Mai Mai Militias: A Complex Threat to Stability in the DRC

Mai Mai Militias in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Impact and Challenges

ARAC International Inc. | Center for Counter Malign Influence

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Formation and Motivations

Mai Mai (aka Mayi Mayi) militias are local armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), particularly in the eastern regions, initially formed for community defense 1 2 3 4. These groups are driven by various motivations, including ethnic identity, territorial control, and community protection 1 4 5. The term 'Mai-Mai' has historical roots, describing indigenous militia involved in uprisings in the Great Lakes Region since the colonial era 6.

Impact on the Region

The activities of Mai Mai militias have led to increased violence, displacement of populations, and human rights abuses 1 2 7 4 8. Their presence and actions contribute to the ongoing instability and conflict in the DRC, complicating peace efforts and humanitarian responses 1 2 9 4 10. The conflict in eastern DRC since 1996 has resulted in approximately six million deaths 11, with a record high of 6.9 million internally displaced people reported by the UN 12. Sexual violence is used as a weapon of destruction, with more than 15,000 rapes reported in the last year, causing long-lasting consequences for survivors, families, and communities 13.

Recent Developments

In the latter months of 2023, the DRC experienced a spike in violence as the country anticipated national elections in December 14. Clashes over territory and natural resources, extrajudicial killings by security forces, political violence, and rising tensions with Rwanda have contributed to the deadly conflict 1. The resurgence of the M23 rebel group, primarily composed of ethnic Tutsis, has also gained control of large parts of the North Kivu province 15.

Ethnic Tensions and Human Rights Abuses

Ethnic tensions play a significant role in the conflict, with groups like Mai Mai Yakutumba, predominantly ethnic Babembe, targeting individuals based on ethnicity 16. Armed groups, including the Mai Mai, continue to commit severe human rights abuses 17, with battles, fatalities, and attacks on civilians increasing steadily from 2017 to 2021 18. Weak governance, influence from neighboring countries, and ethnic tensions are contributing factors to the violence 19.

Involvement of the Congolese Army

There have been instances where Congolese army units have backed armed groups implicated in serious abuses, including providing direct support and ammunition to fighters from various militias 20. These collaborations have led to widespread abuses, including unlawful killings, sexual violence, and theft 21.

Government and International Response

The administration of President Tshisekedi has been urged to carry out a security sector overhaul, including adopting a plan to address impunity for grave human rights violations, with a vetting mechanism for the military and other security services, an internationalized justice entity, and a comprehensive reparations program for victims of abuses 22. Despite pledges to guarantee human rights, both sides of the conflict have failed to protect civilians from abuse and have at times committed gross violations against them 23.

The Mai Mai militias in the DRC represent a complex challenge to peace and stability in the region. Their diverse motivations and the impact of their actions on the local population underscore the difficulties in resolving the ongoing conflict. The involvement of the Congolese army in supporting some of these groups further complicates the situation. As the DRC moves towards national elections and seeks to address its internal conflicts, the international community and the Congolese government must work together to mitigate the violence and provide justice and support to the victims of these armed groups.


*The report was generated by ARAC's Peacekeeper Insights OpenAI Application using research and reports provided by M. Nuri Shakoor and credible sources as context to develop the NSAG Profile.

Photo visualization: Data curated and analyzed by M. Nuri Shakoor. The dataset provided by ACLED.