PARIS: – Katanga is a mineral-rich province about the size of Spain in the southeast Democratic Republic of Congo, which played a pivotal role in the country’s history, and remains the scene of a separatist uprising that has displaced hundreds of thousands.
HISTORY: Separatists in Katanga headed by Moise Tshombe broke from the vast central African nation rapidly after its independence from Belgium in 1960 — with support from former colonists keen to keep a hand in the flourishing local economy.
When Katanga seceded, with South Kasai, civil war broke out. Successive conflicts claimed tens of thousands of lives. The Congo’s first president, Patrice Lumumba, was assassinated in 1961 after turning for help against the uprising to the Soviet Union, while UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold died in a plane crash the same year while on a peace mission.
Up against UN troops, the separatists surrendered in 1962 and Katanga was reintegrated into the Congo. But rebellions broke out to the north in chronically unstable North and South Kivu provinces. The unrest indirectly helped a former army chief of staff to Lumumba, Joseph-Desire Mobutu, to stage a bloodless coup in November 1965.
Mobutu Sese Seko, as he called himself, renamed the country Zaire and ruled as a dictator until unrest compelled him to share power with the opposition in 1991. His regime became a byword for endemic corruption and put the term “kleptocracy” on Africa’s map, while the DRC’s infrastructure and administration fell to ruins.
A longtime rebel from Katanga, Laurent-Desire Kabila, toppled Mobutu with support from neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda in the First Congo War (1996-97).
When Kabila was murdered by a bodyguard in January 2001, his soldier son Joseph was rushed into office by Kinshasa politicians during the Second Congo War (1997-2003). Today he is the elected president.
The wars brought in the armies of at least six African nations, leaving at least three million dead, according to revised estimates, and deep instability in the east.
REBEL FORCES: Both Kivu provinces, to the north of Katanga, are bases for Rwandan Hutu rebels implicated in the 1994 genocide and for Ugandan foes of President Yoweri Museveni. The Hutus have been pitted against successive Tutsi armed groups, notably army defectors in M23, which was wiped out late last year by government and UN forces.
MAI-MAI FORCES: Parts of Katanga, as in the Kivus, are overrun by dozens of armed militias known as Mai-Mai, who often wear charms and daub themselves for attacks. Financed in part by illegal mining, the warriors kill, rape, loot and burn during raids on villages.
The most prominent Mai-Mai force, the Bakata Katanga, emerged in 2011 and has displaced some 600,000 people according to the UN. It is most active in the north and centre of the province.
The Bakata Katanga — “Separate Katanga” in Swahili — wants both independence and a fairer split of mineral wealth between the province’s north and south. It feeds off popular anger at Katanga’s chronic underdevelopment, and broken promises including by the Katanga-born Kabilas to transfer powers away from Kinshasa. Experts and the Catholic Church also believe the Bakata Katanga to be regularly used to serve political interests.
BANTUS AND PYGMIES: Fighting has erupted between ethnic Bantu people and Pygmies in Katanga’s Tanganyika district. The nomadic Pygmies feel threatened by mining activities and the growth of land farmed by Bantus, but the latest unrest was triggered by an illicit affair between a Bantu man and Pygmy woman.
GEOGRAPHY: 496,871 square kilometres (191,843 square miles), bordering with Tanzania (east), Zambia (south) and Angola (west). The provincial capital is Lubumbashi, the DRC’s second city.
POPULATION: Six million (2013 estimate).
LANGUAGE: Swahili (official) and French.
RELIGION: Traditional African beliefs and Christianity.
MINERAL RESOURCES: Katanga has 34 percent of global cobalt reserves and 10 percent of its copper. It is also rich in cadmium, chromium, coal, gold, lead, manganese, silver, tin, uranium and zinc.
Local NGOs report serious environmental damage from mining.