‘Change of Plans’ – Blog 3
Identities are prevalent in any society, as a political entity or a loosely grouped community of people. These identities constitute part of the fibre of the national, regional, and local identity. The Congo is imbued with multiple national, regional, and local identities, which make up the fibre of its being. Katanga, for example has a long standing reputation for being a large mining hub, for being more closely associated to the South because of early trading patters adopted by its colonial predecessors, and a regular and nominal degree of discontent with the political structure of the Congo, among a variety of other things. But this set of stereotypes, typically rests with the southern part of the province and does not include the northern areas for a host of reasons – the geographical space, investment, ethnic ties, etc. Northern Katanga was more agriculturally based, and as such, has seen less investment since independence causing there to be an ever increasing division between the lives of those in the south and those in the north. Also, a historic division exists between the two. In the 1960s Katangan Secession, Northern Katanga re-aligned itself with the Central Government and quickly formed groups that could more accurately and easily attack the interior of the Republic of Katanga. This longstanding North-South divide brings into question how do we re-assess the Mai-Mai and the Simbas, as groups both known to agitate for the independence of Katanga but from vastly different geographical areas of Katanga?
The Mai-Mai Bakata are a group or smaller bands of rebels from Northern Katanga led by Commander Gedeon. They have become more active in Central Katanga since his escape from prison in Lubumbashi in September 2011. Additionally, their web is becoming increasingly entangled as they become less discriminate about their attacks – larger villages across the province, more important establishments, and a variety of declarations and ultimatums issued to Kinshasa that are raising eyebrows with locals. Alternatively, the Simbas are the historic and well-known secessionist fighters of Katanga with a long-term presence throughout the southern part of the province. They were a cross boundary group focusing on early ethnic ties, rather than colonial bounded identities. Furthermore, they were considered locally as a proper military unit – equipped with uniforms, military training, machinery, and loyalty to the cause and people that they were serving. Several original Simbas, commenting after the events of March 23, were willing to openly question the motives of the Bakata, as to who they were and what they were doing, going further as to say they aren’t the secessionist fighters of Katanga because they lack the mentality and proper military tactics to be Simbas. The comments made by original Simbas entirely disregarded the concept of another group fighting for the independence of Katanga.
This dichotomy between the Simbas and the Bakata, the North and the South, and the old and the young, poses the question of, “what’s changed”? The easiest answer is that the Simbas are older and a historic group, whereas the Bakata are not. However, this does not look at the reality of the situation, as the Simbas are still alive and well. Alternatively, should we consider that this enough to actually create a cohesive identity within the province? Would that sit well with the local secessionists in the south, who seem to disregard other secessionist groups as false because of their lack of history. It has been sixty years since secession and migrant patterns have steadily increased across and within the province, so it could very well signify a cohesion of the North and South, creating a more significant secessionist movement, that would be led from a variety of groups but with one goal. Comparing the these groups should be quite easy, one is local and still carries the traditional values and ideals of the Katangan secession from 1960; whereas the other has suddenly regrouped itself as an organization for Katanga. But is it that simple? Identities are constantly in flux and to suppose that a secessionist ideology is stagnating and unchanging is a vastly dense political arena would be ludicrous. Furthermore, the concept that the Simbas have personal and private control over secessionist ideologies and claims related to Katangan independence takes power and authority over such events away from the masses.
However, adding to the Simbas dismay is the appearance of other small groups that are starting to appear across Katanga, who are also advocating or espousing the ideals of secession. While these groups may not have the same blunt tactics as the Bakata and probably won’t march through Lubumbashi next month, the late night discussions and trainings that are occurring should cast a worrisome cloud across the future of Katanga. These groups are a sign of not only the people’s discontent with the national leadership, but a resurgence of regional identity that is exclusive to Katanga.
Catherine Porter, doctoral scholar, University of Cambridge, firstname.lastname@example.org