Meet Rodrigue Rukumbuzi. Rodrigue is an animateur/inqueteur for Arche d’Alliance. He works around the town of Bijombo, deep in the Haut Plateau. A trip from Uvira to Bijombo takes two days, and half of the journey must be taken on foot, since after a certain point there are no roads suitable for vehicles. I was able to interview Rodrigue at Arche’s offices, the day before he was to leave for an extended field visit to Bijombo.
I asked Rodrigue on how Arche works on mediation between members of different ethnic and tribal groups. Rodrigue is a member of the Banyamulenge ethnic group. In Bijombo, the majority of people are Banyamulenge, but there are also large groups of Bafulero [sin. Mufulero], Babembe, Bahungu, and Pygmies. Each ethnic group has its own language and a history of problems with other ethnic groups. Ethnic differences have often been the catalyst of violence and instability in this region, especially since cultural and ethnic territories flow across the national boundaries set by colonial powers so many years ago.
Rodrigue’s work primarily consists of educating people on the importance of living at peace with your neighbors, regardless of ethnicity, language, or tribal affiliation.
“There are Banyamulenge who do not understand the Bafulero,” he says, “so there are often problems. Thus, we educate the people on peaceful cohabitation and peaceful conflict resolution.”
Arche d’Alliance’s sends out “integrated” teams to places like Bujimbo, so a Banyamulenge like Rodrigue will work on peaceful conflict resolution with members of his ethnic group, whereas his Bafulero colleagues will work with the Bafulero, etc.
“During the Rwandan invasion, a lot of Bafulero fled Bijombo into the forest, towards Kamitunga,” says Rodrigue, “So some of the Banyamulenge stole the cows, goats, and land that they left behind. Consequently, repatriating Bafulero have had difficulties getting their property back.”
“In addition,” he continues, “The Mai Mai attacked some Banyamulenge villages and stole their cows. Now, when a Mufulero meets a Banyamulenge, they will both accuse the other of stealing their cows.”
Rodrigue believes that in order to stop ethnic conflict, everyone needs to set aside their differences and recognize the benefits of peaceful cohabitation.
“We should all live together peacefully,” he says, “Since after all, we are all human beings, we are all Congolese, we live in the Congo, we are under the same constitution, we must all respect each other.”
Rodrigue and his colleagues in the Haut Plateau are working to form a CMC (Comité de Médiation et Conciliation) in Bijombo. Since the CMC will have balanced representation from each ethnic group, it will hopefully provide a means of alternative conflict resolution in an area where violence is often the rule rather than the exception to resolving conflicts.
“In the Haut Plateau, everyone has a gun in his home,” says Rodrigue, “So if they hear of trouble, the Banyamulenge and the Bafulero immediately get their guns out and start shooting each other.”
Obviously, working in the Haut Plateau is dangerous, especially since those who profit from the instability will not hesitate to use violence to maintain the status quo. One wishes safe passage for Rodrigue and his colleagues as they attempt to bring peace to a region rife with violence.
Posted By Walter James
Posted Aug 4th, 2009