Lubumbashi madness

Lubumbashi has always been a world unto itself, a weird microcosm of Congolese politics. The city is one of the wealthiest in the country, due to its proximity to the largest mining ventures in the country (although Mbuji-Mayi, the diamond capital, is one big slum). Politics here are often extremely contentious and explosive, partly due to the conversion of the two main fault lines in Katangan politics:

First, the north-south rift, which has been pronounced since independence, when the north sided with the Lumumbists and the south tried to secede under Moise Tshombe, backed by western mining interests – the two sides fought a brief but bitter war (Laurent D Kabila cut his teeth fighting with the northern militia). This rift also coincides with ethnic and socio-economic cleavages, as the north is predominantly Lubakat and the south a mixture of Lunda/Bemba/others. In addition, the north is seen as “Katanga inutile,” as its economy is now mostly based on subsistence agriculture, while the south is rich in copper and cobalt mines. This particular fault line might become very explosive if the plans to split Katanga into four provinces (2 northern & poor, 2 southern & rich) ever go through.

Second, the “autochtone” vs. “outsider” cleavage. Hundreds of thousands of outsiders immigrated to Lubumbashi and other mining cities, especially Likasi and Kolwezi, during the colonial period. Most of these outsiders were ethnic Lubas from Kasai, who were often well educated and endowed with the technical expertise needed for the mining operations. Not surprisingly, this created tensions. During the early 1990s, when Mobutu was trying to deflect from opposition against him, he embarked on a policy of ethnic divisionism in the Kivus and Katanga. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Kasaians had to flee southern Katanga. Many, however, remain or have since returned, and tensions in Lubumbashi remain high between the bakuyakuya (those who come from outside) and the “indigenous” population.

To make matter more complex, Joseph Kabila is theoretically from Katanga – his father was from Ankoro, in northern Katanga, although his grandmother was a southerner (Lunda) and his mother is from Maniema (Bangubangu). He is not really considered Katangan but most there, as he never spent much time there and grew up in mostly in Tanzania. In any case, many of the power brokers around the president are from Katanga (north and south) and their patronage networks are often deeply ethnic.

All this is a long-winded way of introducing two bizarre incidents.

First, a curious round-up of students and teachers in Lubumbashi a few days ago. A small criminology institute had set up shop in a Methodist church in one of the central neighborhoods. a teacher had taken upon himself to give the students a lesson in coup d’etats, an event that is relevant for many Congolese. He was lecturing them in how coup d’etats are planned and carried out when a bunch of police and intelligence agents burst in the door and arrested everybody. They are currently being held in a prison in Lubumbashi for plotting to overthrow the head of state (Kabila happened to be in Lubumbashi at the time). Ah, the Congo, what a car wreck, it hurts to watch, it hurts to look away.

Secondly, an incident at the provincial assembly a few days ago. According to Radio Okapi, four provincial MPs had submitted a motion to impeach the “questeur” of the assembly, the parliamentary administrator, for mismanagement. The president of the assembly, Kyungu wa Kumwanza (who was partly responsible for the anti-Luba ethnic attacks of the early 1990s), basically snubbed them and they walked out of the assembly. Outside, to their surprise, a gang of youths was waiting for them, accusing them of “offending the president of the assembly” and proceeded to beat them. One of them suffered some pretty nasty wounds that can be seen on the Radio Okapi website. He walked back into the assembly, blood dripping onto his shirt. The other MPs were so outraged by what had happened that Kyungu had to stop the proceedings. Pretty ominous, but militias and youth groups are a fundamental part of Lubumbashi politics, more so than anywhere else in the country.