Violence in the Kasai region of Congo appears to be escalating significantly, as reports emerged over the weekend of the decapitation of 42 police officers tasked with fighting a regional militia known as Kamuina Nsapu.
The group is also suspected of having kidnapped an American man, a Swedish woman and four Congolese citizens working with the United Nations to investigate recent clashes between the militia and government forces. The United Nations deployed Uruguayan and Tanzanian peacekeepers on a search-and-rescue mission two weeks ago, but they are complaining of obstruction from the Congolese government.
The Kasai region is exceptionally poor and remote in a country that is largely without public infrastructure and teeters on the brink of lawlessness. No one from the vast region has ever led Congo — officially known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or the DRC — and it is the home province of the recently deceased opposition leader Étienne Tshisekedi. Across Congo, ethnic tension has combined with feelings of regional neglect to produce large-scale conflicts over the past two decades. The recent fighting in Kasai has followed a familiar trajectory.