How race oversimplifies the dynamics of political violence in South Kivu

Delphin Ntanyoma and Helen Hintjens show that one-dimensional narratives such as ‘race’ tend to over-simplify the dynamics of political violence. They look specifically at the case of the Banyamulenge of South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Recent warfare in Eastern DRC, especially since 2015, is marked by violence inspired by ‘race’ narratives. Identity politics around ‘race’ is used to legitimize ‘expressive’ or reprisal-oriented violence against ‘Hamitic’ or ‘Tutsi’ minorities. 

Examining the case of the Banyamulenge of South Kivu, the authors argue that Anti-Hamitic racism is derived from colonial ideas around race hierarchies, and has resulted in systematic killings of Banyamulenge civilians in what resembles a ‘slow genocide’. Expressive violence has, in turn, produced a lack of concern for the plight of Banyamulenge civilians among the military, humanitarians, media, scholars and NGOs.

Given armed alliances between local Maimai forces, Burundian and Rwandan opposition and the DRC army, such ‘race’ narratives cruelly legitimize violence against civilians from ‘Tutsi’ communities, associated by neighbouring communities with Rwanda. Resultant displacement, starvation and killing of Banyamulenge civilians in this context amount to an on-going, slow-moving genocide. As the COVID-19 crisis unrolls, the decolonization of identity politics in Eastern DRC, and in South Kivu in particular, still seems very remote.

Read the whole article - Expressive violence and the slow genocide of the Banyamulenge of South Kivu

PhD student

Delphin Ntanyoma

Assistant professor

Dr Helen Hintjens

Related links
Latest ISS publications