So the past week has been quite busy, as I traveled to Gisenyi in northwest Rwanda then across the Rwanda/DRC border to Goma, from where I visited two internally-displaced persons (IDP) camps and the town of Sake. (For a map of the area, as well as an interesting article about gorillas and charcoal, see the article in this month’s National Geographic).

In each place I visited, I interviewed people who led and who participated in HROC workshops (on reconciliation and trauma healing) to learn about the conflict in the region and about the effectiveness of the workshops. The conflict is quite complex, but for now let me just give a quick overview of the conflict as it relates to Gisenyi-Goma:

People speaking the language of Rwanda, Kinyarwandans, have been living what is now eastern DRC for over 100 years. Some of them migrated when the Belgians wanted to move more labor to the region, others arrived when Tutsi were fleeing violence with the rise to power of Hutu in Rwanda during independence. More Tutsi fled to the region during the 1994 genocide, and as the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) ended the genocide in Rwanda and took control of the government, many Hutu fled to the region, some of whom were involved in commiting atrocities, others just fleeing a feared retribution.

Some of the Hutu who fled formed military forces with the intent of retaking power in Rwanda, which the Rwandan government was none too happy about, and so in 1996, with the stated purpose of overthrowing the ruthless kleptocrat Mobutu Sese Seko, Rwanda and Uganda supported a successful military incursion into what was then called Zaire and installed Laurent-Desire Kabila (the First Congo War). Kabila included many Rwandans in his government, which angered some Congolese to the extent that he removed the Rwandans from their seats. Combined with the fact that Kabila had done little to stop the Hutu militia that still threatened Rwanda, Rwanda and Uganda embarked on a war against their former ally (the Second Congo War or the Great War of Africa). This one did not go so well for them though, as Angola, Chad, and others provided support for Kabila, and so the conflict fell into a stalemate. The countries involved signed a peace accord in 2003 and (largely) got out of the country, though there continues to be discreet involvement through support to rebel groups.

As it stands now (to simplify), the militias operating in North Kivu include the Hutu FDLR (some of whom were involved in the genocide, but many of whom were too young or just not involved), a group led by Laurent Nkunda who makes himself out to be the protector of the (Banyarwanda) Tutsi, and a number of other local militias called “Mai-Mai.” The result is that some Rwandans currently blame the Congolese for not disarming and handing over the FDLR, who they lump together as all being involved in the genocide, while some Congolese blame the Rwandans for invading their country and continuing to support Nkunda.

The resulting ill-will is palpable in Gisenyi and Goma, despite the fact that the two sides of what is really one city are very connected. People from Gisenyi go to the Goma side to do shopping, send their kids to schools in Goma, and so on, while people from Goma go to Kigali for healthcare, and so on. Yet each side blames the other for conflict, and even face being publicly criticized just for their nationality. Next time I will talk about how our workshops are helping to address this problem, as well as the ongoing conflict within DRC.