DRC: December’s attacks show post-M23 domestic incohesion abounds – By Alex Ntung
On 29th December 2013, a group of assailants launched what appeared to be a series of coordinated attacks on the DRC’s state television channel, the capital city’s airport (the international airport at N’Djili), the airport in the capital of Maniema province (Kindu), the city of Lubumbashi and a military camp in Kinshasa. The assailants claimed to be supported by one of the candidates in the 2006 presidential elections in the DRC, a religious leader, former soldier and self-proclaimed prophet, Paul Joseph Mukungubila Mutombo.
Subsequently, hundreds were killed as result of a heavy-handed response by government forces. The self-proclaimed prophet, Paul Joseph Mukungubila Mutombo, declared that the attacks were in response to security threats received at his home in the Katanga region. The attackers believed, as with coups d’etat in the classic mould, that by capturing the national Radio and TV stations, they could take control of the entire country. Despite regular violent demonstrations, Kinshasa’s security forces were taken by surprise, as were many DRC analysts, because this was an unusual form of attack.
Supernaturalism and political violence
The attacks were driven by the common and growing extreme anti-Kabila, anti-Rwanda and anti-Rwandophone sentiments motivated by certain spiritual beliefs: supporters of the attackers issued a statement declaring that “Gideon Mukungubila has come to free you from the slavery of the Rwandan”. But, as is often the case, such political violence motivated by supernatural beliefs is interpreted simplistically
In a country that is extremely fragmented and where the local population has become demoralised by the scale of the violence they have suffered, spiritual interpretations of events have become an extreme source of hope – this is often downplayed or under-acknowledged both internally and externally (ie. by both MONUSCO and DRC security forces).
Attackers’ access to guns
Eye witnesses to the attacks have stated that most of the assailants were not armed but used sticks and machetes. The few who were armed were able to access AK47 rifles very cheaply in Kinshasa. Smuggling has recently driven down the price of guns considerably in the DRC – during my last research trip I tested how easy it was to access a gun. In a matter of two hours it was possible to obtain an AK47 at less than $50.
The DRC has an obsessive culture of power and titles. Former political and military leaders are as influential as when they were actively serving in their roles – they are now referred to as ‘honourables’. There are currently hundreds of active rebel groups and demobilised military officers in the DRC. The government and MONUSCO have failed to control their operations or assure security to ordinary people through disarmament.
Secessionism agenda and the attacks
Katanga province is historically known for armed groups fighting for the secession of this province. Katanga is the richest part of the country and the central hub of its minerals – Kinshasa relies largely on this one province for its tax revenues. A recently formed armed group/movement, Kata Katanga, is under the military command of Kyungu Mutanga, alias Gédéon, and has responsibility for serious human rights abuses and war crimes.
Kata Katanga (from the Swahili phrase meaning Cut off Katanga province) is supported by some intellectuals in Lubumbashi and General John Numbi Banza Tambo, former Inspector General of the Police Nationale Congolaise (PNC). It operates violently and with a spiritual inspiration like the Mayi Mayi groups in Kivu region but still lacks a strong political ideology that could inspire such organised and coordinated attacks in Kinshasa.
To date, Kata Katanga has mainly organised violent attacks on innocent civilians living in rural areas of Manono, Mitwaba, Moba, and Pweto territories. While it is conceivable that they played some part in the Kinshasa attacks, such a role would have to have been limited to the attack on the airport in Maniema province and in the mining city of Lubumbashi – the capital of Katanga.
General John Numbi’s links to the attacks
The former Inspector General of the Police Nationale Congolaise (PNC), General John Numbi, has been named as the prime suspect behind the attack. He was at one time the armed arm and key ally of President Joseph Kabila, but was suspended as the head of the police force following the murder of a human rights activist, Floribert Chibeya, in 2010.
General John Numbi is a Muluba (singular of Baluba) from Katanga region. His status as prime suspect was not necessarily associated with his ethnicity but for 2 other reasons:
- Negative reactions of Baluba and Batetela people following the nomination of a Congolese Rwandophone, General Charles Bisengimana, as the head of the DRC police forces.
- He became untouchable as President Joseph Kabila fears that his arrest could potentially lead to violence in his home province of Katanga. General John Numbi is currently free and living on his farm in Katanga province.
While General John Numbi is reportedly ‘angry’ and unhappy about his suspension, his support to Kata Katanga is not necessarily because he believes in the secessionist agenda; he would support any opposition group acting against President Joseph Kabila.
Most supporters of secession are from the rural area of Katanga region (Kalemie, Manono, Nyunzu, Kongolo, Kalongo), while General John Numbi and Chungu wa Kumwanza (the former governor of Katanga) are among the military and political leaders from urban Katanga (Kolwezi, Likasi, Dilolo, Kapanga and Lubumbashi).
Baluba tribe turning against their ‘son’ Joseph Kabila
Unlike his father Laurent Desire Kabila, Baluba people have never recognised Joseph Kabila as ‘a true son of Katanga’ or a descendent of this region. Joseph Kabila emerged from the 1996 rebellion led by his father supported by the Banyamulenge youth following attacks on their community; prior to this Joseph Kabila spent most of his life in Tanzania in exile with his father. He took power following the assassination of his father in 2001.To confirm his native identity of Katanga province, President Joseph Kabila ‘played it very safe’ by trying to please the Baluba people.
Today the DRC government is dominated by individuals from Katanga province. The self-proclaimed prophet Mukungubila comes from the same village in Katanga as President Kabila and has strong support among wider informal networks of politically-inspired spiritual groups and leaders including diaspora groups (London, Paris, Brussels, Quebec, Lisbon and Johannesburg) such as ‘combatants’ inspired violently by Bishop prophet Elysee Mulamba, based in South Africa.
Bishop Elysee Mulamba is from Katanga province, operates mainly through social media and his genocide ideology is considered similar to the 1994 Rwanda genocide radio campaign. These networks are rivals and lack the cohesion to coordinate a sophisticated attack against government.
While the media and social pressure groups successfully influenced the international community to end the activities of the major armed group, M23, this was only one element within the DRC’s highly complex security dynamic. The ending of the M23 rebellion was akin to removing a ‘tree that covers a jungle’ or could be considered locally as bandaging a deep and rotten wound.
The attacks on Kinshasa were not just an ad hoc incident. Killing the assailants and their supporters does not deal with the causes of such violence which was led by individuals and youth groups inspired by religious preaching and supported by various opposition and armed groups as a result of state failure.
There is growing fear and paranoia among extremists that the recent ‘national consultation’ is part of a plan for Joseph Kabila to amend the constitution in order to allow a mandate for presidential leadership. Furthermore, failing to address the existing ethnic identity conflict and promote ethnic cohesion policies will continue to provide space and opportunities for violence.