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Four keys to DR Congo's Kasai conflict

By AFP

Added 8th August 2017 08:43 AM

At the time of Congo's independence from Belgium in 1960, Kasai was a single province of 321,160 square kilometres (124,000 square miles) -- almost the size of Germany.

Four keys to DR Congo's Kasai conflict

President Joseph Kabila. Photo/AFP

At the time of Congo's independence from Belgium in 1960, Kasai was a single province of 321,160 square kilometres (124,000 square miles) -- almost the size of Germany.

Rich in diamonds but ravaged by violence and gripped by poverty, the vast region of Kasai embodies the potential and the problems of Democratic Republic of Congo, sub-Saharan Africa's biggest nation:

Shifting borders, endless unrest

At the time of Congo's independence from Belgium in 1960, Kasai was a single province of 321,160 square kilometres (124,000 square miles) -- almost the size of Germany.

Frequent warfare between the Luba and Bena Lulua tribes led that same year to secession of a "Mining State" headed by Albert Kalonji, who proclaimed himself king of South Kasai. The Kinshasa regime took back control at the end of 1961.

Since 2015, the Kasai-Oriental and Kasai-Occidental provinces ("Kasai-East" and "Kasai-West") created in 1966 have been subdivided into five separate provinces as part of a measure to tighten territorial administration. Today, the residual province of Kasai has an area of 95,600 sq. kms, nearly that of South Korea. Three of the new provinces still bear Kasai in their name.

Resentment and rites

The current strife pitting tribal militias against the security forces erupted after police killed a rebellious tribal chieftain, Jean-Prince Mpandi, in a raid on his home in Kasai-Central in August last year.

Mpandi was the sixth leader to bear the honorific of Kamwina Npasu, which is used by his armed followers. Some believe that he lives on because he was buried by officials with no respect for the rites accorded men of his stature.

A deep-rooted resentment of President Joseph Kabila's regime fuelled the conflict, which swiftly spread to other provinces. Kinshasa is accused of appointing its henchmen to powerful posts notably on the deaths of respected chiefs, ignoring their natural heirs and succession rites.

Surviving leaders fear that their own duties may lose their sacrosanct character and mystic qualities, which are traditionally inherited by the rightful successor during the ceremony of burial.

Mass killings

Violence has spiralled violence across three provinces -- Kasai-Central, Kasai-Oriental and Kasai-Occidental.

Some 1.4 million people have fled, sometimes going south across the Angolan border, while the Roman Catholic Church estimates that the conflict has claimed more than 3,000 lives.

The United Nations, which saw two investigators murdered in Kasai, gave details on Friday of more than 250 killings over three months, with dozens of children reportedly slain.

UN officials have reported more than 70 suspected mass graves across the zone of a conflict that has repercussions in nine provinces.

A UN peacekeeping mission (today's MONUSCO) was deployed in the DRC before the end of the Second Congo War in July 2003 and has a current strength of about 18,000 military and police. Direct armed intervention has been a rare and tightly regulated part of its mandate.

Children bearing the brunt

Last month, the special envoy of the UN secretary general in Congo, Maman Sidikou, made a plea for youngsters who had been put on in the firing line.

"Children are disproportionately affected by the conflict. They are exposed to extreme risks of violence," Sidikou said.

Forcibly recruited children are used by the militia as human shields during clashes with the security forces, and government troops too have been accused of serious human rights abuses, watchdogs say.

More than 600 elementary and secondary schools have been targeted since the uprising began. Even medical personnel are unable to work in many areas because their facilities have been destroyed.

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