Why xenophobia must be nipped in the bud
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is today a theatre of unprecedented violence with unimaginable consequences for our region. Already hundreds of thousands of people are displaced and are taking shelter in neigbouring countries.
There is a disturbing factor that may complicate this state of affairs. There is a new wave of xenophobia that is slowly but surely creeping just on our doorsteps of Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, which if not nipped in the bud could seriously jeopardize efforts at peace and security in our sub-region. It was reported in The New Times of yesterday that hundreds of Rwandans living in Belgium held a peaceful demonstration on Saturday to protest against the violence that is targeting Rwandans living Belgium by a clique of Congolese youth. The demonstration was organised by members of the Rwandan Diaspora in Belgium and is said to have attracted a big number of friends of Rwanda and others in the media.
The timing of this xenophobia is rather curious. It is coming at a time when leaders of the Great Lakes region are seeking a solution to the war wary Congolese people who are engulfed in a crisis that is already affecting their neighbours. What is more disturbing is that the Congolese authorities seem not to be bothered by these outrageous acts of violence in which countless Kinyarwanda speaking Congolese are brutalised on a daily basis on account of their ethnicity. Xenophobia should not just be a dislike or fear of people of certain ethnicity or background or tribe. It is a form of violence that should be condemned in the strongest terms possible. With xenophobia people get hurt or killed and their property destroyed.
In recent weeks, hundreds of Kinyarwanda speaking Congolese in North Kivu have been hounded, harassed and tortured on account of their ethnicity. While it is understandable that the DRC is a fragile state, it cannot be reasonable excuse for the authorities in Kinshasa to fail to raise a finger of condemnation against such inhuman acts.
This state of affairs has now moved to another level where Rwandans living in Belgium are being harassed and beaten by Congolese who call themselves ‘combatants” claiming to seek a solution to the war that is raging in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The high levels of violence in DRC directed at Rwandans demonstrate weaknesses of the justice system where inadequate resources and simple incompetence mean that the victims of such violence have no hope of obtaining justice.
Xenophobia is negative, abnormal and is in fact the antithesis of a healthy, normally functioning individual or society. Unfortunately, this is becoming part of DRC’s culture of violence.
A few weeks ago, 62 Rwandans fled from Goma from what they called “targeted attacks”. Some of those who fled were students at the DRC’s Goma University and medical interns at the Goma hospital. According to the said students there is mounting bigotry against Rwandans and other Kinyarwanda speaking communities in the DRC.
A youth man was recently attacked by a group of Congolese hooligans somewhere near Goma. And after the attackers had gone, the people on the sides said that “because you are crying in Kinyarwanda, we did not help you. If you are crying in Lingala, we will help you!”
The law enforcement agencies could not help either: “You are not our brother, we cannot help you”. People often create a “frustration-scapegoat” and create a target to blame for ongoing problems.
Xenophobia should not be accepted as something abnormal and separate from the ideals of nationalism. As Billig, a scholar on xenophobia has observed “it should be remembered that violence is seldom far from the surface of nationalism’s history. The struggle to create the nation-state is a struggle for the monopoly of the means of violence. What is being created—a nation-state, is itself a means of violence. The triumph of a particular nationalism is seldom achieved without the defeat of alternative nationalism’s peoplehood”.
Contact email: oscar_kim2000[at]yahoo.co.uk