Introduction & Overview
Mai-Mai Kata Katanga is a rebel organisation which formed in 2011 and operates in the Southeastern province of Katanga in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The group was formed shortly after leader Gedeon Kyungu Mutanga escaped from Lubumbashi (a provincial capital) in 2011. The name Mai-Mai Kata Katanga is rooted in an amalgamation of Swahili words, ‘Maji’ meaning water, and Kata Katanga which loosely means to ‘cut Katanga’. Maji is in reference to the ‘magic potions’ they spray on themselves which protects them from bullets.
The Mai-Mai is a collection of community-based rebel organisations fighting against the Banyamulenge – a Rwanda-backed rebel group in the Eastern DRC – who committed acts of violence, livestock rustling, looting, and general banditry (Hoffman, 2018). The Mai-Mai is an umbrella term, and remains prominent in the governance structures of the Kivu region in the Eastern DRC, also operating as a national political party representative of rural interests.
Objectives, Motivations & Ideology
The group’s main objective is to secede Katanga (the second largest state in the Democratic Republic of Congo) from the rest of the nation. Katanga is an important city to the Congolese government as its abundance in natural resources makes it an asset. The Katanga province contains the largest Cobalt reserves and the second largest Copper reserves in the entire world – two internationally sought-after resources. The wealth of the region underpins the primary motivations of the movement, with an anonymous spokesperson for the group stating that “in 2012 alone, mining companies in Katanga paid out 96 million dollars in royalties, but this isn’t reflected in the standards of living in the province”.
Approach to Resistance
The Mai-Mai’s approach to resistance is violent and involves direct, armed confrontation. For instance, on the 23rd of March 2013, 350 Mai-Mai Kata Katanga insurgents launched an assault on Lubumbashi. Dressed in civilian clothing, distinguished by their green, red, and white bandanas, the insurgents were armed with around 30 AK-47s, rockets, javelins, and bows and arrows. During this attack, the group attempted to seize the governorate and provincial assembly. They clashed with Congolese Armed Forces, and eventually surrendered to the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO). Thirty-three people were killed and sixty wounded in the incursion.
This is not the first attack by the Mai-Mai, with the group hoisting their flag at Place de la Poste square in May 2010 in Lubumbashi, but were quickly routed by government forces in a counter offensive. Moreover, the group is speculated to be responsible for a variety of attacks, including two on the Lubumbashi airport, and even to the prison break of Gedeon Kyungu in October 2011. Kyungu is a Congolese warlord who led the Mai-Mai for five years between 2011 and 2016 (after his escape). He was once again arrested in 2016 but escaped house arrest in 2020. Overall, the group has been linked to the displacement of 340,000 people in Katanga and has recruited children as young as eight years old (BBC Africa, 2013).
International Relations & Corrupt Governance
Following the Lubumbashi attacks in March 2013, opposition leader Fabian Mutomb has stated that the impunity the group has enjoyed between attacks, proves some level of complicity with the state. In fact – and following these attacks – the Congolese Minister for Internal Affairs and Security (Richard Muyej) launched a federal investigation. Two-weeks after the attack, General Michel Ekuchu, commander of 6th Battalion based in Lubumbashi, was suspended on a charge of “grave dereliction of duty” (Kennes & Larmer, 2016).
The Mai-Mai’s international political affiliations are unclear, with no clear links to foreign financial or material support. The group does not seem to have any clear allies domestically and its scope of attacks remains regional.
Political & Paramilitary Abilities
Mai-Mai Kata Katanga’s violence declined after 2013, largely fading into obscurity. In 2015, Kyungu announced that he would create a political party to run in the 2017 elections. In October 2016, Kyungu and several hundred rebels surrendered their arms in a prominent ceremony in Lubumbashi. Kyungu’s political party became the Movement of African Revolutionary Independentists (Mouvement des Independantiste Revolutionnaires Africains, MIRA).
However, Mai Mai Kata Katanga remains active. There has been a significant uptick in incursions as of 2019, with three government soldiers and two rebels being killed in a confrontation in Lubumbashi. These attacks have continued in towns across Katanga, with 30 rebels getting killed in an assault in March 2020 (Tchoubar, 2020). Finally, another attack in Lubumbashi (in 2020) killed a further 16 rebels and 3 soldiers. During these attacks, the rebels used and waved the Katanga flag, a feature of the attacks in 2013 (Tchoubar, 2020). Nonetheless, this time they were armed with machetes, suggesting a regression in hardware following the disarmament in 2016 (Kennes & Larmer, 2016).
Works Cited (MLA-style)
BBC Africa, 2013. DR Congo unrest: Children freed from Militia, says UN. [Online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-23736059.
Etahoben, C. B., 2020. DR Congo Army Blocks Mai-Mai Rebels From Hoisting Katanga Flag In Lubumbashi. [Online] Available at: https://humanglemedia.com/dr-congo-army-blocks-mai-mai-rebels-from-hoisting-katanga-flag-in-lubumbashi/
Gobbers, E., 2016. Katanga: Congo’s Perpetual Trouble Spot. Royal Institute for International Relations: Africa Policy Brief, Volume 17, pp. 1-7.
Hoffman, K., 2018. Rethinking rebel rule: who Mai Mai Groups in Eastern Congon rule. [Online] Available at: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/crp/2018/10/03/mai-mai-groups-in-eastern-congo/
Jullien, M., 2013. Katanga: Fighting for DR Congo's cash cow to secede. [Online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-23422038
Kennes, E. & Larmer, M., 2016. The Katangese Gendarmes and War in Central Africa, Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.
Tchoubar, P., 2020. DRC: after a new bloody armed incursion in Lubumbashi, the population remains perplexed. [Online] Available at: https://observers.france24.com/fr/20200930-rdc-apres-une-nouvelle-incursion-armee-sanglante-lubumbashi-population-reste-perple
Wa ku Demba, M. (2013) The Quest for the Autonomy of Mining DRC Province. Inter Press Service (News Agency). Available at: http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/04/the-quest-for-the-autonomy-of-mining-drc-province/