DRC 1992: Political crisis, harassment and ethnic tensions

© Chris Keulen Click on image for larger version.
Intensified by the fall of the Berlin wall and the international pressure to move towards democratisation, anti- Mobutu sentiments began to boil from the end of the 1980s and eventually exploded into mass rioting and looting in many cities in September 1991. In December 1992, unpaid soldiers rioted again and pillaged the towns of Kisangani, Goma and Kolwesi, subjecting the population to heavy military harassment. The subsequent economical decline and the withdrawal of foreign support caused a near collapse of effective health services in Zaire. Due to a crucial lack of drugs and medical supplies, the poorer part of the population was left with little, if any, access to health care services. In the same year, ethnic tensions between the Hunde and the Banyarwanda started to worsen in the Masisi plains of North Kivu. The Banyarwanda, both Hutus and Tutsis, had migrated from Rwanda to North Kivu from the 1940s until 1955 as labour force to work in the Masisi plantations. Since then the new immigrants had been occupying the lands traditionally used by the local Hunde, Nande and Nyanga ethnic groups for hunting. In addition to the rapid economic success of the Banyarwanda, competition for control of the land provoked a strong resentment among the local ethnic groups. Political conflicts, combined with continuing clashes over land, created a highly volatile situation. Soldiers riots and looting of Goma Cook "During three days in 1992, the military looted the houses of Goma, neighbourhood by neighbourhood. One day, they looted my neighbour's house; they came to my house as well, but my little brother wouldn't open the door to them. When I came home from work they came back again. They asked me for money and medicines - they knew I was working for MSF. "I had to explain that I was not medical, and that therefore I didn't have any medicines. I gave them ten dollars and fortunately they were happy with it - but they slapped my brother in the face. "A few houses away from my house, they raped an eight-year old girl. She had to be taken to the hospital, and her parents decided to leave Goma almost immediately. © Chris Keulen Click on image for larger version.
"At that time the people in Goma were scared, because they were not used to the war, the lootings and everything. When things calmed down, the people decided not to walk after eight o'clock at night anymore, because everybody was afraid to meet the soldiers." Cook "One day that I was at work the military arrived in my house. They knew that I was working for MSF, and that I had some money. They threatened my wife, and almost beat her to death; they even stabbed her in the legs - we had to bring her to the hospital. Then, they looted everything I had. "Fortunately, a soldier who was a friend from my home village proposed that he stay at my place, in uniform, to protect my house from further attacks. This disorder in Goma lasted nearly six months." Beginning of ethnic clashes in Masisi Mechanic "The instability in Masisi area started in 1992. At this time, the Hutu youth of North Kivu created a kind of association, the Mutuelle des Agriculteurs des Virunga (MAGRIVI) focused on cattle and agriculture. But it was also pretty politicised, and it soon became the Hutu militias against the Congolese ethnic groups. "Fearing that the Hutus would get hold of their territory, the Hunde also organised themselves, together with the other ethnic groups, and tried to take back parts of the territory that the Hutus were occupying. There were many massacres - indiscriminate massacres against men and women, violation of women, houses burnt with petrol, many wounded, and many victims of the clashes. "In my family, during the clashes, eight persons were buried in a latrine hole. In my paternal uncle's family, everybody died. One of my cousins lost two children, mutilated with machete. Another cousin of mine was tortured - they cut her head off, pricked the head with a spear, put the spear outside, and the sparrow hawks bit the flesh until there were only bones left. They cut off another cousin's breasts, obliged her to eat them and then killed her by pricking her body with a spear, from the anus to the throat. "In 1994, as a consequence of what was happening in Rwanda, the clashes between Hutus and Tutsis also broke out in the area. I personally saw a Tutsi woman being caught by the Interahamwe - she had her baby on her back, and one of the men stabbed the baby's neck with a machete. His head was hanging down on one side, and had to be stitched up by an MSF doctor.