Democratic Republic of Congo

Unrest in DRC's Kasai province puts question mark over elections

DRC President Joseph Kabila, delivers his address to the nation at the People's Palace in Kinshasa, Wednesday April 5 2017
DRC President Joseph Kabila, delivers his address to the nation at the People's Palace in Kinshasa, Wednesday April 5 2017 REUTERS/Kenny Katombe

The European Parliament says that ongoing violence in DR Congo's central Kasai region risks undermining the timing of upcoming elections. On Wednesday, the EU joined calls by the UN for an urgent inquiry into serious rights abuses in the province.


Kasai-Central, the origin of the violence, is generally calm.

"This has always been a peaceful region," Yves Willemot, spokesperson for UNICEF told RFI by phone from the Kinshasa capital.

"That means that the population doesn't necessarily have the level of resilience to deal with violence that other people in the DRC have," he said in reference to the insecurity that has long plagued North Kivu.

But Kasai, and its central province in particular, is now attracting global attention.

On Wednesday, the European Parliament adopted a motion calling for an urgent inquiry into reports of serious human rights abuses in the region.

"We are calling for action because it is a duty of any government to secure their own citizens," Michael Gahler from the European People's Party, told RFI by phone from Strasbourg.

"Athough the President [Joseph Kabila] has been there to look at what the situation is, ever since we do not feel that what could be done is being done."

State Vs.Local government

Kabila kicked off a tour of Kasai earlier this week, with a visit to the central provincial capital of Tshikapa that has borne the brunt of the violence.

More than 500 people have been killed and dozens of mass graves reported since fighting broke out between security forces and members of a local armed group in August last year.

The trigger was the assassination of tribal chief Jean Pierre Mpandi, the sixth Kamuina Nsapu, considered by authorities to be hostile.

Mpandi's death fanned the flames of anti-state feelings in the region, which had overwhelmingly voted for the Opposition.

Etienne Tshisekedi, the historic leader of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) opposition party in fact was born in Kananga in neighbouring Kasai Occidental.

To avenge the killing of Mpandi, a militia named after him  began attacking security forces.

Devastating Fallout

The consequences for children says Willemot from UNICEF, have been devastating.

"We estimate that 150,000 children are out of school because of the violence. And this is all related to the fact that schools have been attacked, some have been looted and others destroyed.

"It's also important to stress the level of fear among children, parents and also among teachers. Parents are now too afraid to send their kids to school."

The intensity of the violence prompted the UN to dispatch a team of experts to the region to investigate reports of large-scale human rights violations. However,  in March, two of its employees were found dead.

Faced with mounting international pressure, Congolese authorities declared Kasai to be a military zone, in the hope of quelling the unrest and have given their support for an international inquiry.

Violence delays elections

"We agree to accept assistance from anyone who is willing to provide it," Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende told RFI, "But on condition that this is done in accordance with our justice system.

"If 1000 mass graves are found, there will be 1000 legal cases opened. And we won't stop until we get to the bottom of these atrocities which have severely affected the central region, you can take my word for it."

Michael Gahler from the European People's Party isn't so sure.

"Unfortunately the Kasai situation helps to serve as a pretext for Kabila who can claim not to be in a position to hold the elections in due course."

Violence in North Kivu province has already affected preparation for elections.

"In such a situation, people are thinking of everything but registering for the vote if they are somewhere in the jungle," he says.

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