The big challenge for peace actors in the Democratic Republic of Congo is to create conditions for social cohesion – especially in the highland communities of Fizi, Uvira and Mwenga in South Kivu province, where a persistent inter-community conflict over land, power, identity and citizenship has torn societies apart.
Intensified intercommunal clashes between a group of militias, known as the Mai-Mai, from the Bafuliru, Babembe and Banyindu communities and armed groups affiliated to the Banyamulenge community have severely disrupted social cohesion. The Mai-Mai group of militias who consider themselves as “indigenous” Congolese are fighting the cattle-herding Banyamulenge community – often labelled as outsiders due to their Rwandan origin. Continuous violence has led to widespread killings, looting, burning down of villages and large-scale displacement across South Kivu’s highlands.
Facilitating a return to social cohesion and lasting peace in Fizi, Uvira, and Mwenga was the main reason the Congolese government, Interpeace and partners organised an inclusive dialogue of all stakeholders to address the root causes of the violence.
*“When you wage war on your neighbour, no one wins. Everyone loses,” *said Pacifique Borauzima, Interpeace Country Representative in DR Congo.
The dialogue in Kinshasa, from 29 to 31 March 2021, between the communities in conflict – the Babembe, Bafuliru, Babuyi, Banyamulenge, Barundi, Banyindu and Bavira – also witnessed the participation of representatives of the armed groups, religious leaders, politicians and government officials, civil society and peace actors among others.
At the meeting, government officials shared with participants what it takes to return to peaceful co-existence in the communities torn apart by conflict.
“If everyone said: ‘peace is my business, my neighbour is not my enemy; if my neighbour lives in peace, I will also live in peace; if my neighbour prospers, I will also proper’, then we can achieve the peace we seek,” said Bahati Lukwabo, DR Congo’s Senate President.
Participants agreed that everyone’s commitment is needed to tackle the growing threat to peace and security in their communities in South Kivu’s highlands. In a memo, women leaders who participated in the dialogue called for an effective peace agreement between the communities in conflict.
“The women of South Kivu present in this hall are strongly committed to the return of peace and security,” said Marie Amisi Misukyo, Director of the women group Solidarité de Femme de Fizi.
This memo also symbolises women’s resilience to rise above the violence and increased security risks that they face in the region. “There is a huge gap between making commitments and implementing them. We expect from you a change in behaviour for the return of peace, security and development,” said Gilbert Kankonde Malamba, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior.
He added: “The high and middle plateaus of Fizi, Uvira and Mwenga/Itombwe are burning now, and the cries of children, women and others should challenge us. Violence has amplified the crisis instead of solving it.”
Building on previous attempts at dialogue in South Kivu, the three-day event in Kinshasa opened an inclusive space for continuous inter-community peace dialogue between the seven communities of Fizi, Uvira and Mwenga fighting each other. Representatives of the communities held bilateral meetings, drafted, and endorsed reports of their discussions, committing to a peaceful process.
The Kinshasa dialogue was hosted by the Congolese central government and Interpeace, together with partners, *Action pour le Développement et la Paix Endogènes (ADEPAE), Solidarité des Volontaires pour l’Humanité (SVH), Réseau d’Innovation d’Organisationnelle (RIO) and Radio La Benevolencija (RLB) – *within the framework of an Interpeace project that seeks to design a roadmap for peace in the highland communities of Fizi, Uvira and Mwenga (Itombwe).
The project commenced in January 2020 and is supported by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in DR Congo. In March 2020, the project supported a peace process that led to the signing of a ceasefire agreement by 22 armed groups.
Prior to the Kinshasa dialogue, a preparatory meeting was held in Uvira from 10 to 12 March 2021. The meeting brought together representatives of the different communities, provincial and national officials to define the purpose, agenda, and practical approach for the inter-community dialogue process.
Interpeace and its partners will continue to engage national, provincial, and local stakeholders in the process of reinforcing social cohesion and establishing durable peace.