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The discovery of gold around 1970 changed the landscape of this village. Gold was discovered when a cow grazing in the pastures stumbled and slid, exposing a piece of the land where a gold nugget laid. This discovery marked the beginning of the Mukungwe gold rush. Traditional authorities claim that while the surface of the land does not belong to them, the subsoil belongs to them, thus making them the rightful owners of the gold. The Chunu clan disagreed with this claim. This disagreement sparked a conflict between the parties. To make matters worse, the leader of the Chunu clan involved Rubango (head of another family) in the feud.

The land ownership dispute soured relations between the former allies. Artisanal miners loyal to the two parties are able to mine, but mining activity largely depends on relations between these two brothers become enemies. The claims of the customary authority remain unsolved. As a result, there are now three conflicting parties. The situation has been exacerbated by military presence who, instead of bringing help have worsened the situation. The men in uniform have made deals with the conflicting parties, based on who can bid the highest. The list of catalysts in the equation has rendered the site ungovernable. The Congolese government then sold Mukungwe to BANRO, a Canadian MNC for industrial mining purposes. Yet, BANRO permits orpailleurs (artisanal and small-scale miners in Mukungwe referred to as orpailleurs) to engage in artisanal mining, yet the conflict between the two clans persists.

According to the representative of the orpailleurs and other inhabitants of Mukungwe, soldiers patrolling the area have illegal cells where civilians are arrested. Locals took advantage of the public broadcast on Radio Maendeleo in collaboration with the organisation Observatoire Gouvernance et Paix to air their grievances which was aired on 20 November. During the broadcast, administrator of the territory of Walungu, Dominique Bofondo, again ordered the soldiers to vacate the area which was well received by the people. The people living in close proximity to the mine handed over an ad hoc memorandum to the Superior Military Prosecutor in Bukavu. Colonel Djuma lent an ear to a few signatories before expediting an enquiry. The enquiry is underway to confirm whether the facts are true. The results from the enquiry are still pending. 

Civil Society is not taking this lying down

The militarisation of Mukungwe resulted to endemic violence. However, civil society remains undeterred by the violence. “Significant progress has been made. The task is not insurmountable”, said Eric Kajemba, Coordinator of the organisation Observatoire Grouvernance et Paix. An act of commitment to peace has been signed by the conflicting parties, accompanied by the Provincial Commission of Security. “The two families commit to withdrawing their pending cases in the face of judicial proceedings”. This text further stipulated that the soldiers’ presence from the site needs to be removed.

Thus far, only one party has respected the first clause. Yet, the withdrawal of military forces from the mine is yet to take place. According to an officer of the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC), whose identity cannot be revealed, the soldiers stationed at Mukungwe are prepared to leave the area and are simply awaiting orders from the hierarchy. This detachment shows the competence of the Commander of the 33rd Military Region based in Bukavu.

The people have not given up the fight

Reports of abuse by military personnel have not been received in the same manner between the disputing parties. When one of them confirms claims the other party contradicts them. This leads us to think of a moral support or open allegiances, depending on the attitudes of the parties. The complaints of the military accompanied by threats against those who denouncers are on the increase and cases have been opened against them. There is the risk of going back to square one. The people of Mukungwe have had enough. Pastor Karhabona from the community of free Pentecostal churches in Africa in Mukungwe, one of the notables in the area is worried: “commitments that have been made must be upheld. This is the only way to achieve peace in Mukungwe”.

The pathway to peace is balancing on a knife’s edge. All that is required is to cut the military’s umbilical cord. Does peace not also acquire by the respect of the commitments made and legal texts?

Anaclet Balume, head of project “Economy and Peace, Sylvia Sergiou, technical advisor EIRENE-OGP.

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