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Jeunesse of the UFERI - JUFERI

As pressure for democratization increased in Zaire in the early 1990s, Mobutu and regional politicians linked to his regime manipulated resentments against Luba residents of the Shaba region in order to weaken and undercut democratic opponents of Mobutu - particularly Etienne Tshisekedi, a Luba from Kasai who was prime minister in 1992-93, and to force Luba residents from the Shaba region.

A popular opposition politician, Kyungu wa Kumwanza, allied himself with one of the most notorious politicians of the Second Republic, Nguz Karl-i-Bond. When Nguz broke ranks with the opposition to become prime minister in 1991, Kyungu became governor of Shaba. Taking a direct, populist approach, Kyungu went to the people with the message that Shabans must take back what is theirs - in other words, drive out the people of the neighboring region of Kasai, who, admittedly, occupied most of the prestigious positions in the major regional enterprises.

Kyungu justified his alliance with Mobutu as one of pure convenience. The administration adopted an explicit policy of regional cleansing. Following the model used by Mobutu during the Second Republic, Kyungu's party - L'Union des fédéralistes et des républicains indépendants (UFERI) - established a militant and partly militarized youth wing, the JUFERI. The JUFERI increasingly took up policing functions at state institutions. Although not paid for their services, members of the JUFERI expected to receive the jobs of departing Kasaians.

The first outbreaks of violence occurred in late 1991, soon after Kyungu became governor. But immediately after Etienne Tshisekedi became prime minister in August 1992, the violence took on an entirely different scale and direction. Massive gangs of youth attacked Kasaians and forced them out of their homes. These gangs, whose attacks were systematic and well organized, appeared as if out of nowhere, accompanied by drugs and fetishes.

Kyungu's movement included organized youth bands, the Jeunesse of the UFERI or "JUFERI," who were mobilized to harass and, eventually expel Kasaiens from their homes. At the time, his policies jibed well with Kinshasa and President Mobutu, who was fighting off the opposition movement led by Etienne Tshisikedi, himself from Kasai. When Tshisikedi was named prime minister by the National Sovereign Conference in August 1992, what had been the harassment of Kasaiens became a mass expulsion. More than 200,000 Kasaiens were eventually terrorized into fleeing cities and villages across the region in a chilling parallel to the former Yugoslavia's "ethnic cleansing"."

Employing a tactic long used by Mobutu, Kyungu established the JUFERI, a youth brigade in his party, as a vigilante force. Mostly unemployed, illiterate thugs from rural villages, the JUFERI provided a violent accompaniment to Kyungu's menacing radio broadcasts. Attacks on Kasaian homes in rural towns and villages began in late 1991. By April of last year the JUFERI, sometimes backed by mobs of other Katangese, were systematically expelling Kasaians from their homes.

Witnesses said the JUFERI were sometimes supplied with gasoline to set houses afire and with beer and marijuana to stoke their aggression. Some Kasaians fought back. The proverbial cycle of violence was set in motion. Hundreds were killed at the hands of the UFERI jeunesse groups, while thousands fled to Luba-dominated areas of the Kasai province.

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Page last modified: 26-03-2017 19:18:04 ZULU