Over the last couple of years, scores of activists have died protesting against President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down.
In the latest bout of nationwide demonstrations on 31 December 2017, at least seven more were killed as they took the streets. Many more were arrested.
However, it is not just the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) towns and cities that have witnessed violence as a result of the country’s deepening political crisis.
Kabila’s determination to stay in power despite his term officially ending in December 2016 has also aggravated more localised conflicts, causing widespread death and displacement.
Conflict in Kasai
One such conflict has devastated the Kasai region since mid-2016, leading to the displacement of 1.4 million people internally and 35,000 across the border with Angola.
The conflict first started as a dispute between a local customary leader and central authorities in Kinshasa.
But events escalated when the local chief was killed by the Congolese military. His followers formed a militia known as the Kamuina Nsapu and fighting quickly spread throughout a region roughly the size of the UK.
Refugees in Angola told International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI), which released a report on the violence today, that members of the militia entered their villages and beheaded state officials. They committed horrific violence, but most witnesses said the fighters did not target ordinary citizens.
In response, the Congolese army employed heavy force against the poorly-armed militia, which was mostly made up of children. After neutralising the group, they reportedly turned on the civilian population.
“They shot at everyone. They destroyed our houses and killed a lot of people,” said one refugee. “It was a slaughterhouse.” Along with others, he described how the army killed civilians, committed sexual violence, and looted and burned down many homes.
Inhabitants of another town caught up in the conflict described how a pro-government militia named Bana Mura (after Kabila’s presidential guard) also attacked Kamuina Nsapu and the local population.
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