In southeast Congo (South Kivu province) there is growing violence around the city of Uvira (on Lake Tanganyika). The problems down there are often because of local tribal gangs called Mai-Mai (a term for a traditional hunting society). Mai-Mai militias are often formed for self-defense but these groups sometimes evolve into larger organizations that establish themselves as part of the local economy. One of these Mai-Mai groups, run for years by William Yakutumba, has morphed into the center of another rebellion, this time against an increasingly unpopular Kabila government. Unlike many other Mai-Mai members Yakutumba was not impressed with the outcome of the 2003 peace deal that allowed Mai-Mai members, like himself, to leave the Mai-Mail and join the army. Instead Yakutumba became a local warlord by forming his own Mai-Mail group in 2007. He became a major military power in the area and protector of illegal mining and other operations that paid (him) regularly. Yakutumba already has the army, or at least most of the Congolese soldiers, convinced that he is leading another revolution that might just succeed. As a result army units sent against Yakutumba tend to fall apart once the shooting starts. The UN peacekeepers are another matter but the peacekeepers can’t be everywhere and between unrest elsewhere in the south east and the growing violence (and much more convincing rebellion) in the southwest, the peacekeepers are not as much of an obstacle as one might think.
Yakutumba might be able to get another revolution going and even win. But Yakutumba is not considered any better than Kabila and is believed to have cooperated with Kabila associates in the past when that was a useful way to go.
UN peacekeepers have been in Congo for 18 years and have cost the UN about a billion dollars a year. It is the largest peacekeeping operation the UN has and this year the Congo force had to deal with an eight percent budget cut with more to come. One reason is the growing corruption and other criminal activity among the more hat 20,000 UN personnel in Congo. Corruption and other criminal activity is not unusual in the UN, especially in situations where the UN has been in an area for a long time and had opportunities to develop more relationships with local criminals (often government officials). Major UN contributors don’t like the waste, especially when there are other disaster situations where UN efforts would be more effective like nearby Mali, CAR (Central African Republic) and South Sudan.
Congo is drifting towards another civil war because the current president, Joseph Kabila, has organized an effort (so far successful) to become president-for-life. This sort of thing is unpopular with most Congolese but it is a common situation in Congo and throughout Africa. There is no easy solution to this problem and Kabila is taking advantage of that to permanently avoid holding national elections while he and his equally corrupt associates loot the country. No wonder donor nations are losing enthusiasm for spending over a billion dollars a year trying to get Congo to calm down and handle its own affairs peaceably. That works better as a concept than an achievable reality in many parts of the world.
The Other Rebellion
In southwest Congo (the Kasai region) over a million people are largely cut off from food supplies and in danger of starvation. The Kasai uprising has the main reason why nearly two million more people have been driven from their homes so far this year. The Kasai violence has only been going on since March but has already left about 5,000 dead. President Kabila calls this situation a form of terrorism. He is correct in some respects but most of the terrorist behavior seems to come from the pro-Kabila security forces.
The conflict erupted in August 2016 when government forces killed a traditional local chief, Jean-Pierre Mpandi. Mpandi because he objected to government interference in tribal affairs and the fact the Kabila government had appointed individuals (supporters of Kabila) from outside the region to local government posts. Mpandi called on local citizens to resist. Leaders of the Kamuina Nsapu militia continue to accuse Kabila of seeking “unjust political domination”. That accusation has resonance among other political and ethnic groups in Congo who oppose Kabila. Kabila was supposed to cede power when his presidential term ended in December 2016. However, he refused to do so. Despite signing an agreement to step down and hold elections in 2017 (the December Accord, mediated by Congolese Catholic bishops), Kabila continues to remain in office. The growing resentment and anger is why cooler heads say the Kasai insurgency illustrates what could happen throughout the country if Kabila continues to illegally remain in office.
In Burundi the Hutu government continues a low-level and undeclared war against the Tutsi minority. Every month between five and ten Tutsi are killed in mysterious circumstances. The most common causes of death are either someone tossing a hand grenade into a group of Tutsi or a Tutsi being kidnapped and murdered, with the body being left where it could easily be found. Because of this violence by the current government over half a million Tutsi have fled Burundi and the violence inside Burundi continues. This violence has been going on since 2015 and left over 500 dead (mostly Tutsi) so far.
October 3, 2017: It’s not just eastern CAR that is suffering from persistent violence. In the west, along the border with Cameroon, banditry is a problem Cameroon recently closed its northern border with CAR because the banditry had gotten worse. This was despite the efforts of Cameroonian security forces. Recently Cameroonian troops found and rescued three Cameroonian merchants who had been kidnapped by CAR bandits who crossed into Cameroon to do so. With little effective government in that part of CAR the Cameroonian troops crossed into CAR, found the kidnappers and freed the three Cameroonian men who were being held for a ransom of $10,000 each. At that point Cameroon closed a portion of the 900 kilometers long border with CAR until the security forces and diplomats could figure out a solution to this security problem. Landlocked CAR gets most of its supplies via Cameroon so the border closure causes problem in that part of CAR. Cameroon is hoping that gets the attention of someone they can negotiate with.
Cameroon has other problems in the west, along the Nigerian border, where a separatist movement has turned violent and at least 17 people have been killed over the last few days. The issues are more linguistic than tribal and the separatists are largely English speaking Cameroonians who protest the bad treatment they receive from the French speaking majority.
September 30, 2017: In CAR more than 20,000 civilians were driven from their homes in September because of continued fighting in the eastern part of the country between Moslem Seleka rebels and a Christian "anti-balaka" during several days of fighting over control of a town. That is compared to about 60,000 who fled in the previous four months. Meanwhile foreign aid groups asked the UN to take "immediate action" to keep the conflict in the CAR from escalating to all-out war. So far this year over a thousand people, most of them civilians, have died because of this violence. The CAR violence had subsided in 2016 but throughout 2017 it is getting worse.
September 28, 2017: In southeast Congo (South Kivu province) UN peacekeepers were sent to deal with attacks on civilians by local Mai-Mai militias near the city of Uvira and the Burundi border. One of these Mai-Mai groups (Yakutumba) has been using speedboats on Lake Tanganyika to quickly move around, often to raid. The government has some gunboats on Lake Tanganyika and these, along with armed peacekeeper helicopters, having going after the Mai-Mai gunmen in speedboats. This skirmishing has been going on for nearly a week. Mai-Mai Yakutumba has been around since 2007 and has remained independent by operating illegal gold mines and not wasting the cash that brought in. The army as well as peacekeepers have been trying to shut down Mai-Mai Yakutumba once and for all but have made slow or no progress because Yakutumba has more competent and reliable gunmen working for him.
September 27, 2017: Rwanda sent another company (140 troops) of peacekeepers to CAR. These troops, and their vehicles, were requested by the UN as reinforcements for the overworked peacekeeper force in CAR. The infantry company joins an infantry battalion and field hospital Rwanda has already sent. Rwanda has had peacekeepers in CAR since 2014.
September 15, 2017: In southeast Congo (South Kivu province) thousands of Burundian refugees, demonstrating against increasingly bad behavior by the Congolese soldiers, were met by gunfire from those soldiers. This ended the demonstration but also killed 39 Burundians and wounded nearly a hundred. There are over 40,000 Burundians taking refuge in Congo and many find the situation not much more secure than what they left in Burundi.
September 12, 2017: In northern Kenya police at a roadblock arrested four Burundi men who admitted they were on their way to Somalia to join al Shabaab. The police were also looking for al Shabaab members coming from Somalia has there have been more of those because of a factional dispute within al Shabaab that is causing more members to flee Somalia.