by Sadiki Byombuka
There has been war in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1996. This conflict has many different causes, including the fight for political power, struggle for control over natural resources, bad governance, and ethnic and tribal differences.
The villagers of Malanda, where I was born, belong to two different tribes – the Babembe tribe and the Kinyarwanda-speaking tribe. These two tribes had a long tradition of peaceful life together despite their different customs. But in 2002, because of the war, Malanda was nearly a ghost village; 70% of its inhabitants had fled and many houses were burnt. Today, Malanda is vibrant again. The village and its local church are now considered as a model of forgiveness and reconciliation for the whole region. What happened?
In early 2003, CELPA Pentecostal church organised a retreat for local pastors. The theme of the retreat was forgiveness and reconciliation. Two pastors from Malanda attended the retreat – one was a member of the Kinyarwanda-speaking tribe who had remained in the village, and the other came from the forest area where other inhabitants of Malanda had found refuge. The two pastors made a commitment to work for forgiveness and reconciliation among the people of Malanda.
The task was not easy as the villagers of Malanda had become enemies and avoided meeting each other. One group was living in the forest and the other in the village. They were separated by a big river. Communication was difficult. Invitations to meet were issued through letters that the two pastors would leave hanging on a stick at the bridge over the river. The two pastors would meet at the bridge, but no one else would.
One step at a time
After a few days, each pastor began to bring a few people, mainly church members, to meet the other group at the bridge. But still each group would only stand on one side of the river and speak loudly to the other group. They were reluctant to come any closer to each other for fear of attack. Finally, some people from both sides, who had been members of the church prayer group that used to pray and fast together before the conflict, agreed to meet and pray together for three days on one side of the bridge. The two pastors joined them. Those who met forgave each other and prayed for forgiveness and reconciliation among the villagers. The first decision taken was to convince the village nurse and the school head teacher, who were with the group in the forest, to come back to the village to work under the protection of the church. The people who stayed in the village needed their professional services in the dispensary and the school.
For two weeks they travelled every day between the two areas to work in the village. Then the nurse, the teacher and the families of two members of the prayer group decided to settle back in the village. An exchange of messages asking for forgiveness and offering forgiveness took place across the river. Movement of people, presents, goods and services across the river intensified. Reconciliation was happening. Many people came back to the village to rebuild their houses. Finally, the CELPA church decided to organise a prayer and celebration day in the village to mark full reconciliation. The event was open to all the villagers, regardless of their tribe or religion. People prayed, sang, danced and cried. In the end, the local chiefs and local church leaders made a public declaration that all Malanda villagers would now stand united to oppose any new attempt of division from inside or outside the village.
Sadiki Byombuka Tearfund Regional Adviser for DRC-CAR (Based in Bukavu/DRC)