On March 9, a police officer was killed and a health worker injured following an attack by armed Maï Maï militiamen at an Ebola treatment center in Butembo, North Kivu province. Although the assailants were later repelled by local security forces, the attack is understood to be the second of its kind in less than a week, thus highlighting the complex security dynamic in eastern DRC.
Successive attacks on Ebola treatment centers
There have been four recorded attacks on Ebola treatment centers and transit facilities in eastern DRC since February 1, 2019. All four attacks reportedly occurred in North Kivu province, with the attacks on March 5 and 9 targeting the same treatment center in Butembo, where the country’s second outbreak was reported in August 2018. In the other previous incidents (February 24 and 27), Ebola treatment centers in Katwa (the former) and Butembo (the latter) were attacked. During the attack, likely perpetrated by Maï Maï militia, the facilities were set on fire. Overall, there have been two deaths and two injuries reported as a result of the recent onslaughts. Although the attacks resulted in relatively few casualties, they have hindered containment measures since Ebola patients were forced to flee the assaults, which is highly likely to increase the spread of the virus.
Motivations behind targeted attacks
There is a significant threat of the virus spreading further, which is exacerbated by frequent attacks. This is particularly concerning, considering the thousands of confirmed cases since the outbreak began in August 2018. Although there is a lack of transparency in terms of establishing clear motivations behind the attacks, local sources suggest that community-based groups, such as the Maï Maï, have targeted Ebola treatment centers due to the links with foreign entities, including Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the World Health Organization (WHO), which are perceived to hinder indigenous communities. Distrust towards foreign entities can be traced back to the end of the Second Congo War (1998–2003). However, this was later epitomized during the breakdown of the January 2008 peace deal between the government and several rebel militia groups, including the Maï Maï and the Congrès national pour la défense du people (CNDP). There has been a clear trust deficit in the Kinshasa-based government, which has led to an increased frequency in attacks on government personnel, facilities and affiliated organizations, such as the UN and the WHO.
Following the incidents, MSF was forced to partially suspend operations at the Butembo center, which is highly likely to pose elevated health risks given the ongoing Ebola outbreak in the town. The incident is a microcosm of the broader challenges to the security-health nexus in eastern DRC, whereby concerted efforts to contain the Ebola virus by NGOs and charities are consistently being hindered by the activities of militia groups. Given the persistent nature of the attacks, combined with limited state support to handle the security of the treatment centers, it is clear that the security-health landscape is likely to deteriorate in North Kivu and, to a lesser extent, Ituri province, in the short to medium term.
How GardaWorld companies NYA and KK Security can help
GardaWorld maintains a permanent presence in the DRC through KK Security, which provides a range of security services—physical security, canine security, tracking services, alarms and other security products across the Great Lakes region of Africa. Furthermore, through close coordination with our Global Operations Center, NYA can also facilitate in delivering crisis response, security risk management and journey management services in preparation of or in reaction to significant security incidents. From strategic advice at the corporate level, down to tactical advice and practical support on the ground in local languages, such as French and Lingala, NYA, GardaWorld and KK Security’s extensive operational expertise and in-country resources are designed to adapt to any mission and speak our clients’ languages.
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