With M23 off the game, will other armed groups demobilise?

(This analysis has first been published by African Arguments)

Obviously, there is a lot of stuff going on in terms of disarmament and demobilisation of armed groups since M23’s surrender two weeks ago. While the situation around Makenga’s rebellion remains unclear – most of the état-major and the rank and file seem to be under Ugandan custody in Kasese – newswires and twitter feeds have been flooded by mushrooming announcements of other armed groups across eastern DRC. However, so far there is no indication that a majority militias will lay down their arms at the drop of a hat. Most of the over 50 armed groups still swim like chillies in the Congo soup. Media reports suggesting that (and there have been quite a lot, e.g. on Voice of America and Radio Okapi) should definitively taken with a pinch, or two, of salt. This has a variety of reasons, of which a few will be discussed here.

First of all, the accuracy of such reports remains highly questionable as long as they are based on mistaken or misleading representation of the facts. Voice of America for instance based its above linked piece on statements quoted out of context. Mayi Mayi Kifuafua and the Raia Mutomboki of Bakano sector, two armed groups that have confronted each other a few months ago in areas connecting Walikale, Masisi (North Kivu) and Kalehe (South Kivu) territories, signed their “acte d’engagement” to cease hostilities in mid-August. This is more than two months before M23’s demise and even prior to the first heavy defeats inflicted by the FARDC-MONUSCO coalition. Spanning a correlation between these events is not only tentative, it is simply wrong. Neither of the two militias has had any friendly or bellicose ties to M23.

Similar for Radio Okapi’s above linked report on the impending resignation of arms among a key part of the Raia Mutomboki conundrum in South Kivus’s Shabunda territory. While it is true that some major protagonists of Raia Mutomboki, more precisely of the “Coalition Raiya Mukombozi” have announced they would lay down their arms and possibly present a “cahier de charges” to President Joseph Kabila upon his upcoming visit to the eastern DRC, there is little indication of a causal connection to M23’s end. Moreover, the branches of this nebulous militia were grossly misrepresented in this article. Daniel Meshe (not Maheshe – there are two Maheshe’s part of this coalition too, but they are other guys) the acting president of the coalition is not in conflict with Albert Kahasha (aka Foka Mike), the latter is his deputy “chef d’état major”.  In personal communication, a spokesperson of the movement confirmed the coalition’s will to end armed opposition. Beyond Meshe and Kahasha, it seems probably that other influential chiefs and commanders, such as Donat Kengwa, Ngandu Lundimu, or Mabala Mese and a few more, will join in while others may stay in the maquis.

While the M23 factor may have shaped this evolution to some extent, it is premature to argue it is a main factor in that. Being generally hostile to all “foreigners” (meaning all rwandophone populations regardless if they are Congolese or Rwandan), Raia Mutomboki’s/Mukombozi’s operations have been directed against FDLR rebels and rwandophone army regiments and not -due to geographic reasons – against M23. Even in their “acte constitutif” M23 was not named as an enemy, while ADF, FNL, and FDLR were. In addition, strong allegations of alleged M23 support to some Raia Mutomboki elements, notably Foka Mike, have never been completely eliminated.

Secondly, the motivations of those militias that are said to lay down arms in sequence to M23’s surrender remain foggy and fuzzy at best. Mayi Mayi Sheka, or NDC, is precisely such a case. For several reasons, Mayi Mayi Sheka is not quite a typical Mayi Mayi group: It has been created by Sheka Ntabo Ntaberi, a Nyanga businessman from Walikale territory, in order to protect his mining rackets from other conflict actors. While several FARDC defectors and commanders have been instrumental in the setup of his group, Sheka is among the few militia bosses without an own military record. His armed resistance is based both on grievances – the protection and representation of Nyanga people – and greed – the interests in Walikale’s copious mining areas. His links to various (in-)famous protagonists such as Bosco Ntaganda, with whom he engaged in business cooperation, and members of Makenga’s M23 faction too make it unlikely that M23 disappear is a major cause to stop his own militia. His “cahier de charge” puts much more emphasis on the nuisance potential of FDLR, depicted as invaders pillaging and looting from the Congolese – no mention of M23 at all.

In Sheka’s case, another factor may play a bigger role: MONUSCO’s intervention brigade, the so-called FIB. It should not be forgotten that recent military success against M23 was not only the government army’s (FARDC) most important victory but also MONUSCO’s first battlefield win (EUFOR Artemis ten years ago, was not a UN mission). The fact that Sheka was named as a potential future target for the intervention brigade – including by MONUSCO’s head Martin Kobler – has most probably been transmitted up to Walikale’s forest panoplies.

As a third point, militia politics in eastern DRC remain extraordinarily complex. There is no possibility to understate this. Therefore, arguing the defeat of one rebellion – even if as important as M23’s – can hardly be seen as a panacea for others to vanish. Most militias in eastern DRC have at no point been engaged in direct clashes against M23. There is only a few, of which some have emerged in actual opposition to M23, that more or less independently engaged against Makenga’s people. Then, there is another few that have been used as proxy forces by the FARDC – either as a buffer or to open up additional fronts. Those two groups include the following: Mayi Mayi Shetani, a Nande militia in Northern Rutshuru; MPA a Nyatura surrogate in Rutshuru; FDIPC, another Nyatura surrogate in Rutshuru; the FDLR splinter led by meanwhile killed Colonel Soki; some bunches of core FDLR (FOCA) and FDLR-RUD. Among the proxies, the most notable appearances are Masisi-based parts of Nyatura and parts of APCLS.

To add to that, some militia’s trajectories show that also within a certain group, strongly diverging wings can emerge – either within the military part or between military and political branches. The case of FDC-Guides is illustrating: Founded as Guides that allegedly helped carrying out targeted killings of FDLR commanders in Masisi, the formation became FDC-Guides with temporarily strong ties to M23. Disenchantment over that led to parts of the group leaving and creating the Guides-MAC while the remaining part became FDC. Despite M23 as a shaping factor for this militia’s evolution, none of the two parts have so far publicly reacted to M23’s defeat.

Based on those three points, a few remarks:

Of course, some groups have declared their self-demobilisation as a consequence of M23’s surrender, and more precisely the disappearance of a direct enemy. The most vocal example is the aforementioned FDIPC-part of the Nyatura, a militia based on Congolese Hutu (many of them ex-PARECO). For some others this may hold true as well.

Some others may also demobilise as a direct consequence of that, but for the opposite reason – because their main ally collapsed. There is a little room for that speculation in the Sheka case, but their ties to M23 have been much weaker lately. For one or the other groups that has not announced any demobilisation plans so far, this may also play a role.

Then, there are groups that may lay down arms as an indirect consequence of what happened with M23. Different reasons can play a role here: First of all the dissuasive impact of both improved FARDC performance and MONUSCO snarling. Second, the observation that FARDC may be turning into an actual army fulfilling its duties (many militia creations are partly based on either being threatened or neglected by FARDC).

On a more global level, there is other aspects at stake. While every dissolution of any armed group in eastern DRC is a reason to cheer up (and this analysis should all but propagate the contrary), it is premature to talk about disarmament and demobilisation – reintegration not even mentioned. At FARDC level, there is ongoing patchwork integration (the examples of Mayi Mayi Yakutumba, Mayi Mayi Nyakiliba, and others are telling…) which is some sort of DDR-into-regular-army. Remarkably though, FARDC has impressive data on the myriad of militias – a wealth of knowledge needed to actually do proper demobilisation project.

Currently no disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration (DDR) programme is in place in the DRC. There is a MONUSCO-led DDRRR (adding repatriation and resettlement to the acronym) for foreign combatants and a few remnants of DRC’s former DDR programme conducted by the “Unité d’Execution du Programme National DDR”.

The near future may well change that: Both DRC’s national DDR programme and the United Nations are busily working towards a new comprehensive DDR approach for the DRC. First rumours are slightly promising but optimism should not belie the meagre accomplishments of previous DDR efforts, both the Congolese ones and those led by the international community through MONUC, UNDP, or the World Bank.

In conclusion, current “waves” of demobilisation need increased scrutiny. Instead of resting on one’s laurels and attribute such developments to the M23 story, much more needs to be done to both encourage and compel all the other armed groups. This is a mainly political challenge. Without addressing underlying causes (land, insecurity, governance, bigmen politics, instrumentalised ethnicity, and so on…), even actual self-demobilisation of some groups may turn out as a mere chimera in the near future. And without speeding up in setting up a new comprehensive DDR programme protected from donor ignorance and local manipulation and working in the actual areas it is most needed – and not only provincial capitals – the whole array of combatants can not properly be guided from military to civilian life.

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