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The “untold” DR Congo massacre that still haunts survivors

More than 500 members of the Banunu community were slaughtered on December 16-17 in Yumbi

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A member of the Congolese armed forces walks past the office of the electoral commission which was destroyed during tribal clashes in the Yumbi region. - AFP

Wounded in the head and chest and with her children in tow, Miniunga Bonkita fled to the haven of an island in the Congo River, a sliver of land between two nations.

“I stumbled across the assailants as I was returning home,” the young mother told AFP. 

“They shot at me,” she said. “I fell and then they started beating me.” 

More than 500 fellow members of the Banunu community were slaughtered on December 16-17 in Yumbi, a remote region in western DR Congo – a massacre whose full details are only now emerging, almost two months later.

Bonkita found refuge with her children and about 100 other Banunus on Moniende island in the river that has given its name to countries on both banks: the vast Democratic Republic of Congo, once ruled by Belgium, and the smaller Republic of Congo, a former French colony.

Yumbi, located in Mai-Ndombi province, lies about 400 kilometres (250 miles) north of Kinshasa, reached by a difficult two-day boat trip from the capital.

At least 535 people were slaughtered, according to a UN toll based on a count of the bodies.

Almost all the victims were members of the Banunu ethnic group, hunted down by armed men from the Batende community.

Authorities have presented the killings as an act of spontaneous violence — tensions between rival communities that exploded in a dispute over the burial of a Banunu tribal chief.

But several sources in the area told AFP that the bloodbath was carefully planned using military-style tactics, and some assailants wore army uniforms.

At least 16,000 people have fled over the river to the Republic of Congo, many of them seeking shelter in the district of Makotimpoko, according to authorities in Brazzaville.

“They came in dugout canoes, some of them paddling with their hands because they had no oar. They were bare-chested, without clothes,” said Father Gicquaire, the priest at Makotimpoko.

Bosukisa Montole, cradling a son who had been wounded in the neck, said: “We rushed to the river to try to escape. We were lucky because we didn’t run into people with weapons on the way there. But when we were making our way across in the canoe, my child and my wife were shot at.”

Survivor Lobota Lifuna said: “As we fled, we could see the Batende chopping children into pieces on the river bank.”

AFP reached Bongende, the worst-hit of four villages in Yumbi, with at least 339 residents slain.

Almost two months after the attack, the fishing village was almost completely deserted.

The houses have been burned down, looted and destroyed, and the silence is heavy.

No one is there apart from a contingent of naval troops deployed to guard the area, and Beladi Kaninda, a local villager who acts as a sort of macabre tour guide for the rare visitor.

“There are nearly 100 bodies in this common grave — in the other one over there, nearly 70,” said Kaninda.

Photos and amateur videos made in the days after the massacre show that mutilation, including the genital mutilation of women and young girls, was carried out almost systematically.

“We are worried about the psychological repercussions” for survivors, said Fabrizio Andriolo of Doctors without Borders (MSF), one of the very few medical teams in the area.

“They have no wish to go home. They are afraid,” a UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) official said in Makotimpoko.

The slaughter also meant the postponement in Yumbi of the December 30 presidential election, long awaited in the vast country with a huge mineral heritage and a history of bloodshed.

The killings have been blamed officially on the row over the burial of a tribal chief, but local people say there is a deep-rooted rivalry over resources.

The Batende lay claim to ownership of the land in Yumbi. 

“The Banunu came here after us. They don’t want to respect our traditional rights. They exploit our land, our fields, our water sources. Normally they are obliged to pay tribal duties each month. That’s the reason for all this conflict,” said Ejekiel Mabiala, head of the Batende community at Molende, south of Yumbi.

Eyewitness accounts and evidence seen by AFP suggests that the attacks were not only premeditated but had support from local authorities and elements within the security forces.

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Africa News & Updates

Journalists’ association condemns police threats in Somali

Police at a checkpoint near the site of Saturday’s bombing in Mogadishu, which killed eight people

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somalia journalists bash police

A Somali journalists’ association Sunday slammed the actions of police who it said threatened to shoot reporters trying to access the scene of a car bombing near parliament and warned of a “worsening situation” for the country’s press.

Police at a checkpoint near the site of Saturday’s bombing in Mogadishu, which killed eight people and was claimed by the Al-Shabaab jihadist group, stopped a group of reporters from international newsgroups.

“When the journalists tried to explain to the police about their reporting mission, a police officer fired two bullets (in the) air and then pointed his rifle on Jama Nur’s head, according to Jama Nur Ahmed and two other colleagues,” the Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS) said in a statement.

Also in the group were journalists from Reuters, AFP and Turkey’s Anadolu news agency, followed by a second wave of reporters who were similarly denied access.

“The journalists said the police officers told them they had orders restricting journalist coverage at the scenes of attacks and threatened that any journalist who tries to film will either be shot dead or his/her equipment will be broken resulting (in) the journalists to return back from the scene,” said the SJS.

It charged Somali police treat journalists “like criminals”, preventing them from doing their work of reporting on events in the country. “This is a symptom of a worsening situation against journalists in Somalia”.

It said that on May 14 police confiscated reporters’ equipment, detained a cameraman, and beat up two others trying to report on another Mogadishu explosion.  

AFP has documented several incidents in recent months of journalists being intimidated and threatened and their equipment seized while trying to report on Shabaab attacks.

The SJS called on the Ministry of Information, the commissioner of police and the office of the prime minister to open an investigation, “and take appropriate steps against those responsible.”

“We call the highest offices of the government including that of the Office of the Prime Minister to intervene in order to for the journalists to report freely and accurately without fear,” said the statement.

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Africa News & Updates

DR Congo’s government move to reform the economy as Cobalt prices dip

DR Congo is the world’s top producer of cobalt, a key component for rechargeable batteries needed for smartphones and electric cars

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The Democratic Republic of Congo’s new leadership is under mounting pressure to diversify the country’s economy from its dependence on raw materials following the plunge in the price of cobalt. Economic experts currently visiting the country have a sobering figure on which to base their work: over the past year, the price of cobalt on the London Metal Exchange has tumbled from $80,000 to $28,000.

DR Congo is the world’s top producer of cobalt, a key component for rechargeable batteries needed for smartphones and electric cars. But economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest country is on the same roller coaster as the global cobalt price.

“GDP growth increased to 5.8 per cent from 3.7 per cent in 2017, driven by a sharp increase in cobalt prices,” the International Monetary Fund said earlier this month in a report of DR Congo’s economy. “GDP growth is projected to decelerate to 4.3 per cent in 2019 based on the assumption of a slowdown in mining activity in the context of lower cobalt prices,” it added.

In another sign of DR Congo’s heavy reliance on mining and metals exports, that deceleration comes amid growth more than doubling in the rest of the economy thanks to public investment and post-election optimism. Either way, DR Congo’s GDP is small when compared to the size of the country and its population.

At less than $40 billion for 81 million inhabitants in 2017, according to World Bank figures, that translates into less than $2 per day per person on average. The IMF mission “focused on policies that would lead to diversifying the economy and tackling high levels of poverty and unemployment in the context of a rapidly expanding population,” according to the report.

Diversification and transformation of the nation’s economy is also the theme of the sixth French Kinshasa week organised by the Franco-Congolese Chamber of Commerce and Industry. With 80 per cent of DR Congo’s export revenues generated by the mining sector, this “creates a vulnerability due to the volatility in the prices of its main raw material exports” noted the organisers.

Liberalisation amidst cobalt price dip

They said possibilities in numerous other sectors needed to be explored for growth opportunities: agriculture and food, textiles, tourism, communications, transportation services, forestry, energy, pharmaceuticals and recycling.

France is keen to promote an initiative recently unveiled by President Emmanuel Macron to provide 2.5 billion euros in financing to 100,000 African startups as well as small and medium-sized companies by 2022. But the best intentions in business development must confront the problems of doing business in a country still trying to fix its patchy tax revenue collection amidst corruption.

One economic analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity said: “fifty per cent of the containers that enter the Matadi river port don’t pay customs duties”. The IMF urged the new president Felix Tshisekedi “to expedite the adoption of the proposed anti-corruption law” and the creation of an independent anti-corruption commission.

The IMF also expressed concern about low tax collection. Reforms in some areas are moving ahead, albeit slowly. The insurance sector has been liberalised with three operators licensed to take over from the former state monopoly Sonas. And mining multinationals will be meeting in Lubumbashi to discuss the plunge in cobalt prices and the impact last year’s reform of the mining code has had.

Mining expert Chantelle Kotze said the reform increased taxes and royalties paid on strategic minerals such as cobalt and coltan, an ore that is another crucial element for the production of electric car batteries.

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Africa’s top scorers ready to slug it out in Group B at the AFCON 2019

Let us run the rule over the Group B hopefuls and assess their prospects in the biennial African football showpiece

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Nigeria's AFCON 2019 squad

The sharpest shooters in 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying, Odion Ighalo of Nigeria and Fiston Abdul Razak of Burundi, will come face to face in Group B at the finals this month. While Ighalo and his Super Eagles team-mates are favoured to top the four-nation table and advance to the knockout stage in Egypt, Abdul Razak and the Swallows may struggle.   

Burundi are the lowest ranked of the 24 sides at the June 21-July 19 tournament and the best they can be expected to hope for is third place below Nigeria and Guinea and above Madagascar. The countries finishing first and second are guaranteed round-of-16 slots while the best four of the six third-placed teams also qualify.

Let us run the rule over the Group B hopefuls and assess their prospects in the biennial African football showpiece:


The tiny central African country secured a first appearance at the expense of favoured Gabon despite drawing four of six qualifiers.

Algeria-based Abdul Razak starred with six goals at an average of one per match — a total bettered only by Ighalo, who netted seven times. But having tormented the defences of Mali, Gabon and South Sudan, can he wreak more havoc against the Nigerian and Guinean defences?

Olivier Niyungeko, who has succeeded where a string of foreign coaches failed, chose Burundians based in 13 countries and also picked one local, goalkeeper Jonathan Nahimana.

Verdict: an early exit looms


A squad coached by Paul Put hope poor dress rehearsals will be transformed into a grand opening night against Madagascar. Warm-up losses to lower-ranked opponents the Gambia and Benin in Morocco could sow self doubts and there has also been the distraction of injured midfield star Naby Keita.

He injured a thigh playing for Liverpool at Barcelona in the Champions League semifinals and admits to “not yet being fully fit”.

Put, who took outsiders Burkina Faso to the 2013 final, will expect a lot from Ibrahima Traore, a winger based in Germany whose footwork can bewilder even the tightest defences.

Verdict: Quarter-finals a realistic goal


Like Burundi, the Indian Ocean islanders who are making their Cup of Nations debut will eye third place and qualification as one of the four best teams in that position. French coach Nicolas Dupuis has worked wonders with a side that got to Egypt by finishing above Equatorial Guinea and Sudan, and he also coaches a lower-league club in his homeland.

He believes practice makes perfect, saying: “Madagascar used to play three or four matches a year and we’re going nowhere. We now make full use of every international window.” Dupuis has also convinced France-born Thomas Fontaine, Romain Metanire, Jerome Mombris and Jeremy Morel to represent a country they are linked to through parents or grandparents.

Verdict: reaching second round would complete a fairytale


The three-time champions are back at the Cup of Nations after unexpectedly lifting the trophy in 2013 and then failing to qualify for the next two editions. They should take advantage of a kind draw and cruise into the second round, but Nigerian supporters will expect much more from a team coached by experienced German Gernot Rohr.

When the Cup of Nations was last staged by Egypt in 2006, the Super Eagles finished third behind the host nation and the Ivory Coast. Apart from former Watford forward Ighalo, Spain-based Samuel Chukwueze could be a major threat having scored regularly for Villarreal in La Liga last season.

Verdict: Anything less than a semi-final place will be considered failure

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