Bits and pieces on current events in and about eastern Congo

Here is to a couple of paragraphs on recent developments amid the ongoing crises in the Democratic Republic of the Congo:

Rutshuru/M23/ARC: 

The Rutshuru-based mutiny has remained rather idle on the battlefields while engaging in new (partly forced) recruitment within the territories under its control. Few weeks ago, the M23 was officially renamed ARC (Armée Révolutionaire du Congo) – possibly a PR sign indicating the movements quest to broaden the front against the Congolese government. The last weeks have also been marked by constant rumours of combatants crossing the Ugandan and Rwandan borders to Rutshuru and reinforce the M23/ARC. As of now, however, these could not be verified at 100% and even if reports are true, it remains highly unclear, whether DRC’s accused neighbour states are responsible for that, or at least tacitly tolerating it. On the other side, M23 has not been overall successful in establishing satellites for its cause. Substantive evidence exists for ad-hoc movements with the groups around Col. Badege, Col. Mandevu, and a customary leader called Erasto (both of which had anyways been associated to M23 before). All of them are said to have positions in the Virunga National Park linking Rutshuru to Masisi. Others have gone missed in the meantime: Mayi Mayi Lafontaine has been largely out of the focus after they have been associated with M23. Similar holds true for Col. Kahasha, although there is solid information that he crossed back to South Kivu, while report diverge whether he works on a pro-M23 front there or turned his back towards Runiga, Makenga and Co.

Other developments in the territory include Mayi Mayi Shetani in Northern Rutshuru and fiercely opposed against M23, as well as FDLR-Soki (with FDLR-RUD one of their splinters that have more or less disintegrated from FDLR-FOCA). The army maintains its positions close to Goma and had a few more successful military operations against M23 after the series of defeats before. Threats against the city of Goma have, until now, appeared to be meaningless. Given that M23/ARC aggregated strength (with all currently identified satellites) is not likely to surpass 3000 combatants – and might well be exaggerated – taking Goma (where the FARDC and MONUSCO could add to up to 10000 with relatively good material stocks) cannot be a serious point on M23’s upcoming agenda. Enlarging their territory towards Masisi is much more realistic (and politically a similar point of pressure, as Goma would slowly be encircled) and somewhat foreseeable as recent incidents in Kitchanga, Kirolirwe, and Sake (here with a question mark) show.

Masisi:

The possibly impending incursion of M23 or M23-affiliated troops into Masisi territory could clearly worsen the yet tense security dilemma between a multitude of militias and poorly coordinated government troops. While APCLS of Col. Janvier have been cohabitating with FDLR in northwest Masisi for a couple of months, other parts of the territory are more volatile. Janvier’s troops have, despite announcements of integrating into FARDC, continued to engage in fighting (partly also against FARDC, rumours say). A main enemy of APCLS has been Sheka’s NDC militia, especially in the area towards Lukweti/Nyabiondo. Around Masisi, the FDC-Guides continue to play a vital role. The fate of former leader Butu Luanda is unclear, but after internal tensions the group has disintegrated into a Masisi-based section (led by Col. Charles, close to the initial founder Madragul) and referring to themselves as “Guides” only while Col. Bwira has dispatched to eastern Walikale with his men. Speculations about their integration into FARDC also exists, but it seems that it will be parts of them, if at all.

The fate of Mayi Mayi Nyatura remains highly unclear as well. After accepting to be integrated into FARDC, several hundreds had been concentrated in the government’s sectoral base in Mushake. Shortly afterwards, a split must have happened and self-styled Col. Delta took parts of Nyatura into a new configuration known as FDDH. It could not be clarified whether it were these, who committed a particularly cruel massacre of 6 women and one child in early November.

Kalehe and Shabunda

Kalehe and Shabunda remain, with Fizi in the far south, the most problematic areas in South Kivu. This is due to a particularly strong proliferation of armed groups, but also proximity to North Kivu’s hotspots of Walikale and Masisi. The earlier mentioned return of Col. Kahasha to Kalehe could in the medium term change some configurations among militias there. Kahasha, although he has not been that successful earlier this year when he tried to forge a coalition among Raia Mutomboki, is described by many as skillful broker of alliances, including counterintuitive ones. In addition, the disorder created by Nyatura’s integration saga could easily reignite tensions around Bunyakiri, where some elements of decentralised Raia Mutomboki movement (e.g. those under commander Musikami) are aggressively countering the activities of all rwandophone groups present, which includes also FDLR battalions. Both in Kalehe and Shabunda, there are reliable sources claiming that FARDC provides arms and ammunition to selected Raia Mutomboki chapters that fight FDLR. The latter on their side committed a number of attacks against humanitarian staff in Shabunda territory by the end of October.

Regional issues:

Beyond the micro-cosmos of local and regional developments, also regional factors play a role and will certainly continue to do so with the awaiting release of this year’s final report of the UN Group of Experts. A “leak” (its circumstances remain unclear) by Reuters has already indicated heavy accusations against Rwanda and Uganda too. While Rwanda has not changed its policy towards accusations, Uganda now threatens to withdraw troops from its peacekeeping engagement (mainly Somalia and the trans-border chase of Joseph Kony). With Rwanda becoming a temporary member of the UN Security Council (that, however, might mandate another Group of Experts for the next year before December 31st) and Uganda keeping the presidency seat of ICGLR, diplomatic constellations are spicy in this regard. The diplomatic turf war has been visible with Rwanda hailing a UK decision to resume parts of frozen aid while DRC’s government acclaims any freezing on its side. The ICGLR process meanwhile, appears to be stalled as decisions over troop contribution and payment of the “neutral force” cannot be taken. The AU and the UN seem to have left the arena of mediation, although they might continue silent diplomacy. If so, this diplomacy is that silent that even the concerned actors do not seem to care a lot.

For the next two weeks, most important questions will be whether there is a significant movement on the M23/ARC side and what sort of reaction a published final report of the Group of Experts will provoke. For the M23/ARC, a longer ceasefire will permit further strengthening/enlargement of troops. A published Group of Experts report will, if yet it reads partly as the Reuters leak suggests, inform a wave of political quarrels both on the trans-border Great Lakes as on the international level. It could spark a couple of consequences difficult to control.

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