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Cablegate: Drc - the Nationality Question

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.



E.O. 12958: N/A



1. (SBU) Summary: Recent events in Bukavu (reftel) highlight
the explosive nature of the nationality question,
particularly for Tutsis in eastern Congo. Current Congolese
law does not recognize the citizenship claims of some
longtime residents whose ancestors immigrated to the country,
including the Banyamulenge Tutsis from Rwanda, who comprise
less than 1 percent of the population. The Ministry of
Justice has drafted a law that would outline procedures to
acquire nationality under Article 14 of the Transitional
Constitution, which says that all persons of ethnic groups or
nationalities present in the DRC since independence have the
same legal rights as citizens. The Banyamulenge, however,
were not considered an indigenous ethnic group at
independence. Resolution of the nationality issue is needed
before elections to determine who is able to vote. However,
with the many different opinions and emotions surrounding the
issue, it is unclear how this issue can be resolved without
lengthy, heated debate that could cause further slippage in
the transition calendar. End Summary.

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Citizens or not citizens?

2. (U) Although nine countries border the DRC, the
nationality question in Congo is focused on Rwanda,
specifically Rwandan Tutsis. Many Rwandans have emigrated to
the DRC, some as far back as the 19th century. Those who
came during the colonial period were considered by the
Belgians to be Rwandan, but many have lived in the Congo for
decades and have never been naturalized. Birth on DRC
territory does not automatically confer citizenship, so
persons born to Rwandan parents are not considered Congolese.

3. (U) In 1972, Mobutu issued a decree granting Zairean
citizenship to Rwandans and Burundians who had been in the
Kivus before 1 January 1960. However, in 1981 Mobutu's
Parliament abrogated the 1972 decree with a law stating that
only those belonging to a tribe that had been present in the
Congo in 1885 would have Zairean nationality. All others
could gain citizenship through a 2-tiered process (described
below). Because there were allegedly no Tutsis in the Congo
in 1885 and the Banyamulenge (meaning "people from the
hills") did not exist, this essentially stripped the Tutsis
of their citizenship. A 1999 decree made minor changes to
the 1981 law, but the procedures remained the same. The 1981
procedures are still, theoretically, in place until
Parliament finishes drafting an organic law to implement
Article 14 of the Transition Constitution.

4. (U) The 1981 law outlines two types of citizenship:
'petite' and 'grande.' There are several conditions to get
petite citizenship, including: must be over 18, speak one of
the Congolese languages, have had habitual residence for a
continuous period of 15 years, not have engaged in acts
prejudicial to the Congolese state, and maintained main
material ties/interests in the Congo for the preceding 10
years. With petite citizenship, one cannot serve in elected
or political positions, in the army or the police with an
officer rank, or in a public position at the executive level.
Grande citizenship is much more difficult to get, and
requires 15 years of status under petite citizenship,
'eminent service' to the nation, and the recommendation of
the Mobutu-era 'central committee' (changed by the 1999 law
to a 'legislative institution'). Most Banyamulenge would be
ineligible for grande citizenship, and as a result would be
unable to hold positions in government.

Banyamulenge seen as outsiders

5. (U) The question of citizenship in the Congo goes beyond
the legal framework. Vangu Mambweni, head of the Nationality
Commission after the 1992 National Conference and now
Secretary for International Relations of the pro-Kabila PPRD

political party, told poloff that most foreigners living in
the Congo acknowledge they are foreigners. In contrast, the
Rwandans come over and proclaim themselves to be citizens
without going through the process of applying for
citizenship. He maintained the problem is the disregard for
proper citizenship procedures. However, when poloff asked if
the Banyamulenge would ever be seen as Congolese, even if
they went through the proper procedures, he replied that the
Rwandese want to come to Congo to rule over the Congolese,
and if they change their ideology then they will be able to
live here peacefully. This statement shows the underlying
attitude that the Banyamulenge could never be true Congolese.

Next Steps

7. (SBU) We have not yet seen the draft nationality law that
was prepared by the Ministry of Justice and is currently with
the Political, Defense, and Security Commission. One MP told
USAID-funded NGO NDI the draft could be finished by mid-June,
but this seems highly unlikely given recent events in Bukavu.
Previous laws on nationality have defined citizenship on an
ethnic or tribal basis and the Transitional Constitution
defines it in the same way. The new Constitution and organic
law ideally should confer citizenship on an individual basis,
not by tribal or ethnic groups.

8. (SBU) The Sun City resolutions on nationality, agreed to
in April 2002, echo Article 14 of the Transition Constitution
and ask for a census to identify all nationals, immigrants,
refugees, and infiltrators. No census has been undertaken
because there is no money to fund one, so it is unclear how
that may factor into the draft nationality law. The
resolutions also leave the question of dual nationality,
currently not recognized under the law, to future
legislation. All of the previous laws have emphasized that
Congolese citizenship is exclusive, and given the tension
between Rwanda and the DRC, it is unlikely that the new law
will recognize dual citizenship. (Comment: This policy is
hypocritical inasmuch as many senior Congolese officials
already hold European or American passports. End Comment.)

9. (SBU) Elections cannot be held until the nationality issue
is cleared up. Members of the RCD/G, who know it is unlikely
they will receive many votes during an election, have an
interest in their few perceived supporters, i.e., the
Banyamulenge, being citizens. Because there is a lack of
political will toward elections and slow movement on laws in
general in Parliament, there is no current schedule as to
when the nationality law will be passed. (Note: only 2
major pieces of legislation have gone through the entire
legislative process since the transition began. End note.)
National Assembly Speaker Olivier Kamitatu has previously
suggested July/August. Recent events in Bukavu may provide
an impetus to resolve this question sooner rather than later,
but are also likely to increase anti-Banyamulenge sentiment.


10. (SBU) A clear nationality law is needed prior to
elections to determine both who can vote and who can hold
office. The latter is particularly important to Banyamulenge
politicians like Vice President Ruberwa. However, attitudes
take time to change, and many Congolese are skeptical that
the Banyamulenge deserve citizenship, believing that they are
still loyal to Rwanda. Despite these attitudes, it is
important to have a law that clearly defines nationality,
preferably on an individual basis, and eliminates the
ambiguities of previous laws. Once there is a legal text to
work with, putting the framework into place will follow.
Unfortunately, debate over this emotional issue is likely to
be lengthy and heated, risking further slippage in the
transition calendar.

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