Congolese Military's Declaration of War on Banyamulenge: Continuity of the 1995 Vangu Commission
Twenty-six years and three months ago, a 174-page report was produced by the so-called Vangu Commission after studying the autochthony of Zairians (Huening, 2013), especially those who lived in both Kivus. The Commission was approved by the High Council of the Republic-Transitional Parliament (HCR-PT). On January 28, 1997, the United Nations Special Rapporteur, Mr. Roberto Garreton, reported the situation of human rights in Zaire. In the report, Mr. Garreton indicated that the Vangu Commission, headed by Vangu Mambweni, was allowed to investigate the impact of the presence of tens of thousands of the 1994 Rwandan refugees in the east part of the country. In addition, Mr. Garreton continued arguing that the Commission accused Rwanda, and the Tutsis in particular, of preparing an "ethnic cleansing" against the 'indigenous' people and that there was a plan to start a "Hamitic Kingdom" that would be called the "United States of Central Africa" or the "Republic of the Volcanos."
Mr. Garreton also wrote that the Commission blamed the international community, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi, to play a crucial role in Zaire's insecurity. One of the dangerous results from the Vangu Report was the swift expulsion of all refugees and Zairians denied of their nationality. The transitional government lead by Prime Minister Leon Kengo Wa Dondo had taken away the Zairian nationality from the Banyamulenge people and Kinyarwanda speakers of North Kivu. An essential aspect of the Vangu Commission to highlight is that the Commission members were not allowed to oppose the Commission's decisions. When Remy Kalegamire, a Havu of Kelehe, raised his voice against the Commission's recommendation on the nationality of Banyamulenge and Tutsis and Hutus of North Kivu, he was forced to leave the Commission. In addition, his Zairian nationality was taken away as a result. Mr. Garreton's report condemned the removal of the nationality of Kalegamire, Rwakabuba Shinga, and others as a political sanction and argued that this was a violation of human rights.
Mr. Garreton accused the Kengo Wa Dondo's government of violating human rights, particularly the right to reside in one's own country and the right to a nationality. He mentioned an essential instance where the Zairian government attempted to justify its actions. Garreton's report states that Deputy Prime Minister Kamanda wrote a letter to the United Nations Security Council that Zaire had the sovereign right to set rules and regulations regarding nationality. However, Kamanda was reminded that individual States had limitations on the sovereignty of adopting such laws. It should be noted that Banyamulenge and Kinyarwanda speakers of North Kivu (Tutsis and Hutus) were on the national territory many decades before the country's independence.
Huening (2013) argues that the Vangu Commission was strongly led by historical myths and intended to "reinterpret" the country's history because the Commission contained "hardline" extremists from the Kivus who had intense enmity against Zairians who arguably believed to originate from Rwanda. In addition, the Vangu Commission accused colonialism of permitting "Rwandans" to enter the national territory. The Vangu Report assumed a long-time plan to invade and control the country's political institutions to overtake the rights of the 'autochthons.' Huening (2013) emphasizes the role of Zairian media coverages, especially La Référence Plus, in enforcing the Vangu Report's heinous ideology.
On July 10, 1995, forty Tutsis and Banyamulenge wrote a letter to President Mobutu about the Vangu Commission. Their memorandum blamed the Vangu Report for its extremist ideology against Tutsis and Banyamulenge in Zaire. The team also accused Vangu and Anzuluni Bembe of revenge and the fact that they included camouflaged Rwandan refugees in the Commission, particularly Faustin Kibancha and Jean-Baptiste Birhumana. Furthermore, the team indicated that Anzuluni Bembe knew Kibancha and Birhumana and realized that they shared hatred against Tutsis and Banyamulenge. Thus, the letter stated that Anzuluni once commented that the problem of Banyamulenge would be definitely fixed.
It should be highlighted that the consultants of the Vangu Commission included Rwandan refugees. Thus, the Commission consulted political refugees who had just fled their country after committing genocide against the Tutsis, such as former Prime Minister Jean Kambanda, former Minister of Justice Agnès Ntamabyaliro, and former Minister of Information Eliezer Niyitegeka. Readers should clearly understand the type of advice these Rwandan politicians provided and its impact on the Commission's final decisions.
The Vangu Spirit at Work Today
Recent hate-filled declarations and discussions against the Banyamulenge in the Congolese national assembly have indicated the revival of the Vangu Mambweni spirit and reminded the Banyamulenge people that, although 26 and more years later, their nationality is still at risk. On October 19, 2020, Azarias Ruberwa, a Banyamulenge member and former State Minister of Decentralization, was questioned and ridiculed by state representatives over the Minembwe Commune case. The Congolese nationality of Banyamulenge was questioned, and fabricated history was presented that Banyamulenge arrived in the Congo in 1959. However, some historians, such as Mutambo (1997), found that the first Banyamulenge families, particularly the Abanyabyinshi, left the Rwandan Kingdom and settled in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo after the death of Yuhi II Gahima (1444-1477). Mutambo (1997) situated the Abanyabyinshi arrival between 1510 and 1543. Unfortunately, about three days ago, through its President Christophe Mboso N'Kodia Pwanga, the Congolese national assembly repeated the fabricated historical myths about the Banyamulenge people. He claimed, "How would you comprehend that some people who have acquired the Congolese nationality can threaten the country that has welcomed them, that gave them hospitality without any discrimination." State representatives applauded after the president's statement. The spirit of Vangu Mambweni can also be found in other top political figures, such as Martin Fayulu, who publicly declared that the Banyamulenge people were not Congolese, but Rwandans.
The Congolese Military's Declaration of War on Banyamulenge
A planned, coordinated genocide against the Banyamulenge people has been active since April 2017, when a systematic massacre of Banyamulenge, village burning, and cattle looting commenced. Members of the Congolese military (FARDC) have been actively working alongside the coalition of Mai Mai fighters from neighboring communities (Bafuliro, Babembe, and Banyindu) to execute the dreadful plan. Some infamous FARDC commanders said to be behind the evil plan include Colonel Katembo, General Dieudonne Muhima, General Opio, and General Philemon Yav. In addition, Red-Tabara fighters from Burundi, among other foreign armed groups, have been on the battlefield against Banyamulenge, especially Twirwaneho, a Banyamulenge self-defense group.
While the Congolese military has been operating undercover to execute the genocidal plan against the Banyamulenge people, on July 12, 2021, the military's spokesperson, Major General Kasonga Leon Richard, produced a declaration of war on Banyamulenge in an official letter. The letter states that the army is preparing muscular military operations against what it calls a coalition of terrorist groups in Minembwe. The spokesperson lists Makanika, Twirwaneho, Gumino, Android, and their allies Red-Tabara and FNL, two Burundian armed groups operating in this region of the country. General Kasonga baptized all the groups "Federal Movement for Revolution and Democracy."
However, this letter contains deliberate confusion and fabricated information. First, Mai Mai fighters (Bafuliro, Babembe, and Banyindu) who started attacking the Banyamulenge people have not been listed in the letter. It appears the military does not recognize them as a problem. Second, Twirwaneho (Banyamulenge civilians) took weapons to defend themselves and their properties, as the term indicates, "let's defend ourselves." Third, Colonel Michel Rukunda, known as Makanika, deserted the army in 2020 to help his community that was being killed while the government was silent. Gumino and Android are also other Banyamulenge groups that took weapons to defend their families. Fourth, Red-Tabara and FNL are among foreign armed groups fighting against the Banyamulenge groups listed above. For example, Red-Tabara, created after a coup failure in 2015 in Burundi, produced a written declaration on July 15, 2021, denouncing the Congolese military's statement about the group's coalition with Twirwaneho and others. Patrick Nahimana, the group's spokesperson, stated that Red-Tabara fights Twirwaneho and other groups listed and would not support a coalition that it opposes continually. Mr. Nahimana emphasizes that Red-Tabara would never attack the Congolese military. Finally, the Federal Movement for Revolution and Democracy mentioned in the Congolese military's declaration of war on Banyamulenge has never been heard before. This shows how the military has fabricated information to execute its mission, exterminating the Banyamulenge people in the Congo.
To those who have the power to interfere or stop the Congolese government and its military, please do so to protect the vulnerable Banyamulenge community left alone to be eradicated.
Huening, L. - C. (2013). Making use of the past: The Rwandophone question and the ‘Balkanization of the Congo.’ Review of African Political Economy, 40(135), 13-31.
Mutambo, J. J. (1997). Les Banyamulenge: Qui sont-ils? D’ou viennent-ils? Quel role ont-ils joue (et pourquoi) dans le processus de la liberation du Zaire? Imprimerie Saint Paul.
Fidele N. Sebahizi
Criminal Justice: Homeland Security
Helms School of Government
Virginia, United States