From Conflict to Peace and Harmony

The war that started in DR Congo in 1996 has planted hatred in the hearts of people across the country and caused long hidden conflicts between people, tribes and communities to resurface. Conflicts are started for lots of reasons: economic inequalities, power-grabbing, cultural differences and land disputes - no corner of the country, whether large city or small rural village, has been left untouched. This report focuses on a serious, deadly conflict over a shared river between the two provinces of South Kivu and Maniema, in the territory of Fizi, and how an organisation working with all the people involved succeeded in finding a peaceful solution.

The river Kananda

The River Kananda runs through the heart of the territory of Fizi, and defines the border of the two Provinces of South Kivu and Maniema. The river is not simply a convenient border but a rich resource of natural minerals - most notably gold, nickel and diamonds. Two tribes live on each side of the river - the Bembe people on the South Kivu side and Buyu people in Maniema. Before the war the two tribes coexisted quite peacefully, with both tribes sharing the rights to extract minerals from the river without conflict. Only with the onset of war did the question of ownership of the river, and the rights to its rich resources, become an issue.

Open Conflict

Initially, the authorities from both sides did not take the issue seriously. But the presence of the Mai-Mai militia quickly brought another dimension to the conflict. It turned from a simple disagreement to escalate into an armed conflict. Fights broke out, property was destroyed, animals were killed, shops looted and lives lost. In all 16 people were killed, 137 injured, and 48 houses burnt to the ground. The violence finally pushed the authorities into taking action. With the help of local authorities and the police forces, the violence stopped, but the underlying conflict over the river was left unresolved. There was still hatred and anger on both sides. All cross-community activity was stopped. Business, school and church activities were suspended. Life was paralysed on both sides.

Peacebuilding Initiative

ACODIF, a Congolese peace organisation, noticed the danger of violence returning, and realising that the police and local authorities were unable to solve the issue of the river, decided to step in. Sango Shila, president of the organisation told me why they decided to get involved: “We could see that the conflict was taking a dangerous shape that no policemen, nor chief of tribes nor local authority could end if proper method of conflict resolution wasn’t applied..”. After two months of meetings between tribal chiefs, pastors, teachers, local authorities, and representatives of the people, ACODIF was successful in brokering a peace agreement between the two tribes.

The decision to live together in harmony

After the agreement, all the suspended activities could start up again, people were able to move from one side of the river to another one without any problems. A local joint committee was put in place to ensure that both sides continue to abide by the agreement.

One villager told me: “Before the talks, it was impossible to move from my place and do business in the other side. I thank God for the atmosphere of peace that is prevailing. Now we can continue to live together again

Another one stated: “I don’t know why people were quarrelling. The river was there before us and will continue to be there after us. We should take the opportunity to use the wealth in the river to advance us, build common schools, hospitals, etc…”