The search of Jean-Prince Mpandi's home in the village of Kamwina Nsapu marks the beginning of an open conflict between this customary chief and the authorities. Jean-Prince Mpandi accused the security forces of having raped his wife and defaced his symbols of power. The Congolese authorities denied carrying out a raid and accused Kamwina Nsapu of creating a militia.
According to his relatives, he was angered by the conditions laid down by the regime, so Chief "Kamwina Nsapu" Jean-Prince Mpandi attacked the city of Tshimbulu despite ongoing negotiations. The official record showed nine deaths. It was during this attack that the militiaman Constantin Tshiboko called the MP and former minister Clement Kanku - accused by the New York Times of being behind the violence in the Kasaï provinces - to inform him of the details of the operation.
Several MPs who had come with the delegation tried again to seal the reconciliation between Chief Kamwina Nsapu and the authorities. These telephone calls were recorded by one of the MPs. Jean-Prince Mpandi asked for Monusco (United Nations Stabilization Mission in DR Congo) to intervene. During a visit to Kananga, the National Security Council (which brings together the main security services and is led by the deputy prime minister in charge of the Interior Evariste Boshab) demanded his surrender. The National Security Council issued an ultimatum.
The military rushed into areas controlled by Kamwina Nsapu: Fuamba, Kabundi and the chief's own village. This attack was filmed from two different angles by soldiers who said they belonged to the 5th integrated brigade of the Congolese army. These two videos show some 10 children being killed, children who, for the most part, were armed only with sticks. Jean-Prince Mpandi was killed at his home around 4pm, just before the ultimatum expired. His body was mutilated and taken to an unknown destination. The royal court was destroyed. In a third video, a soldier accused chief Kamwina Nsapu of defying Joseph Kabila and argued with his fellow soldiers about the idea of emasculating him.
General Didier Etumba, Chief of Staff of the Congolese Armed Forces, approved a reorganisation within the chain of command. Colonel Kasilika Mwendapeke Jean-Marie, a former Mai-Mai warlord (self-defence militias created in resistance against foreign Rwandan and Ugandan troops, trying to get into the territory, during the first two wars of the Congo) and patron of the Former 5th Brigade, was transferred to Beni in North Kivu. The inhabitants of the Kasai region condemned the deployment of "Rwandan" battalions. They were seen as such because they were led by Rwandophone officers from the former AFDL, RCD, CNDP and M23 rebellion groups. This was the beginning of a build-up of security forces, which would continue until the end of 2016. From the beginning of March 2017, the Congolese army, in addition to being accused of abuse, replaced some officers considered "too visible".
According to the internal report of a humanitarian mission led by UNICEF, dated 2nd September, there were already at least 51 dead. There were 21 settlements affected by the conflict, 806 burnt-out buildings, destroyed state buildings and nearly 12,000 displaced people in Dibaya territory. One of the chief’s cousins was the interim leader for Jean-Prince Mpandi and, according to witnesses, wore the same outfits, wanting the surrounding populations to believe that the chief was still alive.
Militiamen stormed Kananga airport, burning at least one fire truck. The official death toll was set at 28, including eight policemen, 14 militiamen, three students killed in a scuffle and three mutilated women. No further details were given. The UN's record was higher: at least 49 dead, including eight police officers, 30 wounded and dozens of people arrested. Kamwina Nsapu members were chased and driven back to the nearby Dimbelengue territory. From Dimbelengue, the militia was driven out to the Kasai-Oriental.
Since the end of November, there had been reports of clashes on the Tshikapa - Kananga axis. On December 4 and 5, members of Kamwina Nsapu managed to enter Tshikapa, the provincial capital of Kasai. According to a highly confidential UN report dated from December, 154 villages were affected by the fighting. The outcome was considerable: at least 95 confirmed deaths and more than a hundred additional probable deaths were reported, as well as more than 150,000 displaced persons.
While in Kinshasa, negotiations under the auspices of the Catholic Church were suspended between President Kabila and his opposition and several attacks attributed to the Kamwina Nsapu were reported in the Kasai region. These took place mostly between the 19 and the 21 December, in Kananga in Kasai-Central. According to the UN, dozens of militiamen were killed. In Luebo, in the Kasai region, national symbols were burned, including the office of the Electoral Commission (Ceni). According to witnesses, Kamwina Nsapu members said the end of Joseph Kabila's term was the reason for these attacks.
When a new government, headed by Prime Minister Samy Badibanga, was formed, two high-level politicians were dismissed.
Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the Interior Evariste Boshab, and Governor Alex Kandé were linked to the crisis. Emmanuel Ramazani Shadari, who was in charge of negotiations with the ruling Kamwina Nsapu family, replaced Boshab. Governor Kandé, also implicated, was recalled to Kinshasa.
Monusco deployed a battalion of Uruguayan peacekeepers to Kananga, Kasai-Central. The rotations ended on 22 December 2016, according to a statement from the UN mission.
The Kamwina Nsapu members attacked two villages: Tshimbulu and Bakwa Nkata. They were violently pushed back by the security forces. At least five mass graves, documented by RFI and Reuters, were directly linked to these clashes. In a video shot in Tshimbulu, a soldier said he used a rocket launcher on militiamen who were mostly disarmed.
After Prime Minister Samy Badibanga announced he would visit the Kasai-Central region, where he was originally from, clashes erupted between security forces and alleged Kamwina Nsapu militiamen. He then cancelled his visit.
A group of Kamwina Nsapu members entered the parish of Nguema, on the border between the Luiza and Kazumba territories, creating a wave of panic. According to the authorities, this group sought to prevent children from studying. The security forces pushed back, and chasing the alleged militiamen. The UN said the death toll was 47 in Nguema. At least three mass graves have been documented. A CENI agent was beheaded. His death was part of an electoral rivalry between the Kete (the majority ethnic group in Luiza territory) and the Bindjis (an ethnic group that is close to Kamwina Nsapu, found in the Kazumba territory) that emerged around the installation of a future recruitment centre.
Kamwina Nsapu carried out a new "mystical" attack against Tshimbulu. According to the UN, at least 84 alleged militiamen were killed. On 9 February, a soldier shot a video showing victims and weapons being seized, mostly made of wood. Monusco accused the army of using rocket launchers.
In a statement, the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo expressed its concern over the continuing conflict in the provinces of Kasai, a conflict "marked by violent atrocities committed by the Kamwina Nsapu militias". Monusco strongly condemned their “recruitment and use of child soldiers and their acts of violence against the State". Six months after the start of the conflict, Monusco addes it was "very worried about several reports about the disproportionate use of force" by the Congolese army for the first time. After Kananga, detachments of about forty blue helmets were deployed in Tshimbulu and Kabeya Kamuanga. The civil presence of Monusco was also strengthened in Kananga.
This was the first video of abuses committed by the security forces that was made public on social networks. This recording showed soldiers executing Kamwina Nsapu members, armed with "mystical" weapons (brooms, sticks). The author of this video, who presented himself as a "FARDC", said he was in operation in Mwamza Lomba, village in Kasai-Oriental. The Congolese government claimed it was a set up.
At least six churches were attacked in Kinshasa, Lubumbashi and Kananga, while political negotiations under the auspices of the Congolese National Episcopal Conference (Cenco) were underway. The Catholic Church is regularly targeted in the Kasai provinces because it is accused of playing into the hands of the authorities. Schools, mainly Catholic, were the object of "mystical" attacks aimed at preventing children from studying.
The Kazumba territory was the scene of a violent attack. It is one of the customary areas ruled by the king of the Bashilange (one of the most important kingdoms of the former Kasai-Occidental), on which Kamwina Nsapu relied. During the same period violence spred to Sankuru province, probably through militiamen.
In his opening speech at the 27th session of the Human Rights Council, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Jordanian Zeid Ra'ad Al-Hussein, called for the establishment of an International Commission of Inquiry into the Violence Against Civilians in the Kasai provinces. Several African states, including South Africa, opposed this move.
On mission in Dibaya territory, US national Michael J Sharp and Zaida Catalan, of Sweden, members of the UN expert group on Congo, were abducted and executed by armed men. On 13 March, the Congolese government announced their kidnapping, before Monusco, and accused the Kamwina Nsapu militiamen of this double crime. Their bodies were not found and identified until three weeks later. Michael J Sharp and Zaida Catalan were investigating the instigators of violence in the Kasai provinces, so that the UN could to propose sanctions.
At the end of a tour in the Kasai provinces, Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the Interior, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadari, announced the end of the Kamwina Nsapu uprising "despite some pockets of resistance". He said that an agreement had been reached with the royal Kamwina Nsapu family. This agreement provided for the restitution of the body of the deceased chief and guaranteed that the new leader would be recognised.
Audirtor general of the Congolese armed forces, General Ponde, said the video of the massacre of "Mwamza Lomba" was very authentic. Seven soldiers were prosecuted for murder, mutilation, inhumane and degrading treatment, war crimes, and denial of an offence. The Congolese military court also said it had documented two mass graves.
According to Congolese police, two police trucks, filled with "law enforcement" equipment, were ambushed in Kamuesha, Kasai, on the Tshikapa-Kananga axis. Some 39 policemen reportdely killed. The police posted a video on YouTube, which was attributed to Kamwina Nsapu. This video showed policemen sitting on the ground amid alleged militiamen. The police added they had the video of their execution. In a joint statement issued on 28 March, the UN, the African Union (AU), the European Union (EU) and the International Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF) condemned the attack. Several sources within these institutions questioned the veracity of these executions.
According to the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights, between 26 and 28 March, at least 74 alleged militiamen, including about 30 children, were killed in Tshimbulu by security forces.
Meanwhile, other UN sources said at least 67 Kamwina Nsapu members were killed on 1 April in clashes in Tshidima, a town two kilometres away from Tshimbulu.
Kananga was not spared. According to the High Commission, a "door-to-door" operation carried out by the Congolese army killed at least 40 people, more than half of them women and children. The operation was primarily conducted in Nganza commune, one of the strongholds of Kamwina Nsapu members in Kananga.
In a statement, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda, appealed for calm and called on the various actors in the Kasai provinces not to resort to violence. The ICC officially opened an investigation into the DRC in 2004. But the investigations and trials only concern Ituri province, in the northeast of the country.
In Kananga, the reigning Kamwina Nsapu family announced that Jacques Ntumba Kabeya, former collaborator of MP Clement Kanku, was named as the successor of Jean-Prince Mpandi, the chief who was killed in August 2016. The family had declared that it had exhumed and removed the remains of Jean-Prince Mpandi's body. It was an exhumation obtained after negotiations with the Minister of the Interior while staying in Kasai-Central.
According to the UN children agency, more than 1.5 million children were affected, including 600,000 displaced. More than 4,000 children have separated from their families, 2,000 recruited by the militia, 300 children were injured and 350 schools destroyed.
A month later, on 24 May 2017, UNICEF announced that 400,000 children were at risk of severe acute malnutrition, due in part to the suspension of nutrition programs. More than a third of the health centres in Kasai-Central were no longer functional.
On 5 May, Ocha (the UN Humanitarian Coordination Office) accounted for 1.27 million displaced in the Kasai provinces. With 8,000 people fleeing the country daily. The report points out that various conflicts within the country have contributed to the widespread population movement. In addition to the confrontations between the army and Kamwina Nsapu, the intercommunal clashes and clashes between rival factions of Kamwina Nsapu have multiplied.
The Angolan Community Development Association, one of the few NGOs deployed across the border, said some 30,000 Congolese have crossed into Angola. The UN and the Angolan authorities said it was rather about 20,000 people.
In a press conference, the army spokesperson said that since the beginning of March, some approximately 390 militiamen have been killed and 503 captured including 54 minors. General Léon-Richard Kasonga also said that during the same period, 85 policemen and 39 soldiers were killed, 26 wounded and nine are missing.
"The discovery of new mass graves and reports of ongoing human rights violations and abuses testify to the continuing horror in the provinces of Kasai over the last nine months," said a statement from the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights. Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein announced that the UN had documented 40 mass graves, half of them in Tshimbulu since August. But the investigation was ongoing. Several UN sources said they had received dozens of other allegations. But verification work could be hampered, according to OHCHR, notably because Congolese security forces are refusing to cooperate. Prince Zeid has been trying for months to establish an international commission of inquiry into the Kasai provinces.
Former minister Clement Kanku was accused by the New York Times of being among the instigators of the violence in the Kasai provinces. The newspaper implied his involvement in the execution of two UN experts. The American newspaper based its argument - without specifying it - on telephone tapping carried out by the Congolese security services, dated 8 August 2016. These two records were found on the computer of Zaida Catalan, one of the two executed experts. The Attorney General of the Congolese Republic announced an investigation. Still MP of Dibaya territory, Clement Kanku denied everything in a press release. The authorities banned his press conference.
In an interview with RFI, Congolese Foreign Minister Leonard She Okitundu said his government could not accept this inquiry, arguing that a UN investigation into the perpetrators and those who had ordered the killings would aim at "discrediting Congolese justice". The head of Congolese diplomacy said “some members” used the Security Council, in what they said would be part of a "plan against the DRC". The day before, the spokesman for the UN secretary-general had criticized the speed of the Congolese procedure and considered that this deserved a thorough investigation.
The member states of the European Union decided to sanction nine well-known Congolese figures for their role in the ongoing crisis, particularly in the Kasai provinces. These included the former Deputy Prime Minister of the Interior, Evariste Boshab, his successor Emmanuel Ramazani Shadari, the governor of Kasai-Central, Alex Kandé, General Eric Ruhorimbere, Deputy Commander of the 21st Military Region based in Mbuji -Mayi, and Gédéon Kyungu, a warlord who had the reputation of being very brutal. Originally from neighbouring Katanga, he was accused of keeping a militia in the Kasai provinces.