Editorial

Violence returns to DR Congo's Ituri province

Recent fighting in country's northeast has forced tens of thousands to flee since December of last year.

A refugee camp in the centre of Bunia. With the first groups of refugees having come from the nearby Djugu territory to settle here in February, there are now approximately two thousand living in the camp. [Alex Mcbride Wilson/Al Jazeera]

A recent surge in fighting has plagued the northeastern territory of Ituri in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In a wave of attacks beginning in December of 2017, tens of thousands of members of the Hema community have fled the Djugu territory of Ituri to evade Lendu aggressors.

More than 40,000 Congolese have fled the country to seek refuge in neighbouring Uganda, while tens of thousands more have travelled north towards the town of Mahagi and south towards the province's capital, Bunia. This new fluctuation in displacement is but a mere fraction of the estimated 4.5 million Congolese displaced across the country.

Tensions between the Hema and Lendu communities, who have shared the land currently recognised as Ituri, has existed since Belgian colonial rule. The Hema people benefitted from a disproportionate access to education and wealth that ended up creating a socioeconomic gap that has remained prominent to this day. Despite this, the geographical proximity of the two tribes has allowed for inter-marriage and even in some areas a common language.

Sparked by the Second Congo War, fighting between the two tribes shook the region between 1999 and 2003, during which an estimated 60,000 people were killed and 500,000 displaced.

Violence continued in the region until 2007 after which Ituri has enjoyed a relative peace.

Though it has been generally understood that Lendu groups have instigated the recent violence, armed with machetes, spears, bows and arrows and some with guns, their motives behind the sudden attacks and whether they were acting autonomously has remained unclear.

A refugee cuts a customer's hair in the middle of the refugee camp in Bunia. [Alex Mcbride Wilson/Al Jazeera] A woman and her daughter prepare food in a refugee camp in central Bunia. [Alex Mcbride Wilson/Al Jazeera] Fishing boats on the shores of Kasenyi in Ituri province. Boats like these have been used by Hema to flee to Uganda after the violence started in Djugu territory. The poor condition of the boats has meant that it has taken some refugees up to 10 hours to cross the lake, while several others have drowned in their attempts to make the crossing. [Alex Mcbride Wilson/Al Jazeera] A UN peacekeeping mission patrols the outskirts of Kafe - a village which lies on the shores of Lake Albert, Ituri. The Hema village was rendered a ghost town after apparent Lendu attacks caused the residents to seek safety in other parts of the region as well as nearby Uganda. [Alex Mcbride Wilson/Al Jazeera] Maize, flour and a baby's drinking bottle are scattered across the floor of an abandoned home in the Hema village of Kafe. With no warning of the attacks, villagers were forced to flee their homes without a chance to bring any of their belongings. [Alex Mcbride Wilson/Al Jazeera] The interior of a Hema home is left ravaged in the village of Kafe, Ituri after a recent raid carried out by Lendu fighters. [Alex Mcbride Wilson/Al Jazeera] An abandoned church in the village of Lita. The church and the buildings adjacent to it were left ransacked by Lendu fighters in a recent spate of attacks against their Hema neighbours. [Alex Mcbride Wilson/Al Jazeera] A hospital in the village of Lita is left abandoned after being ransacked in a Lendu attack which left the village completely empty. [Alex Mcbride Wilson/Al Jazeera] Women gather at a market in a village in the Djugu area of Ituri province. With tens of thousands having fled the area, customers have become scarce, leaving those who chose to remain in their homes without anyone to sell their produce to. [Alex Mcbride Wilson/Al Jazeera] A UN peacekeeper and Hema villagers stand amid the wreckage of a village within the Djugu area of Ituri province. [Alex Mcbride Wilson/Al Jazeera] Children sit in the Hema village of Tche. Though the village lies in the middle of an area of Ituri ravaged by conflict, it remains untouched by local fighters and continues to be inhabited by its residents. [Alex Mcbride Wilson/Al Jazeera]

About the Author

Alex Mcbride Wilson