Over the last year, a militia in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bana Mura, has carried out attacks resulting in at least 250 killed. Of those killed, 62 were children and 30 were younger than eight years old. The militia is relatively new, and, as reported by the guardian, have the “apparent backing of the government.” A report from the UN human rights office has documented the responses of many survivors.
Violence in the Kasai province was not ethnically motivated from the start; however, it has taken a greater ethnic focus in recent months. Fighting began in 2016 between the Kamuina Nsapu militia and government forces, yet the Bana Mura militia have since joined the violence. According to the UN report, they were armed by the army and police in support of their attacks on the Luba and Lulua villages. The Luba and Lulua villages were deemed to be supporting the Kamuina Nsapu militia. The Bana Mura carried out organized attacks against these villages where they shot, beheaded, or burnt victims alive. In Cinq, another village, 90 people who had hidden in a health centre were killed. This included sick patients when they set the surgery on fire. The UN report also documents rape and the killing of pregnant women.
Kamuina Nsapu, the other militia involved, are reported to have used children to fight and partake in a magical ceremony involving the drinking of victim’s blood. This ceremony is meant to make them invincible. According to the OHCHR, every refugee interviewed was convinced of the magical effects.
Ben Shepherd, an expert on Congo at the Chatham House Thinktank said “there is [a] general sense that a political stasis means… conditions are right for incoherent mobilisation. It is not explicitly political … but there is a great discontent at the direction of travel of the country and it feels rudderless” according to the guardian. The ethnic dimension to this violence is especially troubling because of the region’s history.
In 1997 Mobutu Sese Seko, the previous leader of the region, fell from power. The Democratic Republic of Congo has since been marred by violence. This violence that often had an ethnic element, died down in 2003, after the appointment of a new leader.
Joseph Kabila, the current leader is facing calls for an election, as the opposition accused him of delaying it. According to Kabila, this is due to administrative problems with voter rolls, but there are fears violence in Kasai may further delay these elections. The opposition have strong support from the population in Kasai, and violence in the region is likely to impact this.
International powers have expressed support for early elections, in the form of partially funding them, as well as imposing sanctions on people close to Kabila. At the moment peacekeeping in the Democratic Republic of Congo is the UN’s largest peacekeeping mission, costing $1.6 billion. The mission is due to be renewed, however, President Donald Trump’s plan to cut funding is likely to damage it. This is a crucial time for the DRC if funding is lost now the country could be years more of violence.