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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Hutus in the Dem. Rep. of the Congo

View Group Chronology

Dem. Rep. of the Congo Facts
Area:    2,345,410 sq. km.
Capital:    Kinshasa
Total Population:    49,000,000 (source: unknown, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

The DRC government does not control the Northern and Southern Kivus, which have been overtaken by Rwanda. Rwanda entered the DRC conflict under the guise of seeking out Hutu extremists responsible for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Thus, the current situation in the DRC’s Kivu province puts the Hutus not at risk from the central government of Congo-Kinshasa (which no longer controls this territory), but at risk from the Tutsi militias, namely the Rassemblement Congolais pour la démocratie (RCD), that continue to sporadically undertake systematic violence against them. Since very little information coming out of the DRC distinguishes between Rwandan Hutus and Congolese Hutus, the plight of DRC Hutus remains hard to assess. Since 1998, the Hutus, at least the Rwandan Interahamwe, have been perceived by the state as helpful allies of the government, while native Tutsis are repressed. Despite efforts at negotiations to end the conflict (e.g., the 1999 Lusaka Peace Agreement), violence has continued in the region albeit at a lesser pace than the early years of the war. However, it is safe to conclude that the entire region remains in turmoil with conflicts in one state spilling over into neighboring states.

In 2001, President Laurent Kabila was assassinated, which further exacerbated the ongoing civil war and international war involving Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Angola and Zimbabwe. He was succeeded by his son, Joseph Kabila, who pushed for a peace agreement between the warring factions. He worked with The UN Peace Observation Mission in Congo (MONUC) in order to enforce the cease-fire provisions of the Lusaka Peace Accords. A Transitional Government, on course for elections in two years, was put in motion on June 30, 2003. Although somewhat delayed, elections for the presidency and Parliament took place in July 2006 after a new constitution and flag were instated for the country in February of the same year. Thirty-three candidates ran for the post of president, and more than 9,000 candidates ran for 500 Parliament seats in elections meeting the approval of international monitors. Joseph Kabila and Jean-Pierre Bemba were so close in the first election that no clear winner could be determined, leading to run-off poll in October, which led to the victory of Joseph Kabila. However, foreign states continue to control various tracts of territory throughout the DRC. The ability to get forces to completely and effectively withdraw will determine the ability of this region to find stability.

Territorial concentration and the inability of the government to control tracts of its own land further destabilizes the region, leading to a greater risk of conflict for both the Tutsis and the Hutus who inhabit the Kivus. However, recent attempts to reach a peace agreement to enforce some of the measures in the Lusaka peace accords has promised to help bring more stability to the Kivus. The Congo-Kinshasa government agreed to repatriate Hutus involved in the 1994 Rwandan genocide if Rwanda agreed to remove its forces from the Kivus, the land Rwanda has controlled since 1998. The Hutus in the DRC face certain factors such as a new and unstable democracy, kindred support and recent repression that may encourage protest. However, Congolese Hutus have little history of protest, suggesting that their risk of protest remains difficult to assess.

Furthermore, the resource-rich nature of the DRC also makes the area prone to conflict, further placing the Hutus at risk. One can not be optimistic, therefore, in the near-term prospects of DRC Hutus to live in relative peace and security.


Analytic Summary

Hutus in the Democratic Republic of Congo live in the Kivu province in eastern Congo, which is sub-divided into three regions: North-Kivu, South-Kivu, and Maniema (GROUPCON = 3). Kivu province, rich in tin, gold and coltan, is characterized by mountainous and forested terrain, much of which is inaccessible. North-Kivu borders Uganda and Rwanda, and South-Kivu borders Rwanda and Burundi. The Kivus are two of the most densely populated regions in Congo with more than five million inhabitants in 256,662 square kilometers. Historically, both Hutus and Tutsis in the DRC have been labeled "Banyarwanda" and were treated as one group of people who speak Kinyarwandan (LANG = 2). The term “Banyarwanda” specifically refers to Hutus and Tutsis of Rwandan descent, but who have settled in the DRC, in some cases, generations ago. The Hutus of Kivu either are natives of the area, native Rwandans who were brought to Congo by the Belgians in the mid-20th century to work the fields; or Rwandan refugees who fled their country after Tutsis reclaimed the country following the genocide in 1994.

Under the regimes of both Mobutu and Kabila, Hutus have been socially excluded from the economy and face some political restrictions, primarily because they were not citizens (e.g., they did not have the right to vote). Citizenship had been granted to the Banyarwanda in 1972 and was revoked in 1981 by the government (POLDIS03 = 4, ECDIS06 = 3). However, in an attempt to address the political grievances of the Hutus, a law was passed in November 2004, granting citizenship to those Hutu who had descendents in the DRC prior to its gaining independence in 1960 (POLDIS06 = 1).

Troubles started in the Kivu region in 1993 when Banyarwanda and Hunde began fighting, and this pressure escalated with the influx of over one million Hutu refugees migrating to the Congo fearing Tutsi retribution for the Rwandan genocide in 1994. The influx of Rwandan, mostly Hutu refugees, caused many Congolese to begin distinguishing between Hutus and Tutsis (Banyamulenge), and the presence of members of the Interahamwe (Rwandan Hutu extremists/militia). These camps led to a great deal of violence against many unaffiliated Hutus. This violence has continued in recent years as Hutus have been the victims of sporadic Tutsi attacks. Since Laurent Kabila aligned himself with the Interahamwe after using Tutsis to gain power, reprisal killings have been reported. However, repression of Hutus is largely at the hands of the RCD and Rwanda/Burundi forces in the Tutsi-controlled east of the DRC. There are some incidences of government repression in recent years, namely the arrests of members of the new Rastas organization in 2004 and the 2006 shooting of a civilian by a DRC soldier (REPGENCIV06 = 5; REPVIOL06 = 3). The Rastas militant organization is thought to be an alliance of mostly Rwandan Hutus with some Congolese Hutus. This organization has been blamed for a number of recent kidnappings for ransom.

The only parties truly protecting non-combatant Hutus at this juncture are the Interahamwe militia (Rwandan Hutus now based in Congo) and Forces for the Defense of Democracy (Burundian Hutus now based in Congo),, although they are also responsible for making the Congolese Hutu the targets of attacks. Because militant Hutus continue to be sponsored by Kabila’s government, they are not considered to be rebelling against the current regime (REB98-01 = 0, REB02 = 4, REB03-05 = 0, REB06 = -99; PROT98-06 = 0). However, in 2002, the DRC government agreed to disarm and return Hutu rebels to Rwanda for trial in exchange for Rwandan withdrawal of its troops. This move sparked a mutiny amongst former combatants of the Hutu ethnicity, which resulted in the deaths of rebels and government soldiers.

Most of the land occupied by the Banyarwandans in North-Kivu traditionally belonged to local chiefs who rented it to the Banyarwandans on terms and taxes imposed by the chiefs. In 1993, the Banyrwandans began agitating against perceived injustices, especially paying taxes to local chiefs. There has long been tension between livestock farmers, the Banyarwanda, and indigenous crop farmers in the area. In March 1993, tensions exploded in several villages in northern Kivu. Some reports blame the Hunde for starting the fighting, others blame the Banyarwanda. Regardless of who began the bloodshed, it escalated into large-scale ethnic fighting. Between March 1993 and January 1994, more than 10,000 people were reportedly killed, and more than 250,000 were displaced. Banyarwanda were said to number about two million in Kivu before the killings began. Most of the dead and displaced were Banyarwandan.

The roles of the local and central governments in the early years of the conflict were neither neutral nor helpful in facilitating an end to it. Shortly before the fighting began, the local governor was said to have been agitating the Hunde and Nyanga groups to "eliminate" the Banyarwanda. He was suspended at the end of July 1993, but no investigation into his role in the conflict has taken place. Mobutu was widely thought to be using ethnic conflict in both Shaba and Kivu to his advantage and possibly even to have encouraged the fighting. He traveled to Goma in July 1993 promising equal rights to the Banyarwanda and claiming the need for a strong central government to quell the violence. But, there were reports that Mobutu's military had provided weapons to both sides in the conflict and had taken part in the looting and killing.

The Rwandan genocide was instigated and carried out by extremist Hutus in the military and citizenry and led to the deaths of up to one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus. After the defeat of the Hutus by the Tutsi military (Rwandan Patriotic Army), hundreds of thousands of Rwandans, mostly Hutus, fled to Congo and other countries in the region. This exacerbated the plight of Banyarwanda in Congo. Prior to the arrival of Rwandan refugees, Congolese Hutus and Tutsis were treated as one group, people who speak Kinyarwandan (Banyarwandans). After the influx of Rwandan, mostly Hutu, refugees, the Congolese began distinguishing between Hutus and Tutsis (Banyamulenge). As a result of this negative, differential treatment, the Congolese Tutsis began to rebel against their oppressors in the east, and they became the foundation for the rebellion that would be led by Laurent Kabila and would eventually overthrow Mobutu in 1997.

Under the rule of Mobutu Sese Seko, the Banyarwanda were not considered citizens of Congo despite many of them having lived in Kivu since long before Congolese independence, and even colonization. In 1972, they were granted citizenship rights. However, this was rescinded in 1981, though it was never formalized in a law. In practice, they have had no voting rights and no representation. Since the takeover of Congo by Laurent Kabila in May 1997, there has been no formal change of policy. As of 2003, the issue of citizenship for the Bayarwnada has been left to the Transitional Government, created in June of 2003. The formal change in policy came in November 2004, granting citizenship to those Hutu who had been in the Congo before 1960, the year in which the country gained independence from Belgium.

After the victory of Kabila's Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL), Kabila named himself president of the newly renamed Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and appointed his cabinet and other leaders. Many of these positions were filled by ethnic Tutsis, some of them were of Rwandan rather than Congolese origin. This resulted in the resentment of Tutsis by "indigenous" Congolese who were fearful of Tutsi domination of the country, especially by Rwandan Tutsis. In addition, after the rebellion ended, it became evident that in their march west across Congo, Rwandan Tutsis carried out massacres against Rwandan Hutus who had been in refugee camps in Congo. The number of Rwandan refugees killed is unknown, but up to a million refugees were in the camps and up to 200,000 were unaccounted for at the end of the ADFL rebellion. The Hutus in the refugee camps had been forced to remain there by extremist Hutus (The Interahamwe who had been the génocidaires, the ones who were viewed as responsible for the Rwandan genocide) and used the camps to regroup and hide from the Rwandan government. Once the Congo rebellion began, the Rwandan Hutus broke away from the Interahamwe and began returning home. The Tutsis then attacked the refugees in their quest for justice against the Interahamwe.

Laurent Kabila is a Luba from Katanga, and long-time opponent of Mobutu Sese Seko. After several months of consolidating his power in Kinshasa, Kabila made a strategic decision to expel his Rwandan allies from the country. Kabila was concerned with the resentment of "native" Congolese against the Tutsis, and decided that their support was more of a liability than an aid. His rule was dictatorial, and at least one human rights organization in the country reported that his first year in power was more repressive than Mobutu's regime ever was. Journalists, human rights activists, and opposition figures were imprisoned, the armed forces acted with impunity, and all the power of the country was concentrated in the hands of the president (Kabila). Once Kabila ordered the Rwandans out of the country, his former allies regrouped in the east and began their own rebellion against Kabila. This second rebellion has grown into an international war with Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi supporting the rebels and Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola, Chad, Sudan and Libya supporting Kabila. The first four support Kabila with arms and men, though Chad has since withdrawn its forces, and the latter two supported Kabila mainly with money.

Each country is in the war for different reasons. Rwanda and Burundi are concerned with their own security, especially in eradicating extremist Hutus who still resent the Tutsi regimes, and with helping their brethren Tutsis. Rwanda is also vengeful towards Kabila after being thrown out of the country since they essentially were responsible for bringing him to power. Kabila and his allies accuse Rwanda of wanting a piece of Congolese territory. Uganda supports its long-time allies the Tutsis of Rwanda and is also concerned with providing security for its own borders which it believes Kabila is not strong enough to provide. Uganda is fighting a rebellion in the west which is supported by Sudan and has some bases in Congo. Zimbabwe has some hopes of gaining access to Congo's vast resources, though its people are quite fed-up with the war because it has nearly bankrupted the economy. Angola supports Kabila because he lets the Angolans use Congolese territory to launch attacks against UNITA rebels. The other states involved are mainly concerned with maintaining the integrity of Congo's territory. African leaders have always supported sovereignty over stability because they are worried that if one state disintegrates, it will set a precedent for the same in other states. However, steps toward peace have begun as Rwanda began withdrawing its troops in 2003. This action by Rwanda comes on the heels of a 2002 agreement in which the DRC government agreed to repatriate and disarm Hutu rebels if Rwanda withdrew its troops. Both sides have begun to steadily work to meet these stipulations of the agreement. The progress toward peace is still tenuous as the DRC must manage to reacquire control over lost territory and re-unify the country. The government’s ability to effectively control the territory within its borders will determine whether stability and peace will be achieved.



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Information current as of December 31, 2006