Rwandans in Goma bear the brunt of hatred and violence

Sunday November 20 2022
Goma street

A street in Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo where Rwandan traders have complained of violence and discrimination. Picture:Cyril Ndegeya

By Ange Iliza

As insecurity in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo gets out of hand, thousands of Rwandans and Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese continue to bear the brunt of hatred and violence.

For the past weeks, protests against Rwanda’s alleged support for the M23 rebels have intensified. While Rwanda has denied backing M23 rebels that is reigning terror on locals in Eastern DRC, in recent weeks protests are being organized in different parts of the country against Rwanda.

As a result, Rwandans living in DRC or anyone who is suspected of having Rwandan roots in Goma is being targeted by locals. Rwandan traders in Goma who spoke to Rwanda today on condition of anonymity expressed concerns over personal safety as well as discrimination as some locals have stopped buying items from them.

The experience has become extremely uncertain in the Iriho's (surname withheld for security ) neighborhood in Goma. The 27-year-old university graduate moved to Goma 16 years ago with his family to run a family business there.

The family speaks Kinyarwanda and would occasionally travel to Rwanda to visit relatives before the border was closed in May. Clashes and quarrels between Rwanda and the DRC are not new, but hatred and hate speech towards Rwandans, Iriho’s experience, is very worrying this time.

“This is my home. I am a Rwandan national but Goma is all I have ever known. My friends and family are here. It is constantly shocking witnessing how some Congolese in our neighborhood are turning against us, refusing to buy from our shop,” Iriho said.


Rwanda has repeatedly accused DRC of public incitement of violence and hatred against Rwandans and Rwandophones residing in the country but DRC has rejected the allegations.

In Iriho’s experience, however, he remembers seeing local officials and police officers turning a blind eye to violence against Rwandans.

“You can never be sure. Sometimes they help, sometimes they don’t, especially when they do not know you on a personal level,” Iriho recounts. He referenced a case where a Rwandan church pastor in his neighborhood went missing in late September. He thinks if officials were more concerned about his disappearance, he would be found, but he remains missing.

Rwanda Today also spoke to Monique( surname withheld for security), a Rwandan mother, and trader who used to travel back and forth between Goma and Rubavu before the border was closed.

In the week of October 31, her children briefly stopped attending school because protests broke out. She said it was “too dangerous for them to walk outside.

“For some reason, they know you are Rwandan even before they hear you speak Kinyarwanda. It is very worrying and I fear for my children because they speak more Kinyarwanda than French taught at school,” Monique said.

Asked whether they plan to return to Rwanda both Monique and Iriho responded that their lives are in Goma and that if they had to leave, they would flee like other refugees.

“This is our home. Yes, I have relatives in Rwanda but Goma is all I know. My friends, family, and networks are all here,” Iriho said.

Both Iriho and Monique hold high hopes for peace-making efforts by Rwanda and DRC. If they end up futile, they and their families risk becoming refugees or worse. It is reported that over 40,000 eastern DRC have fled their homes.

Before the escalation of tensions this year, trade between DRC and Rwanda was booming. The DRC sells mainly minerals and food to Rwanda. In turn, Rwanda sells DRC live animals and some food crops.

For instance, according to Rwanda’s National Institute of Statistics, in 2017, cross-border trade between Rwanda and the DRC generated 100 million.