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globe logo     Caravan: Newsletter of the Alliance for a Responsible, Plural and United World
Number 8 June 2001

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"Weeping Congo", Allan Githuka


Towards a Culture of Peace

"The Congolese Potential can fill Africa with joy"

Interview with J.K. Murhula* (D.R of Congo)

How do you explain the fact that, seven years after the 1994 Rwanda genocide, the situation is still extremely tensed in the Great Lakes region?

My organisation Nairobi Peace Initiative - Africa had understandably been much concerned by the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. It was a human calamity that took the world by surprise, deeply saddened the Africans and which added to their misfortune by reinforcing negative stereotypes about Africa. From all points of view it was a disaster.

Its within the framework of the relationship between the Rwandan communities that we should perhaps look for the reasons why the genocide lesson has not been learnt. We have to look at the relationship between the Hutus and the Tutsis in Rwanda, observing the state of this relationship historically. There have always been problems, essentially based on the way the two communities see each other, which have never been solved. The divisions between the two groups have accumulated for generations. How this relationship has been previously managed explains the 1994 explosion and explains today the lack of solutions and of peace. It is as if human beings have refused to learn the lessons of the past.

When would you date these divisions, since it is often said that colonisation would be one of the main factors arousing tensions between the two communities?

I think we should go back a lot further. Colonisation is an accident that came to reinforce a relationship of domination which already existed between the minority in power (Tutsi) and the majority being governed (Hutu).

Someone said: you can dominate a majority group eternally as long as you respect its dignity and you integrate with it. But in the case where, as well as dominating, you add denigration -with a whole panoply of symbols, gestures, words, haughty attitudes, and reject, which are in the end perceived by the majority group as being a refusal of its humanity-, then sooner or later, this kind of relationship will finish by exploding. I think that is what unfortunately happened in Rwanda's history.

In addition to that you have to look at the way in which power is administrated within the political structure of Rwanda's royalty, in particular, and in the Great Lakes region, in general. It was a structure characterised by maintaining several forms of violence (intimidation, suppression, massacres etc.). For example, succession or the challenging of it within the royal class in power was very often implemented by massacring the weakest. History is marked by such events. Also political problems were resolved by violent suppression of conflicts. And then, there was a sort of glorification of the tough one, capable of resisting suffering, capable of showing he is a "man" in society. It was a culturally violent environment.

What the colonialists initially did was to reinforce the existing pattern by giving greater means to the ruling class. He went to tell the Tutsis: "It's true, you are more intelligent, you are the top notch, you should always be ruling. These people here are peasants. They are weak. They are made to be ruled. And consequently, we can ally up with you." However, when arrived the time of Independence, it is obvious that the more educated class, that of the Tutsis, were going to push for it and so get into contradiction with the coloniser.

So the coloniser quickly changed sides. He went back to the Hutus saying: "No, you are the majority and you are just as capable of ruling as the others, you can do it, you can rule" There was an change of alliance in favour of a new ruling Hutu class which led the 1959 revolution, called the "social revolution". Unfortunately, it was a revolution done with a lot of violence, following the only pattern known because the coloniser did not come to give one of tolerance. He came to rationalise the pattern of suppression by violence. Consequently, the revolution lead to a massacre of Tutsis and Tutsi intellectuals leaving the country, a good number to Democratic Congo.

Does Rwanda's tragic history mean that coexistence between Hutus and Tutsis is impossible?

Presented this way, it could be thought that not only are there two factions, on one side the Hutus and on the other the Tutsis, but also that all is well within both. Not at all. As I said before, there were conflicts within the Tutsi class to get into power. In the same way, there were tensions when the Hutus took the power in 1959 and beyond. So much so that, in 1990, when we were going into democracy, you had Hutu parties and Tutsi parties who were against the Hutu government at that time. There was a multitude of different factions, political parties with diverging interests, joining the competition for power. It's not so well defined as to have Hutus on one side and Tutsis on the other. It is even said that a Hutu could be promoted to a Tutsi position depending on the number of cattle he owned or on the relationship he kept with the royalty. It is not so clearly cut. We even tend to ignore the existence of the oldest Rwandese community, the Twa.

The democratic process in the 90´s made things a lot clearer on the scene, making people talk about problems. Unfortunately, the governing forces badly dealt with this new dynamic movement. For example, in reply to the request of the Tutsis in exile to come back, the President Habyarimana would have said: "The cup is full." The government at that time had failed to set up structures which enabled everyone to win, or lose a little, and thus live together.

Unfortunately today, it is the scenario which seems to be reproduced by the governing class dominated by previously exiled Tutsis from Uganda. This concerns not only the Hutus, but also other classes of Tutsis who are in Rwanda as the survivors of the 1994 genocide or the Diaspora of Tutsis from Congo or Burundi and from everywhere else in the world. Apparently, we are reproducing the same mistakes as in the past.

The blatant absence of the international community at the time of the genocide is well known, but how do you explain the continuing inability to resolve the conflict?

The international community failed its mission with the genocide. It did nothing while watching one population decimating another. The UN blue berets were there. They could have taken on the task of stopping the genocide! But they had thought it better to pull out at the most crucial moment, when the innocent population needed them the most. The consequence today is paralysis. The international community can clearly see that the governmental institutions aren't yet democratic and they are not making enough necessary conditions for a real reconciliation, but it doesn't have enough strength to say so, only because it feels guilty. Its getting on their guilty conscience. Telling itself, well, the present Rwandan government had the merit of having stopped the genocide while they had themselves fled. It is that credit the Rwandan government keep opposing anyone who asks for explanations. It immediately counter attacks "Where were you during the genocide? It is in our interest to protect ourselves because you never have." So it ´s become a panacea, an explanation to all the abuse happening today, even in Congo!

Among this abuse of the new Rwandan government is the invasion of the Democratic Republic of Congo, causing a considerable number of victims. How can you explain the silence, or to say the least the great timidity, of the international community facing this drama?

The international community could be asked that. Someone recently wrote: "In which country can you have 1,700,000 dead? In which country can you enter, stay and start exploiting its wealth without the international community even raising a little finger?"

And he answered: "Only in Africa and that country is the Congo". All the international organisations are confirming such figures: the Rwandan and Ugandan interventions in the Democratic Republic of Congo have already caused 1.7 million victims and 2 million internal refugees, without disturbing anyone**.

This war is a war of chiefs.
It isn't a war of the people.

For example, in east RDC, the Congolese population will tell you there are false Interahamwe (extremist Hutu militia) sent by Rwanda to depopulate the villages and force the people to move to the towns. They say these are Interahamwe attacks. But strangely, when the presence of these so called Interahamwe is pointed out to the Rwandan forces keeping watch, they never go and attack them. When these so called Interahamwe have gone, a day or several hours later, the Rwandan army comes to attack the local population on the pretext of complicity. Result: the people flee from the villages and concentrate in the towns. As well as this, the young women and girls from the villages are systematically raped, village by village, which in the end forces the village populations to flee again and concentrate in the towns. These are the consequences that the international community knows only too well. But who worries?

Can't a massive peace initiative in the Great Lakes come from the civil society of the region?

Our hope is in fact going to come from the people who suffer, people who feel the effects of this confusion in the region. The voice of these people isn't geared to politicians or leaders, but to the civil society which is forming. But we shouldn't over idealise the capacity of the civil society to get the region out of the mess it finds itself in today. It also, to a certain extent, has become politically influenced.

We must firstly manage to create a common vision of where the region should be going and give it the means to be achieved. This region wants to develop and provide its children and youth an environment where it will be possible to live without fear. The moment hasn't yet been reached but plenty of efforts are being made. Nairobi Peace Initiative - Africa is trying for example to create with other organisations, a network of the African civil society in favour of the Great Lake region. We are even dreaming of a civil society Parliament which would bring the peoples' voice of the region to the regional organisations and to the heads of state.

What we have to realise is this war is a war of chiefs and not of the people. The people of the region could live together pacifically. That's why we want the peoples voice to be heard. I'm sure and convinced the people from the region can live in harmony, that the Hutus and the Tutsis could live together in peace. We just have to create a framework which facilitates this relationship with a mutual and strict respect of the sanctity of life. We have to also build regional unity and give people the freedom to move around. But that should be done consciously, not forced by leaders whose legitimacy has been questioned.

How can peace be restored?

The key word is reconciliation. We need a general reconciliation, at regional level: reconciliation between leaders and the population, between the communities themselves, the region and the rest of Africa, and the rest of the world.

What are the conditions for such a reconciliation?

Firstly, we need to have structures and institutions that allow this reconciliation to take place. And consequently what is crucial for me, is that the democratic principal should act in all these countries. If there is any pressure the international community can exert, it's would be to stop being hypocritical and begin by stating that there are international principals that exist which should be respected.

Secondly the international community should stop escalating the conflict. How? By stopping the purchase of gold, diamonds, or coltan because these are all stained with blood. They should also stop bringing arms into this region because these arms only further destroy the fragile social structure existing and aggravate the differences already existing between the people.

Thirdly, the international community absolutely needs strong willpower to bring the people out of the misery they are in, which is a factor reinforcing the differences and violence in this region. We need huge investment and not a conditional, timid and partial aid, which has never helped the populations, but on the contrary has ended up in the pockets of certain leaders and which has only further increased the misery of local populations, causing an endless debt.

In conclusion, what look could the Great Lakes region have in ten years time? How could it evolve if these conditions are fulfilled?

Ten years is a long time to create peace conditions and development in this region. The potential is enormous. The people are there. The resources are there. In ten years, with all the conditions fulfilled, clear investments, I think the region will attract the whole world. The Congolese potential alone, sensibly enhanced, could fill the whole of Africa with joy. If only the international community and all the players concerned would be politically willing, we would make this region a paradise.

Interview at Nairobi by Philippe Guirlet, March 27, 2001

* J.K. Murhula is head of the Programmes at the Nairobi Peace Initiative-Africa (see contacts). He holds a Administrative and political sciences diploma at the University of Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he worked as researcher at the Natural Science Research Centre. He has also represented the Ligue Zairoise des Droits de I´Homme at Kivu. His remarks reflect his personal opinions and not necessarily those of his organisation NPI_Africa.
** Editors note: The reality of these figures unfortunately seems to be even worse, according to the International Rescue Committee report issued May 8, 2001, recently presented to the American Congress, which reported 2.5 million victims in 33 months of conflict in the D.R of Congo, of which 350,000 by direct violence and the others due to the chaotic health service and the collapse of the economy. "In two departments, Moba and Kalemie, estimations are that 75% of the children born during the war died before their second birthday."
(complete report:
On the other hand, the situation is more contrasted and stars other actors besides the Rwandan and Ugandan armies, notably the rebel and governmental Congolese forces who are disputing the power in D.R of Congo, as well as the Angolan, Namibian, Zimbabwean and probably Sudanese armies helping out the congolese Government (see Protagonists).

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Some contacts for the peace in the Great Lakes region

  • Nairobi Peace Initiative - Africa NPI was founded in 1984 under the name Nairobi Peace Group, as a response to events in the horn of Africa [Ethiopian Drought and war]. NPI is a peace resource organisation located in Nairobi, Kenya, committed to the promotion of peaceful transformation of conflicts and reconciliation in Africa. It has forged a close working relationship with numerous local and international NGOs, including the Institute for peace-building of the Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia, USA.

    Contact: NPI, Georges Wachira, Director
    P.O. Box 14984, Nairobi, Kenya - E-mail:

  • People for peace in Africa PPA came into being in 1989. It is a ecumenical gathering of people committed to initiating and supporting peace activities throughout the eastern region of Africa. It has motivated and given its support to several other peace organisations in Kenya, such as Amani People Theater (see Caravane N°2) and Chechemi Ya Ukweli dedicated to non violence.

    Contact: Joseph A. Ngala, Co-ordinator
    P.O.Box 14877, Nairobi, Kenya - E-mail:

  • Africa Peace Point Founded in late 1998, APP is an umbrella organisation of grassroots peace initiatives. APP wants to provide a forum where the much neglected and grassroots peace groups can air their views and seak advice on peace issues. In July 2000, It has motivated the creation of a network called Peace Gate to work on peace issue in the Eastern Africa and Great Lakes region.

    Contact: Michael Ochieng', Co-ordinator
    P.O. Box 21573, Nairobi, Kenya - E-mail:

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The Protagonists of the conflict in DRC

"The war, which started in August 1998 and involved the forces of at least eight countries and numerous armed groups, continued. (...) Thousands of unarmed civilians, mainly in the east of the country, were unlawfully killed. Several hundred thousand people fled to neighbouring countries and as many as one million were internally displaced. Ill-treatment and torture, including rape, were widespread.

The armed opposition - composed of the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), and the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) - continued to be supported by forces of the governments of Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda. Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) government forces continued to be supported by those of the governments of Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe and reportedly Sudan. Chad withdrew (...). By the end of the year, the armed opposition and allied foreign forces had captured most of eastern, northern and central DRC from forces loyal to the government. A number of Congolese armed groups known as mayi-mayi, as well as others including Rwandese interahamwe militia and former Rwandese government forces, continued to attack opposition forces and their foreign backers in eastern DRC after forces loyal to the government were routed. (...) RCD factions and their allies carried out widespread unlawful killings and other human rights abuses against unarmed civilians suspected of supporting the government and local armed groups. Their armed opponents also committed abuses.

Although they resisted pressure from the DRC government to condemn the invasion of its territory by neighbouring countries, the UN, the Organisation of African Unity and the European Union called for an end to the armed conflict in the DRC. In April the UN Security Council passed a resolution demanding an end to the conflict and an inquiry into violations of human rights and international humanitarian law as soon as the security situation permitted. (...) In August the UN Security Council authorised the deployment of military liaison officers to prepare for the deployment of a peacekeeping force. (...)"

Extracted from Amnesty International 2000 Report:

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