Lumumbashi — The Mai-Mai Kata-Katanga rebel group operating in Katanga, in south eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, say that they are engaged in an armed campaign for the autonomy of the province because they have not benefited from its rich mineral deposits.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Mai-Mai member told IPS: "In 2012 alone, mining companies in Katanga paid out 96 million dollars in royalties. It shows that we are a rich province, but this isn't reflected in the standards of living in the province." Katanga's main minerals are copper, cobalt and gold.
The Mai-Mai fighters hail from a number of Katanga's ethnic groups native to five territories in the north of the province, though no precise figures are available about their numbers. In Swahili, "Mai" means "water" and "Kata Katanga" means "cut off Katanga." But the group is called Mai-Mai because its members spray themselves with a "magic" potion, containing water, that they believe shields them from bullets.
On Mar. 23, about 350 Mai-Mai Kata Katanga insurgents launched an incursion on Lubumbashi, the provincial capital of Katanga. Dressed in civilian clothing with green, red and white bandanas, the insurgents were armed with about 30 AK-47 rifles, rockets, javelins, bows and arrows, and charms.
They tried, without success, to seize the seats of the governorate and provincial assembly.
After being routed in armed clashes with the Congolese armed forces, the rebels surrendered to the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC. Thirty-three people were killed and 60 were wounded in the conflict.
But according to Alexandre Kawaya, a deputy in the Katanga Provincial Assembly and a member of President Joseph Kabila's political coalition, talks should have started between the government and the Mai-Mai Kata-Katanga over their demands.
"We have generals and CEOs, who have been rebels. These citizens (the Mai-Mai) once surrounded Lubumbashi to stop an invasion from foreign forces. We should talk to them, hear what they have to say," Kawaya told IPS. He added that the government is also currently in talks with rebel movements in the DRC, including the M23.
The Mar. 23 attack was not the first Mai-Mai Kata-Katanga strike. In May 2010, they hoisted their flag at the Place de la Poste square in Lubumbashi. They are also thought to be behind a number of other attacks, including two on the Lubumbashi airport and a prison break to rescue their leader, Gédéon Kyungu, in October 2011. The fight for the liberation of Katanga goes as far back as July 1960 when they tried to secede from the rest of the country.
But according to local NGO Justicia ASBL, the rebel group has displaced some 340,000 people from their homes through their sustained conflict.
Fabien Mutomb, from the opposition party Union for Democracy and Social Progress, believes that the impunity enjoyed by the rebels from one attack to the next proves some level of complicity from within the state.
"Each investigation by the powers that be yields nothing," he told IPS, adding that the investigations were staged productions by leaders of local and national government institutions.
Breaking the impasse
Jean Pierre Muteba, who heads the civil society coordination structure in Katanga, told IPS "the Mar. 23 attack in Lubumbashi is an expression of revolt." He believes that the solution would be a national dialogue with all the actors.
But Timothée Mbuya, the director of the voluntary organisation Justicia ASBL, gave a different view.
"When we are confronted with such destructive forces that they drive over 340,000 people in Katanga from their homes in the belief that violence is a legitimate form of engagement, we have no option but to focus on reforming the army and security services to remove external agents," he told IPS.
"The Congolese army and security services have been weakened because they obey orders from different quarters. If these services are rid of external actors, they would be in a better position to secure the country against prospective attacks, both from within and outside," he said.
For his part, Congolese Minister for Internal Affairs and Security Richard Muyej said he would wait for the results of a government enquiry on the Lubumbashi assault. Those found responsible will be prosecuted.
Two weeks after the Mai-Mai attack, Kabila suspended General Michel Ekuchu, the commander of the 6th Battalion based in Lubumbashi, on a charge of "grave dereliction of duty."
"That won't solve anything," Fidèle Ramazani, an officer in the Coalition for a Referendum on the Self Determination of the Katanga People, another rebel movement in the province, told IPS.
He believes that the Congolese state has become "a repository of unresolved conflicts, where dissatisfaction and despair have become entrenched, and the most effective and sustainable solution is in the reconstruction of the entire state structure."