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Ituri: Gold, land, and ethnicity in north-eastern Congo (Usalama Project)
This report highlights three key aspects of Ituri’s history that help to explain the situation in the district in the mid-1990s, when outsiders brought war to Ituri, and to provide context for the formation and conduct of the non-state armed groups such as the UPC and FNI/FRPI. First, the colonial enterprise built an infrastructure and political economy...
This report highlights three key aspects of Ituri’s history that help to explain the situation in the district in the mid-1990s, when outsiders brought war to Ituri, and to provide context for the formation and conduct of the non-state armed groups such as the UPC and FNI/FRPI. First, the colonial enterprise built an infrastructure and political economy in Ituri to support the exploitation of gold, but this required forms of control that strained local relations. Second, the colonial focus on gold created numerous land conflicts, resulting specifically from colonial agents appointing chiefs, re-drawing boundaries, physically separating populations, and issuing concession or plantation rights to white settlers. In the post-colonial era, disputes over land rights, ownership, and access became incorporated into local struggles for political and economic power, particularly among elites from the Hema and Lendu groups. Third, colonial agents viewed local populations through a racial lens, resulting in narratives of ethnic superiority (Hema) and inferiority (Lendu). Over time, these narratives became entrenched attitudes, and by the mid-1990s, Lendu and Hema elites employed them to mobilize populations to commit violence. Ituri’s history and on-going problems related to gold mining, land conflicts, and ethnic relations have implications for policy makers. There is an urgent need for a comprehensive peace process in Ituri to bridge the socio-economic and ideological gap between ethnic communities, particularly between the Hema and Lendu. Elements could include governmental efforts to identify land boundaries and ownership clearly, as well as a locally-driven truth and reconciliation commission to facilitate open and honest discussion about Ituri’s history. Such a process could also identify ways to integrate development and peace-building initiatives better. In addition, there is a need to reform the resource exploitation sector, so that Ituri’s valuable natural resources are better harnessed to address entrenched poverty. For decades, the exploitation of gold, timber, and other resources has benefited a relatively small elite with ties to government officials in both Kinshasa and Kampala. Formalizing Ituri’s resource exploitation sector has proven to be a difficult task, but with sufficient political will in Kinshasa and Kampala, and an end to impunity for those who ignore government regulations, it is possible that profits could be utilized to address the health, education, and economic needs of Ituri’s population.
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