“New” Disorder in Eastern DRC? Observing the potential and proliferation of conflict

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, or more specifically, its Eastern part including the provinces of North and South Kivu has again attracted attention since April. A new splinter movement of FARDC (the national army) deserters called M23 (consisting of formerly integrated ex-CNDP rebels around General Bosco Ntaganda and named after the 23rd March peace agreement between the CNDP and the DRC government) has emerged and busily holds government troops and MONUSCO out of breath. In order to correctly analyse this new but not so novel situation, different layers and aspects of the story have to be considered: First, the recent post-electoral political history that has influenced this shift of allegiance. Second, the very mutiny and its consequences, including the creation of M23 and its activities in proximity to Rutshuru and the neighbouring Nyiragongo and Nyamulagira volcano area. Third, the wider conflict topography in the Kivu provinces, as it is developing these days and additional development linked to conflict, politics, and natural resources in the region.

Wrapping up some of the the post-electoral developments of the last months

After Joseph Kabila’s contested victory in last year’s presidential elections in DRC, international pressure was outspoken and voiced, although without many consequences. The widespread allegations of vote rigging and poll fraud deflagrated as rapidly as they had emerged before, although numerous international organisations and bodies had uttered criticism, including the EU, the Carter Center and others. The choir was joyfully joined by almost all opposition contenders who felt their chance of annulment and finally, archbishop Monsengwo and many church dignitaries protested against the incumbent. This pressure was understood as a pacemaker for more transparent procedures in the numerous post-electoral parliamentary quarrels. Curiously, or as a cynic would say, of course, nothing really happened in that regard. In contrary, the President (who actually acted as an independent candidate) and his party PPRD (joined by many satellites) easily managed to maintain power (including the new Prime Minister, Matata Ponyo, and the new Parliament Speaker, Aubin Minaku) and even split the opposition’s feeble coherence. International pressure had simply failed to generate measurable influence on the whole process. This was some sort of turning point for Eastern DRC. A comparably stable situation had prevailed there until mid-2011. Then, pre-electoral cabals and positioning increased, in which many armed groups found themselves involved. For example, Mayi-Mayi leader Sheka Ntaberi postulated as a national assembly candidate, ex-CNDP army elements violently defended the claims of “their” President Kabila and many similar power struggles marked the whole campaign period and its aftermath. Meanwhile, activities of all sorts of local militias, most notably the different Mayi-Mayi groups increased, particularly as a result of these power struggles, but also due to more opaque reasons. For short period of time, the so-called FDC-Guides gained momentum through strategic killing operations against high-ranking FDLR officers. Also other groups, such as the Raia Mutomboki made their claim in defense of, mainly, persisting FDLR threats. And Bosco Ntaganda, former right-hand of Thomas Lubanga (UPC, recently judged by the ICC) and Laurent Nkunda (CNDP, still under arrest in Rwanda), the integrated FARDC commander holding a General’s rank and the second in command of Amani Leo mission, continued to operate freely in the the Kivus, most infamously through a private border crossing next to his house, as recently the UN Group of Experts has observed. Suddenly, General Ntaganda came into focus for him being wanted by the ICC for a long time. International actors, having failed in influencing the post-electoral process, found their new scapegoat in his person and openly demanded for his detention and extradition to The Hague. As pressure mounted and signals from Kinshasa were little encouraging for him, the General decided to keep a low profile and finally immerse with selected collaborators. A new mutiny was born? At that point of time, this was not identifiable as no official statement was given that definitely clarified the events. President Kabila came to Goma, having talks with provincial and military authorities, Rwanda authorities, and finally the broader public he addressed during a speech in town. General Ntaganda was among the issues at the centre of his discourse. Talking in Kiswahili though, Kabila was likely misunderstood by international press (and politics, in sequence) that reported him having called for detention of the renegade commander. Later things came out differently: Kabila merely discussed the possibility to detain Ntaganda if the Congolese government would want to do so or if the alleged crimes he is said to have committed would require such action.

The M23 mutiny and the destiny of Bosco Ntaganda

Enough, the tone of the speech still shaped the immediate future. Even though Kabila had tried to manœuvre and keep all political exit doors wide open, it was clear that things may turn bad for Ntaganda. This has probably been the reason for him “officially” deserting altogether with much of his military entourage. Reports located him around Masisi at a farm by the end of April/early May. Still, many former CNDP collaborators decided not to join his (rather personal?) cause and remained loyal to the FARDC. At that time, many rumours went ahead: It was circulated that he was planning a new grand rebellion consisting of ex-CNDP and ex-PARECO (integrated into FARDC on the same occasion) enforced by all sorts of splinter militias and other armed fragments. Soon, such notions were dismissed by denials or informed media pieces. At that time, Ntaganda probably regrouped many dozens or a few hundred loyalist fighters and a x-tons stockpile of arms and ammunition he had slowly amassed and finally, upon desertion, considerably enlarged, at this Masisi farm. Several clashed happened between FARDC and this group afterwards. Lastly this led to the flight of Ntaganda with a non-enumerated group of collaborators and the reconquest of his arsenal by government troops. During these weeks, the proliferation of changeovers at the integrated ex-CNDP front was massive. Every day different influential commanders were cited to have deserted. It is close to impossible to give a concise overview here. A couple of crucial renegades still have to be paid attention to (this information I have taken from Jason Stearns’s blog Congo Siasa): Colonel Baudouin, who provided Ntaganda with additional supplies, Colonel Zaire, Colonel Saddam (this list could be enlarged), and finally Colonel Sultani Mukenga, a key figure both in FARDC-Amani Leo and the co-existing ex-CNDP structures. Especially last-named Mukenga appears to be a main figure in the whole setting. Instead of officially joining Ntaganda and his troops, he went on with an “own” (?) mutiny based on narratives of discrimination within FARDC and created what we know as the M23, in remembrance of the peace agreement between CNDP and FARDC that, according to the mutineers, has been spoiled by the DRC government. This group rapidly left Masisi area and moved towards Rutshuru and the nearby bordering zone to Uganda where they repeatedly clashed with government troops. Ntaganda is believed to have followed there quickly but two by mid-May this development was still subject to rumours. Meanwhile it seems clear that Mukenga, his troops, other renegades, and Ntaganda have closed their fronts against FARDC although an official statement in that regard (different other statements were given by the M23) still lacks. Couples of other rumours have instead joined the discourse: Ntaganda was believed to have made alliances with ex-PARECO (in North and South Kivu) and different militias – with none of these being fed by clear evidence – and even FDLR segments. At least in the latter case it appeared that those are former FDLR operating as single militia in North Kivu for a longer period of time yet. In the end, while the combats continue between Rutshuru and the Ugandan frontier town of Bunagana, things have to be included in the wider regional frame of events.

The wider conflict topography in the Kivu provinces and additional developments

North and South Kivu have been some sort of epicentre of numerous intertwined conflicts and humanitarian disasters since almost twenty years, just to take a conservative stance and excluding the longstanding historical developments. During the last years, several actors have been more influential than others. They include the FARDC, the RDF (Rwandan army), (ex-)CNDP, FDLR, various Mayi-Mayi configurations (Mayi-Mayi serves as an umbrella term for all sorts of local self-defense militias and marauding splinter rebels engaging in mineral exploitation similar to the bigger factions. Since the beginning of the year it became clear that FDLR troops have been substantially decimated and weakened due to joint efforts of the FARDC/ex-CNDP and RDF in the frame of  consecutive military mission (partly supported by MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping force) and mysterious, allegedly Rwanda-supported killing squads (the earlier-mentioned FDC-Guides and non-identified actors). The remaining FDLR units are ever since fighting against populations and all sorts of armed groups threatening their sphere of influence. This has, especially since their military devitalisation, led to a struggle for survival and hence, to renewed cruelty towards the populations. Related development can be seen as revenge acts against perceived populations of the enemies (FARDC/ex-CNDP – Banyamulenge, and many local communities affiliated to one of the countless militias). They have also turned away to some extent from classic war economy based on natural resources which is a result of wider developments in the frame of due diligence, regional cooperation against conflict minerals and other concomitant phenomena, and now additionally engage in illegal business of legal substances, and drugs too. Another aspect that undermined the FDLR’s role in natural resources was their considerable loss of control in mining areas. On the other side, FARDC and ex-CNDP have tightened their grip over these resources as a result of military victories and territorial gain, but also their bottleneck position in illegal mineral trade due to the fact of being the official army. Collaboration with other armed groups such as Mayi-Mayi or local leaders in mining areas is also frequent. Here, army officials continue to function as internmediaries (of course against a relative share of the wealth). Then, there is Raia Mutomboki (like Mayi-Mayi, probably an umbrella alias for a more or less unified set of different militia), perhaps one of the most active forces besides FARDC/ex-CNDP and FDLR. Long time existing, they came to surface again in 2011 (there is no concrete information available as to when exactly) and started operations in the guise of self-defense, much like the FDC-Guides, but rather in a conventional way of warfare (conventional, regarding “typical” warfare of armed groups in the region). Their attacks, mainly in South Kivu, against FDLR and its constituency prompted heavy answers by the latter, as reported by many media.

In summary, many different things matter in this current topography of events (as always, and this list does not claim any completeness). Concentrating on a few issues, it can be observed that, after a period of (comparable) calm in 2010 and early 2011, conflict dynamics in the region gain momentum again – despite international efforts and activities such as the introduction of (meanwhile in-) famous Dodd Frank Act (which has, even of not yet finally passed and implemented led many buyers of Congolese resources refrain from buying minerals of the region. Unfortunately, this has not ended conflict but rather precarised artisanal miners that have already been in a difficult situation). This has given way to deterioration of a yet unbearable humanitarian situation. UN agencies reports cite tens of thousand new IDPs and refugees across the Kivu provinces and their borders. Agencies are largely unable to deal with the situation adequately if at all, despite efforts put in place. The outlook in that regard is far from positive.

Moreover, the question of Rwandan involvement is a vivid as always. Although Rwando-Congolese relations officially remain at beau-fixe and regular “consultations” are being held, conspiracy theories and substantial suspicions spread around. First, Rwanda was accused to have trained and funded the mentioned FDC-Guides, apparently local youth brigades formed into professional killers. Proofs remained absent. Then, coming back to M23 and General Ntaganda, the question of cross-border participation and undercover military support is frequently put by those claiming the “Congolese cause”. Certainly, given the fact that ties between CNDP and Rwanda are well-documented, this is thinkable and even more probably. The hitch though, is that the direct roots of this new mutiny are unlikely to be found in a Rwandan strategy but rather in an inner-Congolese bundle of links and relations in which Rwanda is maybe interfering now, or maybe not. The same applies to Raia Mutomboki. Although Rwanda constantly justified intervention into the DRC (either with or without host state consent) through FDLR/ALIR, or other genocidaire militia in the last 15 years, presence, there is no immediate threat explaining a close tacit engagement at the side of Raia. One thing though, prevails and, at a closer look, is very enigmatic. In 2010, Rwanda dismissed its chief of staff, General Kayumba Nyamwasa, a longtime RPF veteran and architect of the Rwandan army due to allegations of disloyalty. He went into exile to South Africa where he has faced several attempts of murder under mysterious circumstances. A rumour even provided for Defense Minister James Kabarebe having refused to fulfil a killing order since Kayumba was his military trainer in former times. The former chief of staff has now turned into a major opponent of the Rwandan government. As such, he probably went several times to Eastern DRC with the objective of forming a broad anti-Rwandan front consisting of different factions united to attack (or threaten?) Rwanda. The Rwandan government anxiously observed his action with utmost diligence and on its side tried to sabotage the building of such a new force. Trustworthy sources have been reporting on these developments. So, if at all, there is noteworthy Rwandan involvement at the South Kivu front, it may be rather traceable to the perceived Kayumba threat than the FDLR alone (at least from a rational point of view, under the assumption Rwanda is pretty well informed about the region). At the North Kivu front, things are at least as opaque. Rumours there have brought detained Laurent Nkunda back into the game – a possible but at the moment not ver realistic scenario – to lead a new grand rebellion (together with Ntaganda? Or Makenga? Or both? Or coming back as a free agent? All that remains speculation for now.).

All in all, the whole setting appears even more complicated and murky than the years before. It seems that ideology is waning constantly on the frontlines and external pressure through political activity (Dodd-Frank, due diligence, etc.) is influencing the nature of conflict without really diminishing it. “Ethnic” alliances are replaced by functional alliances while populations get stuck in a continuum of smouldering war and lost identification. Without being pessimistic, this is a difficult time for the region and much depends upon the willingness and capacity of involved powers and external powers to foster constructive and peaceful initiatives. Otherwise, a yet difficult setting could become even more intractable. A positive sign, however, was given by DRC authorities in initiating the shutdown of two fraudulent mineral comptoirs in Eastern DRC, namely TTT Mining and Huyaing. Both have repeatedly been cited as comptoirs not complying with due diligence and suspected of dealing with untagged minerals in various reports before.

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