Land, Power, and Ethnic Conflict in Masisi (Congo-Kinshasa), 1940s-1994
The area of Masisi in Eastern Congo-Kinshasa, formerly Zaire, is home to four major ethnic groups – Twa, Hunde, Hutu, and Tutsi, the last two being essentially Rwandan immigrants and their descendants. From the 1940s, they have all lived together but within 50 years, the friendship they once shared has turned sour; in 1993, a massive war broke out between them, the latest in a string of ethnic conflicts.
Until the 1930s, this area was largely unpopulated, with Twa and Hunde ethnic communities scattered throughout where both ethnicities could hunt and gather food supplies. At this time, the Belgium government intervened, and settled large amounts of white and Rwandan populations into the region. “In Muvunyi-Kibabi the NCK selected the best lands and constituted four blocks for white colonization: Kalonge in 1941, Bumba in 1947, and Nyarunaba and Rwamikeri in 1951. The first two blocks were split into plots and leased progressively to white settlers, who then cultivated the pyrethrum crops”.
The foremost part of Rwandan settlement in Muvunyi-Kibabi took place between 1948 and 1957, the end of the authorized immigration. 5,000 families were meant to be settled, but the numbers may have been closer to 6,000.
The start of the ethnic conflict can be seen due to the Belgium government taking away the Twa and Hunde’s lands and giving them to the refugees being settled. “Hunting and gathering economies disappeared completely, while Hunde and Twa were integrated into a farm economy but with few land resources. In addition to both food and cash crops, the white settlers developed an interest in cattle raising and mixed farming became the dominant form of the economy by the late 1950s. What remains to be clarified is the ideology underlying the conception and implementation of the immigration pro-gram, which also inspired the Belgian way of “reconciling” European, Hunde, Hutu, and Tutsi land and political interests in setting up local structures (the Twa were completely ignored as usual), thus creating conditions for later ethnic con-frontation. The dealings about those lands involved four key players-the NCK, the colonial administration, Tutsi authorities in Rwanda, and Hunde authorities in Masisi-who paid little attention to the ordinary people’s needs and wants”.
Conflicts started to arise when the government gave the Hunde an ultimatum; either leave the Rwandan immigration zone or obey the new Rwandan authorities. Tensions started to arise. Policies started to be changed in favour of the Rwandans, and there were a series of miscommunications between colonial administration and Mutara Rudahigwa in Rwanda.
The conflicts that regarding land and power arose can be directly placed at the feet of the European colonial administrators who stole the lands from the Twa and Hunde to advantage white and Rwandan immigrants. But it was when the colonial rule ended in the 1960s that open ethnic conflicts rose up and engulfed everyone in the region, resulting in years of bloodshed and death which, hopefully, we have seen the last of.
Mararo, Bucyalimwe (1997) Land, Power, and Ethnic Conflict in Masisi (Congo-Kinshasa), 1940s-1994, The International Journal of African Historical Studies, Boston University African Studies Center.