AFRICA/DR CONGO - The "patriots" of the Wazalendo militias become a danger to the population

Saturday, 27 April 2024

Kinshasa (Agenzia Fides) - Among the more than 100 different armed groups active in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (including mercenaries from Eastern Europe), the "Wazalendo" have acquired a special importance due to their mixture of armed movement and sectarian/religious group. The term Wazalendo means "patriots" in Swahili, but is also used in the name of the messianic sect "Agano La Uwezo Wa Neno"/Wazalendo, whose leader, Éphraïm Bisimwa, was sentenced to death last October for the serious incidents in Goma on August 30, 2023, which broke out during the protests against the presence of the blue helmets of the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), which left more than 50 people dead. The term is therefore not entirely clear, but ultimately it is a general name for one of the many armed vigilante groups that have emerged since President Félix Tshisekedi called on civilians in eastern DRC to take up arms and fight against what he called the "expansionist ambitions" of the M23 in November 2022.
Since then, 40,000 new recruits have joined the ranks of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC), according to Kinshasa.
Even before President Tshisekedi's recall, the alliance between the military and the armed groups, which have often been fighting each other for years and whose leaders are accused of war crimes, had been concluded in secret in May 2022 at a meeting in Pinga, a remote village between Walikalé and Masisi. It is now official and has a legal basis. The promise to integrate the members of these armed groups, although not fulfilled, allowed President Tshisekedi to gain their support in the presidential elections that led to his re-election. The militiamen, led by commanders without formal military training, often use violence against the people they claim to defend. Bloody clashes have also occurred between different Wazalendo factions. The Archbishop of Kinshasa, Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, pointed out in an interview with Fides (See Fides 18/4/2024) that "armed groups end up becoming a danger to the population by looting citizens, committing robberies and murders, and engaging in the illegal trade in minerals". (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 27/4/2024)