survivor: Rose Mapendo tells of the horrors she lived
through in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
to Tell the Tale
of the Gatumba massacre gather to remember lost loved ones
and the horrors of tribal warfare
Sideriya, a Tutsi, listened as the Hutu rebels approached
the outskirts of Gatumba. It was nighttime, around 10 PM,
and many of her neighbors were sleeping. She was with her
family in a shelter on the edge of the Burundi refugee camp
and could hear her attackers laughing, singing, calling upon
God to assist in the imminent slaughter.
came,” Sideriya said, “and started killing people.”
Just months earlier, Sideriya and her family had escaped the
war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. They fled across the
border to Burundi, settling in Gatumba.
thought we were safe,” she recalled (through an interpreter).
“We thought we were lucky. We thought it was a safe haven
Hundreds of people pressed into a sweltering Voorheesville
barn at Camp Pinnacle Sunday. They were there to honor the
third anniversary of the Aug. 13 tribal massacre that claimed
166 lives, most of them Banyamulenge Tutsi’s from the eastern
region of Congo, and left more than 100 critically wounded
and crippled. Many in the audience were survivors of this
massacre, and others were Banyamulenge refugees of the tribal
warfare that has plagued the Congo for more than a decade.
threw grenade into our shelter,” Sideriya said. “I lost six
children and my husband. Even myself, the grenade was thrown
on my leg. It is horrible, my leg.”
Video, silently projected onto a screen in the corner of the
barn, lent visceral power to her words. Charred bodies of
infants. Smoke swirling from razed shelters. Blood-soaked
corpses, covered in blankets or bare, laying face down in
the dust or necks stretched against the sun, arms and legs
splayed unnaturally, with black pits where eyes used to be.
killing people,” she said, “they put fire on the shelter.”
Her son dragged her from the blaze to safety.
In another part of the camp, Philippe Mukwiye recalled, he
lay face down in the dirt. The killers had mistaken him for
Hutu, and ordered him down to the ground to avoid their bullets.
heard the scream of my own children,” he said, “and the sound
of people being killed with knives. I thought I was losing
After two hours, the killing was done. He raced toward the
were shot in the leg, and they poured gasoline on them,” he
said. “We spent the whole night taking some to the hospital.”
He lost a brother and a son that night. Sideriya still carries
shrapnel, lodged in her body, from the grenade that ripped
her family apart.
see, some of these people are handicapped,” she said, pointing
into the audience to a young boy whose leg was damaged beyond
repair, and to a little girl in the front row, her curly black
hair brushing across a shoulder deeply scarred with burn tissue.
Three years after the massacre, 525 survivors have been relocated
to the United States. Three of these families live in the
Capital Region. On Sunday, nearly 60 survivors traveled from
all across the country to take part in the memorial in Voorheesville.
Similar memorials took place in Burundi and Congo.
is hard to acknowledge what happened,” Sideriya said. “But
it is important for us who survived this to give testimony
and to honor those who passed away.”
Other speakers Sunday helped flesh out briefly the recent
history of violence in the Congo-Rwanda-Burundi region of
The Banyamulenge Tutsis have been living in the Congo region
for more than 200 years. In 1993, the parliament of Congo
decreed that the Banyamulenge were no longer citizens, but
instead refugees from Rwanda.
After the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which the government-supported
Hutus hunted down and butchered Tutsis, the perpetrators of
many of those atrocities fled to Congo, and started inciting
violence there against the helpless Banyamulenge.
In 1998, the Rwandan Tutsi military invaded Congo, and the
Congolese president heightened his rhetoric against the Banyamulenge,
declaring that all Tutsis were an enemy of the state. He referred
to them as vermin and snakes, and called for them to be hunted
and killed. The Banyamulenge, many of whom live on the border
of Congo and Rwanda, were caught helpless in the midst of
violence that would go on to claim nearly 4 million people.
Gatumba was the not the first such act of violence, stressed
Olivier Mandevu, a refugee who found shelter in the Capital
Region. He runs the Gatumba Refugees Survivors Foundation.
It was just one particularly bloody expression of a genocidal
There had been human-rights violations way before Gatumba,
he said, with atrocities being committed to this day.
people are dying in the east of Congo. Seven villages have
been burnt. I can even name the names of the villages,” he
said. “It is happening right now.”
Mauro De Lorenzo, a resident fellow with American Enterprise
Institute for Public Policy Research, agreed that such acts
of violence were all too familiar for the Banyamulenge. He
was in Gatumba days before the massacre, and arrived the day
after, in time to see that “the bodies had been laid out in
is nothing special about Gatumba. There is nothing special
about Gatumba. Who here has not lost a member of your family?”
he asks the gathered Tutsis. “All of those people died of
the same cause. And that is the sickness inside the politics
of the Congo. The Banyamulenge have known the exact same kinds
of problems for the past 40 years.”
no one is going to help except the Banyamulenge themselves,”
De Lorenzo said. “And I don’t say that to discourage you,
but to keep you focused on what is most important. And that
is the unity in the Banyamulenge community.”
One way to understand the massacre of Gatumba, he said, was
as a message sent from the government in Kinshasa, the Congo
seat of power, to the Banyamulenge people that they would
never be welcome back into Congo.
There are forces inside the Congo government who want to drive
all Banyamulenge out of Congo, permanently, he said. And this
year, with the unexpected help of political infighting within
the Banyamulenge community, it looks as though these extremist
factions might achieve their goal.
am sorry I don’t have a message of hope,” De Lorenzo said,
“but the situation is quite serious.”
101: Questions Now Inappropriate
was a tender moment between President George Bush
and his top political advisor, Karl Rove. At a
press conference on the lawn of the White House
this week, they announced together that Rove would
resign as the president’s top advisor. The two
men both read brief statements and embraced. The
press had been briefed beforehand that they were
not to ask questions, but that didn’t stop CBS
reporter Bill Plante. Apparently unmoved by the
solemnity of the moment, Plante shouted: “If he’s
so smart, how come you lost Congress?” Neither
man responded. But Plante’s colleagues in the
press corps certainly did. This unbridled outburst
of journalism has been characterized since in
the mainstream press as unprofessional and inappropriate.
Up the Rhetoric
Bush warned Tehran this week that any effort to
assist anti-American forces in Iraq would be dealt
with with force: “. . . There will be consequences
for people transporting, delivering EFPs, highly
sophisticated IEDs that kill Americans in Iraq.”
Last month, London’s Guardian newspaper
reported that Vice President Dick Cheney appeared
to be winning an internal White House battle against
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is calling
for restraint, over waging war against Iran. To
many insiders, the president’s recent public comments
signaled his alignment with the vice president’s
By Any Other Name
signs are emanating from the White House of an
impending war against Iran. The Washington
Post is reporting that the United States will
now designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps
as a “specially designated global terrorist.”
The 125,000- member force is Iran’s elite military
force. It is the first time, Fox News reported,
that a foreign military force has ever been designated
as a terrorist organization.
an interview on NPR’s All Things Considered,
the Bush Administration’s war adviser, Lt.
Gen. Douglas Lute, said that it only makes sense
to consider a draft now that the Army is under
so much strain. Lute suggested that more soldiers
were needed for operations overseas and on American
throngs of unsupervised children try the patience of some
Park South residents, hopes are hung on the Knox Street revitalization
Barrie Burlingame sent out a distressed e-mail earlier this
month to her neighborhood association listserv, Albany County
legislator, city councilman and assorted neighbors. The subject
header: “Park South - Worst. Summer. Ever.”
In the e-mail, she detailed how quality-of-life issues, such
as noise pollution and littering, and legions of unsupervised
children were making her and her neighbors absolutely miserable.
Burlingame has lived for many years with her husband at 84
Morris St., and has seen it go through good times and bad.
But this summer, she said, it has reached a new low.
is now a daily occurrence to find many children (not always
the same ones) between the ages of infant and ten playing
on and around my front porch when I get home from work,” she
wrote. “Tuesday, a six year old girl was changing an infant’s
diaper there. Last Thursday, there were two tiny children
sitting on my steps with Pit Bull puppies tied to my railing.
Every day I ask them to please get off and to not play there.
Every day they are back.”
Further, she noted that unsupervised children of all ages
run the streets late into the nights, sometimes throughout
Her e-mail inspired a flurry of similar complaints.
Julie Maynes, who lives on Madison Avenue, but whose property
extends to Dana Avenue, has seen the neighborhood deteriorate
as well. For her, much of the current quality-of-life concerns
began with Albany’s change in policing strategy.
used to have a beat cop, who used to know the people, places,
families. Now it is just happenstance if you ever see a cop,”
she said. “I grew up around here. It used to be a family-oriented
neighborhood. Now I lie in bed listening to the children running
up and down the streets screaming. I think it trickles down
to the parents who let their kids run around all night long.”
don’t know what the solution is, except that when we had a
police officer around, it seemed like it was under control,”
she said. “Now it seems like there is a notable police absence
and not a police presence.”
think that there are certain neighborhoods, and I think Park
South is one, where that kind of beat cop, having someone
that you know, there is value to that,” said Richard Conti
(D-Ward 6). Albany Police Chief James Tuffey’s reenvisioning
of the department’s policing strategies last year, which included
shuttering the Arbor Hill and Pine Bush stations, pulled many
familiar officers off their beats. Beats, as was the case
with the officer in Park South, that they had been walking
The revamped strategy has been to put more cops on the streets,
Conti conceded, “But the question is: Is that aspect of the
recognizable beat cop in certain neighborhoods in some way
something we should look back at again?”
people in the neighborhood are not as bad as they are seen
to be,” said Michael Barber, a committeeman for the Sixth
Ward, Seventh Election District. Barber has lived on Madison
Avenue for four years.
think that some of it may be, I don’t want to say that it
is hyped up, but some people around there, they hear a sneeze
and they think that it is a gunshot,” he said. “That is how
extreme they are about it.”
Though Barber said that he personally knows of two people
who were jumped recently, and also he is aware of some minor
drug dealing occurring, he sees the problems as generally
quality-of-life issues, such as littering and noise.
have people who lived in Park South for years. They have seen
a downward spiral over the years. So they are less comfortable
with the neighborhood the way it is, ’cause their frame of
reference is different. Some folks are agitated to the point
where they are hypersensitive. Everything is magnified by
10. Some of the complaints are legitimate. But some of it
is a lack of understanding.”
Many efforts to help curb some of the negative aspects of
Park South have been initiated. Soon, Conti said, the Albany
County district attorney’s office and a representative of
the police will open an office at 14 Dana Ave.
It is always darkest before dawn, said Andrew Harvey, president
of the Park South neighborhood association. It is a line he
said he has been using for “far too long” to describe life
in Park South.
dawn is when the Knox Street project gets under way,” Harvey
said. As Winn Development prepares to take ownership of 18
buildings on Knox Street at the end of this month, he said
that many people hope the positive effects of the rehabilitation
project will radiate out into the surrounding neighborhood.
that point we will see a lot of efforts that have occurred
over the last four years bear fruit,” he said. “Hopefully,
this will be a part of a transformation for Park South.”
Barber also is working with Sarah Reginelli, a senior planner
with the city of Albany and pointwoman on the Park South revitalization
project, on developing programs for the neighborhood youth.
There was a neighborhood cleanup a few weeks ago, Reginelli
said, starting on Dana Avenue. A bunch of kids came out.
kids were so excited and happy to be around that,” she said.
“Kids obviously contribute to the litter problem and we wanted
to show them that they are part of the neighborhood. There
is a misunderstanding about how all these problems come up.
We are trying to get people more understanding of the kids
in the neighborhood and get the kids more active in the neighborhood
They are looking at strategies for starting programs this
fall and next summer. Outreach programs, after-school activities.
can go in there, and you can put new buildings up,” Reginelli
said, “and you can rehab old buildings and that is wonderful
and it is absolutely necessary. But there are a lot of other
things you have to tackle at the same point or there aren’t
going to be any real changes.”
loose ends this week-