Local security dilemmas in eastern Congo

“La politique est formée dans les pensées des gens qui tiennent leur experience dans les mains.”
(Raia Mutomboki combatant, April 2013)

2013 has so far been a period of relative calm around Bunyakiri, in South Kivu’s Kalehe territory. The locality, consisting roughly of three villages (Bulambika, Kando, and Kambali) had experienced increased levels of violence and distress in 2011/2012, when a faction of local self-defense militia engaged in heavy clashes, first against temporarily resident FDLR and – after successfully having chased them away – others, such as Rwandophone FARDC elements. The disappearance of FDLR and reshuffling of regiments (soldiers from Orientale were sent to Bunyakiri a few months ago) calmed down tensions. Still, a few internecine problems remained and around Bunyakiri, other tensions emerged. Last weekend, a first major incident since 2012. Some 15 kilometres from Bunyakiri, a battle unleashed, opposing Raia Mutomboki against Nyatura militia allied to FARDC. Provoked by a rather small problem on an individual basis, it rapidly turned into two formations engaging in combat.


Raia Mutomboki, the “angered citizens”, is a loose rebel coalition established 2005 in Southern Shabunda territory against FDLR threats. After a quick successful campaign and the long dormant period, the group, or concept, resurged around 2011. Several factions were newly created and the Raia Mutomboki began to attack all FDLR positions they could retrieve in the area of Shabunda, Kalehe, and Mwenga (South Kivu) up to Southern Walikale and Masisi (North Kivu). Organised like franchises, the subgroups include parts of former Mayi Mayi groups (Kifuafua, Kirikicho, Padiri/Tembo) and do not have a centralised command (despite some attempts). Currently there are four main chapters of Raia Mutomboki, with possibility of a fifth in the way of its creation. (see also: http://riftvalley.net/resources/file/RVI%20Usalama%20Project%20-%20Raia%20Mutomboki.pdf)

Nyatura is a mainly Hutu militia based in Southern Masisi. Originating from ex-PARECO and partly instigated by influent Hutu leaders in the area, Nyatura has developed as one of the major armed groups in Masisi for the last 1-2 years. In 2012 they split off over internal differences, with parts of them integrating into FARDC (which never fully happened) while other continued acting as Nyatura. Nyatura are said to be the Congolese Hutu militia (emanating from those forcibly displaced from Rwanda to Masisi by the Belgian colonisers in the 1920s), as opposed to FDLR, the Rwandan Hutu militia, acting in DRC. (see also: http://riftvalley.net/resources/file/RVI%20-%20Usalama%20Project%203%20PARECO.pdf)

Local Security dilemmas:

Last weekend, the said confrontation erupted, causing several battle death on both Raia Mutomboki’s and Nyatura/FARDC side. A village was completely burnt down. Its adds a further component to a yet tense security situation. The last months had already been very volatile in different parts of North and South Kivu. While the stalemate between FARDC and M23 was finished by new skirmishes in Mutaho, Masisi remained a fragile area marred by APCLS vs. Sheka fighting around Pinga and Mweso. In South Kivu, the coalition between Maheshe, a Raia Mutomboki leader, and Kahasha (Foka Mike), a FARDC defector and alleged M23 collaborator, was initiated by a fake abduction of the latter. Clashes against FARDC have been following around Nzibira at the margins of Mwenga and Walungu. In geographic terms, last weekends incident closes the gap from North to South Kivu (which in a way it does indeed, as Nyatura more or less have crossed into South Kivu, while Raia Mutomboki are known to have operated in Southern Masisi before).

It is another illustration of dynamics that have become virulent in eastern Congo. The emergence of “local security dilemmas”. Observers and journalists often ask why the “vicious circle” violence cannot be broken in the Congo. Many local people seem to be much closer to an answer regarding that question. The initial quote of this article offers a glimpse. Ever-relapsing moments of conflict and violence have become the character of a path-dependency.

Given that analyses on the conflicts in eastern DRC are often informed by bizarre narratives of (partly paternalistic) prejudices (cannibalism, underdevelopment, greed and many more) such a schematic logic can offer some interesting insights. It is a path-dependency similar to what international relations scholars have observed in studying security dilemmas, such as with the classic arms race between the US and the USSR during Cold War times. Just with different cornerstones:

1. In eastern DRC, alliance-building (including obvious and “contre-nature” ones) has emerged as a constant factor of shaping political and military reality, and raising security concerns among actors.
2. Disarmament, both for Congolese (DDR) and foreign (DDRRR) armed groups has had mixed success, at best. There are plenty of arguments for a complete failure.
3. The politics of divide et impera, as employed by the government, have often either pit communities against each other, or deprived some of their “own defense” while others not.

Combining these factors with a couple of more general arguments and hypotheses (land conflicts, elite struggles, community tensions, etc.) an idea of local security dilemmas is evident: It is often not a root cause anymore, that makes Congolese (or foreign) militia fight each other or the army (although within the army similar logics than with militias apply quite often too), but the experience or perception of a inequality that is more simultaneous than precedent coupled with a lack of security for the individual and his group of affection (militia and/or related community). This leads many actors, not necessarily to engage in an arms race (which would probably not be possible in that sense) but to ensure their relative (not absolute) security/wellbeing as compared to potential enemies. Hence, local security dilemmas emerge. The recent incident in Bunyakiri can figure as an example for that.

One Response to “Local security dilemmas in eastern Congo”
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  1. […] their vigilance and – with a more political and diplomatic focus – continue to address the local security dilemmas in the region. The Congolese government and MONUSCO are smart enough and know about that. Busily, […]

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