their neighbours," Pauline said.

Some of the girls are still traumatised by the events in Bukavu but the NGO World Vision said it would soon begin to provide them with psychosocial care.


Social services in the Kivus have been decimated by the past and the one-going conflicts. In North Kivu, the principal inspector for the province's primary, secondary and vocational schools, Balthazar Rubakare Nkunda, told IRIN in July that most schools were destroyed or badly damaged. Schools in all towns, except Butembo and Goma, were stripped of furniture for firewood and had their books stolen.

During the war the state failed to pay civil servants' salaries. Eager to continue their children's education, parents assumed that responsibility. Each parent paid primary schoolteachers the local equivalent of US $1 a month; secondary schoolteachers got $2-3. Some also took payment in the form of chickens and other provisions.

Alfajiri College, Bukavu. A leading educational institute in the Kivus.

"In the interior of North Kivu, in places like Walikale, parents were too poor to pay," Nkunda said.

The government is now paying some teachers' salaries ranging from 1,500 to 10,000 Congolese francs ($3.75 to $25) but parents are still supplementing their incomes.

Many students are several years behind in their work. To catch up, the Norwegian Refugee Council has helped formulate "emergency education" courses for schools, which includes compressing a two-year school cycle into one.

"When this school year begins in September, we will apply the emergency education formula by compressing into three years, a six-year programme for children aged six to 13 years (cycle de premiere)," Nkunda said.

Most of the schools still barely function. "We urgently need infrastructure, equipment, furniture and text books," Nkunda said.


Hospitals and clinics in the region were also vandalised. "The entire health care system was looted," Cyprien Fabre, who heads the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office in Bukavu, said.

Like so many public servants, medical staff had not been paid for years. Medical facilities lack medicine and the little that is available is expensive, he said. So many health problems remain including malnutrition, diarrhoeic and acute respiratory infections. The only positive thing with respect to health is that the World Health Organization, MONUC and others have been able to vaccinate children, Idrissa Ba, MONUC's humanitarian affairs officer in Goma, said.

Paediatric ward of the Saint Norbert Health Centre in the village of Kamanyola, South Kivu, after dissident troops loyal to Col Jules Mutebutsi looted the facility in June 2004.

Malaria is rampant. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the International Medical Corps (IMC) are providing bed nets to protect people from malaria carrying mosquitoes. The IMC, operating in Bunyakiri, some 56 km northwest of Bukavu, is providing bed nets to pregnant women and children under five years old.

Few people had known that bed nets protected them against malaria. An IRC survey found that in one area not a single person knew what a bed net was, said the agency's child survival programme manager in Bukavu, Ndeye Marietou Satin.

HIV/AIDS is another concern although the extent of the problem is unknown because there has been no seroprevelance study, Medecins Sans Frontieres-Holland said. MSF-H says it is the only agency providing anti-retroviral treatment in the entire east of the country.


Armed conflicts since 1996 in the east have caused massive displacement of rural people and a corresponding problem of food insecurity. Only Goma and a few other large towns have been able to import supplies. In rural areas many people abandoned all their possessions including farm animals and crops.

"The impact of this was significant as ninety percent of [people in] North and South Kivu are farmers," Philippe Bakunzi, a FAO consultant agronomist in charge of the management of information of food security in eastern Congo, said.

When villagers fled their farms, weeds took over their fields. Those who could, herd their cattle to neighbouring Burundi and Rwanda. Hungry combatants and bandits invaded and slaughtered much of rest of the livestock. By 2000, there were just 58,000 of the 300,000 head of cattle that had been in North Kivu, Bakunzi said.

Cattle herds were decimated during the conflict in the Kivus.

In South Kivu, the conflict cut off towns such as Shabundu, Walungu and Mwenga from their sources of food and could only be reached by air. Roads are still bad and these towns may continue to experience food shortages.

One of the main sources of fish for Goma's estimated 700,000 residents has been Lake Edward, in North Kivu, in the Virunga National Park. It is a world heritage site for mountain gorillas.

But there has also been a shortage of fish since armed groups have raided fishing villages during the various conflicts and destroyed nets and boats. The armed elements also supported civilians from outside the region who came to Lake Edward during the conflicts and over fished, vastly reducing stocks.

Before the conflicts people living along the lakeshore ensured adequate fish stocks by banning fishing in spawning grounds. Anyone who violated the ban would be expelled from the village.

Under law, only 900 fishing boats are allowed on the lake but with the conflicts the new arrivals introduced an additional 1,000 boats thereby straining fish resources, said Robert Muir, the head of the Virunga National Park Conservation Programme for the Frankfurt Zoological Society.

As a result, fish stocks have plummeted. Muir said previously a fish from Lake Edward tended to weigh between a half and one kilogramme. Today, the average fish is a seventh of a kilo.

"I can't see this [fishing] lasting much more," he said.

This situation poses a threat to some 10,000 people on the lakeside town of Vitshumbi who rely on fish for their source of protein and their livelihood.

A further threat to lakeside communities is the thousands of unidentified armed groups of men (speaking Kinyarwanda, Kiswahili and Lingala) who poach in Virunga and connive with the new fishing communities. Muir said at times there are up to four battalions of these armed groups in the park.

The armed groups have attacked park rangers and their families who are living within the facility. The Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature in Goma has documented several attacks and on 1 July asked the governor of North Kivu for robust military intervention.


A result of all this insecurity has been malnutrition. In North Kivu NGOs are providing 230 nutritional centres for children. The level of malnutrition has now fallen to between 5 percent and 9 percent, the FAO consultant, Philippe Bakunzi, said. In some parts of the province at least 25 percent of all children had been malnourished over the past five years.

But to improve food security, he added, farmers needed seed, implements and feeder roads to enable them to produce crops and get them to markets.

Dismayed by the state of affairs in North Kivu, some entrepreneurs have decided to act independent of government and international organization. The president of the Business Federation of Congo/North Kivu, Desire Segahungu, said they had started restocking herds decimated by war.

"Now we are buying cows from Rwanda and Uganda," he said.

He said North Kivu now had 120,000 cows. Farmers are also replanting tea and coffee and hopefully that a packaging industry will eventually resume.

The business federation has also set up provincial road repair committees as well as tollgates to pay for the operation. For example, on a 70-km road from Goma to Burayi, two people fix potholes along every kilometre of road.

Donors are also beginning to help. The European Union is providing €2.9-million (US $3.5 million) to rebuild dirt roads in the Kivus, linking relief and rehabilitation to development. So far, a road from Sake to Kalehe, towns respectively west and south of Goma, has been rehabilitated.

ECHO and USAID have also started work on a road from Masisi to Walikale, and the other part by the EU, the ECHO technical aid expert in North Kivu, Emmanuel de Merode, said. He added that 150 km has completed and another 110 km is yet to be done.

"We hope to have humanitarian access in six months and commercial traffic in twenty," he said.

When completed, these dirt roads would form part of a 700-km network linking Goma and Kisangani, and reconnect to the national transport grid. "It's our most important project because it opens up commercial activity, relaunching the economy," de Merode said.

Disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration

Economic revival and national reconstruction would, no doubt, get a major boost in a vastly improved security environment. But to attain this there needs, at least, to be the disarmament and demobilisation of all combatants.

The government's disarmament and demobilisation process was launched on 24 July at a ceremony in Kinshasa at which Azarias Ruberwa, one of Congo's four vice-presidents, presided.

There are two programmes: The one started on 24 July, which is the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) programme for Congolese combatants. The other, already underway, is the disarmament, demobilisation, repatriation, resettlement and reintegration (DDRRR) of non-Congolese fighters in the Congo. MONUC is to implement the disarmament and demobilisation components of both programmes.

In the case of the DDRRR programme, the Rwandan government is responsible for the resettlement and reintegration of their nationals, Col Paiva Danielo, the MONUC DDRRR team leader in Goma, said in July.

Members of various armed groups responsible for rape.

When they are disarmed they spend 24 to 48 hours in a camp run by a South African MONUC battalion, before being transported to Rwanda. Once in Rwanda they spend 45 days in another camp where they will prepare a project or occupation that the government will help them undertake, once released into civilian life.

MONUC has already repatriated hundreds if not thousands of ex-fighters to Burundi, Uganda and Rwanda. The Rwandans are the only group remaining and most are members of the Forces Democratic de Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR), whose military wing is the Forces Combattantes Abacunguzi, or FOCA. Danielo said MONUC planned to repatriate the remaining Rwandans in the next nine months.

Some stumbling blocks to these plans, however, might be the FDLR's real agenda. While it continues to call for an ‘inter-Rwanda’ dialogue on power sharing, it is also known to emphasise ethnic politics. Another problem is that FOCA commanders have reportedly been blocking the repatriation of their members.


Regarding Congo's DDR programme, some 350,000 people who were members of the former Congolese government army and various militias are due to participate. Weapons will be taken from the fighters, then each will be processed to find out how and who recruited them, who they fought for and their plans for civilian life. Once completed, the former fighters will be provided documents attesting to their disarmament and then move to the demobilisation stage.

The UN Development Programme's reintegration specialist in North Kivu, Marcel Atigri, said the demobilisation stage was to be conducted by the provincial government. It would affirm the individual's civilian status by providing a new identity card. Thereafter, each ex-fighter will be taken to an orientation centre where they will be screened and asked to choose a civilian occupation.

Those who join the DDR programme by falsely claiming to be combatants, in order to receive demobilisation packages, will be found out and booted out of the programme, Atigri said. However, genuine former combatants who chose to join the new integrated army will be sent to an assessment centre. Those who chose not to join the army or who fail to qualify at the assessment centre will be returned to the DDR programme and processed as civilians.

The final reintegration stage has two phases: the first is to counsel the families on the need to accept their sons and daughters. The ex-combatants will then be given clothes, cooking utensils, food, a medical kit, and tools of their chosen trade and returned to their homes.