Historical claims of belonging tend to be based on selective readings of history. Yet people in conflict perceive them to be very real. They consider the lands on which they live to be ancestral, and believe they have a right to the soil that is determined by ethnic belonging.
To understand present-day conflicts, we need to take these perceptions into consideration. But we also need to acknowledge that these understandings of history have been shaped by a colonial ‘grammar of belonging’. They have also been mobilised politically.
Engaging with the past in a conflict situation, where misinformation abounds, is not an easy task. Colonial documents are circulated out of context on WhatsApp and other social media to prove one position or another.
While drawing on history is a potential minefield, we think there is value in genuinely engaging with the past. History shows us we should not take claims about who belongs where at face value. Moreover, it reveals that those groups in conflict today also have long-standing relations of friendship, integration and collaboration.
These are the stories that are also told by people living in the Minembwe area. But they have become overshadowed by accounts of violence. To overcome conflict, we need to bring back historical nuance and listen to the entire range of lived realities of belonging.
The failure to do so renders us complicit in the colonial project of classifying and dividing people.
Source: The Conversation