On the emergence of Mayi Mayi Oregon

With recent massacres in Miriki (Lubero) and meandering political sparring around a potential ‘national dialogue’ in the headlines, the first weeks of 2016 followed the well-known mantra of ‘never a dull moment in Congo’. One other story, though, went almost unheard and continues developing with little attention from Congolese and Congo pundits: the first Mayi Mayi militia emerging outside DRC territory.

On 2 January, Kabila’s and Obama’s new year’s wishes had barely trailed away, a group of infamous local militia leaders teamed up to form what could best be described as ‘Mayi Mayi Oregon’ and went on occupying a small stretch of territory around the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in a sparsely populated, remote area with few roads. In what can be considered an ‘alliance contre-nature’, ragtag local strongmen from different ethnic groups (according to sources, an alliance between Oregonians and Arizonians has been formed) took up arms against the central government. As often with Mayi Mayi militias, reference to supernatural and divine narratives also frame the justifications of Mayi Mayi Oregon, which some its members have been calling ‘Citizens for Constitutional Freedom’ (in short: CCF) – fitting neatly into the tradition of groups such as the ‘Human Rights Defence Forces’ (FDDH) or the Patriotic Alliance for a Sovereign and Free Congo (APCLS).

What is behind this most recent Mayi Mayi group, and how do things look on the ground?

The Wildlife Refuge being founded by a former President, many keen observers quickly identified motivations linked to state contestation and notions of government legitimacy behind Mayi Mayi Oregon’s sudden establishment. However, taking a closer look, the roots of armed mobilisation in this area are manifold. One key aspect is land use and cattle herding, similar to much of insecurity and conflict in Fizi and Uvira territories in South Kivu. Despite mediation efforts in the past, the government largely failed in addressing the grievances voiced by parts of the remote Oregon population. These disputes triggered a series of violent incidents between locals and the state administration, incl. several cases of arson as well as the illegal claim to and occupation of certain stretches of land.

In the past few years, government forces had increased their attempts to forcefully contain the simmering upheaval of the Oregon people. Ensuing arrests have, in the past months, radicalised local elites. In a move to protect their communities from a central government perceived as a threat to lives and livelihoods, several local leaders teamed up with allies from other ethnic groups facing similar threats. With the onset of 2016, various armed factions rapidly got together and organised, effectively proclaiming control over their territory. As with many other Mayi Mayi groups, it remains unclear whether their alleged troop strength of around 150 is credible or a mere strategy in case of potential demobilisation negotiations.

Very quickly, the militia attracted neighbouring villagers who took up arms to join Mayi Mayi Oregon. The mystico-spiritual power derived from their Mormon ‘dawa’ appeared to be a promising factor to scores of ‘non-autochthonous’ recruitees. Just a day after the movement’s official emergence, a local head of the government security forces raised serious concerns as to Mayi Mayi Oregon’s possible intentions to overthrow the central government.

Seemingly powerless in the face of the rebel’s increasing grip over the Malheur area, the central government tried to increase pressure by cutting essential goods and services to the concerned region (however, according to sources it remains unclear whether or not this had any impact since the remote area has been widely cut off from basic goods even before). A few days later, government forces disguised as negotiators tried to get a hold of the siege HQ but ended up being repelled by what more and more turned out being a significant rebel force. As with most Mayi Mayi groups, many of the rebels imitate state army outfits and it did not take the new militia very long to come up with their ‘cahier de charges’, which they handed over to state authorities just five days after they had surfaced on the politico-military topography. The government in turn, has been trying – ever since – to maintain a firm posture and refuses to give in to the rebel demands.

In the following days, Mayi Mayi Oregon’s clever mix of anti-government claims, mystical vocation, and autochtony references had a series of smaller local defence militias join as the rebellion gained momentum as state officials increasingly feel helpless: “There’s armed militia, and they’re in our community“, a local judge said, and while other lamented “an influx of armed groups and individuals […] with some declaring they were there to support the armed occupation, others to try to convince the militants to quit, and still others with undefined purposes. At that point in the standoff, militants continued to come and go from the refuge without apparent hindrance.”

While Mayi Mayi Oregon continues to grow and occupy more territory, the government forces incapability to militarily confront the militia has provoked opposed ‘patriotic’ local defence forces to attack Mayi Mayi Oregon and stick national flags onto parts of their territory. Some of the rebels acting in coalition with Mayi Mayi Oregon riposted with sharpening threats to the central government, warning of a “bloody, brutal civil war” but also part of the civilian population now become more critical towards their erstwhile ‘liberators’ who begin employing more violent rhetorics and practises.

While the situation around Mayi Mayi Oregon remains largely volatile and security deteriorating in the affected areas, many of the rebellion’s features show well-known patterns of armed mobilisation in general, and the ‘typical’ Mayi Mayi character known in similar rebel outfits including Mayi Mayi Padiri, Mayi Mayi Kasindiens, Mayi Mayi Mayele, the late Bede’s MCC, and many others. Never a dull moment…

 

 

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