As all eyes gazed toward the genocide in Darfur, there were some invisible humans who were paying for what they never did. That being said, every one of their families had lost someone before being granted protection by the United Nations since the 2004 genocide in the Katumba Refugee Camp in Burundi.
You may wonder who these invisible people were, ”the Banyamulenge.” The Banyamulenge are the people from a town called Mulenge in the mountains of Congo overlooking the city of Uvira in South Kivu. These people were refugees in Congo in the ’80s and were naturalized by Mobutu, the former Congolese president, before he was routed out of power and died. Despite being granted citizenship, the Congolese still thought of them as Rwandan Tutsi, even after they had settled themselves comfortably in this small mountain town of Uvira and made it their home for dozens of years.
Looking at my own nightmare, I used to think I went through terrible things until I came across these Banyamulenge, here in Boise. Many of them are my friends and we sing and pray together at the same church here. Knowing them and hanging out with them made me stronger to deal with my own pain. The fact that they make my pain look smaller compared to theirs makes me a positive man.
During the First Congo war, the Banyamulenge participated in overthrowing the dictator Mobutu, joining with the Rwandan army, but the Rwandans could not accept them as their compatriots despite facial similarity and speaking the same language. With the war stirring up the Congo and more rebel groups joining in, all the Rwandans had to return to their home country at some point. The Congolese asked the Banyamulenge to go as well. For the Banyamulenge, Mulenge was more than their home; most of them had never been to Rwanda or any other place other than Mulenge. The Rwandan government denounced them for being Congolese while the Congolese claimed that they were but Rwandan. This left them as a people without a nation.
They had to scatter throughout the world, mostly in different refugee camps in Africa.
In 2004 the refugee camp in Burundi (Katumba) was attacked at night by Interahamwe militias. It was an all Banyamulenge refugee camp, therefore they did not think twice before opening fire on the tents, ensuring that there was no way out. They killed hundreds of refugees and injured thousands in a couple of hours before retreating in the darkness. This habit of attacking refugee camps had been common in most parts of central Africa. After the 1994 100-days genocide in Rwanda that claimed nearly a million lives, the Hutu Interahamwe had to flee into the bush of Central Africa. They came out to attack cities, loot food and, because of the hatred between them and the Tutsi, they attacked places where they thought the Tutsi may be living.
According to my friend, who lost four children and whose wife was injured, it was like a nightmare, as they were expecting a good day but ended up burying relatives instead.
He is here in Boise, together with many other victims and survivors of the same nightmare. They give daily thanks and praise to God for sparing their lives. In this group living in Boise, some had to go through surgeries, while others had to go through amputation of legs or arms. They are living here as refugees from Congo or Rwanda. Both Congolese and Rwandans nicknamed them as the Cogorwa for the fact they are neither Congolese nor Rwandan.
They are a people without a nation.