Katanga is one of the most mineral-rich regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Home to the largest cobalt reserves in the world, as well as the second biggest African provider of copper, it is an area which has intermittently fought for secession since the 1960s.
Up until relatively recently, it was the DRC’s most stable region. That was until Gedeon Kyungu Mutanga escaped from prison in September 2011 and formed The Mai Mai Kata Katanga separatist group. An ex-militia leader who had fought against pro-Rwandan rebel groups in the 1990s, Gedeon has been being financed by a Katangan living abroad, as well as gaining advantages by way of having access to sensitive military information. The result being a independence movement which has become increasingly bloody and is helping to further destabilize a country with multifarious issues.
This Mai Mai Kata Katanga group’s stated grievance, and the one used to try to attract members to the movement, is that the people of Katanga are not benefitting from the trade of minerals mined in their region. By law, 40% of the taxes played by companies in the Katanga region has to transferred back to the province, but the extent to which this happens as it should is questionable, and it is not visibly aiding the communities there. An independent Katanga, Mai Mai Kata Katanga claim, will mean greater wealth and resources for the region and its people.
The reality of the situation is that a choice does not exist for people who have no desire to join the separatist movement and that the rewards promised are not forthcoming. Those who educate against it are intimidated, and those who refuse to join suffer physical horrors with rape, mutilation, and murder clearly apparent. One victim was raped by two men after having seen her mother tied to a tree, an arrow pierce her rib cage, and her breasts cut off. The men then proceeded to burn her neighbors alive in their houses. UN estimates are that around 1,700 women were raped before fleeing the area.
With 400,000 people now living in internally displaced people camps, the Congolese government denying the existence of a rebellion and so refusing to send more troops, UN peace keeping missions prioritizing the area of North Kivu, and the UN World Food Programme struggling to provide assistance to any more than half of the people who need it, this struggle is in danger of becoming yet another dark side-note in Congo’s dark story.