by Peter Dixon and Maria Elena Vignoli
Are Iturians ready to speak about the past?
Photo credit: Peter Dixon
From 1999 to 2007, the Ituri district of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s northeastern Province Orientale was the scene of a deadly war that killed 60,000 and displaced over 500,000 people. In 2003, Ituri was home to at least six armed groups, with somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 militia members. While the history is far more complex, the war was so violent in part because it pitched two of Ituri’s ethnic groups (Hema and Lendu) against each other. There’s plenty of background reading available. Dan Fahey’s 2013 Usalama Project Report is a good start.
As three out of four of the ICC’s Ituri-based trials approach their conclusion, the question looms, can Ituri be declared ‘post-conflict’? On the one hand, the November 2012 attacks in Bunia (organized and orchestrated at least in-part by the military and police), the presence of Justin Banaloki (aka “Cobra Matata”) in Walendu Bindi and Paul Sadala (aka “Morgan”) in Mambasa, and persisting land-related tensions are clear indicators that the risk of violence is still an ever-present reality for Iturians. On the other hand, reports are suggesting that a sustainable, if fragile, peace may have already emerged (also here). One thing is clear:
“There is an urgent need for a comprehensive peace process in Ituri to bridge the socio-economic and ideological gap between ethnic communities.” — Dan Fahey, Usalama Project, 2013
For the past several months, we have been interviewing leaders, stakeholders and the general population across three of Ituri’s five territories (Irumu, Djugu and Mahagi) on the issue. In total, we’ve held over 50 discussion groups and one-on-one interviews with over 170 customary leaders, civil society leaders, representatives (e.g. farmers’ representatives, youth representatives), authorities and victims’ groups. We also carried out a random survey of over 800 Iturians in Irumu and Djugu. Together with the Netherlands-based IKV Pax Christi, our goal is twofold: to better understand whether Iturians are ready to publicly speak about the acts and events of war, and if so, to identify what shape(s) this process could take. We’re still sifting through the data. In the meantime, here is some background context and some initial thoughts.