On Tuesday, October 5th, I awoke to the sounds of wailing coming from outside my house. I stepped outside to investigate, and was greeted by a crowd of people loudly mourning outside of the office of Eben-Ezer Ministry, right across the street from my residence. There had been an ambush the night before, and the director of Eben-Ezer, along with several of his staff, had been killed.
Eben-Ezer Ministry is a local faith-based NGO that works primarily in education in Fizi and Uvira Territories. I have been introduced to several of the members of Eben-Ezer, and would see them across the street and wave to them on a daily basis.
On October 4th, around 17h, a vehicle belonging to Eben-Ezer Ministry, containing 14 passengers, was ambushed by Mai Mai Yakutumba. The attack occurred in a remote area known as Echibe, about 18 km from Baraka on the road to Fizi Centre. In the attack, the Mai Mai allegedly fired an RPG 7 rocket-propelled grenade at the vehicle. 7 people were killed, 5 of them workers for Eben-Ezer. According to the Territorial Administrator of Fizi, 3 others were wounded by gunfire and 4 women were kidnapped by the assailants. The survivors of the attack have alleged that among the perpetrators were members of the FNL (a Burundian rebel group exiled in the Congo) and the FDLR (a Rwandan Hutu nationalist group).
The Territorial Administrator also asserted that the FARDC was able to chase down and kill two of the perpetrators responsible for the massacre.
On the same evening, just before the Eben-Ezer ambush, a motorcycle taxi carrying a policeman and a FARDC soldier was attacked nearby. All three persons were killed. It is believed that the same armed men who attacked the Eben-Ezer vehicle were also responsible for this incident.
The UN has released a statement condemning the attacks and calling for the Congolese government to do more to protect humanitarians. During the subsequent days after the attacks, I could hear quite a few UN helicopters going back-and-forth between Uvira and Fizi. According to the UN press release, there have been approximately 140 reported security incidents involving humanitarian workers in Nord Kivu and Sud Kivu since the beginning of 2011.
The local FARDC commander, Col. Delphin Kahimbi, condemned the Mai Mai for “missing their targets” in attacking civilians. Col. Kahimbi said that the Mai Mai had the time to verify the object of their “ambush” as being a group of civilians, and therefore have no excuse. While Col. Kahimbi’s words ring true, his statement is somewhat ironic considering the conduct of the FARDC during Kimiya II and Amani Leo and their own disregard for the rules of engagement.
One stark reality is that there is very little security for anyone traveling in Fizi Territory, especially considering that the MONUSCO troop presence is weak and the FARDC troop presence can be quite ineffective. Every day, humanitarians, along with the ordinary citizens of Fizi, must risk their lives in order to carry out their work. This latest incident, though sadly preventable, was probably inevitable, considering the lack of security and the increasing level of combat between armed groups in Fizi Territory. One wonders if the Congolese government and MONUSCO will start to take things a bit more seriously in terms of taking preventative action, instead of arriving at the scene too late to prevent murder, torture, and rape.
Another sinister dimension to the entire sad affair: there are quite a few people that believe that the Eben-Ezer vehicle was targeted by the Mai Mai because it belonged to a “Banyamulenge” NGO. In 2011, Mai Mai Yakutumba leadership has released several statements demanding the removal of “Rwandan” (i.e. Rwandophone) troops from South Kivu; Yakutumba has used widespread resentment against abusive Rwandan/Rwandophone troops to build support for his agenda, to the detriment of relations between Congolese Rwandophone communities, such as the Banyamulenge, and the “autochtone” tribes of Babembe, Bafulero, and Bavira. A prominent Banyamulenge leader, Enock Ruberangabo, has called this attack “ethnic conflict at a local level”. However, one must remember that as long as armed groups operate with impunity in the Kivus, all civilians, regardless of ethnicity, are at risk of being attacked.
Over the past few days, my neighborhood has been filled with a constant stream of mourners coming to Eben-Ezer Ministry to express their condolences. The sounds of pained wailing have disappeared, but there is still a heavy spirit of bereavement hanging over the quartier. The humanitarian community in Uvira/Fizi has suffered a great loss, and we are all reminded of the risks that must be taken in order to assist vulnerable populations, fight for social justice, and struggle for development in the Congo.
Posted By WALTER JAMES
Posted Oct 8th, 2011