Blog: Conflict and its Consequences in Mutarule

Field Blog: South Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo

This is a series of co-authored posts that draws on the knowledge of local populations to discuss the difficulties faced in everyday life in South Kivu, particularly in Uvira Territory. The goal is to move away from a sensationalist accounting of conflict to a grounded narrative based largely on daily life and experiences in a context characterized by ongoing violence and poverty. Posts will explore current events, difficulties and successes from a local perspective, meaning the posts will be primarily informed by ‘everyday’ people’s perceptions, experiences and concerns.

Clarisse Mema is an activist and advocate for peace, justice and development in South Kivu, DRC.
Holly Dunn is a Doctoral student in Political Science at the University of Minnesota.

Mutarule resembles a ghost town. The mass grave on the side of the road serves as a constant reminder of the violence that was experienced and witnessed. Ethnic (or tribal) violence is not news to those who have followed the situation in the eastern DRC, but given the diversity of ethnic groups, the conflicts themselves are sometimes difficult to follow. This post briefly addresses ethnic violence in Mutarule and why its inhabitants have yet to return to their hometown.

The Barundi population that lived in Mutarule came before, during, and shortly after the 1972 conflict in Burundi. The Barundi population stayed and settled, with a chief, on land primarily populated by Bafulero. The groups coexisted in relative peace for many years; over time, the Barundi population established their lives and livelihoods in Mutarule. Unsurprisingly, they began to make claims to their own land, where they wanted to establish their own chieftaincy. However, as in many other cases, large segments of the Bafulero population were unmoved by the requests and refused to accept a Barundi chieftaincy in DRC. This background culminated in two recent massacres. In 2012, twelve Bafulero were killed in one day. In revenge, the mwami (the highest chief) of the Barundi population was assassinated. The situation deteriorated and violence, though not always deadly, became a part of everyday life.

In 2014, thirty-seven Bafulero were massacred, some in their homes while others were burned in a local church. The violence was by no means one-sided; both sides perpetrated retaliatory harm against one another. Fighting between the populations did not stop, resulting in an exodus of all who populated the town. The bodies of those who were killed in the massacres were buried in a mass grave on the side of the Route Nationale Numero 5, which connects Bukavu and Uvira, and runs directly through Mutarule.

The consequences of this violence have been grave. Most of the population is now living as internally displaced people, too afraid to return to Mutarule. Of course, this has implications for development, peace and justice. People have abandoned their fields, the agriculture that they had invested in, and their homes. Maintaining a living and livelihood is already overwhelmingly difficult in a context of mass poverty and unemployment; leaving the small amount of land and income one has can be devastating.

Peace and justice also suffer. Displacement can cause tensions in the towns where the population has resettled. The response to this violence has been lacking. Efforts to bring the population of Mutarule together to find a sustainable solution have been insufficient and to date have proven unsuccessful. Additionally, rather than serving as a reminder of the destructive nature of violence, some have argued that the mass graves on the side of the road largely serve to maintain animosity and operate as a reminder of the enmity that exists.

Without a proper burial sight and a sustained effort to bring the population of Mutarule together to develop their own solution in a safe environment, the future of peace and development in Mutarule remains as empty as its houses.

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