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The Zande Kingdom, commonly called Zande, is a country in central Africa. It borders the Central African Republic to the north and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the south, and it shares a small border with Sudan in the far east. It is the youngest kingdom in the world, having only been founded in 1999 by a group of international exiles. The leader of this group, Joseph Lipe, was chosen as king by the local population.
Before the establishment of the Zande Kingdom, the Zande ethnic group lived on what can be described as the frontiers of three modern African states: the DR Congo, the Central African Republic, and Sudan. Within these three nations they were a very small minority, and the borders between the nations were so vague that they had practically no impact on the development of the ethnic group. By the early 1990's there were no distinguishable differences in the Zande language spoken in the DRC, CAR, and Sudan. Because of their remote position, they were largely ignored by the governments of the region. One Belgian linguist working for an interior-Congo NGO in 1991 described them as being "a mysterious people. They live on the slopes and in the valleys of the far north. Though there are perhaps one million of them, they have no major urban centers. Life has been unchanged for the Zande people for over three-hundred years."
Arrival of Foreigners
In 1993, a group of foreigners calling themselves the "Reform Movement" (RM) arrived in northern Zaire via the Central African Republic. The RM had twelve initial members: Joseph Lipe (economics), Malina Lipe (social welfare), Andre Ariyanto (agroeconomics), William Schule (agroeconomics), Charles Reon (rural development), and seven others. The five mentioned would form the core of this group. They settled in a village between the Bomo and Uele rivers, and they reportedly had a treasury of $1.2 million USD. Their stated mission was to create a modern nation-state in the heart of Africa.
They began by devoting themselves to learning the local language, Zande, and bribing local village officials. They encouraged new agriculture techniques and engaged in a wide range small-scale development projects. The RM created a new village, Kwasi, which quickly developed into a town of over 4,000 inhabitants. By early 1996 they had garnered the support of most Zande village elders within a 50 km radius. Two of RM's founding members also died in early 1996 from a local outbreak, but by the end of the year Joseph Lipe had convinced six more Westerners, one Japanese, and one Korean to make the move to Kwasi.
1997 Confrontation and Civil War
By early 1997 the DR Congo government had become deeply suspicious about the events happening in their far north. They dispatched 2,000 soldiers along with police officers that had been ejected from the area to confront the Reform Movement. The soldiers moved deep into Zande areas, reportedly killing over 700 civilians and raping countless women. They eventually reached Kwasi. Joseph Lipe convinced the soldiers and police officers to retreat from Zande areas (some sources say at a cost of $400,000 USD). Joseph Lipe traveled to Kinshasa and worked out a deal with the Zaire government for special autonomy. It was later revealed that upon returning in Kwasi the RM began to form the Zande National Army (ZNA).
With the warlord Kabila's capture of Kinshasa and the collape of the Zaire government, the peace deal with the central government quickly collapsed. Forces loyal to the government in surrounding areas quickly began encroaching on Zande land. In June, 1997 two-thousand Zande elders convened in Kwasi demanding retaliation. The Reform Movement initially resisted the call to arms, but a militia raid on four outer villages that killed over 4,000 Zande civilians changed the minds of the RM leaders. The ZNA was deployed in southern areas to protect villages. An engagement on November 11, 1997 destroyed an opposing militia and led to the end of attacks on the Zande.
In the early months of 1998 the Second Congo War broke out. The war was between the central government of the DR Congo and over three other major factions. Various militias attempted to enter Zande areas, but they were quickly defeated. In the greater region the Zande realm was seen as a save haven. Hundreds of thousands of refugees entered the area while the ZNA expanded the Reform Movement's area of control. The population of the Zande-majority areas swelled from 1.2 million to 3.5 million by 1999. With the situation in the greater Congo region continuing to deteriorate, over 4,000 Zande elders convened once again in Kwasi. This time, they elected Joseph Lipe as their supreme chief, or ethnic king, and demanded independence.