Does Congo confusion transform into communication chaos?

Today has been marred by Congo coverage of its most confuse way. Time to wrap up things: Yesterday saw MONUSCO’s announcement of a security zone and the concomitant (possible) first deployment of the new Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) of UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO.

A few facts to clarify a profusion of information and disinformation: The security zone stretches along Goma’s urban borders. In the south is is confined by Lake Kivu, while in the west it goes up to Sake, in the east along Rwanda’s border to DRC. The northern boundary, the most crucial one goes horizontally from Sake until south of Kibati hill (which is south of Kibati town) and stops at the current FARDC frontline against M23.

What does this mean?

First of all, the security zone is an area to be established around Goma, free of any non-authorised armed elements (meaning any arms carriers besides authorised FARDC, Congolese police, and other state service). This means all sorts of militias and bandits are targeted. They are asked to disarm and show up at MONUSCO DDR/RR centres until August 2 in the afternoon. MONUSCO, at today’s weekly UN press conference has declared that

a) the security zone is not an offensive instrument but merely to implement the UN’s protection of civilians (PoC) mandate according to resolution 2098

b) it is not directed aginst M23 but all armed groups/actors. So far the brief statement given by acting SRSG Soumaré.

So, who is targeted then, and what will be the consequences of a refusal?

First of all, recent skirmishes between FARDC and M23 appear to have repulsed the latter northwards. There are unconfirmed reports that even M23’s military HQ has been moved away from Rumangabo, the site of FARDC helicopter attacks that had allegedly causes numerous civilian casualties (a fact confirmed by M23 while denied by FARDC). However, these reports would need further confirmation. It seems clear, though, that M23 is delocalised from their former strongholds between Munigi and Kibati, and several observers confirm these areas controlled by FARDC now (this is the zone northeast of MONUSCO’s security zone (see map linked above).

Still, it is possible that some M23 units maintain position within or at the margins of the security zone. They would then possibly fall under MONUSCO’s ultimatum. Otherwise, there is reason to believe that other armed groups may have some (few) hidden positions within the zone. Possible actors are FDLR, APCLS, Nyatura – some of whom may however enjoy a double status, at least in the eyes of FARDC and the Congolese state that had coopted and/or integrated some militias (notably APCLS and Nyatura) and done other sorts of collaboration (with FDLR). And there is a certain amount of loosely organised gangs operating around and in Goma.

What is going to happen?

This is basically the most dangerous question to ask. Information, even of properly dissected remains vague and many questions remain open. It could be that just nothing happens after the countdown, as the remaining armed elements (given the margin of the security zone there is probably no major contingent of non-FARDC combatants within the area) may just hide and remain idle for some time.

Another point is that little is known so far as to which extent the DRC government and the UN leaders in New York have mandated, authorised, or accepted this move by MONUSCO. Also, the deployment details are unclear. Both the North Kivu Brigade (of the standard MONUSCO contingent) and the FIB are officially tasked in creating and upholding the security zone. What we do not know is how they will split up tasks and whether the FIB (probably no other part of the peacekeeping mission) will engage in coercive action or fighting if the ultimatum is violated.

MONUSCO also acknowledged that it is not in shape to tackle all armed actors at the same time (a situation well predicted by Congolese researcher Josaphat Musamba two weeks ago) which is why they will start securing Goma and move on from there. But it remains difficult to predict this, as maybe even within MONUSCO things are not that clear concerning the upcoming weeks.

In the meantime, the ICGLR heads of state and government summit in Nairobi (with DRC on top of the agenda) ends, and President Kabila has recalled his cabinet to be present in Kinshasa on Friday (although it is unclear if linked to the Kivu situation).

Given these uncertainties, the best thing for now is to concentrate on accurate observation of the facts on the ground and prevent too much of confusion, such as happening today. Also, concerns should be raised in terms of the humanitarian impact a possible confrontation after the ultimatum would have.

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