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  • Writer's pictureWhat is Happening in Congo?

Displaced, Diseased and Destitute - Part 1

In terms of war and conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, one's first thought is to refer to the incessant war in the Eastern region of the country and rightfully so. North Kivu has been mired with bloodshed and instability for over a decade now and the international community refuses to acknowledge the situation as well as the role they've played in the ongoing war. However, it's time to bring light to another conflict within the borders of the DRC. This conflict has left over 600 000 children malnourished in the Kasai region of Congo after the rebellion of Kamuina Nsapu.

Displaced people of Kasai seeking refugee in Kikwit, June 7, 2017. VOA

The Kasai region is located in the central southern part of the DRC, receiving its name from the Kasai river. Formerly comprising of just two administrative regions; Kasai-Occidental and Kasai-Oriental, in 2015 the region was restructured and now comprises of five new provinces; Kasai Province, Kasai-Central, Sankuru, Kasai Oriental and Lomami Province.

The Kamuina Nsapu rebellion, said to have officially begun on August 12, 2016, was locally rooted in Kasai-Central and then spilled over to the other four provinces that were formerly known as Kasai-Occidental and Kasai-Oriental. Kasai-Central was formed of the independently administered capital city of Kananga and the Lulua district. The insurgency came about as a resistance to the central government after they refused to recognize Kamuina Nsapu appointment as chief.

This is not the first time the people of the Kasai region, and more specifically, the ethnic group known as the Baluba have resisted the central government. After the Democratic Republic of Congo gained independence in 1960, the people of South Kasai ( now dissolved and made into additional territory for Kabinda, the Sankuru Districts and the Province Kasai Oriental), declared themselves an independent state from the rest of the republic. Although their secession was unrecognized, South Kasai maintained its independence until 1962. It's clear to see that the Kasai region and its people aren't strangers to rebellion as in the case of Kamuina Nsapu.

Jean-Pierre Mpandi - The Kamuina Nsapu 2016

Although the insurrection is said to have begun on 12 August 2016, when Jean-Pierre Mpandi the reigning Kamuina Nsapu was murdered, the instability began after the Kamuina's Nsapu's resistance to the 2011 national elections. Jean-Pierre Mpandi was appointed to become the sixth Kamuina Nsapu (head), which means black ant, of the Bajila Kasanja clan (Lulua ethnic group), after his uncle. The new chief was already mired with controversy, in South Africa, his place of residence prior to his return to the DRC. He had been convicted in a diamond trafficking case, therefore a return to claim a chieftaincy in Kasai-Central was a guaranteed and welcomed escape for the new head of the Bajila Kasanja Clan. Traditionally, chiefs, like the Kamuina Nsapu's enjoyed the right to exercise remarkable dominance over land and the state is required to recognize their position. In return, this would give the chiefs an incentive to endorse the central government. The former led to the uprising. Mpandi stood in firm opposition of the 2011 national elections after positions of power went to government appointed supporters instead of tribal chiefs as it had been in the past and that led to the provincial governor, Alex Kande refusing to recognize Mpandi's Kamuina Nsapu appointment as chief. Former governor, Alex Kande stated that his appointment would only be recognized if, Mpandi endorsed the central government and became a member of the ruling party. This led to the newly appointed Kamuina Nsapu openly questioning the validity of the national authorities. June 2016, Mpandi challenged the government's power and called for civil disobedience. Due to this, his home was raided and he accused the perpetrators of attempting to rape his wife.

Mpandi continued to propagate an antigovernmental rhetoric and mobilized the local youth against the corrupt Congolese state, although his own reasons were not morally justifiable. He was able to garner support by performing traditional rites in front of the Tshiota, the sacred fire. He would perform baptisms to aide with his establishing his influence. The baptismal ceremonies were used to initiate children, even younger than fourteen, into the militia group he was forming. The belief surrounding the baptism in the tshiota is said to make one invincible. In an attempt to quell the tensions between Mpandi and the government, negotiations were conducted, however there were no resolutions. The Kamuina Nsapu was given an ultimatum to surrender, after his refusal, Jean-Pierre Mpandi went on to attack his rival chiefs village with his followers as well as local government officials. Mpandi, inflated by the power he held as the Kamuina Nsapu, resisted and the government decided to take him out. August, 12, 2016 the Kamuina Nsapu was killed by government security forces and his body was moved to Kananga. In retaliation, chiefs from Dibaya organized militias to demand the return of the newly deceased Kamuina Nsapu's body and continued his agenda in his name.

Kamuina Nsapu Militia- rfi web doc.

The peace the government thought they would gain did not happen, Jean-Pierre Mpandi's followers revolted and fought back. In response to the militia's violent spree the armed forces retaliated and resulted in blood being spilled. In the very early days of September 2016, there were at least 51 dead, 806 houses burned down and 12 000 people displaced from Dibaya. The Kamuina Nsapu militia went as far as capturing a 180 km area as well as the Kananga Airport before it was recaptured by the government. After this there was an influx of Rwandanese army commanded officers whom the deceased chief stated had been the ones aiding in keeping Joseph Kabila in power. There continued to be fighting between the militia group and the army deployed by the government. At the discovery of mass graves by the UN, the government labelled the rebels as "terrorists". In commemoration of the Kamuina Nsapu's death, the militia would orchestrate attacks on Thursdays and Fridays. They would kill and go as far as mutilating their victims, who were usually state officials and any anybody they deemed as traitors.

From Dibaya, the insurrection spread to the other Kasai provinces. The situation was dire and members of the central government were not allowed in the Kasai region until February 1st, 2017. February 9th, 2017 violence erupted in Tshimbulu amongst the armed forces and 300 militiamen. At least 60 people were killed by the armed forces by the next day. By February 14th the numbers were announced to have gone up to at least 101 people. In the next part we'll be exploring just how catastrophic the insurgency as well as tribal conflict has been for the people of the Kasai region.

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