Article from ROAPE Volume 29 Number 93/94
Citizenship/Identity Formation/Conflict in S Kivu: Banyamulenge

Citizenship, Identity Formation & Conflict in South Kivu: The Case of the Banyamulenge
Vol.29 No.93/94 (Sep/Dec 2002), pp499-515
The objectives of this exercise are threefold. First, through a case-study of the Banyamulenge ethnogenesis, I demonstrate that this ethnicity was never constructed in a vacuum, but in a ‘pre-imagined’ field. The ‘creation’ of a Banyamulenge identity illustrates perfectly that ethnicities are ongoing processes of continuous change. Ethnicities are dynamic processes that result from the confrontation of a community with its socio-economic and political environment. Contrary to what local political and social leaders like to believe about their followings, the existence of a Banyamulenge identity is not the result of pure invention. I illustrate how historical events gave meaning to the content of this identity. Second, a close look will be taken at the different internal dynamics within this community to reach a better understanding of the real content of this ethnogenesis. While the Banyamulenge in Uvira were undoubtedly subject to exclusion, widespread ethnic resentment and violence, their marginalised position is also due to a lack of coherent leadership and internal division. An inquiry into the reasons why the Banyamulenge community, even today, still lacks any coherent leadership that is capable of improving the position of their community is crucial. Finally, as recent local history in Uvira suggests, I show that political exclusion tends to be the key to conflicting identity formation. In the case of the Banyamulenge, it seems that their claims to political participation not only had the effect of hardening the boundaries between different identity groups, but also had facilitated the shift to massive violence as an enticing strategy of control and resistance. This work is mainly the result of extensive fieldwork in and around Uvira and Bukavu, complemented by what was learned from the few printed sources that exist.