An interview with Florentin Mokonda Bonza, Professor at the University of Kinshasa and President of the Convention of Christian Democrats (CDC) and of the political platform the New Initiative for the Congo (NIC). The opinions expressed in this interview do not represent the policy of the Africa Faith and Justice Network.
Thank you for agreeing to enlighten national and international opinion on these political and security issues concerning the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Question: There are videos from the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo circulating on social media showing unbearable images of children, young people, women and men, whole families tied up, arms behind their backs, who are then beheaded, stabbed, gutted, slaughtered with knives or machetes or even smoked like meat. Who are the perpetrators of this violence and when did it start?
Bonza: What is happening in North Kivu, especially in the Beni region, is unacceptable and intolerable. It is unimaginable, unbelievable, that for decades entire swathes of Congolese territory have been destabilized and occupied by foreign armed groups without an energetic reaction from the country’s civil and military authorities. The Beni tragedy is unacceptable, given that the area where this macabre theater plays out is well defined.
Even before what is now happening in Beni, between 2005 and 2008 Joseph Kony’s LRA [Lord’s Resistance Army] occupied Garamba National Park, more than 500 km from the Uganda-Congo border. Up to 25 December 2008, they killed, ransacked, burned, and organized kidnappings of young people, women and men, in plain sight of governmental and military authorities, and all this in spite of the cries of alarm raised by local populations, civil society, and elected officials, both provincial and national. Since then, the LRA have created a corridor like a “no man’s land” separating the DRC, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan, a space they control despite the presence of the Congolese and Ugandan armies. Go figure!
As in Beni, Uele, and Ituri, never has there been a serious, independent investigation, or fair and equitable trials with harsh and dissuasive sanctions against offenders.
I never believed in the hypothesis viewing the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), opponents of President Yoweri Museveni, as butchers and killers of Congolese citizens in the DRC, unless there is a now a circumstantial alliance between the Ugandan President and his erstwhile enemies in order to occupy land belonging to the Nande of North Kivu. This adventure could only work if certain Nande politicians were to betray the Congolese nation by agreeing to collaborate with those who have deliberately chosen to destabilize our country, exterminate the Nande people, and appropriate their lands.
The objectives of the killers and their sponsors appear to be political, economic, geostrategic, etc., and are furthered by complicity at all levels: local, provincial, national, and international. The killers just glide on, enriching themselves on the backs of the Congolese people. Only a general mobilization of the Congolese people can put an end to this tragedy.
Question: Because of insecurity, many of the villages are deserted. Former Prime Minister Adolphe Muzito, in a 23 December 2019 press conference, accused neighboring countries of causing this insecurity. He said that, as a solution, “We must wage war on Rwanda, we must annex Rwanda.” However, President Félix Tshisekedi is pursuing a policy of regional integration as a lasting solution. What do you think? Who are the promoters of this ideology of Balkanization? What is their objective?
Bonza: The concern for regional or sub-regional integration has unceasingly characterized all Congolese leaders. Already in December 1958 in Accra, Lumumba and other nationalist leaders subscribed to the pan-African ideal distilled by the Ghanaian Kwame N’krumah and laid the foundations for the creation of a continental organization. In May 1963, Kasa-Vubu was among the founders of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) now the African Union (AU). Under the Second Republic, Mobutu pressed hard for the creation of the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries (ECGLC) and of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS). In the late 1980s, he even pushed for the creation of a League of Black African States, the LENA. Under Laurent-Désiré Kabila, the DRC joined the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and quite recently, against all odds, it became a member of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), not to mention the African Continental Free Trade Zone, (AfCFTA).
The attitude of Congolese leaders is undoubtedly founded upon the position the DRC occupies at the heart of the continent, its relative geographic isolation, the extent of the borders shared with nine immediate neighbors, and the vocation to live in peace with others. It therefore seems to me entirely justified that Félix Tshisekedi should emphasize the promotion of regional integration insofar as this contributes to building lasting peace among member countries, promoting their economic development, and strengthening their cohesion.
The goal of regional integration, however, must not obscure the legitimate concern of building internally a solid economy and a deterrent defense force that can ensure internal and external security. I remind you that Belgium, France, and the United Kingdom, though allies during the two world wars, pursued different policies of colonization, and that each in its own way defended its colonial empire. There is therefore no contradiction.
The remarks made by former Prime Minister Adolphe Muzito would be welcomed by Congolese youth, who were widely abused and discouraged by the weakness of our leaders over two decades and their unjustified enrichment. Still, though we may know when war begins, how do we know when it ends? Often, those who die in a war are mainly those who did not start it. We expect the leaders of the DRC, whoever they are, to declare a war to fight against the anti-values (corruption, bribery, tribalism, embezzlement of public funds, incompetence, poor governance, etc.), to break the vicious circle of poverty, to establish the authority of the State over the entire territory, and to promote socioeconomic development through public policies that generate jobs and income for the young, who represent 60% of the Congolese population.
Question: In this anti-Balkanization movement, the nationality of the Hutu and Tutsi populations in Congo, most of whom are in North Kivu, is still in question. Currently these populations are targeted and feel threatened as a result of the mobilization of the anti-Balkanization movement. Are we seeing indicators of an imminent interethnic conflict that could lead to genocide?
Bonza: The debate over Balkanization must not be confused with the issue of nationality, which is governed by laws drawn up and voted in Parliament, then promulgated by the Presidents of the Republic. The concept of Balkanization (dismemberment) is conceived and implemented by the citizens of a country according to procedures that – whether constitutional or not – lead the way to a fragmentation of the previous national entity. It can also be the work of external forces seeking to weaken a state or reduce it to dependence. In the case of our country, the idea of Balkanization is not new. The Katangese secession and the institution of the empire of South Kasai in Bakwanga have already been seen as attempts at Balkanization.
In the mid-1990s, in some Anglo-Saxon countries, talk abounded regarding the possibility of an implosion in Congo-Zaire. We were already considering a form of Balkanization, notably by talking about “useful Congo” or the 25th parallel. Other laboratories of the international community have argued for six republics (each former province) or three republics (Kivu and Orientale; Katanga; and Grand Kasai, Equator, and the former province of Léopoldville). Some vicious think tanks in Africa and the DRC have thought of other formulas: an eastern republic and a western republic. Don’t think all of these projects are a fantasy.
The sacrosanct principle of the inviolability of the borders inherited from colonization has always been defended tooth and nail by certain countries which have known inclinations for independence, particularly Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Cameroon. Balkanization challenges this founding principle of continental organization. Some neighboring heads of state have not hesitated to make threatening remarks about the integrity of our territory. We can conclude that they feed and maintain hegemonic ideas and ambitions about our country. So be it! It is up to us to organize ourselves to defend our internal and external security.
The question of nationality has to be settled by legislation. In the modern world, nationality must no longer be resolved by means of arms. Not all foreigners residing in the DRC, whether refugees or not, automatically gain Congolese nationality. The Rwandan or Burundian Tutsis and Hutus who emigrate legally or illegally to North Kivu, South Kivu, and Tanganyika do not necessarily have Congolese nationality. But this does not call into question the nationality of those who legitimately settled in the Congo before independence.
Likewise, the Lugwara, Kakwa, Hema, Alur, and other Lendu who live in Uganda or Kenya do not necessarily have Ugandan or Kenyan nationality. The Nande, Hunde, Nianga, Shi, Rega, Bembe, Fuliro, Vira, Tumbwe, and other Tabwa living in Rwanda, Burundi, or Tanzania cannot in any case claim Rwandan, Burundian, or Tanzanian nationality or gain it by taking up arms against their host country.
In North Kivu, for anyone of good will who has a basic knowledge of the sociology of our populations, there is no interethnic conflict. The territories of Beni and Lubero, which belong to the “Great North,” are occupied by a single NANDE ethnic group that is, moreover, tightly knit. Those doing the killing, even up to today, want to create fear, psychosis, and anguish in order to force populations to flee their environment and, against their will, give up their ages-old land and habitat. The Congolese will not be taken in. Their kind of resilience will eventually defeat the attackers.