In their own words: Building peace between the Bantu and Batwa in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Two years ago, Pact launched the Tanganyika Conflict Mitigation and Reconciliation (TCMR) project in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Funded by USAID, the project is working to build peace in the southern province of Tanganyika between two communities that have long been at violent odds, the Batwa and the Bantu.
Pact and our partners are strengthening peace and reconciliation efforts and building conflict mitigation mechanisms such as early warning response systems and inter-community dialogues to stop the violence. We’re also helping communities to improve their livelihoods to reduce conflict over resources – and doing it in a way that builds social cohesion, collaboration and trust between the Batwa and the Bantu. Together the Batwa and the Bantu are now fishing, farming and raising animals, to both peoples’ benefit.
Here, meet two project participants forging a future of peace for themselves and their communities.
Nkulu Wa Wahele Konyi Jeanne
I am a widow and mother of 10 children living in Tanganyika’s Manono Territory. In 2016, my family and I fled the violence between the Batwa and the Bantu. My husband, my children and I went to Panda-Kuboko. When my husband became sick, there was no way to get to the hospital because of clashes between the Batwa and Bantu, and he soon died.
In 2017, we left Panda-Kuboko to resettle in a village next to our old one, because our old village was completely burned down. There were no houses left. We lost everything, and I didn’t think I could live with Batwa in one village like I do today.
Life was so hard with my husband gone. I had to find a way to take care of our children on my own, feed them and pay for their studies. Five were still in school then. I struggled to provide for them. I lacked a way to make income. We experienced malnutrition and had no access to health care.
We lived like this until 2019, when I met Gisèle and Alphonse from CDJP (the Diocesan Justice and Peace Commission, a local Pact partner organization). They brought us the message that we Bantu and Batwa are obliged to live together. The most important thing was to accept each other as brothers, and to work together for lasting peace and develop our environment for a better future.
I signed up as a volunteer member to raise peace awareness. In April of 2019, I went back to our old village and began going door to door to raise awareness with other volunteers, both Bantu and Batwa. We formed a bond as we worked together and all gathered for weekly meetings. Love quickly developed among volunteers and even among others in the community, whether Batwa or Bantu.
CDJP and Pact asked us to propose income-generating activities so that they could support us, and we opted for market gardening, including eggplants, tomatoes, onions, cabbage, amaranth, carrots and okra. They helped us with seeds, tools and technical support from their agronomists. This market gardening activity helped me earn income to support my children.
I thank God that my life has turned around. We are no longer hungry. I can buy clothes for my children and pay for their school fees and medical care. We are living in peace with our neighbors.
Banze Mwilambwe Kanage Ferdinand
I was born in 1962. I am married with 11 children. I am the village chief of Kamala, a community northeast of Manono that includes Batwa and Bantu.
In 2016, violence broke out between the Batwa and Bantu throughout Manono Territory. The hatred between these two communities erupted. People killed each other without reason. We the Bantu of Kamala took refuge in the city of Manono. We could not access our village because of the killings orchestrated by Batwa militiamen, and conversely, the Batwa could not visit the city of Manono for fear of losing their lives.
In January 2017, while many were still afraid, I returned to Kamala and spoke to the Batwa about trying together to live in peace. It was then that the chief of chieferies decided to appoint me chief of Kamala. Since then, I have worked to promote peaceful coexistence between the Batwa and Bantu communities in my village.
"We grow food together, all the members, whether we are Bantu or Batwa."
Pact and CDJP have helped us to build peace. I am a proud volunteer member of the local peace committee that the project helped to establish, where we participate with other Batwa leaders in the area. They have helped us build cohesion through working together to farm common fields. We do this without discrimination, something that was impossible in the past. We also raise animals together, with everyone taking responsibility. We can easily work together and make jokes. It is a good atmosphere at the field.
We applaud this idea of encouraging people to farm together. Indeed, the Batwa were not used to cultivating their own fields, which often resulted in cases of theft of farm produce. The market gardening that we did last year allowed each member to sell products from the field and use the money for the good of his household.
This year during the dry season, we have repeated that productive experience. We grow food together, all the members, whether we are Bantu or Batwa.