On October 25, Muhindo, a 15-year-old boy from the Nyanga ethnic group living in Pinga, DRC, was on his way to visit a friend. When he arrived in the city of Bushimoo, primarily of Hunde ethnicity, a group of people suddenly stopped him. They accused Muhindo of belonging to a Nyanga armed group who had attacked neighboring villages during the night. They threatened to kill him.
Muhindo was terrified. Trying to explain or to flee was out of the question. He was left without options – until a group of Hunde youth intervened to save his life. They stepped in and found the right words to calm down their neighbors, explaining that the boy never belonged to any armed group. The menacing crowd dispersed. Muhindo’s life was spared.
Overwhelmed with gratitude and relief, he was left with a doubt in his mind: who were the young Hunde that so courageously protected him?
The conflict between Nyanga and Hunde goes back over twenty years, before Muhindo was even born. Ethnic tensions came to a head in 1993 after the assassination of the Nyanga tribal chief, which in turn generated a series of brutal reprisals. Since then, the relations between the groups only worsened, to the point that the river that divides Pinga became an insurmountable barrier dividing two segregated communities.
Last year, we started a reconciliation program with the local organization Save Communities in Conflict to finally put an end to the conflict in Pinga. After months of patient work with members of both ethnic groups, we organized a workshop to bring them together in a safe space. They all spoke about their desire to live together again, shattering the barriers of diffidence and hatred that had kept them apart for decades.
Let’s put an end to this conflict ! It’s time to forgive each other!” – a Nyanga representative
The seed of peace, the vision of a different future had been sown. Those who attended the workshop spread the word among their families and friends. Elders spoke to the youth in their neighborhoods and reminded them that Nyanga and Hunde once lived together in harmony. Both groups met in a church that the Nyangas had refused to go to for years. Children started going to school together, sharing the same classrooms. At the gatherings that we organized, they played soccer in mixed teams, danced, and sang together in a festive atmosphere that the people of Pinga had not felt for a long, long time.
For several months, local youth focused all their efforts on peacebuilding. The dramatic improvement of the relations between ethnic groups spurred their desire to come together and be the protagonists of the newly found peace. Perhaps the most powerful gesture was made by the Presidents of the Hunde and Nyanga Youth Associations, two groups that used to be purveyors of hatred. They walked hand in hand on both sides of the river crossing Pinga, turning a symbol of division into an emblem of unity.
Despite the huge impact of our work on the community, ethnic tensions still exist – the attack against Muhindo wouldn’t have happened otherwise. But today a new generation of peace mediators is acting on the ground to defuse tensions and remind people that where there was violence, now there can be coexistence. The young Hunde that saved Muhindo are a part of that generation. Our training gave them the confidence and the skills to intervene when it was necessary and save someone’s life.
I was scared ! Luckily young peacebuilders came to save me.” – Muhindo
The future of Pinga is in their hands, and it looks brighter than ever before.
Laurene Graziani is a volunteer at Search for Common Ground DRC.