Zaire: IRIN Briefing Part VI: Kasai, 3/21/97

Zaire: IRIN Briefing Part VI: Kasai, 3/21/97

U N I T E D N A T I O N S Department of Humanitarian Affairs Integrated Regional Information Network for the Great Lakes

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Zaire: IRIN Briefing Part VI: Kasai 21 Mar 1997

A. History

Kasai, which covers some 325,000 square kilometres encompassing 17% (7,167,000) of Zaire's population, is divided into two regions: Occidental (west) and Oriental (east). The capital of Kasai Oriental, Mbuji-Mayi, is the most economically significant and has a population of 3,830,000. The capital of Kasai Occidental, Kananga, has a population of 3,337,000 (1). As the birthplace of Zaire's first prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, a Pan Africanist who led Zaire's only national based party at independence, the Kasains have no love of Mobutu. Along with Shaba secessionists leader Moise Toshombe, they indirectly blame for Lumumba's death. Tshisekedi, Zaire's most influential opposition leader, and his political party, Union pour la Democratie et le Progres Social (UDPS), derive much of their support from Kasai Oriental and his Luba ethnic group (2). In 1993, in a show of support for deposed Prime Minister Tshisekedi, both of the Kasai regions refused to accept the new currency, Nouveau Zaires, and have continued to use the old Zairean notes.

In an attempt to undermine support for the UDPS in Kasai, internal and regional ethnic tensions have been periodically enflamed. However, despite interference from Kinshasa, Kasai has persevered and prospered. Following the 1992-94 expulsion of Kasaian workers from Shaba, Kasai grew significantly in economic power, becoming Zaire's second largest economic centre, rivaling that of Shaba. Expelled intellectuals, former professors at Lubumbashi University and the business elite, formed the Conference pour le Developpement Economique de Kasai Oriental (CDEKO). Its first act was to initiate a boycott of Shaba beer and maize, leading to the development of a brewery and an increase in overall agricultural output for the Kasai regions. It also promoted the creation of a locally controlled airline, Wetrafa. Moreover, in 1990 a university was established in Mbuji-Mayi; jointly sponsored by the two main power brokers, the Catholic church, and the mining company Miniere de Bakangu (MIBA). CDEKO, which was strongly supported by Tshisekedi, was incorporated into the university and is presided over by MIBA director Jonas Mukambu Kadiate Nzema (3). It is model of successful regional development that many regions had hoped to emulate.

The success of the CDEKO's economic development activities fueled Kasaian demands for greater autonomy and economic independence. Kasaians however, notably the Lubas, do not want separatism but, instead, favour greater economic autonomy within a federated Zaire. They fear that a push for independence would result in a backlash, similar to the Shaba expulsions, against the Luba migrants who are spread throughout Zaire. Thus, a principle aim of CDEKO has been to build up Kasia's economy to strengthen its bargaining position for the 1997 elections. However, there is always the possibility that internal ethnic rivalry between Bena Mutu wa Mukuna (people of the upper plateau), Tshisbanga and Mukamba's people, and Bena Tshibanda (people of the lower plateau), Tshisekedi's people, could interfere in this process.

Outside of Tshisekedi's call for a negotiated solution to the current crisis, Kasains have no direct ties with Kabila's ADFL forces. However, their animosity towards Mobutu and Kinshasa, exasperated by the arrival of fleeing FAZ soldiers from Kindu, who have reportedly looted Kasain towns in the region of Sankuru (4), has encouraged popular sympathy for the ADFL movement.

B. Economic

The Kasai regions derive their principal wealth from diamonds. The main diamond area is located around Bakwanga in Kasai Oriental. Diamonds are so prevasive to the market that the old Zairean banknotes, which are only in use in Kasai, are now pegged to the region's diamond production with a rate of exchange that has remained stable despite soaring inflation in other parts of Zaire.

Founded in 1991, the main diamond company, MIBA is 80% state and 20% SGB-Sibeka (Belgiam/French) owned and accounts for 50% of the Zaire's national diamond production (5), the receipts of which account for a substantial portion of Zaire's active economy. Following a drop in production in the early 1990s, diamond production started to recover from 1993 onward. The fall of SOMINKI in Maniema and Kilo Moto in Haut Zaire to ADFL forces increases the political and economic importance of both MIBA and Shaba based Gecamines.

Although the CEDKO has advanced Mbuji-Mayi as the second most important economic capital, neither of Kasai's two regions has developed strong independent links with neighbouring countries. To reach Zambia, Kasai trade must pass through Shaba province and Angola's civil war has prevented the development of the necessary infrastructure to facilitate a lucrative cross-border trade. Because of this, both Kasai Oriental and Kasai Occidental remain hemmed in, dependent on the good will of their neighbours. Kasai is also dependant, to a limited degree, on the hydro-electic station in Bas Zaire to run some of its mining operations.

C. Kasai Who's Who

C.1 Jonas Mukamba Kadiata Nzemba

Nzemba, who is Kasaian, is considered to be an influential member of the Mobutu's party, Mouvement Populaire pour le Revolution (MPR), who paradoxically calls himself a "brother" of Tshisekedi (6). For the past ten years he has been president and chief executive of Miniere de Bakwanga (MIBA), Zaire's richest mining company following the decline of Shaba based Gecamines. According to Zairean opposition paper le Soft, Nzemba said he would willingly work for Kabila if he arrived in Kasai (7). For more detailed information refer to Zaire: IRIN Briefing Part II.

C.2 Bishop Tarcisse Tshibangu

As bishop of Mbuji-Mayi, Tshibanga is the leader of the Catholic church in Kasai, which is considered to whold considerable political influence and power. He was significant in the development of CEDKO and the establishment of the University of Mbuji-Mayi.

C.3 Etienne Tshisekedi

Tshisekedi is Zaire's most influential opposition leader. Key members of his party, UDPS, and entourage have recently undertaken negotiations with Kabila (8). For more detailed information refer to, Zaire: IRIN Briefing Part II for more information.


Most of the above information was gathered from news and wire services, the journal 'Africa Confidential'and interviews with various local sources. Other sources include:

1. Institut National de la Statistique, Kinshasa Zaire -1995 figures 2. refer to Zaire: IRIN Briefing Part II 3. Africa Confidental (AC) 19 Jan., vol. 37. No.2, p.7 4. LePotentiel (Zairean opposition papers), 05/03/97 5. Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) Zaire 1995-96,p.21 6. AC 19 Jan. p.6 7. Le Soft (independent Zairean newspaper), 14 March 1997 8. refer to IRIN Update No. 125

This report is part of a series of briefings designed to assist the humanitarain community understand the complexity and history of the current crisis in Zaire.

Part I: List of Key Political Players, 24.02.97 Part II: Historical Overview of Zaire, 27.02.97 Part III: Zaire Who's Who, 27.02.97 Part IV: Eastern Zaire Who's Who, 28.02.97 Part V: Shaba, 19.03.97 Part VI: Kasai, 20.03.97 Part VII: Equateur, 21.03.97

The above has been compiled from varied sources and in no way reflects the views of the United Nations.

Nairobi, 20 March 1997

[Via the UN DHA Integrated Regional Information Network. The material contained in this communication may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. UN DHA IRIN Tel: +254 2 622123 Fax: +254 2 622129 e-mail: for more information. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts from this report should include attribution to the original sources mentioned, not simply "DHA".]

Date: Fri, 21 Mar 1997 18:06:49 +0300 From: UN DHA IRIN - Great Lakes <> Subject: Zaire: IRIN Briefing Part VI: Kasai 21 Mar 1997 97.3.21 Message-ID: <>

Editor: Ali Dinar,