Swima is a beautiful village on the coast of Lake Tanganyika in the territory of Fizi. It is also a land of conflict where violence and disputes can easily destabilise the whole village for days. This article focuses on a land conflict which arose in Swima between two groups of people after the war and the return of refugees from the refugee camps of Nyarugusu in Tanzania.

Before the war of liberation in 1996, two groups of people from the Bembe tribe were together cultivating around 50ha land. With the onset of war, one group decided to flee to Tanzania while the other group refused to leave the village.

The group that stayed in the village continued to cultivate the whole land. And after spending 13 years in refuge, the other group came home from Tanzania. When they arrived in the village, they did not find any place to cultivate because the whole land was occupied by the other group. When asked to give away some portion of the land to those who had returned, those who stayed refused. This brought a very big issue of dispute between the two groups. Men, women and children took part in the conflict. The whole village was badly affected by the conflict. The outcome of the conflict was the destruction of crops; six houses destroyed and 4 people deadly wounded.

Local authorities intervened in an attempt to end the conflict, but after two meetings in the village they were unable to find a compromise. Police were placed to guard the land, and the two groups forbidden to cultivate or even come near. The actions of the local authorities did nothing to change the situation. Hatred was still visible on the faces of the population. “Nothing changed at all”, declared Sango Shila, ACODIF president. View Larger Map

The local authorities may have brought about a relative calm, but the possibility of conflict restarting remained, and along with it fears that a second wave of violence would cause even more damage than before. “This why we decided to intervene” said Mulondani Steeve, ACODIF member in charge of conflict resolution.

swima-1“On September 14th, 2009 we called a meeting of tribal representatives, representatives of the two groups, civil society mostly local churches representatives, schools representatives and other local non for profit organisations working in the area. As the Fizi is a war troubled area we did not associate in the debate military, police and local armed groups called Mai Mai.”

After one week of regular meetings, an agreement was reached. The two groups were happy with the agreement which they signed and accepted to apply. The terms of the agreement were:

  • The group which occupied the land was asked to continue to cultivate the land up to the time of harvest.
  • The participants decided that after the harvest a quantity of products be given to those who came from refuge.
  • The whole village accepted that the land be divided into two groups next year to allow both parties to continue cultivate each one its portion of land.
“Today,” says Sango Shila, “the two groups live in harmony and have accepted to continue to live in the same village for the development of their area and in mutual assistance. I find in what we are doing a sign of satisfaction because many times we think it is difficult to bring together people, but a little bit sense of understanding of the origin of the conflict brings huge results. Local understanding of the area and culture help local initiatives to go to the root of conflict and bring out the hurting wound. Once that is done, it is easy to bring people together with the magic of negotiation and verbal strategy. All it takes us is respect of people, know the problem, understand them and love them.”
Floribert Kazingufu, Insight on Conflict, November 2009