Saturday, May 26, 2007

Congo's Ghosts

Guerrillas kill rare Gorilla's.

It is the Ghost's of Africa returning. Like the Mountain Gorilla's themselves
,having been rumored for hundreds of years but only actually identified as such in 1905, the Mayi-Mayi are a thing of myth and magic.

Warriors threaten to kill rare gorillas in Virunga National Park

Illegal living; May be reprisal for government crackdowns

Peter Goodspeed, National Post

Published: Thursday, May 24, 2007

Guerrillas are threatening to slaughter half the world's rare mountain gorillas living in a wildlife reserve in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

About 200 Mayi-Mayi, warriors who dabble in black magic and cannibalism, attacked three observation posts in Virunga National Park earlier this week, killing one warden and gravely injuring four others.

The Mayi-Mayi, tribal militias led by individual warlords, remain one of the most powerful forces in the area. They have a reputation for ruthlessness and are responsible for rampant human rights abuses.

They also practice magic on a scale that borders on the bizarre. During the civil war, the fighters would sing and dance their way into battle, wearing garlands of vines, which they believed made them invisible. They also frequently sported shower hoses, drain plugs or faucets around their necks to turn enemy bullets into water.

The Mayi-Mayi have been known to cannibalize fallen enemies, eating the hearts of their victims. They have repeatedly clashed with park rangers in Virunga, which was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979, but has also been earmarked as an endangered site since 1994.

Congo Fighting Threatens Rare Gorillas

Renegade fighters attacked observation posts in an eastern Congo nature reserve, killing one ranger and threatening to slaughter a band of rare gorillas if security forces launch a counteroffensive, conservationists said Monday.

About 200 of the Mayi-Mayi fighters who remain active after Congo's ruinous 1998-2002 civil war attacked three posts Sunday in Virunga National Park, Wildlife Direct said in a statement. One ranger died and three were injured in the attack, said the group, which is active in the area.

If security forces attack, the Mayi-Mayi are threatening to wipe out a nearby group of gorillas, it said.

The fighters "are doing everything to sabotage the good intentions of well- intentioned conservationists," the group quoted park director Norbert Mushenzi as saying.

Fighters in the region killed endangered mountain gorillas in January and Mayi-Mayi fighters machine-gunned hundreds of hippos in eastern Congo in late 2006, the group said.

Many people in deeply impoverished eastern Congo subsist on "bush meat" - or the flesh of animals like chimpanzees, monkeys and gorillas that may include rare and protected species. The region is deeply impoverished after years of neglect, war and ongoing strife, sullying efforts by conservationists to protect endangered species.

The Mayi-Mayi fought on the side of government troops during Congo's war, and many have resisted joining a postwar army in the country also guarded by thousands of U.N. peacekeeping forces.

Famed for their looting and raping sprees, the Mayi-Mayi also claim many parts of Congo's east as their domain, bringing them into conflict with park rangers charged with protecting the Central African nation's dwindling wildlife.

In January, WildlifeDirect accused rebel fighters loyal to a renegade Congolese army general of butchering two silverback gorillas - adult males so called because of their grey colouring.

But the rebel fighters of General Laurent Nkunda later agreed to stop killing the rare primates.

Richard Leakey, Chairman of WildlifeDirect and credited with ending the slaughter of elephants in Kenya in the 1980s, said more than 150 wildlife rangers have been killed on active service since the beginning of armed conflict in eastern Congo.

Violence in North Kivu province has been on the rise in recent months due to failing efforts to integrate rebel fighters into the ranks of the national army.

Civilians say abuses have increased, often by these "mixed" army units.

Congo-Kinshasa: Monthly Human Rights Assessment - April 2007

The Mai Mai movement first began as a peasant uprising in the 1960s.

The group, said to be part of the Mai Mai rebel movement, which has been known to eat gorillas and whose fighters believe they are impervious to bullets

"Mayi-Mayi are civilians who have been resisting the Rwanda occupation, " Mr Kirubi told the BBC, adding that the Kinshasa government fully supported the tribal warriors.

The mountain gorillas themselves are the stuff of myth and mirth. The largest of all living primates, the animals have a strong upper body and muscular arms and broad hands and feet, closely resembling human hands and feet. It is this deceptively awkward body structure that inspired the first Godzilla film, which featured what essentially was a giant gorilla.

Because the animals generally live in dense forests at high altitudes, they are covered by a thick blanket of body hair, giving them an out-of-the-tropics look. The thick hair enables them to live in altitudes where temperatures routinely drop below freezing point.

The mystic aura of the mountain gorillas was greatly enhanced when researchers, including the famed Jane Goddall, realised that despite their great physical strength, they are generally shy and gentle beings living primarily on plants.

Gorilla mother and baby in Virunga National Park.

The Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, has written to Joseph Kabila, President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and to Jean-Marie Guehenno, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, asking for measures to stop the poaching and killing of endangered animals in the five World Heritage sites of the DRC.

The Director-General's initiative follows reports that several hundred hippopotami and at least two mountain gorillas have been killed in recent months in the Virunga National Park, inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1979 and on the World Heritage List in Danger in 1994. DRC's four other World Heritage sites - the nationals parks of Garamba, Kahuzi-Giega, Salonga and the Okapi Wildlife Reserve - are all inscribed on the Danger List.

Close encounters of the Rwandan gorilla kind

Like other indigenous native movements the Mayi-Mayi are similar to the native American Ghost Shirt Societies (see; Iraqi Ghost Dance) and their counterparts in the later Kenyan uprising against British Colonialism; the Mau-Mau.

The Mau-Mau, like the Mayi-Mayi were accused by the British of using magic.

It has been said that no one knows the real meaning of "Mau-Mau" other than a Kikuyu (also Gikuyu) tribesperson and that is because its name, like its origins, is shrouded in ancient African tribal mysteries and covered in blood. On the other hand, some authorities claim that the name was invented by European settlers and applied to the native insurrectionists in Kenya. At any rate, the name was first heard among the white population of Africa in 1948 when police officials in the British colony of Kenya began to receive rumors of strange ceremonies being held late at night in the jungle. These midnight assemblies were said to be bestial rituals that mocked Christian rites and included the eating of human flesh and the drinking of blood. Then came the reports of native people being dragged from their beds at night, being beaten or maimed, and forced to swear oaths of initiation to a secret society. In each case, their assailants were said to be members of a secret society called the Mau-Mau.

Black & Red Magic | TIME

In the British Crown Colony of Kenya, while 3,000 coal-black tribesmen, huddled in a kraal, watched in awe, a goat was slowly beaten to death and buried alongside a virgin ewe. After that ancient rite, supposedly strong magic against evil, an official representative of the Great White Queen Across the Waters pronounced a solemn curse against the Mau-Mau. The Mau-Mau (rhymes with yoyo) is a native secret society which has lately been worrying the British. London is afraid that the Mau-Mau might plunge Britain's East African empire into guerrilla war, and turn Kenya into another Malaya.

In recent years, the black 97% of Kenya's population has banded together in a dozen fanatic, anti-white secret societies run by witch doctors and pledged to the slogan: "Africa for the Africans." One called itself the "Men of God"; another was the "Spirits of the Dead," led by a soccer player named Elijah, who used his soccer medals to persuade the tribesmen that he was divine. The Mau-Mau is the most feared and successful of them all. From their jungle hideouts, Mau-Mau raiders burn the huts of tribesmen who go to work for the white man (at 7¢ a day), murder white farmers with knobkerries and assagais, snipe at British officials.

Their whispered propaganda makes much of the fact that 3,000 whites monopolize almost all the fertile land in the cool "White Highlands," leaving the blacks to grub for a living in barren, low-lying "reserves." The Mau-Mau teaches that the white man's medicine (e.g., anti-rinderpest inoculation) kills instead of curing, and that pregnant black women are aborted in white hospitals.

Kenya's British police have caught and jailed 1,000 Mau-Mau blacks, flogged thousands more. Yet the secret society is growing at a pace that suggests professional organization and funds from abroad. The Mau-Mau's leader, Kenya officials are sure, is black-bearded Jomo ("Burning Spear") Kenyatta, 50, a thickset Kikuyu dandy, who runs the outwardly respectable Kenya African Union (K.A.U.), whose stated purpose is Negro advancement. A London-trained anthropologist who wrote (1938) a first-rate study of his people, Facing Mt. Kenya, Kenyatta is a devotee of Red magic. He spent the '30s in Moscow as a student-guest of the Kremlin, returned to Kenya after World War II. now heads a chain of 135 bush schools which spread anti-British propaganda and uphold old barbaric rites (e.g., female circumcision).

Last week, at their leader's invitation, 30,000 members of K.A.U. attended an open-air meeting in the dusty village of Nyeri, 100 miles north of Nairobi. Those who wore hats were asked to take them off because, Kenyatta explained, hats are a symbol of the white man's rule. In an impassioned speech, he pressed one demand : "The whites must give Kenya back to us Africans!" Then, while white Kenyans hollered for his arrest, Mr. Kenyatta quietly tucked his ebony walking stick under his arm, walked home to his nearby bungalow and settled down to a book of essays by Bertrand Russell.

Like the Ghost Shirt societies of North America, these hunter warriors still believe in the efficacy of magic, in particular the similarity between the two groups is the belief that magical talismans can make them bullet proof.

They are also called the Mai-Mai , which is the French appellation for them.

The Mayi-Mayi like other Indigenous peoples struggles against colonialism began as liberation movements, in this case one trained by Che Guevera. Later with the abandonment of Beligum colonies that led to the Rawanda disaster, the Congo became a centre of the exodus of refugees and the return of the indigenous warrior society the Mayi-Mayi. And with that came the accusations of the colonialists of the Mayi-Mayi being cannibals, depicted as primitive, superstitious,infantile (ie. child warriors), brutish (accusations of rape, dismemberment, etc.).

The same accusations were applied to the Native American Indians, Voodoo and the Haitian uprising, the Mau-Mau and the Indian Thugee's, (which some have asserted were a purely English invention).

All these statements must be taken with large doses of salt, since they are the common myths of Imperialism. Note the sources for the accusations. Such as the ones of cannibalism supposedly practiced by the Mayi-Mayi, one comes from a Catholic priest, a religion that has long accused those it oppresses as practicing heathen rites and smears their paganism with the epithet of cannibalism.

This is not to belittle the horrors of the Congolese/Rawandan wars, but the blame for this situation lies with the Belgium/French colonizers and their allies in the UN.

Eco-Tourism, the creation of national parks for endangered species, is the new face of colonialism . The conflict in the Wilderness parks is one of modern colonialism, where good people who are concerned with the disappearance of indigenous species such as the Silverback's and other Mountain Gorillas clash with the needs of the indigenous peoples in the region.

Having failed to adequately meet the social needs of these peoples, they restrict their access to traditional hunting and gathering areas, pushing them out of their homelands, instead of providing them with an alternative to killing chimps and Great Apes for bushmeat.

The fact is that colonialism destroyed the indigenous populations, human and ape, and have transformed this region into a killing zone. The result of the benign neglect by the international community of its responsibilities in the region which continue today.

Africa remains the Dark Continent, since the the Imperial nations of Europe abandoned it after the post WWII struggles for national liberation. They turned off the lights and left leaving Africa to struggle as best it could instead of aiding the new nations that evolved from their colonial pursuits.

Alliance pour la resistance democratique (ARD)

Mayi-Mayi is the main militia groups active in the Kivus region of Congo [Zaire]. It is opposed to "Tutsi domination" and the Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD), but is otherwise seemingly without any clear objective and frequently change allegiances. No homogeneity exists between the various Mayi-Mayi groups, and the names of various commanders such as Louetcha, Padiri and Dunia frequently come up. As of late 1999 these forces were being re-supplied all over North and South Kivu to attack the positions of the Rwandan army. The Alliance pour la resistance democratique (ARD), based in the Fizi region, is believed to be a Mayi-Mayi front.

Mayi Mayi militia formally surrender before DRC army, MONUC
by Jennifer Bakody / MONUC 10 nov. 05

IRIN Africa | Great Lakes | DRC | DRC: Mayi-Mayi child soldiers ...
DUBIE, KATANGA, 27 January 2006 (IRIN) - Some 44 child combatants formerly allied to the Mayi-Mayi militia have left Dubie, in the Democratic Republic of Congo's Katanga Province, for the provincial capital, Lubumbashi,

News: Great Lakes, DRC: 8000 Mayi-Mayi accused of cannibalism ...

In January, CDH denounced alleged acts of cannibalism committed by armed militias, citing numerous "fighters who paraded through villages, wearing the dried genital organs of their victims".

"They were walking around with human heads at the ends of spears to intimidate villagers suspected of supporting the Forces armees congolaises [FAC, the Kinshasa government army]," said the CDH statement, issued on 8 January. "In the territory of Malemba-Nkulu, Chief Makabe went around with a dried infant around his neck."

CDH argues that the impunity permitted by the provincial authorities will facilitate cannibalism and other human rights violations regularly perpetrated in this region of the DRC. It criticises political, police and military leaders for not having brought to justice those guilty of past acts of killings, abductions, amputations, and trafficking of human organs.

The governor of Katanga, however, countered that his own investigations had failed to prove acts of cannibalism by the Mayi-Mayi. "This is not true," stated Ngoy. "All the Mayi-Mayi leaders admitted that there had been instances of exactions, and sometimes taking body parts, but not cannibalism."

Refugees stream out of Congo

David Gough in Kigoma

Tuesday July 13, 1999

The Mayi Mayi groups, who are armed and supplied by Mr Kabila's government, believe that the Banyamulenge ethnic group - who are Tutsis and who form the bulk of the RCD's ranks - are not true Congolese. They say that the RCD rebellion is a foreign invasion which they have vowed to defeat.

Refugees describe Congo's eastern province of Kivu as "close to anarchy". The situation is compounded by rival Mayi Mayi groups battling one another for control. "The Mayi Mayi used to have only spears but now they have many guns as well," said one refugee.

According to Jean Paul Kakobe, a Catholic priest from the south Kivu town of Uvira, the RCD began a big offensive against Mayi Mayi groups on June 15 - a campaign which has led to the flight of thousands of refugees into Tanzania and internal displacement of more than 100,000 others.

Father Kakobe said that in September last year he witnessed a barbaric ritual performed by a Mayi Mayi group on a beach on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, exemplifying their hatred for the Banyamulenge. "The Mayi Mayi had captured and killed two Banyamulenge rebels. They built a fire on the beach, cooked the bodies and then proceeded to eat them."

DRC: The peculiar terror that is northern Katanga

NYONGA, KATANGA, 13 February 2006 (IRIN)

The Mayi-Mayi wear masks and talismans and claim to have magical powers that stop bullets from penetrating their bodies. If not for their AK-47s, they might resemble ancient African warriors. The so-called "Mayi-Mayi phenomena" in Katanga, however, is actually recent. The groups formed in 1998, when President Laurent Kabila created armed civil defence forces in Katanga to stop Rwandan military from invading. After the Rwandans left, the Mayi-Mayi quickly devolved into an anarchic assortment of pro- and anti-government groups. When Joseph Kabila became president in 2001, he lost control of them completely. For the last year or so, many Mayi-Mayi groups in Katanga have rallied around a leader named Kyungu Mutanga, alias Gedeon. Under his command, villages have been systematically pillaged then burned. There are countless reports of atrocities. Yet, until there is a definitive human rights investigation into Gedeon's abuses, separating myth from reality will remain difficult. All the displaced people interviewed, as well as government soldiers and Mayi-Mayi fighters, said that what terrifies them about Gedeon are stories that he and his men are cannibals. However, none of them - even the Mayi-Mayi - said they had witnessed acts of cannibalism. Neither had they ever met anyone who witnessed them. Still, they all said they believe the stories. Many abandon their villages because of a rumour that he and his men were coming. Gedeon clearly rules though terror.

Mayi-Mayi: A rebel movement in Kivu (Democratic Republic Of Congo)

Luca Jourdan, Univ. Piemonte Orientale

This paper addresses the history and the ethnography of Mayi-Mayi, a rebel movement in the Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Between October 1996 and May 1997, Mayi-Mayi appeared on the stage of the AFDL war, which put an end to Mobutu's regime. The movement is still very active in the rural zones of Northern and Southern Kivu. Actually the term Mayi-Mayi refers to a cluster of groups scarcely co-ordinated among themselves, ones that are often striven by internal conflicts. At the same time some common characteristics allow constructing a general view of the entire phenomena. First of all the rebels make a constant resort to war rituals, centred on the belief in the power of mayi (that means water in Congolese Swahili), a special treated water supposed to save rebels themselves from the bullets of their opponents. Second, the movement articulates a set of common grievances based on nationalist ideals in order to oppose Mayi-Mayi to Uganda and Rwanda military intervention in Kivu. As I will show, meaningful links can be sorted out between the present Mayi-Mayi rebellion and the resistance movements, which characterised the whole area in colonial and postcolonial times. Mayi-Mayi speaks to a symbolic continuity with the beliefs and rites related to the invulnerability of warriors widely documented also in other African context. I believe that these symbols and practices supply to the scarcity of modern weapon. At the mean time Mayi-Mayi ritual discourse constitutes a efficacious strategy of mobilisation, which favour the enrolment of new recruits, in a context where the youth easily joins local militias to escape their social marginality in the local and national political arena. Mayi-Mayi references to the ancient rebellions and to the fight for independence validate the political discourse of the rebels, and reinforce their war rites.

DRC: From protection to insurgency - history of the Mayi-Mayi

GOMA, 16 Mar 2006 (IRIN) - Before colonialism in Africa, community life centred on ethnic customs and culture. In pre-colonial Congo, people lived under the authority of a traditional chief, in observance of these cultural norms.

According to Jean-Marie Kati Kati Muhongya, a political analyst and civil rights

In the 1960s, soon after independence from Belgium, politicians who were discontent with the country's leadership organised such youths into armed militia groups. From January 1964, Kati Kati said, one such leader, Pierre Mulele, who served as education minister in post-colonial Congo, organised the youths into strong militias as part of what he termed "the peasants’ revolution". A Maoist who was trained in China in guerrilla warfare, Mulele is credited with encouraging a Marxist-Leninist struggle in an effort to remove Mobutu Sese Seko, a Western-backed autocrat.

Kati Kati said Mulele drew support from the traditional chiefs, who were often medicine men, to encourage youths to join the armed struggle. The youths believed that the medicine men had made them invincible to bullets, inspiring the slogan, "Mulele Maji", meaning if you are for Mulele, all bullets directed at you would turn to water. This slogan later evolved into "Mai Mai" or "Mayi Mayi" (Congolese Swahili for "Water Water"). Hence the naming of Mayi-Mayi militia groups in various parts in today’s Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Jason Stearns, a Nairobi-based senior analyst in the International Crisis Group, told IRIN that the Mayi-Mayi have existed in eastern DRC since the so-called "Mulelist rebellion" of the 1960s. The militias reappeared in force in 1993 in North Kivu, from which they spread to the rest of the east. The Mayi-Mayi was a local defence force against the predation of Mobutu's army and the influx of soldiers of the Forces armees Rwandaise (known as the ex-FAR)and "Interahamwe" militiamen from neighbouring Rwanda in 1994.

activist in Goma, the capital of North Kivu Province, communities continued their traditional practises even after Congo became a fiefdom of Belgian King Leopold II in the 1880s and later a Belgian colony. One of those customs was to segregate young boys in the bush for up to one month, to prepare them for manhood. Kati Kati said that during their time of seclusion, youths underwent training in many fields, including how to protect their communities from intruders.

In Foreign parts: Magic of Mayi Mayi

INSIDE A church nestling among the hills of eastern Congo, a venerable warrior gives a rare audience. He is talking about politics, war and why he is invincible to gunfire.

"I am a Mayi Mayi general so I carry the gris-gris [magic charms]," declares General Jeannot Ruharara, a whiskery, weatherbeaten man. "They protect against snakes, lightning, disappearance - and, of course, bullets." He has a wooden staff in one hand and a mobile phone in the other, but the tools of his magic are pinned to his chest like medals of honour. It is a selection worthy of a Shakespearean cauldron - tail of buffalo, claw of eagle and horn of antelope but also cola nuts, dirty feathers and plastic beads.

He reaches into the hairy confusion, pulls out a dark phial, and smiles. "This is the maji", he says. The maji - Swahili for water - had been blessed at a ceremony in the mountains. It will be sprinkled on his troops moments before they enter battle, he says, and then they will be invincible to enemy bullets. "Even shells and rockets," he chuckles.

But something looks familiar. I pull closer to the magic bottle, and it has writing on the cap in English. It reads: "Boots Pharmaceuticals".

"In that sense, they are the result of a power void, which made communities arm their youth for protection," he said. "They kept this function of community protection throughout the war, and in some cases the population was proud and satisfied for these local defence forces. Indeed, the dawa, or magic, of the Mayi-Mayi comes from the Congolese soil, and the strong patriotism within the group strikes a cord within many Congolese."

Of all the gun-toting groups roaming the Democratic Republic of Congo [formerly Zaire], few are as enigmatic as the Mayi Mayi. It has no guiding leader, no command structure and no reliable estimate of numbers. Instead, the movement is a vaguely connected patchwork of factions - some disciplined soldiers, others village bandits - scattered over a lawless region the size of the British Isles. Apart from their faith in the armour- plating powers of water, every Mayi Mayi has one thing in common - a growing role at the heart of Africa's worst war.

Officially the fighting, which was started by Rwandan forces in 1998, has ground to a halt. Last summer's peace deal between Rwanda, which backs rebel forces, and the Kinshasa government is holding. A transitional government could by in place by April. But here in the east - the cradle of the conflict - talk of peace means little. War rages on.

The Mayi Mayi, which has only a sideline place in political negotiations, are slugging it out with Rwanda's puppet army, the rebels of the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD). After more than four years of destruction and awesome savagery, ordinary Congolese are nakedly hostile to their pro- Rwandan RCD "liberators". And so the water warriors - mostly village lads armed with old AK-47 guns - have, in some areas, come to enjoy a popularity akin to that of the French resistance under Nazi Germany.

"The aggressors have come to destroy our country," said General Ruharara during our interview in Ndolera, a village of 6,000 people on the edge of his mountain demesne. "We are here to fight them."

General Ruharara, 55, is one of the original Mayi Mayi. He learnt his soldiering in the Sixties with another, more famous, revolutionary. "Ah yes, Ernesto Che Guevara, that was him," he says, smiling at the recollection. "We used to call him Ernesto. A giant of a man. Big, thick hair. Smoked a lot."

In 1964, Che Guevara led a force of 100 Cuban commandos to eastern Congo to boost the socialist revolution against Mobutu Sese Seko. It was a disaster. After seven months, he withdrew bitterly. "They lack revolutionary awareness," he wrote of his Congolese cadres. "Corrupted by inactivity ... saturated with fetishistic notions ... devoid of any coherent political education ... all these traits make the soldier of the Congolese revolution the poorest example of a fighter that I have ever come across."

General Ruharara, then 17, had a more positive memory. "Guevara taught us a lot. We hope he can come back to help us some day." I break the news that Che Guevara was executed in Bolivia in 1967. The general arches an eyebrow, then shrugs nonchalantly. "I have been living and fighting in the bush since then," he said. "Who was going to tell me?"

In this war the Mayi Mayi has teamed up with the Kinshasa government, which has supplied guns and money. But like much in this huge, chaotic country, even covert patronage goes awry. Two years ago Kinshasa airdropped sacks of money but they contained 50 and 100 franc notes - denominations rejected in the rebel-held zone. "We had to throw the lot away," said Jean Marie, the general's "public affairs" officer.

Yet the signs are increasing that the Mayi Mayi wants to be taken seriously. Last October a surprise alliance of factions took control of Uvira, a strategic port on Lake Tanganyika, for one week. Townspeople said the bush soldiers behaved with exemplary discipline. And more recently, the commander of the biggest faction, Joseph Padiri, has begun helping the United Nations demobilise Rwandan Hutu fighters on his turf. It is clear that peace will only come to Congo if the Gordian knot of the east is untangled, and the Mayi Mayi wants to be part of that solution.

But back in Ndolera, one matter remained. I had been promised proof of General Ruharara's maji: a goat would be blessed, troops would open fire on it and lo, the animal would live. Alas, on the day, the great test was not possible - for technical reasons. "The gunfire could alert the enemy and bring him towards us," General Ruharara offered in half-apology. His whiskers curled into a knowing smile again. The goat was safe, and so was the Mayi Mayi myth.

Militia's reign of terror comes to an end in DR Congo

DISARMAMENT: Members of the `mayi-mayi' warrior-mystic militia are living in fear of retribution as they lay down their arms after 10 years of senseless slaughter

Monday, Jul 03, 2006, Page 6

One of Africa's most-feared militias has crumbled and now faces the wrath of the population it terrorized. The mayi-mayi, warrior-mystics who have ravaged the Democratic Republic of Congo for 10 years, are surrendering in droves.

Exhausted and hungry, in recent weeks entire units have emerged from the jungles of one of their last redoubts, Katanga Province, to lay down weapons and plead forgiveness.

For hunters who used spears and arrows as well as guns to slaughter thousands, it is now their turn to be hunted. There is pressure for the leaders to be tried for war crimes and a backlash against the soldiers and their families.

Other armed groups still prowl volatile eastern provinces, but the end of the mayi-mayi in Katanga is a significant boost to stability and should open the countryside to aid agencies tackling one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.

"One can no longer speak of the mayi-mayi as a political force. Their influence and visibility have greatly diminished," said Kisula Ngoy, Katanga's governor.

The Congolese army and UN troops swept through their strongholds and splintered the once mighty militia into ragged bands to prepare the country for an election scheduled for July 30.

The campaign has been controversial -- the Observer revealed last month how UN troops participated in the destruction of civilian hamlets -- and the UN has launched an investigation.

However flawed, the offensive has broken the mayi-mayi.

"You could see it when they surrendered," said Gerson Brandao, a senior official with the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which helps to demobilize combatants. "They couldn't keep running any more, they were exhausted."

Hundreds of guerrillas have flooded demobilization centers in remote towns such as Dubie and Mitwabe, performing elaborate and emotional ceremonies as they remove amulets credited with magical powers. Some wept, others looked resigned, as they handed over bracelets and pouches which supposedly rendered them invisible and bulletproof.

"There are remnants still hiding in the bush ambushing people, but the militia as such has no military strength. It's the end of the mayi-mayi phenomenon in Katanga," Brandao said.

It is an ignominious demise for what was hailed as a patriotic force at the outset of the 1998-2003 war, a murderous affair involving six foreign armies and myriad homegrown groups which left 4 million dead, mostly from hunger and disease.

To repel Rwandan and Ugandan troops President Laurent Kabila turned to tribes of hunters and farmers loosely known as the mayi-mayi. With cursory training and AK-47 assault rifles, the militia had some success, bolstering a widespread belief that its fighters had magical powers, a superstition which paralyzed some opponents.

Foreign forces withdrew with the war's official end in 2003, but the mayi-mayi, fractious and lacking effective command, missed out in the transitional government's carve-up of power and spoils. Alienated from its former sponsors in the capital, Kinshasa, the militia laid waste swaths of eastern Congo for three years, displacing hundreds of thousands and making a mockery of the supposed peace.

"In some cases the mayi-mayi publicly tortured victims before killing them in public ceremonies meant to terrorize the local population," said the New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch.

Now the worm has turned. Lacking popular support, political allies and a driving ideology, the militia in Katanga crumbled when confronted by Congolese troops.

A key turning point was the surrender in May of the most influential warlord, Kyungu Mutanga, better known as Gedeon.

Claiming to have communed with the ghost of his late mentor, Laurent Kabila, Gedeon ordered his 150 followers, many of them child-soldiers, to hand over amulets and charms along with their weapons.


Another Dirty Little Secret

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