DRC: I Mourn for Angelina

Alex Ntung arrived in Hastings as a refugee two decades ago. His journey from the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo was only made possible by the sacrifices of his sister Angelina. Last month she was murdered by the DRC army in her home village – despite the presence nearby of British-funded UN troops.

I am a British national. I came to the UK as a refugee, twenty-one years ago, to my sanctuary town of Hastings where I run my business in the Media Centre and provide advice and guidance to some local community and statutory agencies. I am also studying for my PhD (in international conflict analysis, specifically the way religion, power and ethno-nationalism interrelate) at University of Kent.

I was born into a family of cattle herders: semi-nomadic, pastoralist people of the Tutsi community, known as the ‘Banyamulenge’. The Banyamulenge mostly live in the Itombwe-Minembwe highlands of South Kivu province in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Two weeks ago, my sister Angelina was murdered by the DRC army.

Portrait of Angelina

For the UK or western media, stories of killings in the DRC, tend to be reduced to simply “African tribes killing each other”. Western writers influenced by Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and others, continue to see Congo as a “brutal and savage” place. Victims are dehumanised in headlines referring to the DRC
as a country constantly plagued by civil war, “blood minerals”, “the world capital of rape” where “violence is everyday life”, and “war lords continue to forcibly use children as soldiers”. For such commentators, the
situation in Congo is captured in generalisations and my sister Angelina would be just another statistic.

Angelina was about 50 years old, the mother of five children and four years older than me. I had a closer relationship with her than my other siblings. Access to formal education was extremely hard, but Angelina knew how much I wished I could go to school. She also knew that my parents could not afford to send me and my siblings to school, so she decided to drop out herself and give me a chance in her place. She sold her chickens so that my school fees could be paid. She praised me and told me I was great and inspired me with her compassion, kindness and humanity.

Two weeks ago, my sister Angelina was murdered by the DRC army

Confirmed by a UN group of experts, both the army and armed groups have collaborated to conduct murders of innocent Banyamulenge people. The DRC army and these militia groups see the Banyamulenge as “unwanted” “foreigner” invaders with no rights to a livelihood. Four whole years after this genocide started, the US ambassador to the DRC, Mike ‘Nzita’ Hammer, tweeted for the first time that “the Banyamulenge are Congolese citizens who deserve peace and security like anyone else”. They can’t argue that they are not aware of the ongoing genocide.

Alex Ntung

During the violence and persecution which targeted my community back in the 1990s, my sister encouraged me to leave the area. “You have more chance to survive, I will stay with our parents, you go.” She was extremely happy when my dad added, “Go somewhere, anywhere, where you will find peace, you shall call that place home and shall live in harmony with those you find”.

That place of peace and safety was the UK. It has become home for my family. It is where I have lived most of my adult life. It is the place that contributed to my values of social justice where I have paid taxes for twenty-
one years having been in continuous employment. Indeed, I have contributed to the UK Aid programme to developing countries like the DRC. Without my sister’s sacrifice, my dream of safety and access to education and contributing actively and positively to a community could not have materialised.

My sister’s murder has been devastating to me. I have lost a precious sister, and know that there will no justice. Her murder could have been prevented by the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), and the DRC benefits from the world’s largest contribution of UN troops. Just under 20,000 troops, cost about $1 billion a year (the UK contributes about $206 million a year towards this from our taxes) and they have been there for over 20 years. At the time of their arrival, there were only five armed groups. Since these troops arrived, armed groups have proliferated from five to over one hundred
and twenty.

My sister was neither a combatant nor part of any political demonstration confronting the army. She was killed simply because she is Tutsi. Yes, this is absurd and barbaric! What is happening in the DRC today is an extension of the 1994 Rwanda genocide, when a million Tutsis were killed in just a hundred days. Since 2017, a coalition of various armed groups in eastern Congo, perceiving themselves as “indigenous”, supported by the national army, aim to exterminate the Banyamulenge.

Yet the DRC army is the direct partner of the UN troops. My sister was killed less than one mile from the UN barracks. These troops are funded by UK taxpayers (tragically including my own). One of their two strategic priorities is supposed to be civilian protection. The UN troops are placed in the DRC “to take all necessary measures to ensure rapid, dynamic and integrated effective protection of civilians under threat of physical violence in the provinces where the Mission is currently deployed”. I begged the UN to rescue my sister, and mother, 24 hours before my sister was killed.

DRC army

On 10th July, there was a raid on my mother’s village. The DRC army shot indiscriminately at innocent civilians. Naturally, people went into hiding in the bush. My sister Angelina was the carer for my disabled mother, but during these shootings my mother insisted that my sister should leave and join the others in hiding. “I am old and very sick, don’t worry about me, let them kill me,” she said. Hoping that the shootings would soon stop, Angelina obeyed my mother and left the house and went into hiding. The next day,
I received a message telling me about the attack.

I desperately contacted influential people who could put me in touch with MONUSCO leaders. A professor at a local university provided contact numbers of the Red Cross and I spoke to a member of their ambulance team, offering to cover all expenses if they could rescue my mother and sister, but they were also in hiding, the army was out of control and their commander had switched off his phone. I could hear gunshots.

After trying to get the local hospital to bring my mother there, I learned it was empty, the nurses had fled, the ambulance driver was missing, and all patients had been evacuated. By now my mum was still stuck in the village and hadn’t eaten for 48 hours.

You have more chance to survive, I will stay with our parents, you go

My professor friend suggested I send a WhatsApp message to alert all humanitarian agencies in the area. The UN troops received the communication and suggested they might try to rescue her if they were given permission by their leaders 200 miles away. I contacted one of these leaders who patronisingly told me that
in Africa people help one and other, and that my mother and sister would be assisted by local traditional leaders or a mayor.

Alex and family

On 12th July my sister, worried about my mother, decided to crawl back to the village so she could feed her. It was at this point that the soldiers saw Angelina and killed her. She had shown incredible bravery in facing the same threat my mum faced. I tried to ask UN troops to assist my uncle in recovering her body, but they refused. The body of my sister wasn’t recovered until the 15th. Two witnesses confirmed that they saw DRC army soldiers shooting Angelina and “finishing” her with a knife.

My sister’s murder represents just one of 3,000 innocent Banyamulenge killed since 2016. They had already burned her house down. Violence and the torching of 85% of Banyamulenge villages has pushed thousands to flee home. Thousands of survivors have sought refuge in Minembwe, where my sister was killed. People continue to live under constant fear of attack and in precarious conditions with a lack of humanitarian assistance.

From 2019 physical violence has been accompanied by a wave of hate speech directed at the Banyamulenge community and the systematic looting of Banyamulenge cattle, 90% of which have been stolen and sold. Such losses represent the total destruction of livelihoods in a community built on the rearing of cattle.

The well-informed UK government prefers to take a “neutral” or “observer” position. When I had the opportunity of alerting the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) to this ethnic cleansing, the young civil servants sent to meet me showed little awareness of the nature of conflict in the DRC. They said the UK approach is to respond to conflict in the DRC in a “broader context” speaking of their support
for Nobel Prize winner, Dr Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynaecologist obstetrician working with female victims of sexual violence in eastern Congo.

I reminded them that the Banyamulenge are targeted with genocide simply because they are Tutsi; a different strategy is needed. Dr Denis Mukwege’s good work has failed to address the specific targeting of Tutsi women – just as Aung San Suu Kyi failed to speak out against the persecution of Rohingya.

My sister was killed by an army that works in partnership with the UN troops; she could have been saved. Her murder is part of an on-going genocide that Britain and the world need to be aware of.

UN troops in the DRC today are in a similar situation to French troops during the Rwanda genocide. Under President François Mitterrand, France was partner to a murderous regime and bears heavy responsibility for the genocide in Rwanda. The Rwanda genocide has not ended, it continues to play out with the Banyamulenge people. How many more innocents will be indiscriminately killed before there is an end to this human tragedy ?

SRC: HIP

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