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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Lunda, Yeke in the Dem. Rep. of the Congo

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Dem. Rep. of the Congo Facts
Area:    2,345,410 sq. km.
Capital:    Kinshasa
Total Population:    49,000,000 (source: unknown, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

At present, the Lunda/Yeke of the DRC’s Katanga, or Shaba, region have been negatively affected by the ongoing violence. However, the region exists west of the worst conflict, so the Lunda may be removed from the worst effects of the violence. However, it is difficult to predict the future of the Lunda given the volatile nature of war. For example, what would occur if Angolan troops (largely their patrons) pulled out, or what the lingering consequences of Lunda-Luba hostilities of the early 1990s would mean for a post-war DRC? Recently, the 2006 elections outcome threatened to reignite tensions between the Luba and the Lunda. The last major rupture in relations between these two groups in 1992-1993 led to the death of about 10,000 Luba and the displacement of thousands more. Thus, government repression and a new fledgling democracy following the 2006 elections may further place the group at risk for protest and violence. Although Lunda secessionist demands have been dormant, this is no guarantee that Katangans have forgotten their push for full independence. As such, the Lunda and Yeke must still be considered at risk for rebellion within the DRC due to 1.) territorial concentration, 2.) regime instability and 3.) recent government repression.

Furthermore, resentment over resources may also put the Lunda at risk. The Lunda and Luba inhabit a resource rich locale, and yet sources indicate that the Luba have more access to education and to the exploitation of those resources than their Lunda counterparts.


Analytic Summary

The Lunda, who sometimes are referred to as native Katangans, setting them apart from the Luba who immigrated into the province during colonialism, occupy the Shaba/Katanga region in the southeast of the DRC (GROUPCON = 3). A small number of Lunda can also be found in the neighboring Kasai Province. The resource-rich area, containing copper, ivory, diamonds and salt, has a long history of conflict and conquest. Prior to colonization, the Lunda had established an empire during the 16th century with a centralized authority structure. They conquered neighboring people and controlled the ivory trade in the region. The Chokwe tribe would later attack the sprawling kingdom, which would succumb to the pressures of Belgian colonization in 1885. Under colonialism tensions grew as the Lunda became resentful of the Luba-Kasai, who were generally favored by the Belgians and were brought into Katanga in the mid-20th century to work the mines. Following Zaire’s independence in 1960, the Lunda fought for the secession of the Katanga province (REB60X = 7), naming Moïse Tshombe their president. However, the secessionists were defeated in 1963 both on the battlefield and in the voting booths by Katanga’s growing Luba population. While large-scale guerrilla insurgencies flared up once again in Katanga in 1977 and 1978 (REB75X = 6), these rebellions were quelled by the central government under Mobutu Seso Seko.

At independence from Belgium, the Lunda leader Moïse Tshombe and his organization Conakat (Confederation of Katangan Associates) fought for the secession. Conakat supporters were largely drawn from the Lunda and Yeke ethnic groups. These two peoples were highly resentful of the Luba-Kasai who had, over time, become the administrative and business leaders in the region. These economic and political advantages fueled the resentment of the Lunda and Yeke who described themselves as "authentic” or “native Katangans." In 1957, the Luba-Kasai scored another victory in the region by winning the majority of urban council seats in the 1957 election. Consequently, Tshombe unsuccessfully attempted to oust the Luba-Kasai from the region as part of his secessionist strategy.

A further threat to Conakat came from other Luba elements indigenous to the region. They set up a rival political organization, Balubakat (Association of the Luba People of Katanga), led by Jason Sendwe. Balubakat soon entered into an alliance with Patrice Lumumba's branch of the MNC (Congolese Nationalist Movement). The Luba-Kasai also formed their own political organization, Fedeka (Federation of Kasai). The Luba were divided in their support, the Luba-Kasai gave their loyalty to MNC-Kalonji (headed by Albert Kalonji, a Luba-Kasai) while the Luba-Katanga gave their loyalty to MNC-Lumumba. The two branches of MNC were in competition for control of the country at independence. Eventually, MNC-Lumumba prevailed. This split between the two Luba groups aided Conakat's bid for secession that would last three years. When the rebellion was finally quelled, Tshombe was sent into exile before later being recalled to serve as Prime Minister. By November 1965, Tshombe, as Prime Minister, and Joseph Kasavubu, a Bakongo, as president, were at a stalemate. As a result of the stagnation of the government, Mobutu Sese Seko grabbed the reigns of power and ruled until mid-1997.

Two additional attempts to secede were undertaken by the people of Katanga (also known as Shaba) in the late 1970s. In March 1977, a Zairean insurgency group invaded Shaba from Angola and was defeated by the government with help from France, Belgium, and the United States which provided military supplies, and by Morocco and Egypt which provided combat troops and pilots, respectively. This is known as Shaba I. In May 1978, Shaba II took place. The same insurgency group again invaded Shaba and was again defeated, this time with the help of French and Belgian troops and with the help of U.S. Air Force logistical support. These two invasions were among the greatest challenges to Mobutu's regime in the years since he had seized power. The people of Katanga desired a degree of autonomy because their region produces most of the wealth of Zaire and they feel the centralized government did not do an adequate job of exploiting the natural resources of the region or of using the wealth for the people of the region. Mobutu had used profits from the resources of the region to build up Kinshasa. This fueled the Katangans' resentment of outsiders. Katangans also saw themselves as distinct from the rest of the DRC and maintained their traditional ways of life during the Belgian colonization.

In 1990, President Mobutu announced that he would allow democratic elections under a multi-party system. Subsequently, in 1991, Etienne Tshisekedi formed a parallel government in the DRC. Three opposition leaders played major roles in the Katanga region between 1990 and 1996. In addition to Etienne Tshisekedi, a Luba-Kasai, the two other leaders were Nguz Karl-i-Bond and Gabriel Kyungu, both native Katangans. They were united in opposition for some months until Karl-i-Bond and Kyungu were lured away to the government. Karl-i-Bond was appointed prime minister and Kyungu the governor of Katanga. Kyungu became the first native Katangan to become governor of the region. When these two Katangans defected to the government, they immediately turned their criticism from Mobutu to the "enemy within" viz. the Luba-Kasai in Katanga. In 1992, the Luba opposition was in a position to force Mobutu to accept a prime minister from their ranks, and Tshisekedi assumed that post. He was fired by Mobutu shortly thereafter, but maintained that he was the only true prime minister because he was elected to the post by a transitional council

Under the Mobutu Sese Seko regime, the Lunda and Yeke were often used as pawns, on the one hand being encouraged to drive out the Luba-Kasai (in 1992-93, it is estimated that at least 10,000 people, mostly Luba-Kasai, were killed and 250,000 left Shaba for Kasai), but on the other gaining little representation within the central government. The economic dimension is critical in the region as well as the people of Katanga have wanted a degree of autonomy largely because their region produces most of the wealth of Zaire, and yet its wealth is not translated into local prosperity (ECDIS06 = 2).

Curiously enough, the political activism of Lunda in pre- and early-post colonial Zaire is not currently apparent in the DRC. This may be due to their small numbers, their geographic position far removed from the capital, their function primarily as fishermen and agrarians, or the fact that the Luba-Kasai, who made up one-half the population of Shaba, had been largely driven out of Katanga by 1995. Without posing an active threat to the central government, and protected by Angolan troops both sympathetic to the Lunda and against the rebel opposition since "Africa’s First World War" began in 1998, the Lunda face little political discrimination, although this may be due to their dropping the claim for full Katangan independence (POLDIS06 = 2). However, after the January 2001 assassination of Laurent Kabila, members of the Lunda ethnic group were arrested. The members include Colonel Kapend and General Nawej. In 2005, police forces carried out more arrests of Lunda members following fears of a new bid for secession (REPNVIOL05 = 3; REPVIOL05 = 3).



“Congo, Democratic Republic of the: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.” US Department of State. 2001-2006

“Katanga: The Congo’s Forgotten Crisis.” International Crisis Group. Report 103. 9 Jan. 2006. [accessed 04/27/07]

Negotiating Citizenship in Africa: The Politics of Citizenship in the DRC.” Centre of African Studies, University of Edinburgh. Annual International Conference. 19-20 May 2004. [accessed 6/30/04]

O’Ballance, Edgar. The Congo-Zaire Experience, 1960-98. St. Martin’s Press: New York, 2000.

Turner, Thomas. “Kabila Returns in a Cloud of Uncertainty.” African Studies Quarterly.

Various articles, LexisNexis, 2004-2006.

Zaire: A country study. Sandra W. Meditz and Tim Merrill, eds. Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. US government Printing Office: Washington, DC, 1994.


© 2004 - 2022 • Minorities At Risk Project

Information current as of December 31, 2006