Home Op-ed Uganda fuelling violence in Ituri; pits Hema against Lendu communities

Uganda fuelling violence in Ituri; pits Hema against Lendu communities

By Alex Muhumuza

Ugandan president Museveni and his military intelligence (CMI) head, Abel Kandiho fuelling violence in DRC

Yesterday, October 4, Commandonepost, a tool of misinformation run by Uganda’s Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence, published an article claiming “Kigali-backed militia are wreaking havoc near the Uganda border.”

Citing unnamed “security sources” the website claims “the deployment is aimed at averting similar attacks on Ugandan positions in Zombo by Lendu militias of Cooperative for the Development of Congo (CODECO) which happened in March 2020.” Moreover, the website claims that there is “definite collusion between DRC government forces and the rebels” in a local conflict pitting the Lendu against the Hema ethnic group. “CODECO is drawn from the Lendu ethnic group, a predominantly farming community who has historically clashed with the Hema, a group of traders and herders,” writes Commandonepost as if to suggest that the conflict is inevitable when in fact Uganda’s hand has been visible in all conflicts in the Ituri region for the past twenty years.

What the propaganda website does not say is that the fighting between the Lendu and the Hema is fanned by Uganda’s authorities who, time and again, have pitted the Congolese against each other in order to keep looting their resources, mainly Timber and Gold in the Ituri Province. 

The real story is the cover-up that Commandonepost was attempting through its story. What the propaganda website washiding from the public eye is that on 21 August 2020, a close confidant acting on Maj. Gen Abel Kandiho’s behalf (Kandiho is the head of Uganda’s Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence) lured leaders of the Hema community to Uganda ostensibly to help them mobilize support from the Ugandan leadership to form a militia in Ituri region for the protection of the Hema people from the Lendu. They didn’t doubt the source because it was not the first time that Kandiho had relayed a message to them through a trusted confidant. Led by Ibrahim Bamaraki, Kisembo Bitamara, and Kiswala Pele, the Hema community leaders, together with their driver, started to plan their trip to Kampala. Kandiho’s man had told them that his boss asked that they bring with them $17,000 that would be used to organize meetings with officials in Uganda.

Bamariki obliged. They quickly mobilized the money and set off for Uganda. However, little did they know that Kandiho had set his boys to intercept them. Shortly after the delegation crossed the DRC border onto Ugandan soil, CMI operatives – who clearly were informed that the delegation had cash on hand – nabbed them in Fort Portal. They arrested the members of the delegation and took their money from them. The Hema leaders pleaded with the operatives, but in vain. They even ringed Gen Kandiho and his confidant. Neither was picking their calls. They called another official that the General had used on another occasion to relay a message. He picked up and informed them that the General was unaware of their invitation to Uganda and, as a result, there is not much help he could afford them.

Proving that the Hema leaders had been duped for their money, they were only kept in CMI cells for a short while before getting released, but without being given back their money and were told to get back to the DRC.

This is the story that Commandonepost tried to conceal by peppering in the usual bogeyman of Rwanda’s ambition to “balkanize” the DRC. However, if anyone is interested in balkanizing the DRC it is the Ugandan authorities who, like they have done in countries like the South Sudan, are set on arming both sides of the conflict between the Lendu and the Hema as those close to the first family continue to enrich themselves by looting the Ituri region.

Independent observers agree.  On July 15, 2020,  The International Crisis Group released as 37-page report“DR Congo, ending the cycle of violence in Ituri” that is a chronology of events that led to the intensification of conflict in the region. It states that “Uganda has played a bigger role in fuelling the Ituri Region violence through different means. “These include hosting actors that are commanding the conflict in the province.” Of these Uganda-backed groups, former members of the Congolese Rally for Democracy, the Kisangani Liberation Movement, and others are named.

In the same month as the International Crisis Group report, the UN also published one on conflict minerals in DRC, again implicating Uganda. The UN said an estimated 1.1 tonnes of Gold were smuggled out of Ituri Province alone in 2019. “More than 95 percent of gold exports from Uganda was not of Ugandan origin,” it said. It added that “about US$ 100 million worth of conflict minerals were trafficked through Uganda.”

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