Mbuji-Mayi

The Baluba – “Jews of the Congo”

In Story by Todd Churchill

When we first visited the city of Mbuji-Mayi in 2006, provincial church leaders gave us the following account of the history of their people, the Baluba, who inhabit the Kasaï-Oriental Province in DR Congo:

During the Belgian occupation of Congo, thousands upon thousands of the Baluba were recruited from the Kasaï in order to go and work in the mines of the Katanga Province. The vast majority stayed. But in 1960, when Mobutu was feeling threatened by the leader of an opposition party (Etienne Tshisekedi, a Muluba), he made arrangements with the governor of the Katanga Province to create a crisis among the Luba people living there in order to weaken the momentum of the opposition party. As a result, the governor of Katanga issued an order that all Luba people were to leave the Katanga province immediately. The people of Katanga turned on the Baluba living and working among them and began to chase them out. Many were beaten and killed along the way. The Baluba were herded onto trains leaving Katanga where the conditions were inhumane. Many suffocated in the packed train cars, especially the children. Others died of starvation. Families of eleven arrived in Mbuji-Mayi with only two alive. They had nothing to start over with, so the government created a refugee camp outside of town where they set up lean-to coverings and tried to eak out a living under the scorching heat of the African sun.

From the other side of the province that same year, a war was declared between the Bena-Lulua (the people of present day Kasaï-Occidental Province) and the Baluba. It was a massacre. Any remaining Baluba were chased out of what is now Kasaï-Occidental. If that wasn’t enough, the nightmare started again in 1993 when the Baluba were chased out of the Katanga Province for a second time. Those who survived the long journey back to Mbuji-Mayi numbered approximately 1.5 million, effectively doubling the population of the city.

Needless to say, the memories of these horrific events have not faded from the minds of those who lived through them. The losses they suffered are unimaginable. Today, the Baluba call themselves the “Jews of the Congo” because of all they have suffered and the many ways they have been mistreated.