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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Tutsis 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 Tutsi-dominated Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) currently controls much of the DRC’s Kivu region. The RCD has been supported largely by Rwanda. However, Rwanda began withdrawing its troops after reaching an agreement with the DRC government in which the DRC would repatriate and disarm Hutu rebels if Rwanda withdrew from the province. Any analysis of past political discrimination and grievances should recognize that since 2000, most Banyamulenge reside in areas not under the control of the central government. The RCD has been actively supported by Rwanda and Burundi, while Kabila’s government has been actively supported by Zimbabwe, Chad, Libya, and Sudan, and thus, the conflict in its latest manifestation has been called "Africa’s First World War" because of the number of countries involved and the intensity of the fighting. As would be expected, the violence continues to be a great detriment to a stable future for DRC Tutsis. The Lusaka peace accords, signed by the government and rebel groups in 1999, failed to significantly reduce the violence, and although other rebel groups have reached ceasefire agreements with the government (MLC in April 2002), these are temporary solutions, and the RCD seems destined for more fighting. The assassination of Laurent Kabila and the ascension of Joseph Kabila in January 2001 may eventually bring progress in ending the war, as Joseph Kabila has promised to institute reforms, including increased democratization and guarantees of equal protection. To date however, while some reduced restrictions have been felt in DRC-Kinshasa, they have not reached the majority of Tutsis in the de facto autonomous Kivu region. To Kabila’s credit, he has enlisted the help of the UN’s Peace Observation Mission in the Congo (MONUC) to help achieve some of the stipulations set forth in the 1999 Lusaka peace accords. In 2003, Rwandan troops began to withdraw their forces, which could place the Tutsis at an even greater risk. Rwanda entered the conflict with the interest of protecting their Tutsi brethren in the DRC as well as to pursue the Hutu rebels responsible for the 1994 genocide. Without the support of the Rwandan RCD, the Tutsis may be at risk in the future for reprisal actions from Hutus, who faced repression under the RCD.

Ethnic tensions in the region remain high after ex RDC-Goma factions targeted non-Tutsis in the Bukavu locale after citing recent claims of Tutsi genocide in Bukavu located in the Sud Kivu Province of eastern DRC in 2004. Distrust between local tribes and the Banyamulenge were heightened when UN investigations declared the genocide charges to be unfounded. The Banyamulenge’s close ties to Rwanda also prove to be a factor placing them at greater risk as the group is sometimes accused of being infiltrators from Rwanda, though they have been living in the DRC for generations.

Consequently, key factors contributing to potential rebellion of the Tutsis in the DRC are centered around their territorial concentration, cohesiveness of the group, regime instability and recent government repression. The instability of the eastern portions of the country in addition to the Tutsis’ proximity to kindred in Rwanda and Burundi serve to further fuel local ethnic tensions, placing the group at greater risk. Tutsis also remain at risk for protests while repression and kindred support continue under the auspices of a new and unstable democracy.


Analytic Summary

The Banyamulenge (Congolese Tutsi), who are concentrated in the Kivu region of the DRC (GROUPCON = 3), were initially incorporated into the Belgian Congo when part of the historical Rwandan Kingdom was divided by the drawing of colonial borders. The term Banyamulenge specifically refers to those Tutsis who fled dynastic wars in the 19th century and who ended up in the Itombwe plateau in eastern DRC. Additional Tutsis were brought into the area in the middle of the 20th century. Beginning in 1959, large numbers also came to the region when fleeing violence in Rwanda. By 1965, tension between the Banande and other local ethnic groups turned to war, dubbed the Kanyarwanda (Sons of Rwanda) war, emphasizing the common Rwandan heritage of the Hutus and Tutsis. Divisions amongst the Banyarwanda were strengthened in 1990 due to the civil war in Rwanda.

Congolese Tutsi are linguistically distinct from the dominant Bantu groups in the DRC as a whole (LANG = 1). They were also favored historically by the Belgians, which created resentment among other ethnic groups in the area. The Banyamulenge and Congolese Hutus (together referred to as Banyarwanda or “Rwandaphones”, because of their Rwandan descent) experienced political and social discrimination upon independence and the eventual rise to power of Mobuto Sese Seko. They were denied political rights and were confined to renting land from local chiefs in Kivu and paying additional taxes.

The Tutsis, which make up almost half of their regional population, are organized around a strong identity. When refugees fled into then-Zaire in 1994 during Rwanda’s genocide the entire region was thrown into flux. Laurent Kabila aligned himself with the Tutsis in 1996 in a movement that eventually overthrew Mobuto, but after taking power, Kabila alienated himself from his Tutsi supporters and allied instead with Hutu and Bantu groups in the country. Recently, Tutsis have been engaged in rebellion primarily through the Rally for Congolese Democracy, which split into two rival factions in 1998, Goma and Liberation Movement (REB99-02 = 6). In 2003, the RCD began to withdraw its troops. Although violence continues, it has lessened (REB03 = 3; REB04 = 5).

The Tutsis experience low levels of demographic stress. Until recently they were subject to severe political discrimination (POLDIS04 = 4), although recent remedial policies concerning Tutsi citizenship were put into place beginning in 2005 (POLDIS06 = 1). Similarly, while Tutsis had faced economic discrimination (ECDIS03 = 4), citizenship rights would also enable the Tutsis to have greater land access upon which to graze their cattle (ECDIS06 = 1), although the effectiveness of this new law remains to be seen. As non-citizens Tutsis were severely underrepresented at both the national and regional level as they were denied voting rights and faced repression for political organization, although Kabila started reducing the restrictions on political activity in 2001. The most significant grievance for the Banyamulenge is the desire for greater political rights and control in their region (POLGR05 = 1); in 2006 they also began demanding the creation of a special constituency for the northern parts of the country (POLDIS06 = 2). In the past, they have allied with other groups that have also sought greater democratization and less corruption in the central government.

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, and 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. However, 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 be encouraging 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 that would eventually overthrow Mobutu.

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 Congoan independence, and even colonization. In 1972, they were granted citizenship rights. However, this was rescinded in 1981, though it was never made into 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 until 2004 under Joseph Kabila. Under a law passed in the end of 2004, those who had been living in the DRC prior to its 1960 independence date were granted citizenship although dual citizenship was not recognized. Many Tutsis viewed the new law as discriminatory since many also held Rwandan citizenship.

After the victory of Laurent Kabila's Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL), Kabila named himself president of the newly renamed Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and appointed his cabinet and other leaders. Many of these positions were filled by ethnic Tutsis, some of them of Rwandan rather than Congolese origin. This resulted in 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 numbers 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 genoçidaires). They 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 have been imprisoned, the armed forces act with impunity, and all the power of the country is 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 grew 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 supported Kabila with arms and men, though Chad has since withdrawn its forces, and the latter two supported Kabila mainly with money.

Each country was in the war for different reasons. Rwanda and Burundi were 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, which officially withdrew in 2003, supported its long-time allies the Tutsis of Rwanda and was also concerned with providing security at its own borders which it believes Kabila was not strong enough to provide. Uganda was fighting a rebellion in the west which was supported by Sudan and has some bases in Congo. Zimbabwe had some hopes of gaining access to Congo's vast resources, though its people were quite fed-up with the war because it nearly bankrupted the economy. Angola supported Kabila because he lets the Angolans use Congolese territory to launch attacks against UNITA rebels. Zimbabwe along with Namibia and Angola withdrew troops from the DRC by the end of 2002. 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. An agreement was signed in 2003 between the DRC and Rwanda in which the DRC agreed to disarm and repatriate Hutu rebels if Rwanda would withdraw its troops. As Rwanda pulls out of the DRC, the fate of the Tutsis residing there remains unclear.



Ajulu, Rok. 1999. Congo is Back! Congo is Gone! The Congo Crisis Again! Africa World Review. February-April 1999:6-12.

Africa Research Bulletin, Political, Social and Cultural Series, Exeter England, monthly reports 1980-1994. (MCK DT1.A83)

Africa Watch. 1993. Congo: Inciting Hatred, Violence Against Kasiens in Shaba, New York: Africa Watch

Amnesty International. 1993. Congo: Violence Against Democracy. New York: AI.

Amnesty International Annual Reports, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1998.

Amnesty International. 1994. Zaire: Collapsing Under Crisis. New York: AI.

African Association for the Defense of Human Rights in Congo-Kinshasa. 15 May 1998. Statement on the First Anniversary of the New Regime. Kinshasa.

Congo: A Country Study, 1994. U.S. Government.

Currey, James. 1989. The Creation of Tribalism in Southern Africa. Berkeley: University of California Press.

International Crisis Group. Central Africa Project. website

Mamdani, Mahmood. Preliminary Thoughts on the Congo Crisis


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Information current as of December 31, 2006