Kivu Mai- Mai Return: Raia Mutomboki

30 Jul

Members of the Raia Mutomboki

The word Mai-Mai was taken from the Kiswahili word meaning “water” which is actually “Maji” ( pronounced Ma-gee, like Ma as in mother and gee as in Gee Whiz!). The name currently refers to any of the community militias composed of male Congolese villagers, young and old, who came together during the Second War in the Congo to defend their land and their homes in the northeast region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Although there are Mai-Mai groups throughout the Congo, it was Mai-Mai of North and South Kivu Districts who played the most crucial role in the Second War in the Congo. These groups were composed of local men from districts in the northeast region of the country who loosely grouped themselves together in order to resist the forces of the Hutu Interahamwe ( Hutu soldiers responsible for the 1994 Rwandan Genocide) who had been driven out of Rwanda and across the border by the victorious Tutsi army in power in Rwanda. The Hutu guerilla fighters called themselves The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda( FDLR) and settled in both Kivu districts. The Mai-Mai also fought against the Congolese Tutsi- supported militias such as the CNDP who were also fighting the FDLR in the area. The enemies of the Mai-Mai were any non- Congolese troops located in the Congo and they sought to either kill or expel any non-Congolese troops. Their goal became difficult to reach when during the second war Laurent Kabila’s new Congolese Army accompanied the Rwandan Army throughout Kivu District helping them locate and kill all Interahamwe living in these districts but many Mai- Mai fought with their own Congolese army when trying to rid their districts of non-Congolese soldiers.

The Mai- Mai had no charters, no commissions, nor were they paid by anyone. They had leaders but no officers in the true military sense of the word. Most came together without guns carrying the hoes and the pangas (machetes) they used in their fields as weapons. These are extremely localized groups that were formed to defend a small number of villages against specific crimes and injustices and have never been connected to district or national political movements. Mia- Mia or Rega societies are local groups that usually serve to protect the residents in no more than several villages. And each Mai- Mai group has its own initiation ceremonies into its own secret society with its own set of rituals and protective charms.

A few culturally insensitive and poorly informed journalists, especially Americans in their attempt to make publishing deadlines, have not bothered to identify the localized nature of Mai- Mia groups within specific Congolese villages, and have glibly attributed the name Mai- Mai to the water used in  pre-battle rituals. First of all, each, Mai- Mai group is its own secret society and performs its own unique set of rituals in order to prepare for battle and as protection from bullet wounds and death. And secondly, the choice of the word Mai- Mai has far greater significance than the use of water as a protective charm.. It refers to the way in which free men of the Congo choose to come together or disband depending on the defensive needs of the people, to the fluid sense of unity which comes and goes, or ebbs and flows – just like water. If one understands why the villagers enter into these loose groupings in the first place then it would be evident why the groups have been named- Mai- Mai. If these journalists would have investigated the history of tribal warfare in northeast Congo before the white man arrived they would have recognized the same sense of fluidity in Congolese tribal warfare. The concepts behind Rega, Mai-Mai, secret societies, and battle rituals are not new; the villagers have simply restructured them in order to meet the needs of a more current struggle.

The membership profiles of specific Mai-Mai groups are hard to pin down and include a wide range of individuals. Some groups that would be considered “Mai Mai” are: private armies led by warlords, tribal elders or village leaders and currently there are a few Mai- Mai groups that espouse limited political agendas. Certain Mai -Mai groups have been known to ally themselves to: established guerrilla groups, terrorists, and even other foreign governments if it helps them to survive. It has been documented that several groups of Mai- Mai are far more harmful than helpful to the villagers placed in their care and are considered to be no more than killers and thieves.

Many Mai- Mai in north and South Kivu districts were historically committed to stopping the infiltration of Rwanda- supported militias in the area but even their allegiances were fluid and changed frequently. Although these groups took part in the Second War in the Congo they were never included in the peace accord that brought an end to the war and were never made to disband. In 2007 The Mai Mai in north and south Kivu districts which border the country of Rwanda repeatedly clashed with the Tutsi militia, The Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD-Goma), a Rwanda- supported military force that had taken over the Congolese city of Goma. Some of the larger Mai-Mai groups received money and supplies from the government of the DR Congo during and after the war. But smaller groups of Mai- Mai were reported to have aligned themselves with the Tutsi militia, the RCD in Goma.

Currently there is a deadly tug of war being played out between the Congolese army, the rebel militias in the area, and the Mai- Mai. The Mai-Mai are often viewed as opportunists who take over land, even occupy towns when the Congolese Army is engaged in fighting the rebel militias elsewhere.  And in true Mia-Mai fashion as the Congolese Army was occupied fighting with M23, an older Mai- Mai group reappeared on the scene, The Mai-Mai, Raia Mutomboki which means “Furious Citizens” in Kiswahili have killed hundreds of innocent Hutu. These killings started at the end of 2011 and seem to have been carried out in revenge against Hutu villagers that The Raia believed were supporting the FDLR. It has been reported by the UN that around 100 civilians have already been killed.

The Raia Mutomboki was established in 2005 in Shabunda territory in order to protect the villagers in the area from the Interahamwe and the forces of the FDLR Twelve Congolese civilians were massacred by the FDLR in March 2005 in the tropical forest outside of the village of Kyoka, in Shabunda. These villagers were hacked to death with pangas (machetes) and fueled the indignation of the Congolese males in the area to the point where they willingly came together to pledge themselves to serve in the Mai-Mai, Raia Mutomboki. Eventually the Raia Mutomboki pushed the FDLR out of Shubunda.

 In the beginning of 2011, the Congolese army left Shabunda, and merged with other units. This caused soldiers of the FDLR to enter the area. They immediately started stealing from the villagers and killing innocent civilians in the area causing the men to come together and talk of resurrecting the Raia Mutomboki commenced among the villagers

 Then the Congolese army returned to the area in late 2011. Initially it used the Raia to help it locate and fight against the FDLR. The Raia helped the Congolese Army track the movements of the FDLR within the local forests. But in time the Raia forces began to resent the presence of the Tutsi soldiers, the ex-CNDP troops serving in the Congolese army which the Raia considered foreigners who had no right to be living in the Congo, let alone serving as soldiers in the Congolese Army. This animosity caused the Raia Mutomboki to attack the Congolese Army on several occasions and open warfare commenced between the two groups.

 As the Raia continued to hunt for the FDLR soldiers, it also began to kill the dependents of the Interahamwe  including women and children, mutilating them before they killed them. FDLR deserters told UN officials that the Raia Mutomboki were their greatest worry and pursued them relentlessly throughout the local forests. The brutal tactics employed by the Raia caused the FDLR to retaliate in kind, causing the massacres of many civilians on both sides of the conflict. In late 2011, the Raia killed close to one hundred people and burned several villages to the ground in northeast Shabunda and in January 2012, over 50 civilians were reportedly killed by the FDLR around Luyuyu, in retaliation.

 In May 2012, the Raia moved into northern Kivu in Tembo and Kano/Rega . They continued to kill FDLR dependents and massacred close to  one hundred people. But now they began killing Hutu villagers with no ties to the FDLR. Members of the Raia Mutomboki have no love for the members of the Hutu or the Tutsi ethnic groups and want them expelled from their country but especially from their district. The Congolese army moved into this area quickly in order to squelch the ethnic violence that once occurred in Masisi and Walikale in 1993.

 Last month, at the end June 2012  a newer and broader Raia took over Walikale town which is located to the west of Goma, but were pushed out when the Congolese army showed up in the town and took control again.

 And now the issues become murky as so often happens when Congolese events play out in the Kivus. First the Raia said that it would “fight the soldiers in the M23 Movement and push them from DRCongo into Rwanda where they rightfully belong.”  But then rumors have been spreading around both Kivu districts that the Raia have been receiving arms and ammunition from M23 and from Rwanda in order to hunt the FDLR.

 What do I think? The Raia Mutomboki hate the Hutu Interahamwe most so will take support from M23 and the country of Rwanda to get rid of them once and for all. Then they will come after the Hutu civilians even if they are Congolese citizens. The Raia want them gone as well. But after that they will turn on M23 and Rwanda in order to either drive all Tutsi from Kivu District or kill them if they will not leave. Nothing has changed- the Hutu and Tutsi are still hated by the rest of the tribes in the Congo and seen as usurpers even though many of their families have lived in the Congo for hundreds of years.  The soldiers in the M23 Movement know this and fight to call attention to this critical situation. Of this I am certain- if the Congolese and the Rwandan governments do not work together to stem the ethnic violence and alter the villagers’ prejudicial attitudes; it will only be a matter of time before a Congolese Genocide will occur that will match the Rwandan Genocide of 1994.


Kat Nickerson                 Kingston,   RI              USA




One Response to “Kivu Mai- Mai Return: Raia Mutomboki”

  1. worldorphanrelief December 4, 2012 at 12:22 am #

    Great blog!

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