In­side Congo’s es­ca­lat­ing Ka­sai con­flict

A new anti-gov­ern­ment move­ment is fight­ing the Con­golese armed forces

African Independent - - OUTLOOK - PHILIP KLEINFELD

PILES of dis­turbed earth cov­ered with net­tles and weeds hide the mass graves of Nganza, a neigh­bour­hood in Kananga, cap­i­tal of the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo’s Ka­sai Cen­tral re­gion.

Chil­dren stroll across them bare­foot as if they aren’t even there. A ball rolls over from a nearby foot­ball match.

No­body knows how many bod­ies are buried here, only that the Con­golese sol­diers said to be re­spon­si­ble for the killings showed no mercy when they en­tered the neigh­bour­hood in March, search­ing for mem­bers of a mili­tia known as Ka­muina Ns­apu.

Among the sandy side-streets and soar­ing palm trees, they left be­hind a trail of de­struc­tion still vis­i­ble months later: charred huts, bones pok­ing through the dust, blood-stained walls, and sto­ries of civil­ians gunned down in their homes.

Ma­chine gun crackle Kapinga Cathe­line, 42, fled to a nearby for­est when she heard the crackle of ma­chine gun fire early in the morn­ing. When she re­turned, cold and hun­gry, three weeks later, her elder brother, Ka­song, and her niece, Ntumba, were miss­ing.

“I never found the bod­ies,” she said, clutch­ing a baby in her left arm. “Just the blood.” The mass graves of Nganza are among 87 re­cently doc­u­mented by the UN in Congo’s once-stable, now con­flict-torn Ka­sai re­gion.

The con­flict pits Ka­muina Ns­apu, a new anti-gov­ern­ment move­ment, against Con­golese se­cu­rity forces, who are ac­cused of in­dis­crim­i­nately killing civil­ians dur­ing raids against the group.

Ka­muina Ns­apu are also ac­cused of gross hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions, in­clud­ing the mur­der and de­cap­i­ta­tion of 40 po­lice of­fi­cers in March.

It comes as the coun­try faces an un­prece­dented po­lit­i­cal cri­sis fol­low­ing Pres­i­dent Joseph Ka­bila’s re­fusal to hold elec­tions last year when his con­sti­tu­tional man­date ex­pired.

More than 3 000 have died in 12 months of vi­o­lence, ac­cord­ing to the Catholic Church, in­clud­ing two UN ex­perts Michael Sharp and Zaida Cata­lan.

About 1.4 mil­lion peo­ple have also been dis­placed, in­clud­ing 33 000 to north­ern An­gola, dou­bling the to­tal num­ber of in­ter­nally dis­placed peo­ple in Congo to 3.8 mil­lion.

“The Ka­sai cri­sis has reached an un­prece­dented scale from both a hu­man­i­tar­ian and a hu­man rights point of view,” says Ma­man Sidikou, head of Monusco, the UN’s peace­keep­ing mis­sion here, and spe­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the UN sec­re­tary-gen­eral.

The Ka­muina Ns­apu phe­nom­e­non emerged last year when Jean-Prince Mpandi, a Jo­han­nes­burg-based tra­di­tional doc­tor, re­turned to Ka­sai to claim the ti­tle of Ka­muina Ns­apu, the cus­tom­ary chief of the Ba­jila Kasanga clan.

Fric­tion The se­ces­sion of such chiefs – who hold var­i­ous lo­cal ad­min­is­tra­tive pow­ers – has long caused fric­tion at the lo­cal level. But with the Con­golese gov­ern­ment pre­par­ing for elec­tions, an in­for­mal pol­icy was in­tro­duced to re­place cus­tom­ary chiefs with choices favourable to Ka­bila.

De­spite be­ing se­lected by cus­tom­ary el­ders, Mpandi – con­sid­ered crit­i­cal of the gov­ern­ment – was re­jected in favour of his elder brother, Tshi­ambi Ntenda, a lo­cal mem­ber of Ka­bila’s rul­ing PPRD party.

In Ka­sai, a long-stand­ing op­po­si­tion strong­hold and one of the poor­est ar­eas of Congo, it proved a dan­ger­ous move.

When Mpandi’s house in Tshim­bulu was raided, sym­bols of cus­tom­ary power de­stroyed, and his wife sex­u­ally as­saulted fol­low­ing a weapons search by gov­ern­ment sol­diers, feel­ings of ex­clu­sion and frus­tra­tion were ig­nited.

Up­ris­ing Mpandi called for a pop­u­lar up­ris­ing un­der the name Ka­muina Ns­apu and his fol­low­ers be­gan a se­ries of at­tacks on po­lice of­fi­cers, sol­diers, and sym­bols of state au­thor­ity.

In re­sponse, the gov­ern­ment sent sol­diers to Mpandi’s vil­lage, and on Au­gust 12 last year he was killed in a raid.

Sym­bols of cus­tom­ary power were again de­stroyed and Mpandi’s body was ru­moured to have been mu­ti­lated.

What be­gan as a lo­cal con­flict in one small part of Ka­sai Cen­tral then spread like wild­fire, with vil­lages from across the five provinces of Greater Ka­sai mo­bil­is­ing fight­ers, all un­der the name of Ka­muina Ns­apu.

In Kananga, the leader of Ka­muina Ns­apu and a close rel­a­tive of Mpandi is An­dré Kabumbu, also known as Khadafi.

He is frail, has a sunken face, and wears an over-sized grey jacket.

He gives his age as 78 when Irin meets him in Nganza.

Asked what mo­ti­vates him and the group, Kabumbu listed a num­ber of lo­cal griev­ances: a lack of jobs in Kananga, a lack of in­fra­struc­ture in his home­town of Dibaya, and see­ing the body of Mpandi for him­self.

When na­tional elec­tions are raised, Kabumbu’s as­pi­ra­tions be­come more am­bi­tious, how­ever.

“If Ka­bila was not here none of this would have hap­pened,” he said.

“Ka­bila must leave power be­cause he does not know how to rule this coun­try.”

Dis­course Sources work­ing on the Ka­muina Ns­apu move­ment said this kind of dis­course be­came in­creas­ingly no­tice­able in Oc­to­ber last year, dur­ing a po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue in Kin­shasa be­tween the gov­ern­ment and el­e­ments of the op­po­si­tion.

From highly lo­calised de­mands, the group sud­denly shifted its fo­cus onto na­tional dy­nam­ics.

It first called for the nowde­ceased Kananga-born op­po­si­tion UDPS leader Eti­enne Tshisekedi to be ap­pointed prime min­is­ter and later for Ka­bila to be re­moved from power. Con­tin­ues on page 31


Chil­dren play on the mass graves in the Nganza neigh­bour­hood of Kananga in the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo.

An­dré Kabumbu, also known as Khadafi, is the leader of Ka­muina Ns­apu in Kananga.

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