Hor­rors of eth­nic cleans­ing in the DRC

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS -

IT STARTED off with a mur­der. A year later, about 3 300 peo­ple have been killed and around 1.3 mil­lion dis­placed. This is Ka­sai prov­ince, in the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo, and if ex­perts, re­searchers and UN in­ves­ti­ga­tors are to be be­lieved, this is the be­gin­ning of new, pro­tracted con­flict in the DRC.

A new UN re­port said the blood­let­ting in Ka­sai, in cen­tral DRC, has spawned at least 80 mass graves. If not stopped, the re­gion is on track to be­come a new site of eth­nic cleans­ing.

The UN re­port, based on in­ter­views with 96 sur­vivors liv­ing as refugees in neigh­bour­ing An­gola, found that about 250 peo­ple were killed be­tween March 12 and June 19 this year, among them 62 chil­dren. UN in­ves­ti­ga­tors found chil­dren whose fin­gers had been chopped off and their faces mu­ti­lated. Preg­nant women were stabbed, oth­ers raped.

“Sur­vivors have spo­ken of hear­ing the screams of peo­ple be­ing burnt alive, of see­ing loved ones chased and cut down, of them­selves flee­ing in ter­ror,” said UN high com­mis­sioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hus­sein.

Like much of the spo­radic and fever­ish vi­o­lence across the east­ern parts of the DRC, the vi­o­lence grip­ping Ka­sai is en­tan­gled within a larger con­text of po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty and ris­ing au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism.

The Ka­sai re­gion has been haunted by raids and ex­tra-ju­di­cial mur­ders ever since Kamwina Ns­apu, a lo­cal chief, was side­lined by the Con­golese gov­ern­ment by a new set of laws im­ple­mented in Au­gust last year. As an ar­dent critic of Pres­i­dent Joseph Ka­bila, Ns­apu’s dis­con­tent with the ad­min­is­tra­tion res­onated with the pub­lic. When his pop­u­lar­ity was deemed a threat to Ka­bila’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, he was shot dead out­side his home.

Re­spond­ing to the as­sas­si­na­tion and gov­ern­ment in­ter­fer­ence in tra­di­tional af­fairs, a new rebel group bear­ing the same name as the slain chief emerged to take on Con­golese troops sta­tioned in the re­gion. As has been the nat­u­ral re­solve of the Con­golese state in the face of mili­tia threats over the past decade, it cre­ated a mili­tia group of its own, the Bana Mura, to fight the new group on its be­half.

The con­se­quences for the com­mu­ni­ties caught in the mid­dle of the con­flict has been cat­a­strophic. In March, two UN ex­perts sent to in­ves­ti­gate the trou­bles in Ka­sai were found buried in a mass grave.

The com­mu­ni­ties seen as ac­com­plices to Ns­apu, in par­tic­u­lar the Luba and Lu­lua eth­nic groups, have been tar­geted by the Bana Mura, prompt­ing the UN to warn of eth­nic cleans­ing in the re­gion. If the gov­ern­ment’s role wasn’t damn­ing enough, the UN re­port found that the Con­golese army was seen lead­ing Bana Mura mili­tia dur­ing at­tacks on civil­ians, and even in the ex­ter­mi­na­tion of the Luba and Lu­lua com­mu­ni­ties.

The bod­ies of farm­ers, chil­dren and preg­nant women have been turned into a bat­tle­ground for two groups of con­tract killers.

The DRC’s Catholic Church said in June that some 3 300 peo­ple had been killed and a mil­lion oth­ers dis­placed since Oc­to­ber last year. It also warned that mal­nu­tri­tion and dis­ease would come to haunt those liv­ing with­out food or shel­ter. Last year, more peo­ple were dis­placed in the DRC than any other part of the world, pri­mar­ily as a re­sult of the tur­moil in Ka­sai.

The UN has called for the DRC gov­ern­ment to pros­e­cute those in­volved in the fight­ing, es­pe­cially those in­volved in con­tract­ing mer­ce­nar­ies. There are dozens of mili­tia groups op­er­at­ing in the DRC, and noth­ing of the sort is likely to hap­pen any time soon. Here’s why. The vi­o­lence in Ka­sai is just another man­i­fes­ta­tion of the grow­ing dis­sent and dis­sat­is­fac­tion with Ka­bila’s pres­i­dency. Ka­bila, the pres­i­dent since 2001, con­tin­ues to find any ex­cuse to stay in power. He and his lack­eys blame lo­gis­ti­cal is­sues, a lack of fund­ing and in­com­plete voter reg­is­tra­tion for the post­pone­ment of elec­tions last year, when his man­date ex­pired.

Mean­while, those who claim to be friends of the DRC, and in­flu­en­tial me­di­a­tors, like Ja­cob Zuma’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, have cho­sen to turn a blind eye to the dis­as­ter un­fold­ing in the coun­try.

At the height of the vi­o­lence in Ka­sai; in fact, in the same month the Catholic Church re­ported the death tolls and scale of dis­place­ments, Zuma and Ka­bila met for bi­lat­eral meet­ings in Pre­to­ria. In a se­ries of re­marks fol­low­ing their meet­ing, Zuma de­scribed the DRC as “po­lit­i­cally sta­ble” and said “the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion has im­proved”.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, just over a week later, Corneille Nan­gaa, the coun­try’s elec­toral com­mis­sion head, raised the ire of in­ter­na­tional ob­servers and op­po­si­tion par­ties when he said the elec­tions were un­likely to take place later this year as planned.

In other words, Ka­bila needs more time to plun­der the coun­try’s wealth be­fore leav­ing of­fice. The meet­ing in June was pre­cisely the en­dorse­ment Ka­bila might have been seek­ing.

South Africa is the DRC’s big­gest sup­plier of for­eign goods and ser­vices, with in­vest­ments in min­ing, fi­nance and com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Ac­cord­ing to the Pres­i­dency, 20% of the coun­try’s im­ports are from South Africa. We, or at least cer­tain mem­bers of the South African po­lit­i­cal elite, ben­e­fit from Ka­bila’s rule.

The DRC is a com­plex story, with mul­ti­ple ac­tors and a myr­iad for­eign in­ter­ests that con­tinue to in­ter­fere, in­ter­vene and en­joy the lu­cra­tive fruits of an­ar­chy.

As the year un­folds, the dis­sent against Ka­bila will spread to other parts of the DRC. It will man­i­fest in protests, raids and crack­downs. But the next time you read of a mas­sacre or po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence, know that we are very much part of the story, too.

Cer­tain mem­bers of the SA elite ben­e­fit from Ka­bila’s rule

Azad Essa is a jour­nal­ist at Al Jazeera. He is also co-found­ing ed­i­tor of The Daily Vox

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