In response to recent violent events in their communities, both church organizations separately approached Polisi, CBM’s Relief and Development Specialist, with requests for assistance to help address the conflict in the area. Polisi wisely ascertained that the place to begin was with each other. He contacted Gato and met with the leaders of both denominations together.
Tribal conflict has existed in the DRC for many years. It started back in 1885 when the Berlin Conference drew borders creating countries to divide resources among the Western Countries at the expense of the African people. These boundaries put some Rwandese in what is now the DRC. These Rwandese became Congolese.
Colonialism under Germany and then Belgium fuelled the tribal divides. Colonialists brought additional Rwandese to settle in the DRC in the 1930s to cultivate their coffee and tea plantations.
For these reasons, people of Rwandan heritage settled in the Kivu area alongside native Congolese, who are mainly of the Nande tribe. Most of the church members of the CEBCE have Rwandese heritage, while most of the members of the CBCA are mainly of the Nande people. These denominations have emerged as separate organizations partly because of the history I have described of two heritages coming to live in the same area and partly because of some misunderstanding with missionaries in the late 1950s over education issues and native Africans’ participation in church management.
Tensions significantly worsened in Kivu after 1994 because several thousand Rwandese, including many members of the military and militia who had participated in the genocide, fled there to escape the new Rwandan authorities. These militias exerted their power over the refugees to keep them as a tool to attack the country. Therefore, there was much fighting – insurgents trying to control the refugees and new Rwandan leaders trying to free the refugees from them. The victims of this first war were mainly refugees. Many Rwandese refugees
returned to Rwanda though some stayed. Some members of the military and militia of the former government during the genocide stayed as well, becoming rebels who continue to fuel the conflict and violence.
A second war involving at least nine African countries ensued over trade in ‘conflict minerals’ – tin, tantalum, and tungsten, all found in electronic devices. This war formally ended in 2003 and resulted in over 5.4 million deaths. However, years of war and conflict have continued in the North and South Kivu provinces resulting in areas controlled by various militia groups, using sexual violence and forced
labour in their pursuit of illicit mining of the conflict minerals (one estimate suggests there are approximately 70 of them). Another tactic of the militia groups is to fuel suspicion and blame between tribal peoples. Destabilizing communities in this way continues to give the militia groups the upper hand.
I am very aware of the danger of oversimplifying a very complex and confusing situation. Ethnic tension, colonialist interests, political factors (especially concerning multiple citizenships accepted in some countries and rejected in others), and economic interests of multinational companies are all at play. But this very reality is what makes Polisi’s and Gato’s work so remarkable.
Polisi and Gato responded to the two separate requests from the two church denominations to help address the conflict in the area by bringing them together. To address the ethnic conflict in the region of North Kivu, we needed to begin with their relationships. Polisi and Gato facilitated conversations amongst the church leaders of the CBCA and the CEBCE on several occasions, resulting in a formal declaration.
We, leaders of the two above-mentioned ecclesiastical communities, declared on May 18, 2021, that our churches shall do the following joint actions:
- To collaborate and work together for peace promotion actions and peaceful coexistence
- To work on priorities related to peace restoration and peaceful coexistence
- To carry out emergency actions for people affected by violence
- To carry out awareness-raising activities on peace through evangelical approaches
- To pool resources for actions related to conflict prevention
- To establish a think tank to reflect on peacebuilding
- And, to use our two logos for visibility on peace messages
We pray and trust that this formal and public declaration will help the members from both church denominations know the goodwill of their church leaders and encourage each member to continue to work towards peace and reconciliation in their own homes and communities.
GOD DOES WORK THROUGH HIS PEOPLE, people like Polisi Kivava and Gato Munyamasoko and the leaders of our partner churches in the DRC. Together with you, we are aiming to further the presence and influence of God’s peaceful kingdom. Thank you for your continued support.