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Bundu dia Kongo (Kingdom of Kongo) (BDK)

Bundu dia KongoThe Bundu dia Kongo (Kingdom of Kongo) is a political-religious group centred in the Bas-Congo province (west of Kinshasa) which has campaigned for the independence of the Bas-Congo region from the rest of the DRC. Its adherents have to renounce western and eastern religions. It seeks the restoration of the ancient Kongo Kingdom with its pre-colonial boundaries, which encompass parts of today's Angola, Republic of Congo and Gabon. The center of the kingdom was located in Bas-Congo Province and in neighbouring Bandundu Province in the DRC. Bundu dia Kongo adherents have protested in the past against former presidents Mobutu and Laurent Kabila. These protests have occasionally ended in the deaths of the groups' adherents, who have themselves sometimes been armed. The Bundu dia Kongo (BDK) claims to defend the cultural and economic interests of the indigenous people of DRC's Bas-Congo province. The group is in reality a separatist sect with a long history of often violent confrontation with state security forces.

BDK professes to be a politico-religious movement and the cultural "guarantor" of the Kongo people. Unlike other provinces in the DRC, Bas-Congo is generally ethnically homogenous. Inhabitants of the province are mostly Bakongo, speaking dialects of the same Kikongo language, but are divided into several sub-groups. Most BDK adherents are found in the western part of the province, in the towns of Muanda, Luozi and Lemba.

BDK is not, however, an officially recognized Congolese political party, and Congolese officials contend BDK uses its religious status as a cover for violent activities. Nsemi ran as an independent candidate, and Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) officials in Bas-Congo said BDK candidates for the provincial assembly ran under the banners of regional political parties Congo-Pax and Abako. Several Bas-Congo officials have questioned the group's religious status, claiming BDK leaders have never produced any government documents recognizing their movement as a religion.

The Kimbanguist Church is a large home-grown Congolese religion. Like most of the population, Kimbanguists consider themselves Christians, although they are not always seen as such by others. Church officials claim nearly one-sixth of the population follows Kimbanguism; it has a significant voice in Congolese society. Based on the teachings of Christianity, the religion was founded by a self-proclaimed Congolese prophet named Simon Kimbangu during the country's colonial era. Kimbangu and his movement quickly became an early symbol of Congo's independence drive and remain important pieces of the country's history and identity. Congolese politicians of all faiths publicly pay respects to Simon Kimbangu and have routinely sought the church,s support. There has been speculation that the Kimbanguist church is linked with the group Bundu dia Kongo (BDK) because both groups have mystical elements, claim to follow Simon Kimbangu and are based in Bas-Congo. Kimbanguist officials disavowed any contact with the BDK however and said they considered it a political rather than a religious group.

BDK's primary objective is the creation of an independent ethnic Kongo kingdom in territories supposedly controlled by the Kongo people during the 15th century. This "kingdom" would encompass parts of modern-day Angola, the Republic of Congo, Gabon, and the DRC. GDRC authorities view the BDK not as a political or religious group but as an insurrectionist movement intent on secession. Some officials also claim the BDK wants to seize control of the country's oil resources in the Gulf of Guinea.

Bas-Congo security officials say BDK is a small but dangerous sect that advocates violence against "illegitimate" state authorities. Provincial officials estimate the group has about 100,000 followers in a province of nearly three million. Outgoing Governor Jacques Mbadu, who visited a BDK "camp" outside Matadi in December 2006, said the movement preaches violence, trains its members in using crude weapons such as clubs and machetes, and believes that fetishes and other "mystical powers" make members "invincible." He claimed BDK "churches," which are usually located far from population centers, serve as training camps for BDK's militia, known as "Makesa."

Congolese military (FARDC) regional commander General Muyamba Nsiona said BDK instructs many of its members in the use of weapons and violence. He said he has visited several BDK sites in Bas-Congo, and showed PolOff during a recent visit to Matadi pictures of children in a BDK compound wearing military-style uniforms and brandishing sharpened sticks as rifles. Nsiona said many of the BDK compounds he has seen are run much like military installations, with a clear hierarchical command structure and stockpiles of machetes and similar weapons. Several other security officials contend BDK members are encouraged to consume drugs before confronting security forces.

BDK members have frequently clashed with police and the military during demonstrations and political rallies, leading the GDRC to ban BDK activities at least twice, during both the governments of Mobutu and of Joseph Kabila. Police shot and killed 14 BDK demonstrators in Matadi in July 2002. Fighting broke out between BDK protesters and military forces in Matadi in June 2006, leaving several dead, including one soldier.

Nsemi and BDK sympathizers portray the group as a victim of state oppression. Bas-Congo security officials, however, offer a different perspective. Nsiona claimed BDK upporters have killed more than 200 police officers in the last four years during demonstrations or through individually targeted murders. During the recent clashes, police in Muanda said BDK followers attacked and killed four officers without provocation.

BDK's propaganda, including tracts that circulated in the province before the February violence, calls for a "renewal" of the Kongo identity, playing on xenophobia and poor economic conditions. Dieudonne Kowelo, the administrator of Muanda territory (where BDK is very active), said the group advocates expelling all "non-natives" from positions of provincial authority, including military, police, parastatals and elected officials. He said BDK blames "external forces," including foreigners and Congolese not native to Bas-Congo, for exploiting the province. They believe the region has been marginalized by the central government which has not equitably returned profits from the province's ports and petroleum sector. According to BDK arguments, only by reclaiming Kongo's "independence" can the province realize the benefits of its resources.

Nearly all Bas-Congo officials we met denounced the BDK. Matadi Mayor Jean-Marc Lukombo claimed his constituents are pleading with him to arrest Nsemi for supposedly orchestrating the February violence. He added that while many in the province are sympathetic to BDK's complaints about economic underdevelopment, few if any support the group's vision of the Kongo "kingdom" or its violence. Lukombo acknowledged the province requires significant investment, better infrastructure and more job opportunities but that violence isnot the means to achieve those ends. Kowelo added that many in Muanda oppose BDK because they see is activities endangering the economic developmentthe group demands.

While Bas-Congo has suffered from delining living standards, this is a general problm throughout the DRC. Bundu dia Kongo's complains of underdevelopment in Bas-Congo have little mrit compared o the poor economic conditions in many of the country's other provinces. In fact, Bas-Congo is arguably one of the DRC's more well-off regions and has benefited from substantial government development thanks largely to its ports. The BDK is a movement intent on secession through almost any means necessary, including the use of force. Dealing with the BDK poses a unique challenge for the GDRC, however, because the group has had some success in cloaking itself as a religious movement. The Kongo community has long been one of the most close-knit and well-organized of the DRC's ethnic groups, relatively successful in promoting their interests. The BDK builds on this sense of community, albeit in extremist form. The movement to create a Kongo "kingdom," however, seem to be largely a DRC phenomenon, and the BDK appears to enjoy little support among the Bakongo in neighboring countries.

A Bundu dia Kongo demonstration took place in Bas-Congo on 22 July 2002. Bundu dia Kongo adherents believe that all the government and military leadership positions in the region are filled by people outside the region and held the demonstration to protest about this. It was broken up by the security forces who shot dead 14 demonstrators. Provincial authorities suspect Bundu dia Kongo adherents of having set fire to the public prosecutor's office during the night of 7/8 July 2002, completely destroying the building. The leader of Bundu dia Kongo, Bernard Mizele Nsemi, has been accused in a court case of initiating an operation that ended in the deaths of several of his followers and police officers.

The BDK is led by Ne Muanda Nsemi, a self-styled "spiritual leader" of BDK who serves as its ultimate authority figure and "prophet." Ethnic Kongo elders chose Nsemi to lead BDK in 1969 after he claimed to have had a spiritual "vision" from the movement's supreme being Akongo. Before his revelation, Nsemi was head of the laboratory at Kinshasa's General Hospital and a chemistry professor at the University of Kinshasa.

Nsemi, who was elected as an independent to the National Assembly in July 2006, entered a political marriage of convenience with Jean-Pierre Bemba's MLC party during the January 2007 gubernatorial race in Bas-Congo, running for vice governor on a ticket with popular MLC politician Leonard Fuka Unzola as governor. Bemba's alliance had claimed a majority of seats in the provincial assembly, and Bemba himself won 75 percent of the presidential vote, in the October 2006 elections. The gubernatorial ticket's defeat by allies of President Joseph Kabila (ref A) triggered a 24-hour period of violence January 31-February 1 that left numerous dead. BDK adherents and many others in the province charged that the election had been compromised by corruption of the provincial assembly.

Alleged Bundu Dia Kongo (BDK) abuses in Bas-Congo province include harassment of missionaries and non-Kongo residents, usurping border control functions, and holding trials and meting out sentences, including the death penalty. Police and militants of the politico-religious movement Bundu dia Kongo (BDK) clashed beginning February 28 in Bas-Congo province, following a series of violent incidents directed at pastors, teachers, government officials and non-Kongo residents by young BDK toughs. On March 8, special police forces assaulted BDK's main compound in the provincial capital of Matadi, and conducted similar operations in other areas of the province.

The DRC Council of Ministers, meeting in Matadi 21 March 2008, approved revocation of the charter of the political-religious group Bundu dia Kongo (BDK) as a social and cultural organization. Earlier, BDK spiritual leader Ne Muanda Nsemi told the press that the group sought a peaceful resolution to the current conflict with police. Special police forces had withdrawn from the province. Only regular Congolese National Police (PNC) units remained in the province following the withdrawal of 6-700 elements of the Rapid Intervention Police (PIR), notably the Simba Battalion of special police forces loyal to Inspector General John Numbi. The death toll from the police-BDK clashes may be significantly higher than the 68 cited in a leaked MONUC report, and could involve serious human rights abuses.

Press reports made much of BDK spiritual leader Ne Muanda Nsemi's rhetoric on referring the recent and previous incidents of violence in Bas-Congo to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Interior Minister Kalume briefed the National Assembly 26-27 March 2008 on the government's view of the violence and outlined a stinging indictment against the BDK and Nsemi. Kalume charged that Nsemi bears principal responsibility for the recent clashes. Nsemi, himself a National Assembly deputy, took the floor in turn to denounce the actions of the police and "genocide" of the Kongo people. The Assembly voted to recommend holding a peace, security, and economic development conference on Bas-Congo. Reliable information as to the casualty figures from the recent violence and who bears responsibility was extremely difficult to come by.

The Angolan enclave of Cabinda also presents significant challenges to relations between the two countries. Located north of the DRC's Bas-Congo province, Cabinda is separated from the main body of Angola and land access requires travel through DRC territory. The enclave plays a significant role in Angola's oil industry, and is also home to a group agitating for separation from Angola, the Frente para a Libertacao do Enclave de Cabinda (FLEC). The DRC shares Angola's concern about Cabinda, particularly given the reported ties between the FLEC and the Bundu dia Kongo (BDK), a mysterious group in Congo's Bas-Congo province that has used violence in recent years to press for greater autonomy from Kinshasa. The Angolan chiefs of national police and intelligence have met with Bas-Congo provincial police chief General Raus to discuss issues related to the FLEC and the BDK.

Global Television, a pro-opposition station, was attacked in the middle of the night 12 September 2008 after broadcasting an interview with Mwanda Nsemi, a member of parliament and leader of the tribal-political group Bundu Dia Kongo (BDK), a movement that is under close scrutiny because of alleged violent acts in the province of Bas-Congo. Nsemi blamed the government for an upsurge in fighting in the Kivu region. Following phone calls to the TV station from angry pro-government politicians, armed men in police garb and civilian clothes raided the TV station. A studio director was kidnapped, A/V tapes and equipment seized, and the station effectively shut down. A JED press release blames the attack on members of the intelligence services. In October 2008 authorities issued arrest warrants for Global TV journalist Neve Natasha Makengele and cameraman Fanfan Koko for their participation in the 12 September 2008 interview of Bundu Dia Kongo (BDK) spiritual leader Ne Mwanda Nsemi. Authorities charged the pair with inciting rebellion

A 2009 MONUC investigative report criticized as "excessively violent" the reaction of the central government to incidents of unrest and insurrection committed by the Bundu dia Kongo (BDK) separatist movement members in Bas-Congo in January, February, and March 2008. Hundreds of civilians were killed and BDK places of worship were razed during operations led by the national police (PNC "Police Nationale Congolaise" in French). The government continues to repress the Bundu dia Kongo group.




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