Tribal fighting erupts in Eastern Congo

Church leaders report clashes between farmers and pastoralists in the Ituri District of Orientale Province in the DRC

At least 30 people have been killed in ethnic clashes between the Hema and Lendu tribes in the Ituri district of the Congo’s northeastern Orientale province, the Anglican Church of the Congo tells AI.  Church leaders report refugees have taken shelter in church compounds and at the Université Anglicane du Congo in Bunia, and are in need of assistance.

“The Hema-Lendu conflict has claimed between 30 and 32 lives and left several people injured, thousands of huts burnt down and thousands displaced,” the governor of Ituri, Jefferson Abdallah Penembaka, told Reuters on 5 February 2018. He added that the army had been ordered to reinforce police units in the region to keep the peace.

The Congo has seen a sharp rise in civil disturbances since President Joseph Kabila refused to step down from office when his term expired in December 2016. Last month police in Kinshasa broke up a pro-democracy march organized by the Catholic Church, leaving five dead and 33 injured. The Catholic Bishops Conference has turned to the SADC — a regional grouping of African states — and to the president of the neighboring Republic of Congo-Brazzaville. President Denis Sassou Nguesso is head of the International Conference of the Great Lakes, which includes both of the Congos, as well as several other nations in the region.

Last year the Catholic bishops helped broker a deal between President Kabila’s regime and the opposition, that would free political prisoners, allow opposition newspapers to reopen, and would halt the harassment of regime opponents. The deal also called for elections to be held in December 2017. However, negotiations have stalled and elections have been postponed until December 23, 2018. Anglican leaders tell AI they believe the struggle for power in Kinshasa in the far west of the country has emboldened warlords and bandits in the Eastern Congo and fostered political instability.

Civil wars, which raged from 1998 to 2003, left an estimated 2 to 5 million dead. The UN estimates 2.7 million people remain displaced from the war. The World Bank estimates that 77 percent of its population lives in “extreme poverty,” and its yearly GDP of $445 per capita is the third-lowest in the world when adjusted for inflation.

The Hema-Lendu conflict during the civil wars left thousands dead in the Ituri district in a conflict that mirrored clashes in Nigeria, Sudan and other African nations where cattle herders clashed with farmers who objected to the destruction of their farms by the migrating herdsmen. The government’s focus on the political crisis in Kinshasa has led to extremists in both tribes to resurrect the grievances from the last conflict.

In a message to AI, Kahwa Njojo of Université Anglicane du Congo in Bunia, wrote: “Please pray for us because around Bunia people are Killed and We received many displaced people without help. They are suffering.”

Bunia was witnessing an “ethnic war between Lendu and Hema. We need help for those displaced people,” he said.

(Photo: Bunia courtesy of IRIN)

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