Two nights ago, a group of gunmen walked into a bar in Gatumba, Burundi. The armed men ordered everyone to lay down, and then started shooting. So far, 39 people are dead from this brutal attack.
Gatumba is a small town right on the border between Burundi and the Congo. It used to be a part of Congo (Zaire), but back in the 1980s, Marshal Mobutu gave the area to Burundi “as a gift”. In order to get to Bujumbura from Uvira, one must drive through the town of Gatumba. It is a thriving border post, with butcher shops, bread stalls, and many, many cows wandering in the roads. The bar in question where the massacre occurred, is one that I am used to seeing from the windows of a taxi on my way to Buj.
The BBC news account does not mention the affiliation of the gunmen, but I have my strong suspicions that they belong to the FNL. The FNL is a Burundian rebel group that fled the country after Pierre Nkurunzize and the FDD took power back in 2005. Burundi still has continued political problems, and the FDD uses violence and intimidation to retain power, even in the midst of “free elections”. Human Rights Watch has labeled the Burundian government as “repressive”, and most observers regard the last Burundian elections in 2010 as a sham. As such, political/armed opposition groups such as the FNL have been forced to re-locate elsewhere. Not surprisingly, the FNL is present in scads in the Congo, where the state is too weak to effectively object to their presence.
As the BBC article says, there are suspicions that the perpetrators of this massacre came over the border from the Congo. The FNL is still based in the Congo, particularly in the Ubwari Peninsula in Fizi Territory. Over the past few months, the Burundian military has had several confrontations with the FNL in the Ruzizi Plain near Kiliba, about 5-10 minutes outside of Uvira. The border region in the Ruzizi Plain is rather porous, and cattle herders regularly shuttle their cows back and forth between Congo and Burundi on a daily basis. This border area also used to be a major arms smuggling locus.
Overall, while the Burundian government is pursuing the FNL across the border, there seems to be a bit of a lack of acknowledgment of the FNL’s base within the Congo. Of course, it is a well-known fact within the Congo that the FNL is alive and well, and it allying itself with other non-state armed movements, such as the FDLR and Mai Mai Yakutumba. However, many ordinary Burundians do not seem to be aware of FNL presence in the Congo, or else are glad that the frontlines of the combat have been moved outside of their borders. Again, another sad example of how neighboring nations’ problems seem to seep their way into the Congo.
It seems logical that the FNL insurgency would strike back at the Burundian government after their continued pursuit in the Ruzizi region. However, the pattern of retaliation is all too predictable in this part of Africa: instead of confronting your enemy’s soldiers, massacre helpless civilians instead.
Posted By WALTER JAMES
Posted Sep 20th, 2011