An instrument of peace in Tanganyika province, DRC

By George Howard and Christie R. House

May 6, 2020 | ATLANTA

Wings of the Morning, the United Methodist aviation ministry of the North Katanga Episcopal Area, has been called into service to assist peace negotiations in a strife-ridden area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The governor of the DRC’s Tanganyika province called Gaston Ntambo Nkulu, Global Ministries’ missionary pilot, for assistance early in March this year. The Cessna Caravan that Ntambo flies is a unique size, big enough to carry a government delegation, yet, small enough to land on this village’s dirt airstrip.

The Cessna Caravan’s tailfin.

Most of the time, Wings of the Morning transports people in remote parts of the region to hospitals for emergency service. Poor or non-existent roads make ground transportation impossible.

The Minister of Defense asked Ntambo to fly two top generals and seven other leaders to negotiate a peace agreement among the Luba people and the Twa people (Batwa, also referred to by the general term, “Pygmy”), whose relationship has erupted into armed conflict off and on over the last seven years.

“When we do this kind of work, we save more lives than we ever could doing medical missions, because we stop the fighting,” Ntambo commented.

In the most recent uprising, Nyunzu was surrounded by Twa militias for almost two months, preventing residents from going to their gardens and harvesting crops. Some relief supplies have been brought into this village of over 40,000 people, but not enough.

Nyunzu is part of the North Katanga Episcopal Area led by Bishop Mande Muyombo. The village is populated primarily by people of the Luba tribe, a Bantu people. The Bantu migrated across the continent and now make up most of DRC’s population. Different Bantu peoples throughout Central Africa have used the Twa to do menial work. In colonial times, the Twa, who are small in stature, were used as slave labor in Africa.

Cargo is packed into the plane before flying the government delegation to Nyunzu, Tanganyika Province, DRC.

A persistent storm

The Twa are members of indigenous hunter-gatherer tribes that traditionally dwell in the forest. Various Twa tribal groups are found throughout Central Africa but make up just 1% of the population in the DRC. They feel their ability to continue their traditional ways of life are under siege. In the last two decades, they have also increasingly stepped up to demand their rights and equal treatment under the law.

Tension over respect and intermarriage has built up in Nyunzu and is coming to the boiling point. Using their traditional bows and arrows, the Twa maintained their stand around the village, while some Luba villagers accessed firing arms to engage the Twa. A pattern of attack and retaliation has caused major disruptions over time.

Across the region, more than half a million people have been displaced by this conflict. In fact, some of the Twa and Bantu families displaced by the fighting can be found together, seeking refuge in the same DRC displacement camps.

United Methodists peace efforts

United Methodists have worked for peace in this conflict in different ways. The Rev. Betty Kazadi Musau, communicator for the North Katanga Conference, reported in 2018 that United Methodist Women in Nyunzu invited Twa women into their women’s groups and Twa families into their churches. They initiated a dialogue and offered vocational workshops that sought to give Twa women a chance to improve their livelihoods.

The UMC District Superintendent in the area, Ngoy Wa Ngoy Mubanga, stepped into this latest standoff to find ways to make peace. Likewise, Moise Katumbi Chapwe, governor of the province, sought to bring the two sides together to make a deal.

On March 5, 2020, as Ntambo landed the Cessna Caravan with the government delegation and a small cargo of supplies, the governor arrived by helicopter.

The delegation was met by leaders of both groups. The District Superintendent and other church leaders were there to greet the delegation. As of the writing of this article the peace has held, and part of the delegation continues to negotiate a long-term solution to the stand-off.

You can support the mission of Wings of the Morning, North Katanga area, by directing gifts to Advance # 08597A.

George Howard is the director of Connectional Engagement with Global Ministries. Christie R. House is a consultant in writing and editing with Global Ministries.