DR Congo: Ending the Cycle of Violence in Ituri

Since December 2017, violence in the province of Ituri, in the north east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has left nearly 1,000 people dead and half a million displaced. Breaking out in the territory of Djugu, small-scale attacks first pitted the two main communities in Ituri, the Hema and Lendu, against each other. Subsequently, Lendu militias targeted the Hema, and then the national army, before attacking nearby territories. External actors, including from North Kivu province and bordering countries, are also involved. To stem a dangerous escalation, the Congolese government should focus on a strategy aimed at negotiating the demobilisation of Lendu militias while supporting a broader dialogue between the Hema, Lendu and other communities in Ituri. Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi should simultaneously work with neighbouring countries to halt support from actors in the region for the attackers. The current crisis differs from the 1999-2003 conflict in Ituri, during which Hema and Lendu communities participated in massacres undertaken by associated militias.Today, most assailants are recruited from within the Lendu community and brought together in an association of militias, the Cooperative for the Development of the Congo. In contrast to the previous conflict, Lendu leaders have distanced themselves from these militias. Still, given the limits of the government’s military response, the possibility of escalating ethnic violence cannot be dismissed. Lendu militias continue to expand. Thus far, the Hema have not mounted systematic reprisals, but they do not rule out mobilising their youth if attacks continue. Young Hema have organised into self-defence groups and erected roadblocks in Ituri, which should be seen as forewarning of the risk of ethnic confrontation.