Kamwina Nsapu rebellion

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Kamwina Nsapu rebellion
Extent of Kamwina Nsapu rebellion.svg
Provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo affected by the rebellion at its peak (dark red).
Date8 August 2016 – present
(2 years, 8 months, 1 week and 5 days)
Status Ongoing

Kamwina Nsapu rebels[1]

  • Various independent militias[2]

 DR Congo

Allied militias:

Commanders and leaders

Jean-Pierre Mpandi "Kamwina Nsapu" [7]

No central leader since August 2016[7]
Democratic Republic of the Congo Joseph Kabila (until Jan. 2019)
Democratic Republic of the Congo Félix Tshisekedi (from Jan. 2019)
Democratic Republic of the Congo Gen. Dieudonné Banze
Unknown Thousands[1]
Casualties and losses
Thousands killed, captured, and surrendered Hundreds killed and wounded
Killed in total: c. 5,000 (UN estimate by August 2018);[6] 3,300+ (Catholic Church estimate by June 2017)[8][4]
Displaced: 1.09 million internally,[9][10] 35,000 to Angola[11]

The Kamwina Nsapu rebellion, also spelled Kamuina Nsapu rebellion,[12] is an ongoing rebellion instigated by the Kamwina Nsapu militia against state security forces[13] in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), in the provinces of Kasaï-Central, Kasaï, Kasai-Oriental, Lomami and Sankuru.[14][9] The fighting began after the militia, led by Kamwina Nsapu, attacked security forces in August 2016.

There is an ethnic nature to the conflict,[12] with the militia being Luba.[13] It had selectively killed non-Luba.[15]


In 2011, Jean-Pierre Mpandi was designated to succeed his uncle and become the sixth head of Bajila Kasanja clan after returning from South Africa[14] from a conviction in a diamond-trafficking case. His tribal name was Kamwina Nsapu, meaning "black ant". Such chiefs exercise significant control over land and are required to be recognized by the central state even if they are selected according to traditions. That encourages chiefs to support the DRC government to get its endorsement.[14]

His region supported the opposition in the last presidential election, and tensions flared when the government appointed supporters, rather than tribal chiefs, to powerful positions in the local government.[7][16] The central government also refused to recognise Kamwina Nsapu's appointment as chief after he opposed the government's stance. That led him to contest the central government's power, and he began calling for an insurrection in June 2016.[7][17]

Beginning of rebellion[edit]

Kamwina Nsapu incited his men with xenophobic language, referring to the regular security forces as foreign mercenaries and an occupation force.[7] He caused a militia, named after him, to launch attacks on the local police.[17] On 12 August 2016, he was killed alongside eight other militiamen and 11 policemen in Tshimbulu.[18] Upon his death, the Congolese Observatory for Human Rights condemned his killing and suggested he should have been arrested instead.[19]

Several of his followers refused to believe that he was dead and escalated the violence by intensifying their attacks on the security forces.[7] As the violence by Kamwina Nsapu's men escalated, the uprising spread, and an increasing number of locals picked up arms against the government. Kamwina Nsapu's death meant that the rebellion effectively fractured into numerous movements, "all fighting for different reasons".[2]

After Kamwina Nsapu's death[edit]

In September 2016, Kawina Nsapu's militia captured an area 180 km from Kananga and then captured the Kananga Airport before it was retaken by the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[20] On 26 September 2016, the government announced that in total, 49 people had been killed (27 militiamen, 16 policemen and 6 civilians) and 185 militiamen captured since the fighting began.[21]

In January 2017, four militiamen were killed, and two policemen were wounded.[22] A few days later, the rebels called for the removal of the governor, Alex Kande, and protested the visit of Prime Minister Samy Badibanga.[22] On 31 January 2017, a Roman Catholic priest from St. Alphonsus Parish in Kananga who tried to stop the militia from taking children from schools was kidnapped but was later released.[23]

UN peacekeepers patrolling Tshimbulu, Kasaï-Central, on 20 February 2017 to promote dialogue in the region.

On 9 February 2017, fighting erupted in Tshimbulu between 300 militiamen and the armed forces in a reprisal attack by the militia. At least six people were killed, including one civilian. By the next day, 60 to 75 were reported killed by the armed forces, while at least two servicemen have been wounded.[24] On 14 February, United Nations human rights spokeswoman Liz Throssell announced that at least 101 people had been killed by government forces between 9 and 13 February, with 39 women confirmed to be among them.[25]

A few days later, a video showing members of the Congolese military killing civilians in the village of Mwanza Lomba was leaked.[26][27] Human Rights Minister Marie-Ange Mushobekwa said that the video had not been authenticated,[28] and Communications Minister Lambert Mende Omalanga said that it had filmed in another country "to destroy the image of the D.R.C."[29]

Two journalists have received death threats for their coverage of the conflict: Sosthène Kambidi of Radio télévision chrétienne in Kananga and Fabrice Mfuamba of Radio Moyo in Tshimbulu.[30]

On 18 February 2017, the Grand Séminaire de Malole (Great Seminary of Malole) in Kananga was ransacked by Kamwina Nsapu militants.[31][32] It was the first time that they attacked a Roman Catholic target.[32] Shortly after the attack, both Félicien Mwanama Galumbulula, the Bishop of Lwiza, and Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, the Archbishop of Kinshasa, condemned the violence,[33] and Justin Milonga, the vice governor of Kasaï-Central, called for the Kamwina Nsapu fighters to negotiate with the government.[34] MONUSCO troops also toured Nganza and Malole in Kananga to calm the situation.[31]

As a result of the clashes, many parents have stopped sending their children to school.[35] However, on 26 February 2017, Justin Milonga, the vice governor of Kasaï-Central, said that the "insanity" needed to end and that children should resume going to school.[35]

Pakistani peacekeepers on patrol in Kasaï-Central in late 2017

On 15 April 2017, the government returned the body of Kamwina Nsapu to the militia, one of its key demands, as a way of easing tensions and recognised his successor, Jacques Kabeya Ntumba, as a customary chief, as failure to recognize Nsapu had been a trigger for the fighting.[12] As the conflict continued to spread and escalate in violence, the government sent hardened troops from eastern Congo to fight the Kamwina Nsapu militia. The commanders of these reinforcements were "notorious for their brutality" and even included a former warlord who had once been convicted by the government to death for his extreme behavior. Increasing reports surfaced of the military having massacred both captured rebels and Luba civilians who were suspected of supporting the insurgency.[1] MONUSCO estimated that Congolese "state agents" had carried out 1,176 extrajudicial killings against protesters and anti-government activists in 2017, and that most of these killings occurred in areas affected by the Kamwina Nsapu rebellion.[36]

By early 2018, the government had retaken most of the areas in Kasaï and the surrounding regions which had previously been held by insurgents. Nevertheless, fighting continued and a new surge of violence in February 2018 caused about 11,000 people in Kasaï to flee their homes.[11] On 15 September 2018, Ndaye Kalonga Nsabanga, the leader of a rebel coalition consisting of 8 militias, surrendered to the government in Kananga. Most of his forces, including the commanders of seven militias as well as 600 regular fighters, also laid down their weapons.[37]

The United Nations estimated that about 5,000 people had been killed overall during the fighting by August 2018, though the violence did "still fall short of genocide".[6] Following the general election on 30 December 2018 which resulted in the victory of opposition presidential candidate Félix Tshisekedi, about 743 Kamwina Nsapu insurgents along with three of their commanders (including Lokondo Luakatebua and Mubiayi Dewayi) surrendered in Kasaï in January 2019. In this way, the rebels showcased that they recognized Tshisekedi as new President and that they were ready to support him amid the ongoing disputes about the election results.[38]


The Kamwina Nsapu rebels are only loosely connected and operate in various autonomous factions.[2] They lack an "identifiable leader" since Kamwina Nsapu's death,[7][12] but individual factions are known to have leaders such as "General" Gaylord Tshimbala[2] and opposition politicians are rumoured to support the uprising.[7][12] The rebels are united in their opposition against the government[2] and have adopted red as unifying colour of their uprising.[1] Kamwina Nsapu fighters thus usually identify themselves by wearing red headbands or armbands.[7]

Although relatively poorly armed, with most of their weaponry looted or stolen from the Congolese security forces,[7] the rebels are strongly motivated by their belief in various forms of witchcraft:[2] Many Kamwina Nsapu rebels believe in gaining magical protection from harm[1][2] by wearing fetishes,[2] specific leaves,[29][7] and protective amulets.[7] Elements of the Kamwina Nsapu militia have been described as "cultlike" due to their beliefs. For example, recruits are reportedly forced to walk through fire and told that by undergoing the initiation ritual, they will be resurrected if they are killed in battle.[1] Some fighters also believe that wooden weapons can be transformed into functioning guns by magical rituals.[2]

The militia has also been noted for its extensive recruitment of child soldiers. Experts consider it likely that most of the rebels are children.[18][1] Child soldiers are promised jobs and money and are often given drugs and alcohol in order to motivate them to fight.[1][2]

Its splintered nature causes the rebellion to have no clear goals.[2] Common demands by members of the militia are, however, the return of and the proper burial of their slain leader, which the government conceded in March or April 2017,[7][12] reparations for the chief's family, the restoration of damaged hospitals and schools by the central authorities, "social and economic development of the region" and the release of imprisoned rebels as well as civilians. Since February 2017, a purported spokesman of the group has also demanded the implementation of the agreement between Kabila and the opposition after the December 2016 Congolese protests.[7]


Ethnic cleansing[edit]

The conflict has evolved from a rebellion against the state to involve ethnic violence.[14] Most of the people in the Kamwina Nsapu militia are from the Luba people[13] and are reportedly targeting the Pende and the Chokwe.[14] On 24 March 2017, militiamen reportedly killed and decapitated at least 40 policemen and spared six, who spoke the local Tshiluba language.[15][39]

The Bana Mura militia, a largely-Chokwe group, committed a string of ethnically-motivated attacks against the Luba and Lulua. It has been linked to the government and victims attest that the army and police accompanied it in attacks.[14] It was reported to have committed atrocities such as cutting off toddlers' limbs, stabbing pregnant women and mutilating fetuses,[40] and it is blamed for the murder of 49 minors in 2017.[4]

Child soldiers[edit]

Reportedly, half the Kamwina Nsapu militia is under 14,[18] with some being as young as 5,[7] and Congolese authorities claim that it is under the influence of drugs.[18]


In June 2017, more than 3,300 people have been killed in violence since October 2016 and 20 villages have been completely destroyed, half of them by government troops, according to the Catholic Church.[41][4]

International reactions[edit]

UN Deputy Special Representative David Gressly speaks with the press after meeting with MONUSCO and Congolese officials to discuss the conflict.

On 11 February 2017, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) said in a statement that it was "concerned about the persistent conflict in the Kasais".[42] It condemned the "recruitment and use of child soldiers" and "the disproportionate use of force" by the Congolese forces in retaliation.[42]

In his angelus on 16 February 2017, Pope Francis called for an end to the violence, especially the use of child soldiers.[43][44] He said, "I suffer deeply for the victims, especially for so many children ripped from their families and their schools to be used as soldiers."[45]

On 19 February 2017, Mark C. Toner, the Deputy Spokesperson of the US Department of State called for an investigation into the video of the alleged Mwanza Lomba massacre.[27][46]

On 20 February 2017, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development also called for an investigation into the video.[47][48] In an official statement, it said, "France condemns the bloody violence which has rocked the Kasai region for several months. It calls on the Congolese authorities and security forces to shoulder their primary responsibility to protect civilians, fully respecting human rights".[49]

On 13 March 2017, two UN investigators were murdered in Kasai, with both the Congolese government and the Kamunia Nsapu militia naming each other as the culprits. A video published by the Congolese government on April 24 seems to point to the militia.[50]


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