World, Life, Africa

Superstitions and militias replace army in eastern DRC

Congolese local self-defense groups use rituals that they say can shield from bullets

11.11.2016
Superstitions and militias replace army in eastern DRC FILE PHOTO

By Joseph Tsongo

BENI, Democratic Republic of Congo

People who had suffered from two decades of massacres carried out by armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo say they no longer have confidence in an army that has failed to protect them.

More and more youths are adhering to local self-defense groups that adopt several rituals which aim to insulate them -- they say -- against all kinds of attacks.

This can for instance entail incisions on certain parts of the body, tattoos or talismans "to be able to face attacks."

Most of the youths who lend themselves to these rituals are convinced that neither bullets nor machetes can harm them.

Neither sensitization efforts by local administrations nor the massacres that continue have managed to convince them of "the futility of such rituals".

Last month, a self-defense group equipped with knives and fetishes made a triumphal entry into the town of Beni, coming from Butembo, in North Kivu. They claimed that are fighting alleged members of Uganda Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).

The ADF, which has been based in the eastern DRC since 1995, is made up of several armed groups opposed to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

Between 1,200 and 1,300 civilians have been killed by the ADF since October 2014, according to a local Congolese NGO.

"The failure of the army to eliminate the rebels, reveals either its incompetence or its complicity with them," Didier, a new member of the group told Anadolu Agency.

Didier is not the only one who has decided to learn the rituals of the vigilante group. Many residents of Beni from all ages and all social classes chose to do the same.

To receive an incision, new members do not hesitate to wait for hours in front of the office the one called "docta", meaning doctor.

The “docta” uses a razor blade and makes an incision in the chest, hand or forehead then he inserts a powder obtained from a mixture of burnt herbs, Didier said.

"I am guided by my ancestors who speak to me at night and indicate to me the herbs I have to search for in the bush," said a young "docta" who prefers to remain anonymous and keep secret the recipes of his magical potions.

He also said that without the respect for certain rules, the incision may not have the desired protective effect. Whoever gets an incision must not steal, rape , consume pork or certain vegetables. He said those who violate these rules may be reached by the enemy’s bullets.

Several self-defense groups practice this incision ritual. Dufont Kakimba, from another group, the Patriot Resistant Mai-Mai told Anadolu Agency that "it is powder that protects them against all kinds of attacks, it is necessary above all to have faith and believe."

"Once incised, we are no longer afraid of anything, you feel strong and confident," he says.

Confronted with this phenomenon, local governments have attempted to sensitize the population through campaigns telling people that these practices were irrational and useless and that only the army could defend them against the enemy.

That is one of the reasons why the governor of North Kivu Julien Paluku Kahongya visited Beni and Butembo on Oct. 15.

He reminded inhabitants that the rituals would not improve security in the region but instead added chaos to chaos.

"This phenomenon of incision that is added to the acts of anthropophagy and lynching in the region constitute a danger to the community," he warned.

Local radios and NGOs have also broadcast programs and organized public gatherings on the subject.

Efforts that have unfortunately not yet delivered their fruits, an official of the local administration who preferred to stay anonymous said.

Since Hutu refugees came from Rwanda in 1994, self-defense groups are created every day in eastern DRC, said the NGO Union of Young Actors for Peace (UJAP), which has identified about 100.

Each group has its own ideology and operate in a given area according to interests and ethnicity, concludes UJAP.

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