Katanga, the richest province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is experiencing a humanitarian and security crisis that is worsening by the day. Since 2011, the number of internally displaced persons in the province has jumped from 55,000 to 500,000 – a more than 900 percent increase.
The situation is further complicated by domestic politics, with President Joseph Kabila and many of his closest advisors originating from this province. Rumors of government complicity in the Katanga crisis permeate ongoing debates of how best to respond.
While the United Nations and donor countries have been heavily involved in other parts of the DRC (particularly North and South Kivu provinces), international efforts to protect civilians in Katanga are falling short and must be enhanced well in advance of the 2016 national elections. The UN’s Strategic Response Plan for the DRC is funded at only 24 percent, which has made it difficult to scale-up aid in Katanga. This lack of funding, coupled with a lack of attention, has contributed to a failing humanitarian response.
Katanga is the richest province in the DRC, and in many ways the most politically sensitive. Yet Katanga now faces two serious conflicts which have together destabilized an area larger than South Korea. These conflicts not only threaten the lives and livelihoods of local residents, but also the political and economic future of the DRC as a whole.
The first and most severe conflict is being fought by the Mai Mai Bakata Katanga (“The Ones Who Cut Katanga”) rebel movement. For the last three years, the group has mostly operated in the area between the towns of Pweto, Manono, and Mitwaba – the so-called “Triangle of Death.” More recently, however, the Triangle has expanded into a “Pentagon of Death,” with Bakata Katanga activities also recorded in parts of Moba and Malemba Nkulu territories. In just the first half of 2014, these rebels razed more than 100 villages – destroying thousands of homes, clinics, and schools.
The self-professed goal of the Bakata Katanga is independence for Katanga. The Katangan secessionist movement has a long history, beginning in the early 1960s with the shortlived State of Katanga. However, during a recent visit to the province, an RI team met with multiple sources who all shared the view of the UN Group of Experts on the DRC, which wrote in December 2013 that the Bakata Katanga “[serve] to further multiple political and economic agendas.”
The second major conflict in northern Katanga is occurring between the Luba community and local Pygmy tribes known as the Batwa. Since 2012, fighting in the northern territories of Manono, Nyunzu, and Kalemie has displaced between 30,000 and 50,000 people. Many of the affected areas are remote and largely inaccessible to aid agencies and the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in DRC (MONUSCO). Still, many serious rights violations and atrocities have been reported, including killings and the destruction of villages. Gender-based violence (GBV) in the Luba-Batwa conflict is believed to be especially severe, including allegations of the extraction of fetuses from pregnant women, kidnapping, and forced marriage.
It is not known what first sparked the hostilities, but many analysts and aid workers interviewed by RI point to the fact that the Batwa have been marginalized for generations throughout Central Africa. They are viewed as “sub-human” by some traditional authorities and are not even permitted to touch food that is consumed by Bantu-speaking communities. Some Batwa in northern Katanga have been barred from mining on their own lands, and as their forests are destroyed, many have no choice but to become tenant farmers or servants for Luba landowners.
RI travelled to several IDP sites in Manono territory, and the conditions in which IDPs were living were abysmal. In one location, IDPs had yet to receive any assistance. They had constructed shelters out of leaves and twigs. Children were not in school. Many IDPs had been forced to flee without their identification cards. Women lacked access to sanitary supplies, and said they felt vulnerable to attacks when they went out of the village to collect water and firewood. Some IDP families told RI that this was the second or third time they had been displaced.
Despite the scale of the crisis, few humanitarian actors are responding. There are very few protection-focused organizations operating in the conflict-affected areas, despite the clear need for a protection response, particularly in response to GBV.
The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Democratic Republic of Congo must prioritize increased support for the Katanga humanitarian response in his messaging to donors and work with the humanitarian community to strengthen operations in the province.
With roughly 20 percent of all internally displaced Congolese currently in Katanga, donors must ensure that their funding better reflects the geographical distribution of humanitarian needs.
In response to fluid population movements, the U.S. and other donors should provide flexible, long-term funding that takes into consideration the extremely high operating costs in Katanga. Donor governments should also support education, protection, livelihoods, and early recovery in more stable areas of Katanga.
Given the vast distances in the conflict-affected areas, donors should prioritize the provision of mobile clinics with the capacity to assist gender-based violence survivors.
Protection of Civilians:
The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) should deploy additional logistical and civilian resources in northern Katanga to increase patrols, conflict analysis, and reconciliation efforts.
MONUSCO, with the clear support of the Security Council, should maintain – and if possible, upgrade – all current temporary operating bases in northern Katanga and open an additional base in Mitwaba.
Joint operations in Katanga between MONUSCO and the Congolese armed forces must be avoided and no “Islands of Stability” should be created.
The Security Council, the Special Representative of the Secretary General in the DRC, and the Great Lakes special envoys must advocate for national and provincial dialogues about Katanga’s future well before the DRC’s 2016 elections.
Michelle Brown and Michael Boyce assessed the humanitarian needs of internally displaced people in Katanga Province in May 2014.