escalating intercommunal violence in western dr congo triggers humanitarian crisis
At least 20 individuals were killed in a recent savage ambush carried out by gunmen in the western Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo). This sad incident is the latest in a series of inter-communal conflicts that have driven thousands of people from their homes and exacerbated a severe humanitarian catastrophe. Based on territorial and customary claims, the conflict has exacerbated tensions between “native” and “non-native” people and had disastrous effects on the impacted areas.
On June 26, a gang of armed Mobondo militias ambushed a truck that mainly carried Teke traders outside the town of Mulunu in the Kwamouth area, northeast of Kinshasa. The attackers then started a fire inside the car, leaving havoc and casualties in their wake. The underlying conflict between the “native” Teke community and the “non-native” Yaka farmers, which led to this attack, first surfaced in June 2022 over disagreements around land ownership and customary royalties.
The militias, known as “Mobondo” after mystical amulets, are mainly made up of members of the “non-native” Yaka, Suku, Mbala, Ndinga, and Songo communities. These armed groups have been using weapons, including machetes, spears, hunting rifles, and even military assault guns, to target the Teke villages in particular.
The violence has continued despite infrequent operations by Congolese security forces, taking several lives. The most recent ambush is a vivid reminder of the pressing necessity to deal with this situation and safeguard the impacted communities.
Many people have been displaced due to the fighting, which has affected the provinces of Mai-Ndombe, Kwango, and Kwilu, as well as the suburbs of Kinshasa. A significant humanitarian crisis has resulted from this widespread departure, leaving people without access to basic amenities like shelter and food. Many students’ lives have been impacted by the violence’s instability, which has prevented them from taking their year-end exams. Additionally, due to the current unrest, voter registration for the forthcoming general elections, slated for December, has been put on hold.
The Congolese government appointed a commission of investigation in late April in an effort to redress the atrocities committed by security forces during prior operations. However, questions regarding accountability have been highlighted by the improper vetting of the transfer of captured attackers to military training facilities.
The government’s order for those deemed the “intellectual authors” of inter-communal violence to mediate and demobilise Mobondo members has met with only patchy results. Communities’ mistrust becomes deeper when suspected offenders and instigators go unpunished, feeding a cycle of violence.
The inter-communal conflict that is still present in western DR Congo needs to be addressed right away. We cannot allow the loss of innocent lives, the uprooting of communities, and the ensuing humanitarian crisis to continue. Restoring peace and stability in the afflicted areas requires addressing the conflict’s underlying causes, such as problems with land tenure and customary taxation. It is possible to end the cycle of violence and open the door to a better future for all Congolese residents by creating accountability, fostering conversation, and implementing practical solutions.