DRC: 23 Killed in Renewed Lendu-Hema Ethnic Conflict Top story

4055 Views Kampala, Uganda

In short
Suspicion is rife that the killers are suspected Lendu warriors from neighbouring Walendu Tatsi commune. Sources say the massacre took place in the village of Blukwa in Hema territory, about 100 kilometres north of the regional city of Bunia.

Reports from Ituri Province in the northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo suggest an upsurge in the bloody conflict between Lendu and Hema ethnic groups. The conflict between two groups restarted in late 2017, sending over 5,000 refugees into Uganda.

There was a lull in the conflict in January, but the ethnic bloodbath resumed on February 2, following the hacking to death of 23 women and children from the Hema community.

 Suspicion is rife that the killers are suspected Lendu warriors from neighbouring Walendu Tatsi commune. Sources say the massacre took place in the village of Blukwa in Hema territory, about 100 kilometres north of the regional city of Bunia.

Local Hema youth reportedly rioted, accusing the local gendarme or police of doing nothing to avert the attack, leading to skirmishes which cut-off the main road connecting Bunia and towns on the Ugandan border like Mahagi, Aru and Ariwara.

In a demonstration in Bunia, irate Hema demonstrators reportedly attempted to round up the Governor of Ituri, Abdallah Pene Mbaka, but the police intervened and dispersed them.

The police, backed by the military, used live ammunition and tear gas to disperse the crowd. Many schools and universities have shut down, sending learners home.

In Bunia, the Hema business community, led by their president Ruhigwa Bamaraki, declared three days of mourning and closed their businesses.

Since the Hema are one of the most dominant business elite groups, alongside the Alur, Bunia reportedly came under lockdown, as other business people also kept away.

Sources, quoting Bamaraki, say there has been the systematic killing of Hema people from February 2 till February 5 when the military reportedly intervened. On all those days travel to and from Bunia, especially from Uganda, got disrupted as motorists monitored the developments.

Arua-based journalist, Patrick Alioni, who monitors developments in the DRC, says calm has now returned and the road to Bunia, from Uganda, has reopened although travellers are cautious.

In Bunia, normalcy has also returned to businesses and schools open, although there is a heavy presence of the gendarme and the military.

The conflict between the Lendu and Hema dates far back in time, hinging mainly around struggle over land.

The Lendu are farmers while the Hema are herders, and the two peoples, who live side by side, frequently fight over access to land, also very rich in minerals, particularly gold.
 
Being more economically stronger and exposed, the Hema own large swathes of land, but which the Lendu indigenously lay claim on.
 
The claim to the land is so strong that it frequently sparks long drawn bloody conflicts that technically do not end, but get restarted with the slightest provocation from either side.

The Lendu-Hema ethnic conflict has its own subplot in the wider DRC conflict but is usually the least reported on, perhaps due to its remoteness and the danger it poses to the national centres of power.

Between 1999 and 2003, an episode of the conflict claimed tens of thousands of lives on both sides of the conflict. Highly emotive, it is the kind of conflict that takes its own course, petering out and resuming on its own terms.