The arrest of a local cleric in Lubumbashi, the DRC, over incitement has elicited protests in Haut-Katanga province, evoking memories of secession demands.
Daniel Ngoy Mulunda, a former boss of the Independent Electoral Commission (Ceni) who is now a pastor, was detained on Monday and his house ransacked by intelligence agents in Lubumbashi, southern DRC.
Mulunda chaired the electoral commission in the 2011 elections won by Joseph Kabila, despite allegations of irregularities. He was due to be transferred to the capital, Kinshasa, probably for an urgent trial.
Yet in Lubumbashi, some 1,600km from Kinshasa and where copper and other minerals are mined, protesters tried to stop the transfer. Gunshots were heard near the airport as police prevented his supporters from reaching the facility.
Mulunda is said to have made disparaging remarks during the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the assassination of former President Laurent Désiré Kabila, on January 16. He had conducted a service in honour of President Laurent Désiré Kabila, as is customary in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
He let it be known that he went to Lubumbashi “for peace”, “to appease Katanga”. But he also warned that “peace and unity cannot be maintained if the authorities do not respect the people of Katanga and especially our leader, former President Joseph Kabila”.
“If the humiliations continue against our leader and his wife Maman Olive Lembe, Katanga will withdraw from the Congo”.
The former president of the Ceni and initiator, in the past, of several actions of peace, agitated for the secession of the great area of Katanga, a region of 500,000 km2, but which has been divided into four provinces since 2015.
He spoke as his congregation applauded, according to one video recording. He waved a flag recognised as that of the ephemeral Republic of Katanga, which attempted secession in 1960, just after the proclamation of the independence of the Congo.
The fiery preaching of Mulunda, himself a native of Katanga, comes with Joseph Kabila staying in Lubumbashi, after a coalition his party formed with President Félix Tshisekedi broke down last December.
Tshisekedi has struggled to strengthen institutions and get loyalists. On Saturday, he and Joseph Kabila celebrated the anniversary of Laurent Désiré Kabila. Laurent Kabila was Joseph’s father.
However, behind this gesture hailed by the leaders of Joseph Kabila’s party, the power struggles continue.
And the arrest of Mulunda may fuel the blaze of Congolese politics. For several days, rumours swirled of an attack by pro-secession activists.
Last September, the claims and actions of the separatists caused the shooting to death of about 20 people in Lubumbashi, after a clash of the Congolese army, the police, and the separatists.