what's happening in ituri? part ii
Today I'm pleased to present a guest post from Dan Fahey. Dan is an ACM Mellon Post-Doc Fellow in the Political Science Department at Colorado College (USA). What follows are the second of two posts on his observations from a recent field research trip to Ituri, a district in northeastern DRC bordering Uganda to the east and North Kivu to the south. Part I is available here.
In post-conflict Ituri, land disputes over boundaries or rights of occupation and use are pervasive. Since May 2009, UN Habitat (which has an office in Bunia) has identified more than 1,000 land disputes in Ituri’s Djugu and Mahagi territories alone. Some conflicts began decades ago during the colonial era, while others are rooted in annexations, displacements and occupations during the late Mobutu-era and the wars in Ituri (1996-2007). While local efforts and the work of UN Habitat have succeeded in resolving some disputes, hundreds of conflicts remain unresolved, in large part due to the negligence of the State apparatus at the district, provincial, and national levels.
In Ituri, land disputes generally take place between individuals, between a community and an individual (e.g. between a local community and a concession owner), and between communities. According to mediators, the latter two categories are the most difficult to resolve, in part because land disputes are often incorporated into larger struggles for political and economic power. For example, in Djugu territory’s Walendu Pitsi collectivity (where the Ituri war started in 1999), local authorities have explicitly expressed their desire to keep Hema concession owners (whom they blame for starting the war) and Hema villagers from returning to work or live in the collectivity. In Irumu territory, a long-running dispute over the boundary between Walendu Bindi and Bahema Sud collectivities has intensified in the last decade. In this case, Lendu (Ngiti) desires to re-write the boundary (giving them control over large swaths of land currently in Bahema Sud) invoke customary rights but are also tied to economic issues, including collection of taxes, fishing rights, and control of land along Lake Albert, where oil exploration may begin in the next few years.
Local efforts to mediate land conflicts (notably by Bunia-based Reseau Haki na Amani) had some success, but were limited in their ability to address hundreds of entrenched disputes. In 2011, UN Habitat established a Land Commission that has five field offices in Djugu and Mahagi territories (these offices have resolved more than 200 disputes since May 2011) and a head office in Bunia. The Land Commission is doing very important work with little means (each office has only one motorcycle and a very limited budget), but is not without shortcomings. Of the four offices I visited, two (Fataki and Largu/Drodro) were well organized, but two (Bunia and Kpandroma) had serious problems. The Bunia office is almost never open, while Kpandroma office staff articulated their belief that Walendu Pitsi is for Lendu, and that those who left during the war (i.e. Hema) are not welcome to return. UN Habitat is aware of these shortcomings, but constrained by local political dynamics and budget issues. One solution would be to work more closely with local organizations in Ituri, while another would be to get the District government to financially support the Land Commission, which it has so far refused to do.
The silence of the State on land disputes in Ituri is deafening. MONUC succeeded in bringing peace to most of Ituri in 2007, but since that time the government has failed to address widespread land problems that have the potential to reignite war. One point that virtually everyone (villagers, local authorities, UN staff) agrees upon is that the government needs to clearly define boundaries and to establish who has legal rights to land in disputed areas.
Why has the State neglected its responsibilities? While limited State capacity may be one factor, the larger problem seems to be a lack of will. The government (i.e. PPRD loyalists at all levels from Bunia to Kisangani to Kinshasa) seems unwilling to take on this difficult political issue, particularly because during the war the Kabila regime supported some of the same Lendu authorities that are now justifying land occupations and boundary shifts. Some believe the State is too busy extracting wealth from the people of Ituri to address problems that threaten the long-term peace and stability of the district. State action is clearly needed, but there is no indication it is forthcoming.
According to a paper by Francois Bura Dhengo (professor at ISP in Bunia), there were 536 candidates for National Deputy in Ituri, representing several dozen political parties. With the assistance of the Carter Center, the Bunia Diocese’s Peace and Justice Commission (CDJP) worked with its Episcopal equivalent (CEJP) to deploy 318 election observers in Ituri for election day. A report by CDJP (7 Jan. 2012) stated there were numerous election-day problems in Ituri, including polling stations not having enough ballots, stations opening late or not at all, electoral agents illegally providing “assistance” to voters, and the presence of campaign materials (especially for presidential candidate No. 3) in polling places. In Ituri, MONUSCO played a key role in transporting election materials to polling places, further exposing the weakness of the Congolese state.
According to Congo’s National Independent Election Commission (CENI report, 1 Feb. 2012), Ituri voters elected 26 National Deputies from 15 different political parties. The parties garnering the most seats were PPRD (4), MIP (3), MSR (3), and RRC (3). Former rebel groups fared poorly in Ituri, with UPC gaining the most seats (2), followed by FNI (1) and RCD/K-ML (1). Notably, CNDP opened an office in August 2011 in Bunia and nominated candidates, but did not win any seats. CNDP’s arrival was interpreted locally as being a strategic move to establish a presence in Ituri that would enable CNDP to execute post-election actions, if President Kabila had lost.
Among the election winners were current Orientale governor and PPRD loyalist Autsai Asenga Medard, who was elected in Aru territory. As Governor of Orientale province, Autsai Asenga has managed a patronage network that has siphoned untold millions of dollars out of Ituri, while providing virtually nothing in return. Also of note, Bunia native John Tibasima won a seat in Irumu territory for the RDPR party. This former RCD/K-ML official during the war years had lost in the 2006 elections, but had “acquired” a Senate seat. Consistent with provincial and national results, only 2 of the 26 Deputies elected in Ituri are women.