Democratic Republic of Congo: “Kuluna” gangs, including areas where they have influence; government efforts against them, including effectiveness and resources available; state protection available to victims and its effectiveness (2013-August 2017) [COD105962.FE]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa

1. Kuluna

The United Nations Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) published a report in 2014 on Operation Likofi [punch] whose aim was [UN English version] “to combat criminal delinquency in Kinshasa” (UN Oct. 2014, para. 1). The report states that the term kuluna [koulouna, kouluna, plural sometimes written as kulunas] refers to [UN English version] “a criminal or group of criminals responsible for serious crimes” (UN Oct. 2014, 5). According to a 2014 article on Operation Likofi published by Human Rights Watch, the term kuluna refers to [Human Rights Watch English version] “members of organized criminal gangs” (Human Rights Watch 17 Nov. 2014, 13). Sources refer to kuluna as [translation] “bandits” (L’Observateur 7 Aug. 2017; L’Avenir 26 Oct. 2016). According to sources, kuluna are comprised mainly of young men (Human Rights Watch 17 Nov. 2014, 14; L’Avenir 7 June 2017). Other sources indicate that the kuluna are under 20 years old (L’Observateur 7 Aug. 2017; L’Avenir 5 Apr. 2017). Sources report that many kuluna come from [Human Rights Watch English version] “poor families” (Human Rights Watch 17 Nov. 2014, 15; L’Avenir 7 June 2017). Sources report the following crimes committed by kuluna:

  • robberies (Human Rights Watch 17 Nov. 2014, 13; L’Avenir 7 June 2017; Forum des As 31 Dec. 2015);
  • injuries (Human Rights Watch 17 Nov. 2014, 52; L’Avenir 7 June 2017; L’Observateur 7 Aug. 2017);
  • rapes (UN Oct. 2014, 5; L’Observateur 7 Aug. 2017; ACP 8 June 2016);
  • murders (UN Oct. 2014, 5; Human Rights Watch 17 Nov. 2014, 13; L’Observateur 7 Aug. 2017).

Sources indicate that the kuluna use machetes, bottles or knives (Human Rights Watch 17 Nov. 2014, 13; L’Avenir 7 June 2017). Some sources state that they also use firearms (L’Avenir 7 June 2017; L’Observateur 7 Aug. 2017).

International Crisis Group indicates that, after 10 p.m., residents of Kinshasa rarely go out into the sparsely lit streets of their city (International Crisis Group 13 Oct. 2016, 7). An article from the Kinshasa-based daily newspaper Forum des As also reports the disruption of Kinshasa locals by the kuluna, for example, in the city’s big market:


Patrons of the “Zando” [as the market is commonly called] are under constant threat from “anti-social” youths who circulate there merely to strip them of their property …, these young “kulunors” rob and extort money and telephones from shoppers at the central market under the helpless gaze of other passersby. (Forum des As 31 Dec. 2015)

The news site reports attacks in broad daylight:


Anti-social individuals clearly under the influence of drugs, commonly called “kuluna,” and armed with machetes and sticks, stop passersby and strip them of their valuables (money, jewelry, mobile telephones, purses, etc.), as if in a jungle. ( 7 Oct. 2016)

According to the 2014 article published by Human Rights Watch, the kuluna are gangs of about 10 to 20 members that are organized as follows:

[Human Rights Watch English version]

The leader of the gang is often called the “general” and tends to be a member who is seen as the strongest, most daring, and invincible member of the group. In some cases, these leaders have committed a serious or noteworthy crime, have been arrested multiple times but escaped prison, or have a close connection to an influential political actor or police officer. The “general” is often surrounded by a ceinture (“belt” in French) of trusted bodyguards

The “general coordination” of the gang is a group of kuluna responsible for maintaining good relations with the influential administrative authorities, police, politicians, and businessmen in their area of operation, and for getting gang members out of prison by collecting money or getting their political allies to intervene. The gang members are all those who carry out the orders of the general. (Human Rights Watch 17 Nov. 2014, 14, italics in original)

Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

In an article from June 2017, the Agence congolaise de presse (ACP) cites the provincial commissioner of the Congolese National Police (Police nationale congolaise, PNC) in the province of Équateur as stating that the kuluna are made up of [translation] “several gangs acting together or alone” (ACP 17 June 2017). The 2014 article published by Human Rights Watch also indicates that [Human Rights Watch English version] “gangs operating in the same general area sometimes collaborate with each other” (Human Rights Watch 17 Nov. 2014, 14). However, the same source reports [Human Rights Watch English version] “rivalries” among kuluna from different gangs (Human Rights Watch 17 Nov. 2014, 14). Other sources similarly report clashes between kuluna from rival gangs (L’Avenir 26 Oct. 2016; Radio Okapi 24 Mar. 2017).

According to Human Rights Watch,

[Human Rights Watch English version]

members of the political opposition used the kuluna to provide physical protection to candidates, disrupt demonstrations of rival parties, or target supporters of political rivals. Politicians have also paid the kuluna to participate in political demonstrations and inflate the number of their supporters. Politicians on both sides reportedly distributed money, machetes, motorcycles, and other materials to kuluna to gain their support. (Human Rights Watch 17 Nov. 2014, 13)

Moreover, in a 2016 report on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), International Crisis Group reports, based on interviews conducted in Kinshasa in 2016, that politicians, especially the Peoples’ Party for Reconstruction and Development, use kuluna to sow disorder during protests (International Crisis Group 13 Oct. 2016, 7). In its 2014 report, Human Rights Watch states that [Human Rights Watch English version] “some” members of the police and army cooperate with kuluna on operations, and that some of their relatives are kuluna members (Human Rights Watch 17 Nov. 2014, 14). Other sources also report that police are suspected of collaborating with kuluna (L’Avenir 5 Apr. 2017; Le Phare 4 May 2016; Matininfos 18 Sept. 2016). According to the 2014 report published by Human Rights Watch, [Human Rights Watch English version] “[w]ealthy people sometimes hire kuluna to serve as bodyguards and protect them from other kuluna” (Human Rights Watch 17 Nov. 2014, 15). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

1.1 Areas of Influence

Several sources describe the kuluna as an urban phenomenon (L’Observateur 7 Aug. 2017; International Crisis Group 13 Oct. 2016, 7; Radio Okapi 16 June 2017). In particular, sources report that kuluna are present in Kinshasa (Human Rights Watch 17 Nov. 2014; Radio Okapi 16 June 2017; International Crisis Group 13 Oct. 2016, 7). The article published in 2014 by Human Rights Watch indicates that the kuluna have been responsible for criminal acts in Kinshasa since 2006 (Human Rights Watch 17 Nov. 2014, 1). In an article from June 2017, L’Avenir, a Congolese daily newspaper, reports that the kuluna [translation] “have operated in Kinshasa since 2000 with a presence in almost all cities of the [DRC]” (L’Avenir 7 June 2017).

The Congolese daily newspaper La Prospérité indicates that the kuluna are present in the [translation] “surrounding areas of Kinshasa,” such as in the Tshangu district (La Prospérité 2 Mar. 2017). Another Congolese daily newspaper, L’Observateur, indicates that the communes in Kinshasa most affected by the kuluna are Masina, Kimbanseke, Ndjili, Kisenso, Makala, Barumbu, Kinshasa, Nsele and Ngaliema (L’Observateur 7 Aug. 2017).

2. Government Measures

Sources mention Operation Likofi, launched in November 2013 by the Congolese government against the kuluna (UN Oct. 2014, para. 6; Human Rights Watch 8 June 2016; Radio Okapi 8 June 2016). The 2014 UNJHRO report indicates that Likofi I was launched on 15 November 2013 and that Likofi II [UN English version] “took place from 15 December 2013 to 15 February 2014” with the purpose of pursuing “bandits operating in police or military uniform,” in addition to tracking down kuluna (UN Oct. 2014, para. 6).

The 2014 article published by Human Rights Watch states the following with respect to Operation Likofi:

[Human Rights Watch English version]

In raids across the city, uniformed police who had covered their faces with black masks dragged suspected kuluna at gunpoint out of their homes at night with no arrest warrants. In many cases, the police shot and killed the unarmed youth outside their homes, often in front of family members and neighbors. Others were apprehended and executed in the open markets where they slept or worked or in nearby fields or empty lots. Five of those who were killed during Operation Likofi were between the ages of 14 and 17. Many others were taken to unknown locations and forcibly disappeared. (Human Rights Watch 17 Nov. 2014, 1)

The report published in 2014 by the UNJHRO indicates that police are responsible for 9 summary executions and 32 enforced disappearances during Operation Likofi (UN 15 Oct. 2014, para. 15 and 19). The Human Rights Watch report, published in November 2014, indicates that police officers were responsible for 51 deaths and 33 forced disappearances (Human Rights Watch 17 Nov. 2014, 1).

Sources indicate that in March 2016, the Association africaine de défense des droits de l’homme, an [translation] “apolitical organization for the promotion and defence of human rights created in Kinshasa on 10 January 1991 by a group of lawyers, doctors and journalists” (Alternatives n.d.), asked the Kinshasa government to put an end to the kuluna problem, which is [translation] “a great danger for all of Congolese society” (ACP 30 Mar. 2016; ADIAC 26 Mar. 2016). According to a January 2016 article published by La Prospérité, the Congolese population is calling for the resumption of Operation Likofi (La Prospérité 19 Jan. 2016). Other sources indicate that the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) announced in April 2016 that it is ready to support the Congolese government in hunting down kuluna, and that, according to the head of this mission, MONUSCO [translation] “is working to that end in collaboration with the [PNC]” (Radio Okapi 17 Apr. 2016; Le Potentiel 19 Apr. 2016).

Sources report that in June 2016, the Congolese government announced that it was going to reinstate the hunt for kuluna in Kinshasa (La Prospérité 8 June 2016; Le Phare 9 June 2016). According to a June 2016 article published by Agence France-Presse (AFP), the minister of the interior announced at that time that [translation] “the government instructed the police [on 7 June] to ‘quickly mount a new operation’ against the armed gangs ‘in strict compliance with the cardinal principles of the new community policing doctrine’” (AFP 7 June 2016). According to an article published in June 2016 by La Prospérité, the Kinshasa police chief [translation] “will establish an independent operational command with human [and] logistical means, as well as an adequate infrastructure” (La Prospérité 8 June 2016). According to the same source, the minister of the interior noted that, this time, [translation] “judicial inquiries will be immediately opened once there are proven cases of foul play” (La Prospérité 8 June 2016).

Sources report arrests of kuluna members, including the following:

  • 17 people were arrested on 15 September 2016 in the Mombele district of Limete commune (Radio Okapi 15 Sept. 2016);
  • a kuluna leader was arrested in District 3 of Masina commune in April 2017 (L’Avenir 5 Apr. 2017);
  • in June 2017, several kuluna were arrested in the city of Kimpese (ACP 16 June 2017);
  • some 30 kuluna were arrested in the Mama Balako district of Mbandaka commune (ACP 17 June 2017);
  • in July 2017, the PNC arrested around 10 suspected kuluna members in NgiriNgiri commune (Radio Okapi 27 July 2017).

An article published in L’Avenir in September 2016 refers to a demonstration by the Congolese opposition on 19 and 20 September 2016 protesting the [translation] “return in force” of the kuluna in the communes of Kinshasa where “acts of barbarism, breakins, robbery, rape and murder” have been committed (L’Avenir 22 Sept. 2016).

Sources report statements made by leaders on the subject of the kuluna, including the following:

  • the commander of the 11th military region [translation] “expressed his determination to put an end to the kuluna problem, which is resurfacing in Kikwit and its surrounding areas,” and in that context “promised to launch Operation Mbita bango (stop them)” in December 2016 (ACP 8 Dec. 2016);
  • the interim provincial commissioner of police in Kinshasa called on [translation] “PNC unit commanders to put an end to urban crime commonly known as Kuluna” in April 2017 (Radio Okapi 18 Apr. 2017);
  • the mayor of the city of Matadi stated in July 2017 that [translation] “[w]ith the combination of efforts by law enforcement agencies strengthened by the support of the population, Matadi will be cleansed of the Kuluna” (ACP 26 July 2017);
  • in July 2017, the provincial commissioner of the PNC in Kinshasa [translation] “stated that the hunt for kuluna was the priority of priorities” (L’Observateur 7 Aug. 2017).

2.1 Effectiveness of Government Measures

Sources report that Operation Likofi was well received by the Kinshasa population (L’Observateur 7 Aug. 2017; RFI 23 June 2016). Sources indicate that the operation reduced the kuluna problem in Kinshasa (La Prospérité 19 Jan. 2016; International Crisis Group 13 Oct. 2016, 7). However, an article from January 2016 in the Congolese daily newspaper Le Phare reports that complaints to police by locals in Bandalungwa and its environs [translation] “against the rise” of the kuluna have gone unanswered (Le Phare 26 Jan. 2016). The same source indicates, in an article from July 2016 on the hunt for three kuluna, that the PNC [translation] “has great difficulty infiltrating their nooks and crannies and providing adequate security cover” (Le Phare 1 July 2016). An article published in October 2016 by L’Avenir indicates that police interventions against the kuluna [translation] “have been ineffectual up to now” (L’Avenir 26 Oct. 2016). According to an article published by Le Phare in March 2016, in some sectors, police interventions are accompanied by [translation] “personnel shortages” (Le Phare 9 Mar. 2016).

According to an article published in June 2017 by ACP, in the Air-Congo district of Mbandaka commune, [translation] “popular justice” is reportedly carried out by young people against the kuluna (ACP 3 June 2017). Similarly, a 2017 article published by Radio Okapi, the UN radio network in the DRC (Radio Okapi 22 Sept. 2014), indicates that the residents of large cities [translation] “have no other choice but to take the law into their own hands” in order to fight the kuluna, especially in Mbandaka (Radio Okapi 16 June 2017). The article in Le Phare published in March 2016 refers to a [translation] “selfdefence force” to combat the kuluna in Bikanga (Le Phare 9 Mar. 2016). Similarly, an article published by La Prospérité in January 2016 refers to the phenomenon of [translation] “volunteer chiefs” in Kinshasa who “organize themselves to pursue and arrest the so-called Kuluna, in order to hand them over to the police” (La Prospérité 19 Jan. 2016). An article from September 2016 published by Radio Okapi also refers to [translation] “volunteer chiefs” or “anti-Kuluna,” young athletes who protect Kinshasa locals from the kuluna (Radio Okapi 8 Sept. 2016). According to the same source, [translation] “martial arts practitioners in several Kinshasa communes have spent a few months organizing themselves to support national police in the hunt for bandits and other thugs” (Radio Okapi 8 Sept. 2016).

3. State Protection Available to Victims of the Kuluna

Information on state protection available to victims of the kuluna could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References 7 October 2016. Guylain Imbul. “Kinshasa : Des ‘Kuluna’ rançonnent en pleine journée à Ngaba et Mombele !” [Accessed 16 Aug. 2017]

Agence congolaise de presse (ACP). 26 July 2017. “Civilités de l’UNPC/Kongo Central au nouveau maire de Matadi.” (Factiva) [Accessed 14 Aug. 2017]

Agence congolaise de presse (ACP). 17 June 2017. “Une trentaine de kuluna arrêtés à mbandaka.” [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017] 

Agence congolaise de presse (ACP). 16 June 2017. “Plusieurs bandits urbains maîtrisés à Kimpese, selon l’administrateur du territoire.” (Factiva) [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017]

Agence congolaise de presse (ACP). 3 June 2017. “Le banditisme à Mbandaka causé par le relâchement des services de sécurité, selon le gouverneur de province.” (Factiva) [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017]

Agence congolaise de presse (ACP). 8 December 2016. “Le Commandant de la 11e région militaire déterminé à mettre fin au phénomène kuluna à Kikwit.” (Factiva) [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017]

Agence congolaise de presse (ACP). 8 June 2016. “Mise en place d’un commandement opérationnel autonome pour la traque des Kuluna.” (Factiva) [Accessed 17 Aug. 2017]

Agence congolaise de presse (ACP). 30 March 2016. “Le gouvernement provincial appelé à mettre fin au phénomène ‘Kuluna.’” (Factiva) [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017]

Agence d’information d’Afrique centrale (ADIAC). 26 March 2016. Lucien Dianzenza. “Insécurité : l’Asadho appelle le gouvernement à mettre fin au phénomène Kuluna.” [Accessed 14 Aug. 2017]

Agence France-Presse (AFP). 7 June 2016. “RDC : Les autorités défendent le bilan d’une opération "antibanditisme" contestée.” (Factiva) [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017]

Alternatives. N.d. “Association africaine de défense des droits de l’homme (RDC).” [Accessed 16 Aug. 2017]

L’Avenir. 7 June 2017. “Pour mettre fin au Kuluna : le projet ‘Clubs des jeunes contre la violence’ lancé à Kinshasa.” (Factiva) [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017]

L’Avenir. 5 April 2017. “Insécurité à Masina : la police met la main sur le meneur Kunda.” (Factiva) [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017]

L’Avenir. 26 October 2016. Lepetit Baende. “Masina : Le quartier Mfumu-Nsuka sous l’emprise des ‘kuluna’.” (Factiva) [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017]

L’Avenir. 22 September 2016. Altesse. “Après le mouvement insurrectionnel : le 19 et 20 septembre 2016 ressuscite le ‘Kuluna’ à Kinshasa.” [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017]

Forum des As. 31 December 2015. Orly-Darel Ngiambukulu. “Kinshasa : le retour en force du ‘phénomène kuluna’ décrié dans certains quartiers.” [Accessed 16 Aug. 2017]

Human Rights Watch. 8 June 2016. “Still No Justice for Congo’s Likofi Victims.” (Factiva) [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017]

Human Rights Watch. 17 November 2014. Opération Likofi : meurtres et disparitions forcées aux mains de la police à Kinshasa, République démocratique du Congo. [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017]

International Crisis Group. 13 October 2016. Boulevard of Broken Dreams: The “Street” and Politics in DR Congo. [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017] 18 September 2016. “Des kuluna’ toujours actifs dans les quartiers de Kinshasa.” [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017]

L’Observateur. 7 August 2017. François Salu. “Le général Kasongo dévoile son plan : la traque de Kuluna, priorité des priorités.” [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017]

Le Phare. 1 July 2016. “Les Kuluna ‘général Mayele,’ ‘Jilva6’ et ‘Ma colonel’ toujours en cavale.” [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017]

Le Phare. 9 June 2016. J. RT. “Reprise imminente des opérations Kuluna à Kinshasa : Boshab décidé à privilégier le respect des droits de l’homme.” [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017]

Le Phare. 4 May 2016. “Coïncidences troublantes dans des opérations de traque des ‘Kuluna.’” [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017]

Le Phare. 9 March 2016. “Démantèlement d’un réseau de ‘kuluna’ à Kisenso.” [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017]

Le Phare. 26 January 2016. “Les termitières des ‘Kuluna’ se réorganisent à Bandalungwa.” [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017]

Le Potentiel. 19 April 2016. Matshi. “Kinshasa : la MONUSCO d’accord pour appuyer la traque des Kulunas.” [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017]

La Prospérité. 2 March 2017. “Insécurité à Kinshasa - Masina - Les Kuluna ôtent la vie du mécène Joli Matata.” (Factiva) [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017]

La Prospérité. 8 June 2016. “Kinshasa : Boshab relance la traque anti-Kuluna!” [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017]

La Prospérité. 19 January 2016. Danny Ngubaa. “Kinshasa : retour en force des ‘Kuluna’.” [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017]

Radio France internationale (RFI). 23 June 2016. “Visé par des sanctions, qui est Célestin Kanyama, l’‘esprit de mort’ de la RDC?” [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017]

Radio Okapi. 27 July 2017. “Kinshasa : la police arrête une dizaine de présumés Kulunas.” [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017]

Radio Okapi. 16 June 2017. “Comment lutter contre les banditismes en RDC?” [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017]

Radio Okapi. 18 April 2017. “Kinshasa : le colonel Elvis Palanga prône ‘une bonne relation’ entre les policiers et la population.” [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017]

Radio Okapi. 24 March 2017. “Kinshasa - Un adolescent meurt dans une opération de la police contre les ‘Kuluna’ à Kintambo.” (Factiva) [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017]

Radio Okapi. 15 September 2016. “Kinshasa : 17 personnes interpellées après un bouclage de la police à Mombele.” [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017]

Radio Okapi. 8 September 2016. “Les pratiquants d’arts martiaux volontaires pour lutter contre le banditisme à Kinshasa." [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017]

Radio Okapi. 8 June 2016. “Opération Likofi - Le gouvernement publie son rapport.” (Factiva) [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017]

Radio Okapi. 17 April 2016. “La MONUSCO prête à appuyer la traque des Kulunas à Kinshasa.” [Accessed 14 Aug. 2017]

Radio Okapi. 22 September 2014 (updated 8 April 2015). “À propos.” Accessed 18 Aug. 2017]

United Nations (UN). October 2014. United Nations Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO). Rapport du Bureau conjoint des Nations Unies aux droits de l’homme sur les violations des droits de l’homme commises par des agents de la Police nationale congolaise dans le cadre de l’opération “Likofi” à Kinshasa entre le 15 novembre 2013 et le 15 février 2014. [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017]

Additional Sources Consulted

Internet sites, including: Amnesty International; BBC; Democratic Republic of the Congo – Embassy in Ottawa;; Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l’homme; Freedom House; IRIN; Radio Free Europe; Transparency International; UN – Refworld.

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