By Eric Lukemya Wa Mwenge, CEEDECO visionary
It was on september 9th 1997 that CEEDECO had it's birth when Eric and 10 of his friends were gathered for his 23th birthday in Uvira.
The people who were invited to the birthday were selected as per their ethnic groups and gender, namely; Mr Meschak Mbilizi Ponga, Ms. Antoinette Furaha Rusakana, Ms. Lydia Bintu, Mr. Thomas Gahungu, Ms. Loy Nandebwa, Mr. Raymond Lokole, Mr. Elongo Milton, Mr. Elie Rusamira, Mr. Leon Masase and Ms. Isette Bukaba.
It was culturally the first and last day Eric has ever celebrated his birthday in his life. How did the idea to organise the party come out? Early september 1996, rumors spread about a Tutsi ethnic group military insurrection in the Kivu Province. During the same time massacres of civilians were reported on the high plains (High plateaus) of Fizi-Uvira districts in the South Kivu Province. Massacres were reported at Bibogobogo, Kabara and a chief of a Bembe tribe was sauvagely killed in his home at Kipombo and a pastor belonging to the chief's enlarged family was innoncently killed also at Tulambo. That was the inaugural beginning of a declared war between congolese Tutsi against other nontutsi tribes. Many other people were killed in different villages in different strange and diabolic ways.
The Congolese civil wars which began in1996 brought about the end of Mobutu Sese Seko 32-year reign
and devasted the country. The wars ultimately involved 9 African countrie, multiple groups of UN
peacekeepers, and over 20 armed groups, and resulted in the deaths of over 5.4 millions people.
Half million of women and girls including young children and babies were systematically raped.
By 1996, following the Rwandan Civil war and genocide of 1994 and the ascension of a Tutsi-led
government in Rwanda, Rwanda Hutu militia forces (Interahamwe) fled to eastern Zaire and used
refugees camps as a base for incursions against Rwanda. They allied with the zairian armed forces
(FAZ) to launch a campaign against congolese ethnic Tutsis in eastern Zaire who were supportive to
the Tutsi governement in Kigali. The entire region became divided between Tutsi on one side against
other ethnic groups on the other, Uganda was considered as having mentored the current Tutsi-led
government of Kigali.
Accordingly, a coalition of Rwandan and Ugandan armies invaded Zaire to overthrow the government of Mobutu, and ultimately to control the mineral resources of Zaire, lauching the first Congo war.
The coalition allied with some opposition figures ,led by ''Mzee'' Laurent-Desire Kabila, becoming the Alliance of Democratic Force for the Liberation of Congo (AFDL). In 1997 Mobutu fled and Kabila marched into the capital of Zaire, Kinshasa, naming himelf president and reverting the name of the country to the Democratic Republic of Congo as voted by the National Souveign Conference in 1992.
Kabila later requested that foreign military forces return to their own countries, he had concerns that the Rwandan officers running his army were plotting a coup to give the presidency to a Tutsi who would report directly to the Rwandan president. Rwandan troops retreated to Goma and launched a new Tutsi-led rebel military movement called Rassemblement Congolais pour la Democratie (RCD) to fight against Kabila, while Uganda instigated the creation of a new rebel movement called Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) led by Jean-Pierre Bemba a congolese warlord who was handed over and imprisoned in the Hague by the ICC.
The two rebel movements, along with Rwandan and Ugandan troops, started the Second Congo War by attacking the DRC army in 1998. Angolan, zimbabwean and Namibian militaries entered the hostilities on the side of the goverment. Laurent Desire Kabila was assissinated in 2001. His son, the current president of the DRC Mr Joseph Kabila Kabange succeeded him and called for multilateral peace-talks. The UN peacekeeping, MONUSCO (formerly known as MONUC) arrived in April 2001. In 2002 and 2003 Bemba intervened in the Central African Republic on behalf of the former president, Ange-Felix Patasse.Bemba was accused as the moral leader of the war crimes and crime against humanity in the Central African Republic allegations that sent him to the Hague.
Talks led to the signing of a peace accord in which Kabila would share power with former rebels. By June 2003 all foreign armies except those of Rwanda had pulled out of Congo. A transitional government was set up until the election was over. A constitution was approved by voters, and on 30 July 2006 DRC held its first multi-party election. An election result dispute between Kabila and Jean-Pierre Bemba turned into a all-out battle between their supporters in the streets of Kinshasa. MONUC took control of the city. A new election took place in october 2006 which Kabila won, and on December 2006, he was sworn in as President. Another election took place in 2011 and Kabila was on the top the country for the second term.
The results of both wars and violence in neigboring countries affected so much the social fabric between communities. For instance btetween Banyamulenge and all their neigbours in the South Kivu Province (Banyamulenge is a Congolese Tutsi ethnic group originally from Rwanda and who had established on the hight plains of Uvira-FIZI for their pastoral activities, they are cow-breeders who live mainly on milk). The people were accused by their neigbours (native Congolese) of pertaining to rebel movements that wanted the land conquest with the martial support of Rwanda, historically their country of origin. So many armed and local defense groups were formed from local populations to join the Congolese army to fight Banyamulenge and their allies.
The situation became abruptly chaotic between Banyamulenge and their neigbours (native congolese). Cohabitation between ethnic groups became suddenly something that was pushed in the past memories due to suspicion and stigma between communities in the the Kivu and even in other parts of the DRC.
A lot of human rights violations were carried out on both sides. Ranging from crime against human and war crimes. To illustrate that, a close relative to me was killed with his 6 children in the Kabara Massacre on 04 september 1996 while he was interned in health center for getting medical treatment. One of CEEDECO founding member close to the Tutsi ethnic group and nurse denounced the massacre in which an entire family of hundreds people perished with machetes and light weapons over one night in his village, sadly nothing on this massacre has been reported up to now. Many other people were killed for the sake of their ethnicity in the Kivu and other part of the DRC.
The high plateaus of Uvira-Fizi was the embryo of the war that generated allover the Democratic Republic of Congo (the DRC) between 1996-2003. The reason for this choice might be that the areas was so isolated so preparations of military operations would be carried out with less threats from the government side who had no longer entire control in all parts of the country.
Atrocities which occured with these wars on the high plateaus of Uvira, Mwenga, Fizi and part of Walungu districts will be on the center of our history. Innoncent people namely children and women and elderly people were the most victims.
On the high plateaus of Uvira–Fizi and in some parts of Mwenga, thousands of native populations took refuge in the Mwenga rainy forest with their livestock and families but few of the IDPs survived and thousands of other died of lack of food, clean water and medecine and even by armed groups. A reported has said that many women were killed by the maimai armed groups in the Itombwe forst being accused of witches. Couple of massacres were organised at Miki and elsewhere in the forst .That was the violation of human rights by an armed group against its own people it was supposed to protect.
On the side of Banyamulenge, they remained homogenously in a deserted area spread on a beautiful, hilly savanna named ''Hauts Plateaux de Minembwe'' with hardship of life. They lived in daily panic as somebody would come and attack them any time. No markets were opened during the war period because noone among business people would risk losing his life going to the ''Hauts plateaux de Minembwe''.
While most of men were busy fighting mostly on the side of their Rwandan and sometimes Ugandan allies in big towns and to their way to reach and conquer Kinshasa, women and children were starving a lot in the Plateaus of Minembwe. The lack of basic needs could be observed here and there when women and their children were forced to visit centers/towns (namely Uvira) where they could buy or get clothes, sugar, salt and other basic supplies.
I remember few weeks I had before ''my 25th birthday'' having a family from the high plateaus of Minembwe with lice in their clothes even in the poor clothes put on by children and babies! That situation revolted me a lot. The family I welcomed in our home in Uvira had no where to stay. Why? just because not only majority of people was still suspicious towards the congolese tutsi (Banyamulenge) but also welcoming them in your home would make you in a risk of death by local armed groups.
But anyway, I still decided to welcome them to stay an overnight to my place (that time, I was still single while members of my nuclear family were refugees in other countries and others went back to our village in the Mwenga territory where other enlarged families lived).
During the night, when I talked with the family I hosted, I heard about atrocities they were going through on the high plateaus. I remember, I did not close my eyes (since I stayed sleepless over the night) not only beacause I was so afraid and concerned of being potentially visited by armed men who could potentially attack the family and myself but also with the traumatic experiences I had heard. My heart bounced several times and I just needed to take action immediately ! But what action could be taken?
I was so limited in term of financial resources to carry out my thoughts of helping people who were in troubles. My head was full of ideas. It reminded me when I was just 12 years old that I wanted to offer my attention to mankind since I did think it was admissible to depict people for their races, color of their skin, their gender, orientations, beliefs, origins etc.
A 12 year old boy on a vacation in my home village, I have already organised a huge meeting for all the young people from different ethnic groups who were living in the area. And the event was so special not only for the youth and children but for all communities as whole that lived there.
My education at University was an other good back-up in order to help individuals and communities in troubles. From that night I welcomed the family as describes farther in this paper, I decided to create a humanitarian organization to rescue communities in troubles and challenge suspicions between communities and restore trust and social fabric among them.
On 09 september 1997, I forced myself organizing a birthday party. I never did that before. But it was the only way to be able to organize a meeting during that time since folk meetings were not promoted/allowed in Uvira.
I invited 10 people (from all the ethnic groups living in Uvira, Fizi, and Mwenga to the ''party''. When they came, they were so surprised that I did not organize anything connected to a party a part from ordinary and common food. There was no beer, but papers instead on the dining-table. I told my guests that, I decided to invite them for a special idea. The idea to rescue our communities in troubles. And on the high plains there imminent actions to be taken in order to rescue lives and that way we would be pioneers and heroes doing so.
All 10 members agreed that the idea was so crucial and we started to write the draft of the constitutional act of what we named CEEDECO. It took us more than two years to be able to implement our ideas. We decided to carry out activities that would allow people to meet and get a space to express their traumatic experiences through some kind of education and talk about the restoration of trust and cohabitation.
On 4th July 2000, Eric Lukemya wa Mwenge (the narrator), decided to climb up high mountains of Uvira to reach vulnerable groups. It was not without sacrifices and risks, I can tell! Eric was just a young married man with a too young daughter! But the compassion he felt for survivors of wars and suffering on the high plateaus and in the Mwenga rainy forests obliged him to look forwards his dream he had since he was 12 years old: Offering himself for suffering people and groups!
After 20 hours on the way climbing mountains, Eric Lukemya wa Mwenge reached Bijombo where he went and stay with one
of his enlarged family's relative who did not understand why a person like Eric would risk his life coming to Bijombo
just for the sake of other people who were not even of his ''family''. The family was so timid and reluctant towards
Eric to stay at their place, accordingly Eric thanked them for the first overnight they helped him stay, and the
following day he moved to Kagogo to another friend's family where he met Pastor Mr. Dike Kashesha and his wife
Suzanna Kashesha a wonderful christian couple and their 5 children. The family was so so hospitable to Eric, their
hospitality was so special since they took care of me as a small child living in their home.
I would emphasize that I received the warmth beyond my expection in that family!
After explaining to the couple the purpose of my outreach and why I came to their region, they did not think it could work out. I told them I was going to train people how to make soaps locally since I met a family whose babies had lice in their clothes and on their skin they spent time in my home in Uvira some months ago, and I felt that was not admissible!
The pastor said he thought the saop was just something made by ''white people in Europe'' since he had never seen how soaps were made by a black man like me. Local leaders were informed that I was in the village to ensure them I was not a ''spie'' sent by anyone.
The family did not think Eric's idea would work out. Eric thought that the best way to help women and children was that women should learn to do something that would help them generate money so that they could get food and soaps. Eric told the family that he would like to train women and willingly men to make soaps using local materials.
The family ironically laughed at him and timidly accepted to interest people about soap-making training. Since no one in the region has produced a soap before, it was even difficult to believe Eric's ideas. And that fueled suspicion from military officers who were posted in Kagogo who thought that Eric was a ''spie'' in their region.
From that day on, soldiers affected in Kagogo had an open eye on whatever Eric was doing. I remember one day, I was invited to a barack just to check if my legs had not stockings’ traces as it is always on the skin of soldiers. They thoughts I was a ''soldier'' from the belligerent side spying them with a label of a humanitarian volonteer.
My host family helped me to invite interested people and 10 people among them women and few men, namely Mr. Joseph Mujonga (dead now sadly and former director of the catholic Primary school in Kagogo, who even offered CEEDECO a training space in a old parish house compound he was managing) Ms. Sara, Ms. Maombi, Kakonga Kashesha, Eric Gitongo Ndatambukwa, Ms. Adele ''Dera'' Shabukimbi, Nahoza, Ms. suzanna Kashesha, and Ruben Dike Kashesha were the first trained generation and first soap-makers in the history of the area called HAUT PLATEAUX DE MINEMBWE. After an intensive approximatively weeks long training, the first soap allover Minembwe was made in Kagogo on 15 July 2000. I remember the sample of the first-made soap was presented to the audience who came for a mourning ceremony of the mother-in- law of one of the participants. The ceremony helped spread the news to those who did not know about Eric 's training.
From that day on the news spread allover Minembwe and hundreds of people applied for the training program consisting of peacebuilding, soap-making and income management skills. Eric suggested to have peacebuilding committees allover Minembwe. The first trained pupils played a key role in spreading knowledge to other villages around Kagogo.
Eric went back to Uvira after the completion of the first promotion. But he did not take longer there. After some few weeks, Eric and Raymond Lokole returned to the high plateaus to supervise and conduct more trainings where the need was expressed. So the following villages have started getting trained: Bijombo, Chanzavu, Mugethi, Muramvya catholique, Muramvya Methodist, Katanga Kajembwe, Katoki etc. I remember hundreds of people were trained in the quoted villages. Eric Gitongo and Kakonga assisting in the training program. There were always ceremonies at the completion of each training program, certificates were offered to people who successfully completed the tuition program. The team of CEEDECO was always present at the final cermonies. Mr. Thomas Gahungu, Mr. Clement Harera, Mr. Raymond and Eric Lukemya wa Mwenge were the most famous within CEEDECO during that time.
The training spread quickly up to Runundu-Minembwe where Mr. Mwongozi Miruho from Bijombo and Eric Gitongo
dedicated, after an invitation of the local administion office of the High Plateaus de Minembwe (that was considered
as an independent territory during that time, Ms. Ange Nakayange) to establish a training space in Runundu Center
where a catholic priest (Father Philemon) welcomed them to stay at his parish house. Hundreds of people were also
trained by the two men. Pupils came from amost all the surrounding villages: Masha, Kakenge, Kalingi, Ilundu,
Kabingo, Kitavi, Kabara, Mizinga, etc and other training activities were carried out in other villages: Mizinga,
Kabara, Rwisankunku, Mibunda etc.
Many people volunteered in spreading and doing the CEEDECO work. Mr. Theobard Mwambaza, Sezibera, Mr. Aimable Rugari, Mr. Bahiga, Emmanuel de Muramvya catholic and his wife helped a lot since they allowed Mr. Eric and Raymond to stay safely in their homes for couple of weeks without any charge: We would hereby remember a joyful baby who was in Emmanuel family by his single name of Munyakuri meaning ''truth teller'' we have missed Emmanuel family a lot. We were not both us Batutsi but Tutsi families welcomed us to stay with them during our training compaign. That had a good sign and hope for reconciliation between ethnic groups in that region.
CEEDECO suggested that all trained people would be organised as per their villages of origin into local peacebuilding committees.
Women reacted very massively and positively to the suggestion. So at least in every village there was a peacebuilding committee. It was from there that women from all the ethnic groups in Minembwe started having not only peacebuilding meetings but also soap-making activities.
The meetings allowed tensions and suspicions between ethnic groups to decrease on an unbelievable speed. When thousands of people who were displaced in the Mwenga rainy forests heard of Eric's projects and how people who remained in the villages were cooperating already and Eric and people not natives of Minembwe were visiting the area without any risk, that motivated tem and decided to return back home (from the forests), and an amount of thousands per week could be received by the local authorities posted in different entry points.
The local ''administration'' was to provide with basic suplies for the returnees even though there were so
limited food and stuffs to offer to returnees.
But at least that was better than dying of climate, intemperies and lack of everything in the bushes.
More than 300 people most of them being women were trained as soap-makers and peacebuilders in all the Minembwe region by Eric and his friends. That was recognized as the special contribution of Eric and ''CEEDECO'' before it got it's real registration as an NGO. Local made soaps were (or are still) nicknamed ''CEEDECO'' in Minembwe as a memory to the work CEEDECO achieved in the region during the hard times.
The local peacebuilding commitees of soap-makers helped a lot in the reconciliation process in the Minembwe region, a
part from economic impact of soap selling activities on family and community levels. Women became income generators
in their families and peace builders. Eric's action under what became later the real CEEDECO influenced many women to
found a lot of peacebuilding organisations allover Minembwe. Many local initiatives took place under women management
on the high plateaus of Minembwe. We believe CEEDECO played an important role in that!
After restoration of trust through soap-making activities, CEEDECO decided to train psychosocial workers as a way to heal collective traumas. CEEDECO received funding from a Dutch Foundation named War Trauma Foundation in the Netherlands in 2007.
In order to train 12 psychosocial counsellors in the Minembwe, a lot resources in term of trainers, materials and transport means were needed. CEEDECO mobilised trainers from other local organisations members of a regional network named Colombe Project, (after MORINGA Network) as I was wished by the donor in the netherlands. Eric Lukemya, Mr. Thomas Gahungu, Mr. Prince Lubati and Ms. Ngalula Tchanda and his son on her back joined in the training trip to Minembwe. The road conditions were not good. The training team were obliged to walk for more than 12 hours with the training materials and the baby carried on their heads and backs, in some places on muddy, tough hills, to reach Minembwe via Rusuku in the Fizi Territory.
12 psychiatric/social workers were trained in Runungu, Minembwe to offer family and individual counselling sessions and performing a collective-healing approach as well, namely the Narrative Theatre which became an innovation that CEEDECO printing in the region with the inspiration of Prof. Dr Yvonne Sliep (founder of the Narrative Foundation in South Africa and Consultant to WTF/The Netherlands) and professors from Kwa Zulu Natal University in South Africa.
Another training follow-up trip was conducted in Runungu - Minembwe with mentors from a catholic organisation named Centre Ubuntu in Bujumbura. CEEDECO team was composed of Mr. Thomas Gahungu, Ms. Lydia Bintu, Ms. Godelive, from Uvira and the crew of facilitators and qualified trainers from Center of Ubuntu in Burundi, namely Mr. Nicolas Nimenya and Anicet Nsabimina with the support from the War Trauma Foundation in the Netherlands. The same 12 psychiatric/social workers who received previously the training were on the rendez-vous. The road conditions were so tough so that it took more than 4 days only on the way between Uvira and Minembwe on a distance of only 200 km. Ms Lydia Bintu decided even to use the UN flight between Uvira and and Minembwe for fear of road conditions.
On the other hand, the need to support to support other communities in the coastal area around Uvira was felt. CEEDECO, under Eric's direction. CEEDECO decided to implement activities in Kiliba with the support from War Trauma Foundation (Kiliba is located in Uvira District, 120 Km in the south of Bukavu, the capital of the South Kivu Province) Kiliba is where a sugar factory collapsed and dozens of thousands of people were/are still coping with sever living conditions due to lack of jobs, war-related violence and hopeless and depression.
When CEEDECO started its activities in Kiliba, there was a bastion of a Burundian rebel group in the the Rukoko Forest (FNL, Front National de Liberation). Several fightings were repeatedly reported in the area. Hundreds women were raped, men witnessed the raping or killings of their family members and face severe trauma experiences.
Furtheremore, it is good to know that CEEDECO was the first organisation in Uvira to start the Uvira Psychosocial
working group during 2009-2012. The group was initiated by Eric Lukemya wa Mwenge as a fruit of the cooperation
between the Provincial coordination of Mental health in Bukavu and CEEDECO.
The Uvira Psychosocial working group intended to offer a professional, coordination and harmonization framework, for all the organisations offering psychosocial help to survivors of violence, mostly to victims of tortures and sexual violence. In 2013, the group changed it's name to EFFORC (Espace des formations Flexibles et du Renforcement des Capacite) whose action extended to all the organisations of the local Civil Society (OSCS). The OSC have been invited for monthly training workshops and training courses with a chosen topic related to individual or organisational development. Local leaders and decision-makers have benefited from CEEDECO program in different occasions. At least CEEDECO receive 50 OSC's every month at their office in Uvira for their training programme as humanitarian and community leaders. This program has helped most of the organisations coming a very genuine professional source of inspiration for their actions in offices, in the fields, with their relations with donors, beneficiaries as individuals and groups.
In Kiliba, where most of CEEDECO work in concentrated due violent experiences in the area, it was obviously observed that the population of Kiliba was collectively and almost entirely traumatized, and poor. Social bonds and fabric were becoming weaker and weaker, the social capital was lacking. Alcoholism, domestic violence and prostitution are still some of the caracteristics of the region. Problems in Kiliba are ranged from:
From this baseline, CEEDECO and their local partner RAKI (Reseau des Aigles de Kiliba) a network of dozen of locacommittees spread allover the Kiliba village and which were born thanks to activities that CEEDECO carried out in Kiliba with the Narrative Theatre Approach) decided to establish and implement a community and humanitarian leadership Center (HUMANITAS CENTER) to respond to above problems. Range of activities will be carried out in Kiliba. And CEEDECO has started to achieve this already since early 2016.
Notice that CEEDEDO received formal merit including a written Diploma of Merit from the local administration in the Uvira district on April 22, 2016, of a kind not ever previously offered to a local community-based organisation in Uvira district. That act has added a formal recognition as a credible, recommendable and professional organisation in the territory. CEEEDECO has more than 450 members in Kiliba with a hindreds of volunteers in Kiliba. CEEDECO cooperates regularly with local, national and international experts and consultants.