Katanga: The Congo's Forgotten Crisis
Katanga: The Congo's Forgotten Crisis
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
DR Congo: A Full Plate of Challenges after a Turbulent Vote
DR Congo: A Full Plate of Challenges after a Turbulent Vote
Report / Africa 3 minutes

Katanga: The Congo's Forgotten Crisis

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Executive Summary

Katanga province is one of the most violent yet neglected regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Most of its problems are the same as those that are systemic in the rest of the country but it needs urgent attention because it is both the heartland of national politics and the nation’s most mineral-rich province, a potential economic dynamo whose mines once produced 50 per cent to 80 per cent of the national budget. If the March 2006 elections are to be peaceful and have a chance to produce a stable, legitimate government, both foreign and domestic actors need to pay particular heed to the key province while doing more and doing it immediately to integrate the army, eliminate parallel chains of command and eradicate corruption. Waiting for the elections to put a new government in place before moving on those issues, as present international strategy implies, has it the wrong way around.

The home province of President Joseph Kabila and many other senior Kinshasa politicians is divided by three conflicts: tensions between southerners and northerners, between outsiders and natives, and between Mai-Mai militias and the national army. 

The north-south competition has become pronounced since Laurent Kabila, a northerner and father of the current president, Joseph Kabila, seized power by overthrowing the Mobutu dictatorship in 1997. The south is one of the most mineral-rich areas of the continent, whose copper and cobalt deposits have prompted Katangan politicians – mainly northerners – to cultivate personal networks in the local security forces to protect their interests and threaten their rivals. These officials are resented by southerners, who feel excluded from the wealth of the province. This rivalry has triggered violence. In October 2004, for example, the army killed over 70 civilians while suppressing a rebellion by a ramshackle militia in the mining town of Kilwa. In May 2005, officials alleged a secession plot in Lubumbashi and arrested south Katangan politicians and military officers. Both operations appear to have been prompted by Kinshasa politicians eager to protect their mining interests and to squash opposition.

The election campaign has reignited conflict between native Katangans and immigrants from Kasai province. Under Belgian rule, many Luba from Kasai came to run the mining companies and state administration, creating tensions manipulated by politicians, who in 1992-1993 organised militias to ethnically cleanse the province. More than 5,000 Luba were killed. The Union of Congolese Nationalists and Federalists party (UNAFEC), which is run by some of the same figures who led the violence in the early 1990s, is using its youth gangs to intimidate its opposition, who are often Luba. Leaders of the party’s youth wing have called for “necklacing” opponents with burning tyres.

The violence in the remote areas of northern Katanga is tightly linked to actors in Kinshasa. During the war, Laurent Kabila created Mai-Mai militias in the region to stem the advance of Rwandan-backed rebels. These militias, bolstered by arms from officials in Kinshasa as recently as 2004, have not been integrated into the national army and are fighting each other and the army over poaching and taxation rights.

It is past time to address these problems. The government has primary responsibility for security in the province. It must take steps to integrate the Mai-Mai militias into the national army and arrest commanders guilty of war crimes. After exhausting all peaceful means, it should deploy integrated army brigades to Katanga to dismantle recalcitrant armed groups. The UN mission (MONUC) should play an important role in these operations. It has been efficient in dealing with similar militia in the Ituri district, where 14,000 combatants have been demobilised, and the Katanga militias are not as well armed or organised. However, the minimal reinforcement – an 800-strong battalion – authorised in late 2005 by the Security Council for the province is insufficient. The 2,590-strong brigade asked for by the Secretary-General is needed.

In Katanga, as elsewhere in the country, bad governance and impunity are closely linked to violence. Officials use parallel chains of command in the army and administration to protect their interests and embezzle state funds. The justice sector is too weak and politicised to curb these excesses. Current levels of corruption and abuse of power are themselves sources of instability that threaten the transition and could compromise elections, while discontented politicians are likely to take advantage of the weak state to stir up trouble and contest election results. Donors should take a firmer stance now on corruption and impunity. Their aid – over half the present national budget – gives leverage to impose stricter supervision of funds, like what is being attempted in Liberia. They should also give more support to Congolese institutions charged with good governance that are trying to curb corruption, such as courts and parliamentary commissions.

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