The peace activist Dina Muhirwa Nagazura was subjected to threats and harassment after an appearance on TV. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Anna Lithander
The peace activist Dina Muhirwa Nagazura was subjected to threats and harassment after an appearance on TV. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Anna Lithander

Peace activists forced into exile

2013-03-26

Recently, African leaders signed a peace deal for the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, at the same time Congolese peace activists are being subjected to violence and threats to such an extent that several of them have been forced into exile.

Dina Muhirwa Nagazura and Eric Lukemya Wa Mwenge are devoted women’s rights and peace activists from the Democratic Republic of Congo, working for two of The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s partner organisations. They advocate for peace in their respective local communities, using various conflict resolution methods. They also try to increase women’s participation in decision-making.

Today, both of them live in exile with their families. During a recent visit to Sweden, they told their stories.

Threatened to death

Eric Lukemya Wa Mwenge left DR Congo in November last year, after he had been attacked by armed people and threatened to death. He was also arrested without any explanation. Although he was released shortly after, he knew that it was only a matter of time before local authorities would look him up again.
– I knew that they wouldn’t leave me alone, he says.

Eric Lukemya Wa Mwenge. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Anna LithanderEric Lukemya Wa Mwenge. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Anna LithanderEric Lukemya Wa Mwenge believes that he is being harassed because of his activism. Already in 2009, local authorities raided his home. Three years later, he was once again targeted after having organised an investigation, set to solve a conflict between two ethnic groups in the region. His way of working was not appreciated.
– As a peace builder you are a moderator, you talk to the different parties of a conflict and cooperate with everybody. When you live in an area where these things are sensitive, people easily get suspicious. They think that you cooperate with “the other side”.

The threats and attacks against Dina Muhirwa Nagazura started after she had appeared on TV. She had been invited as a human rights activists “to speak about the sad situation”, as she puts it.
– I spoke out about the weakness of our government and I criticised the rebel group M23. After that, I was attacked three times. Some people threw stuff at our house. I also got many hostile phone calls, she says.

Running out of money

Dina Muhirwa Nagazura describes the situation in her districts as very problematic, not least for minorities. She doesn’t know who attacked her, only that the majority of them were never punished. In December last year, she decided to leave the country.

Since leaving DR Congo, Dina Muhirwa Nagazura has received economic support for one month and Eric Lukemya Wa Mwenge for four months from Front Line Defenders. However, they are starting to run out of money.
– Even to buy food is very difficult now, Dina Muhirwa Nagazura says.

The same goes for Eric Lukemya Wa Mwenge, but to go back to DR Congo is not an option for him.
– The people who threatened me are still there, and my absence will only have fuelled their suspicions. At the same time, I don’t have enough money to survive. My kids are not going to school; we don’t have money for food or rent. I don’t know what to do, it’s really a challenge, Eric Lukemya Wa Mwenge says with emphasis.

Living in exile doesn’t mean that they have stopped advocating for change. They are still working for their organisations, using phone and email.
– Since I’m out of the country now, I can’t be put in prison, so this is actually a way for me to continue to do my work, Eric Lukemya Wa Mwenge says.

When Eric Lukemya Wa Mwenge and his family were still in DR Congo, they were living in constant fear, always expecting someone to come knocking on their door. There were many nights when they couldn’t sleep.
– My wife was severely affected by my situation, she was very tense and she suffered from high blood pressure, he says.

Peace easier in theory

Neither Dina Muhirwa Nagazura nor Eric Lukemya Wa Mwenge is impressed by the new peace agreement for DR Congo, signed in Addis Abeba by eleven African countries and backed by the United Nations. When the subject is brought up, Eric Lukemya Wa Mwenge gives a sad laugh.
– This is not the first agreement. It is only words on a piece of paper. Nothing has changed on the ground. People on the grassroots level are not represented in this agreement. We are not involved, and many of us are not even aware of the agreement. We don’t think this will be helpful on a local level.

Dina Muhirwa Nagazura states that peace is easier in theory than in practice.
– The government doesn’t respect and implement laws and peace agreements. I don’t want to be pessimistic, but this is reality.

Nonetheless, they are still hoping for peace in the war torn eastern DR Congo.
– We have to try to bring about change by working with peace building and human rights on a local level. Maybe that is the way to create a bigger change, Eric Lukemya Wa Mwenge says.

In a thoughtful voice, Dina Muhirwa Nagazura adds that change will take a long time.
– It’s a big country with a large population. For any changes to be made, we have to be good at analysing and raising awareness of the situation. People need to have access to good information; otherwise rumours and hatred will create turmoil in the country, she says.

According to Eric Lukemya Wa Mwenge, another prerequisite for peace is to make Congolese society more united and to include women, sexual orientation minorities and other groups in decision-making. Furthermore, local leaders need to embrace these values.
– Instead of promoting hatred and exclusion, local decision-makers must be part of this process, Eric Lukemya Wa Mwenge concludes. 

Karin Råghall