Geopolitics

Crimes Of War: Returning Congolese Refugees Find Homes, Lands Have Been Stolen

Since the end of the civil war, many of the refugees exiled in neighboring African countries have been coming home to the Democratic Republic of Congo, only to find that their homes have been stolen or sold, and that there's little they can do ab

Women working the fields in Sud-Kiva (Syfia Grand Lacs)
Women working the fields in Sud-Kiva (Syfia Grand Lacs)
Evariste Mahamba and Jean Chrysostome Kijana

BARAKA – Once, they had fled their land and homes to escape the armed conflict plaguing their region. Now Congolese refugees from the Fizi and Uvira territories are coming back home after years of exile to find their old property has been occupied – or destroyed -- by others.

Here in the Sud-Kivu province in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, more than 64,000 locals have already come back from Tanzania and Burundi since 2005. Some 60,000 Congolese are still living in Tanzania and 29,000 in Burundi. Most of them won't come home because they are worried they won't be able to recover the lands and properties they left behind years earlier.

And of those who have returned to Congo, many found their houses destroyed and their fields being farmed by others after they had been sold by family members or stolen by neighbors. No one wants to hand back their properties, leaving the former refugees with nothing.

Kasindi Jean lost everything in 1998 when he fled to Tanzania to escape the civil war. "My cows, fields, my home and all my belongings have been taken," he says.

Also back from Tanzania, Pamba Selemani found his old house, where he planned to live with his eight children, being lived in by a neighbor who told him he bought it from his uncle. He referred the matter to local authorities but they swiftly said there was nothing they could do. "As a refugee with nothing, I can't stand up to someone with money," he says.

Many of the returning refugees have the same story. Bilombele, exiled for 10 years and repatriated in 2009, found an army officer living in his house in Baraka. The new occupant threatened to kill him if he tried to get his house back. "My family told me to give up. I was forced to move back to my native village of Mboko," a place he left 15 years ago and where he was considered as a stranger. To be able to cultivate a tiny bit of land, he now has to pay a rental price of two goats a year.

Words and deeds

But according to local village leaders, some of the Congolese who come back try to take advantage of their refugee status to steal lands that do not belong to them. "How can someone who left 50 years ago return to claim a land he says he inherited from his parents?" wonders Bin Tembwe from Kaboke.

Not everyone is giving up. Some repatriates are fighting for their rights, with the help of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the human rights NGO Arche d'Alliance. The problem is that refugees don't always have the title deeds proving they are the land's owners, says Me Ibrahimu from the NGO.

To avoid conflicts from deteriorating, "we try to come to an amicable agreement between both sides, based on testimony from neighbors and trustworthy villagers. That way we manage to settle some disputes."

Asumani Kiza, who came back from Burundi to Uvira in 2005 after nine years abroad, won his case: "After three years of what seemed like never-ending proceedings, I finally got my home back."

The best solution to put an end to this situation, according to the UNHCR and the Congolese National Commission for Refugees (NCR), is to provide refugees with title deeds. In September 2011, a first group of 68 expatriates received deeds for houses built by the UNHCR in Fizi and Uvira. In all 675 people should be able to benefit from this program, but it is currently on hold because of ongoing political strife in the country.

Many people believe however that the NCR is not doing its job. According to Patience Alesire, from the NGO OSEP, the national refugee commission is not doing enough for those returning, limiting their action to organizing the repatriation. Political roadblocks have stalled government plans in 2011 to create arbitration committees to resolve property disputes.

Read the article in French in Syfia.

Photo- Syfia Grands Lacs

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Society

Chinese Students Now Required To Learn To Think Like Xi Jinping

"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university.

Children from Congtai Elementary School, Handan City, Hebei Province

Maximilian Kalkhof

BEIJING — It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education.

The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader.


Xi Jinping has been the head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for almost 10 years. In 2017, at a party convention, he presented a doctrine in the most riveting of party prose: "Xi Jinping's ideas of socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new age."

Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself. In other words, to make China great again!

Communist curriculum replaces global subjects

This doctrine has sent shockwaves through China since 2017. It's been echoed in newspapers, on TV, and screamed from posters and banners hung in many cities. But now, the People's Republic is going one step further: It's bringing "Xi Jinping Thought" into the schools.

Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation?

The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

photo of books about Xi-Jinping on a shelf at the 2021 Hong Kong Book Fair

Books about Xi-Jinping at the 2021 Hong Kong Book Fair

Alex Chan Tsz Yuk/SOPA Images/ZUMA

— Photo:

Targeting pop culture

The regime is also taking massive action against the entertainment industry. Popstar Kris Wu was arrested on charges of rape. Movies and TV series starring actor Zhao Wei have started to disappear from Chinese streaming platforms. The reason is unclear.

What the developments do show is that China is attempting to decouple from the West with increasing insistence. Beijing wants to protect its youth from Western excesses, from celebrity worship, super wealth and moral decline.

A nationalist blogger recently called for a "profound change in the economy, finance, culture and politics," a "revolution" and a "return from the capitalists to the masses." Party media shared the text on their websites. It appears the analysis caused more than a few nods in the party headquarters.

Dictatorships are always afraid of pluralism.

Caspar Welbergen, managing director of the Education Network China, an initiative that aims to intensify school exchanges between Germany and China, says that against this background, the curriculum reform is not surprising.

"The emphasis on 'Xi Jinping Thought' is being used in all areas of society," he says. "It is almost logical that China is now also using it in the education system."

Needless to say, the doctrine doesn't make student exchanges with China any easier.

Dictatorships are always afraid of color, pluralism and independent thinking citizens. And yet, Kristin Kupfer, a Sinology professor at the University of Trier, suggests that ideologically charged school lessons should not be interpreted necessarily as a sign of weakness of the CCP.

From the point of view of a totalitarian regime, she explains, this can also be interpreted as a signal of strength. "It remains to be seen whether the Chinese leadership can implement this so thoroughly," Kupfer adds. "Initial reactions from teachers and parents on social media show that such a widespread attempt to control opinion has raised fears and discontent in the population."

Die Welt
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