T his week Kinshasa, the sprawling capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), was the scene of a huge jailbreak in which six people were killed. Among the 3,000 or so inmates who escaped was a prized prisoner: Ne Muanda Nsemi, not a criminal kingpin or drug lord, but rather a self-styled prophet and leader of the Christian sect Bundu dia Kongo (BDK).
Mr. Nsemi was initially arrested in early March following a two-week standoff after deadly clashes between the police and his followers. The jailbreak was reportedly led by the BDK, although it has denied involvement.
BDK is a politico-religious movement originating in the eastern province of Kongo Central, which borders the capital district. With its roots in the anti-colonial struggles of the early 20th century, the sect has more recently emerged as a challenge to the authority of President Joseph Kabila. Dr. Denis Tull, a Central Africa researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, says the group has ridden “on a wave of discontent at the marginalisation and exploitation of the province and its people”.
The Kongo Central region is rich in mineral resources such as gold, bauxite and diamonds and is the DRC’s only oil-producing region. In light of its resource wealth, the BaKongo people feel underrepresented at the state level. Mr. Nsemi’s group has been spearheading protests against the central government since 2006.
Among his followers, Muanda Nsemi is considered to be a messenger sent by God. According to the BDK’s official website, the Archangel of the Kongo appeared to him during his student days. The charismatic leader, Dr. Tull says, “considers himself to be the great master of Kongo wisdom”. His vision is to revive the Kongo kingdom, which flourished for centuries around the mouth of the Congo river before colonial times and encompassed parts of present-day DRC, Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon and Angola. Mr. Nesmi has alluded to Kosovo as a model for Kongo’s independence, the BBC reported.
With ongoing skirmishes in other parts of the country and rebel groups still holding vast swathes of eastern Congo, the jailbreak of Muanda Nsemi adds another governmental challenge to the already weak central state.