Military Wiki
Kamwina Nsapu rebellion
Extent of Kamwina Nsapu rebellion.svg
Provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo affected by the rebellion (dark red).
Date8 August 2016 – present
(6 years and 2 days)
LocationKasaï-Central, Kasaï, Kasai-Oriental, Lomami and Sankuru; Democratic Republic of the Congo

Kamwina Nsapu militia[1]

  • Various sub-groups[2]

 DR Congo

Allied militias:

  • Bana Mura[4]
  • Local pro-government groups[1]
Commanders and leaders
  • Jean-Pierre Mpandi "Kamwina Nsapu"[5]
  • No central leader since August 2016[5]
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo Joseph Kabila
    Unknown Thousands[1]
    Casualties and losses
    128+ killed
    185+ captured
    50+ surrendered
    70+ killed
    40 police officers decapitated
    Several wounded
    Killed in total: 164–400+ (UN estimate by April 2017);[6] 3,300+ (Catholic Church estimate by June 2017)[3][7]
    Displaced: 1.09 million internally[8][9]

    The Kamwina Nsapu rebellion, also spelled Kamuina Nsapu rebellion,[10] is an ongoing rebellion instigated by the Kamwina Nsapu militia against state security forces[11] in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), in the provinces of Kasaï-Central, Kasaï, Kasai-Oriental, Lomami and Sankuru.[8][12] The fighting began after the militia led by Kamwina Nsapu attacked security forces in August 2016. There is an ethnic nature to the conflict[10] with the militia mostly made up of Luba people[11] and they have selectively killed non-Luba people.[13]

    Course of the conflict

    Establishment of the rebellion

    In 2011, Jean-Pierre Mpandi was designated to succeed his uncle to become the sixth head of Bajila Kasanja clan after returning from South Africa[12] 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. This encourages chiefs to support the DRC government who would then endorse the claimants.[12] The region he lived in mostly supported the opposition in the last presidential election and tensions flared when the government appointed those close to them rather than tribal chiefs into powerful positions in the local government.[5][14] The government also refused to recognise Kamwina Nsapu's appointment as chief due to his past anti-government stance. This led him to contest the central government's power and he began calling for an insurrection in June 2016.[5][15] He incited his men with xenophobic language, referring to the regular security forces as foreign mercenaries and an occupation force,[5] causing a militia named after him to launch attacks on the local police.[15] On 12 August 2016, he was killed alongside eight other militiamen and 11 policemen in Tshimbulu.[16] Upon his death, the Congolese Observatory for Human Rights condemned his killing and suggested he should have been arrested instead.[17] Several of his followers refused to believe that he was dead, and escalated the violence by intensifying their attacks on the security forces.[5] 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

    In September 2016, Nsapu's militia captured an area 180km from Kananga, and later captured the Kananga Airport before it was retaken by the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[18] On 26 September 2016, the government announced that in total, 49 people have been killed (27 militiamen, 16 policemen and 6 civilians) and 185 militiamen have been captured since the fighting began.[19]

    In January 2017, four militiamen were killed, while two policemen were wounded.[20] A few days later, they called for the removal of the governor, Alex Kande, and protested against the visit of Prime Minister Samy Badibanga.[20] On 31 January 2017, a Roman Catholic priest from the St. Alphonsus parish in Kananga who tried to stop the militia from taking children out of schools was kidnapped. He was later released.[21]

    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.[22] On 14 February, the 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.[23] A few days later, a video showing members of the Congolese military killing civilians in the village of Mwanza Lomba was leaked.[24][25] Human Rights Minister Marie-Ange Mushobekwa said the video had not been authenticated,[26] while Communications Minister Lambert Mende Omalanga said it was filmed in another country, with the intent "to destroy the image of the D.R.C.".[27]

    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.[28]

    On 18 February 2017, the Grand Séminaire de Malole (Great Seminary of Malole) in Kananga was ransacked by Kamwina Nsapu militants.[29][30] It was the first time they attacked a Roman Catholic target.[30] Shortly after the attack, both Félicien Mwanama Galumbulula, the Bishop of Lwiza, and Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, the Archbishop of Kinshasa, condemned the violence,[31] and Justin Milonga, the vice governor of Kasaï-Central, called for the Kamwina Nsapu fighters to negotiate with the government.[32] MONUSCO troops also toured Nganza and Malole in Kananga to calm the situation.[29]

    As a result of the clashes, many parents have stopped sending their children to school.[33] 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.[33]

    On 15 April 2017, the government returned the body of Kamwina Nsapu back to the militia, a key demand from the militia, as a way of easing tensions and recognized Nsapu's successor, Jacques Kabeya Ntumba, as a customary chief, as failure to recognize Nsapu had been one trigger for the fighting.[10] 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 due to his extreme behavior. Increasingly, reports began to surface according to which the military massacred both captured rebels as well as Luba civilians suspected of supporting the insurgency.[1]

    Kamwina Nsapu militia

    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,[5][10] although individual factions are known to have leaders such as "General Gaylord" Tshimbala[2] while opposition politicians are rumoured to support the uprising.[5][10] The rebels are united in their opposition against the government[2] and have adopted the color red as unifiying symbol of their uprising.[1] Because of that, Kamwina Nsapu fighters usually identify themselves by wearing red headbands or armbands.[5] Although relatively poorly armed, with most of their weaponry looted or stolen from the Congolese security forces,[5] the insurgents 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,[5][27] and protective amulets.[5] 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 this 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 through magical rituals.[2]

    The militia has also been noted for its extensive recruitment of child soldiers. Experts consider it likely that the majority of the rebels are minors.[1][16] Child soldiers are promised jobs and money, and then often given drugs and alcohol in order to motivate them to fight.[1][2]

    Due to its splintered nature, the rebellion has no clear goals.[2] Commonly made demands by members of the militia are, however: Return of and the proper burial of their slain leader, to which the government conceded in March/April 2017,[5][10] 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 that the agreement between Kabila and the opposition from the December 2016 Congolese protests be implemented.[5]


    Ethnic cleansing

    The conflict has evolved from a rebellion against the state to involve ethnic violence.[12] Most of the people who constitute the Kamwina Nsapu militia are from the Luba people[11] and are reportedly targeting the Pende and Chokwe.[12] On 24 March 2017, militiamen reportedly killed and decapitated at least 40 policemen, and only spared six who spoke the local Tshiluba language.[13][34] The Bana Mura militia, a largely Chokwe group, committed a string of ethnically motivated attacks against the Luba and Lulua. They have been linked to the government and victims attest that the army and police have accompanied them in attacks.[12] They were reported to have committed atrocities such as cutting off toddlers’ limbs and stabbing pregnant women while mutilating fetuses[35] and are blamed for the murder of 49 minors in 2017.[3]

    Child soldiers

    Reportedly half the Kamwina Nsapu militia is under the age of 14,[16] with some being as young as five,[5] and Congolese authorities claim they are under the influence of drugs.[16]


    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.[3][36]

    International reactions

    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 they were "concerned about the persistent conflict in the Kasais".[37] They condemned the "recruitment and use of child soldiers" and "the disproportionate use of force" by the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in retaliation.[37]

    In his angelus on 16 February 2017, Pope Francis called for an end to the violence, especially the use of child soldiers.[38][39] 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.".[40]

    On 19 February 2017, Mark C. Toner, the Deputy Spokesperson of the United States Department of State called for an investigation into the video of the alleged Mwanza Lomba massacre.[25][41]

    On 20 February 2017, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development also called for an investigation into the video.[42][43] In an official statement, they 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.".[44]

    On 13 March 2017, two UN investigators were murdered in Kasai, both the Congo government and the Kamunia Nsapu militia naming each other as the culprits. A video published by the Congo govt. April 24 seems to point to the militia.[45]


    1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 de Freytas-Tamura, Kimiko (28 July 2017). "Who’s in Congo’s Mass Graves? And Why Are Soldiers Guarding Them?". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 September 2017. 
    2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 Byaruhanga, Catherine (24 April 2017). "DR Congo's Kasai conflict: Voodoo rebels take on Kabila". BBC. Retrieved 25 September 2017. 
    3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 "UN reports 251 killings in DR Congo’s Kasai, 62 children among dead". The Independent. 5 August 2017. Retrieved 7 August 2017. 
    4. "UN accuses Congo-backed militia of crimes against toddlers, others". The News Nigeria. 20 June 2017. 
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