The political crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) continues to worsen. The constant expansion of ungoverned space has resulted in widespread violence carried out with impunity, notably in the provinces of Tanganyika, Ituri, Kasai, North Kivu, and South Kivu. Events include targeted and random killings as well as mass killing in the case of Kasai province, rape, kidnapping for ransom, burning of villages, looting, and unprecedented internal displacement of persons most of whom are obviously children.
On Sunday, April 8, 2018, the parish priest in Kitchanga, North Kivu, Fr. Etienne Sengiyunva, after celebrating Mass, was dining with leaders of the Christian community in Kyahemba. Two armed men entered the house and shot him many times, said Msgr. Louis Nzabanita, Vicar General to the Bishop of Goma, in an interview with local media. The murderers are well known, he said, as he called on provincial leaders to do their job. Exactly a week earlier, on Easter Sunday, he parish priest of St. Paul in Karambi, Fr. Celestin Ngango, was kidnapped and a ransom was demanded. Days later, however, he was released. Both priests are from the Catholic Diocese of Goma. These are just the most recent cases in a long list of violence against Catholic clergy across the country.
The death of Fr. Etienne and the kidnapping of Fr. Celestin were publicized locally and a bit internationally, but the stories of many more victims remain untold. On Saturday April 7, three farmers from Kibirizi were abducted in Kahumiro in Bwito District of Rutshuru Territory, North Kivu. Dunia Sapata, 28, was beheaded, and no news has come on the whereabouts of his companions, Bendera Hangi Maiombi, 33, and Kambale Mutoloka Dieubon, 13.
On Monday April 9, two more people, Kambale Mastaki Jean de Dieu, 26, and Kambale Mungumwa Kidumu, 60, were abducted from Lutehe village, not far Kibirizi, with no news as yet of their whereabouts. Local sources believe they may have been taken by a militia of Rwandese Hutu rebels, the Mai Mai Nyatura, who are present in the area.
Also on April 9, in Kasoso, North Kivu, five rangers of the Virunga National Park and their driver were killed. They are Jean de Dieu Byamungu, 25; Barthélemie Kakule Mulewa, 28; Théodore Kasereka 25; Liévin Mumbere Kasumba, 28; Kananwa Sibomana, 22; and the driver Ila Muranda, 30. An April 10 press release from the park said that 175 members of the park staff have been killed in recent history,
The Kivu Security Tracker (KST) is a joint project of Human Rights Watch and the Congo Research Group at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation. KST has documented that from January to March 2018, 205 people were killed, 334 abducted, and 75 kidnapped for ransom in North and South Kivu alone. KST has identified 132 armed groups currently active in North and South Kivu and has mapped out the areas where they operate.
It cannot be said enough, however, that the solution to DRC’s crisis is not more violence. Violence can and will benefit only a few, and the recovery from it will be long and costly. The DRC has still not recovered from the conflicts which removed Mobutu Sese Seko from the Presidency. Only a political settlement to the crisis will ensure that any gains made so far are not lost.
by Jacques Bahati, Policy Analyst