While rebellions still rage in Eastern Congo and Kasai, tensions are rising in the Western Province of Kongo Central.
Over the last two decades, the eastern part of the country has been the main focus of crisis, the trigger of several wars and still remains the sanctuary of dozens of national and foreign rebel groups. In August 2016, the Kasai region became another focus with the outbreak of an insurrection and repression cycle that generated over a million internal displaced people and refugees.
And since a few months, the Kongo Central province, formerlu known as Bas-Congo, has seen tensions rising in such a spectacular way, that the chief-editor of the « Signal du continent » news website, Cornelis Nlandu Tsatsa, warns that « all ingredients are there. One just needs a spark to set the whole area ablaze !».
The first spark happened on the last 17 May in the capital Kinshasa, where Bakongos, the major tribe of the Kongo central province, represent a strong minority, with the attack of the Makala prison of Kinshasa, by supporters of Ne Muanda Nsemi,, a MP and also the head of a political-mystical group called Bundu dia Kongo (BDK), created in 1969. The attack created sensation, because it did set a world record with a total of over 4,000 escaped prisoners in one time, including Ne Muanda Nsemi aka Zacharie Badiengila, whose « nom de guerre » means « creative spirit » in his native kikongo language. This 71 years old man whom his supporters call a « prophet » portrays himself as the great master of the ancestral Kongo wisdom and plans to resurrect the Kingdom of Kongo as it was when the Portuguese explorer Diego Cão discovered it at the end of the 15th century, which encompassed part of the territories of the current DRC and of the neighbouring Congo-Brazzaville, Angola and Gabon.
The May 2017 massive escape was not the first event sponsored by the sect which made headlines. Ten years ago and in 2008, an insurrection of Bundu dia Kongo’s supporters in several cities of the Kongo Central and the subsequent repression by the Simba battalion of the National Police and by the Congolese troops, caused about 300 deaths, according to local and international human rights organisations. While perpetrators and alleged master minders of the tragedy, including the former head of the police, General John Numbi were never brought to justice, the resentment against the Kabila regime continued to grow among the people of Kongo Central. New grievances piled up, adding new layers of anger and frustration. One of the these is the ongoing pollution provoked by onshore oil exploitation by the French company Perenco, in the coastal area. Espérance Nzuzi, chairwoman of the Force Paysanne du Kongo Central (FOPAKO) farmers association, has been complaining about land grabbing which has been ongoing since 1970 when land which was formerly occupied by the Belgian settlers was handed over to members of the Mobutuist ruling elite.
Today, they are replaced by others including Chinese. On top of that, according to Cornelis Nlandu, there is a widespread feeling of frustration among the Bakongo that the main jobs of the public administration are held by people from other parts of the DRC, namely Balubas from Kasaï and Swahili-speaking compatriots from the eastern part of the country. Outsiders tend to describe the Bundu dia Kongo followers as xenophobic.
Since his escape, Ne Muanda Nsemi has disappeared. But his followers have remained active. On the last 7 August, they organised a demonstration in Kinshasa and several cities of the Kongo Central (Matadi, Boma and Muanda) to call for the departure of Kabila, whose presidential mandate expired on the 19 December 2016. They tried to attack strategic places such as the headquarters of the national radio and television broadcasting television RTNC and there was another attempt to free detainees at the Makala Prison of Kinshasa, following Ne Muanda Nsemi’s calls on social media for an insurrection. According to the police, the crowd of demonstrators was quite impressive. Demonstrators paraded with banners proclaiming « Rwanda to the Rwandans and Congo to the Congolese », meaning that Kabila was siding with the Rwandan « enemy ». The toll was quite high with a total of 15 deaths including 12 in Kinshasa and three in Matadi, the capital of the Kongo Central province. Two policemen were killeduring these incidents.
The police arrested 44 BDK supporters who call themselves « makesa », armed with sticks and clubs, wearing magical amulets in their hands or around the neck and red ribbons around their heads similar to those of the Kasaian rebels. On the 21 August, there were new attempts by the « makesa » to organise protests and marches in the Kongo Central province, at Kisantu, Tshela, Matadi, Boma, Luozi and Muanda. But this time, massive deployments of policemen observed prevented new demonstrations to happen. But according to Cornelis Nlandu, it might be difficult for the authorities to defuse tensions another time. A spark can set the whole region on fire, he warns.