Finally good news? What militia surrenders mean for eastern Congo

A few days ago, I have argued in this piece that M23’s demise has not entrenched automatism in appeasing conflicts across the Kivus. While it can be filed as a first success in lowering armed conflict in the region, key protagonists must maintain 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, they are announcing further military operations, most probably against ADF and FDLR, perhaps also Mayi Mayi Sheka in the near future. However, there is more to peacebuilding than that. The ongoing Amani Itakuya essay series on this website has already shown a wealth of facets in terms of sustainable solutions for reinvigorating peaceful everyday life in the Kivus.

Meanwhile, surrenders, self-demobilisations, and similar activities seem to multiply. It is often hard, if not impossible to immediately discern what rumours or even actual news are about. But as of now, the following appears confirmed – both by other observers and analysts as well as by senior military and other sources of my own:

Groups that have laid down arms:

  • FDIPC, a Rutshuru-based part of Nyatura
  • Parts of the Coalition Raia Mukombozi, including Albert Kahasha and Deo Bizibu
  • Parts of (at least one) Masisi-based part of Nyatura
  • Parts of APCLS (however, no confirmation whether it is about the yet quasi-integrated ones)

Groups that are said to be surrendering (I put it this way as I personally have no clear confirmation so far):

  • Mayi Mayi Kombi
  • Other parts of Raia Mukombozi (i.e. Meshe, Maheshe, Ngandu, etc.)
  • Mayi Mayi Totye
  • Raia Mutomboki in Walikale (Bakano sector)
  • Mayi Mayi Kifuafua
  • Mayi Mayi MPDC (perhaps including Mayele’s group)

It is unclear, which sorts of negotiations have been conducted in order to facilitate these developments. While the M23 story eventually played a role for some (though through different dynamics, as discussed earlier), the potential danger of being attacked by MONUSCO’s intervention brigade may play role for others. Specific deals with governmental authorities, or the FARDC directly, are not to be excluded either. Some, like Albert Kahasha or Mayele have been in senior FARDC positions earlier and thus probably still maintain ties. Others like some parts of Nyatura or APCLS have repeatedly served as FARDC proxies against other groups and have similar ties. Among the above-named groups, several have already appeared on a list of militias the FARDC has claimed to be in touch with regarding demobilisation matters. To which extent the announcement of a new DDR – such as Lambert Mende has told Radio Okapi – has helped that remains a matter of ongoing debate. President Kabila’s ongoing visit of eastern DRC, the first in a long time, may herald some further political statements and decision in that regard.

Nevertheless, this bunch is pretty much for roughly 10 days. The last time such a big number of non-state armed actors were ceasing their fight was in the current of 2009’s Goma peace conference (that unfortunately has not led to major improvements in its aftermath). What lessons to take from history?

  1. DDR is key. Misled, ignorant, and manipulated DDR efforts have in the past ignited militia creation. Currently, both the UN and the Congolese governments are busily working on new programmes. The first rumours and documents circulating on that look promising. Given the poor credibility DDR as a concept has in rural Kivutian areas, it is more crucial then ever that a new programme avoids being captured by political interests. The catch 22 is that a hastened implementation will make technical mistakes more likely while a slow implementation will put the starting date more towards electoral campaigning – a major stumbling block in earlier DDR programmes. As vital, new DDR must ensure proximity to communities and ex-combatants to meaningfully accompany reintegration. Conducting DDR for Shabunda or Walikale from Bukavu and Goma has not worked before and most probably won’t in future. Also, previous patchwork integration into FARDC should be avoided at all cost.
  2. Political and societal reconciliation needs a bigger spot on the agenda. Especially as several armed groups are demobilising on their own, these actors and their dependents have to be encouraged by serious political commitment, from the Congolese government at various (national, provincial, territorial) levels and the UN. That means working towards security beyond a piecemeal, and even dangerous “islands of stability” approach – such as envisaged by ISSSS as international support to the STAREC plan. It also means continuing professionalisation and wider reform within FARDC.
  3. The groups and militia leaders handing themselves in these days are mostly those known for explicitly nationalist ideologies. Therefore, FARDC and MONUSCO need to live up to their self-designed aim of neutralising groups such as FDLR and ADF. This does not mean attacking and eventually killing in combat, but necessarily putting sufficient military and diplomatic pressure making those groups dissolving. A repeated fiasco à la joint FARDC-MONUC or FARDC-RDF operations which have, besides decimating FDLR, not helped resolving the security problem they pose for both Congolese communities and neighbouring Rwanda must be avoided in that regard.
  4. While causal links are impossible to knot, it appears likely Kabila’s mining ban and the impending Dodd-Frank Act (meanwhile adopted and practically invigorated in a few months) have prompted increased unemployment in the so-called informal sector. At the same time (since 2011, roughly) increased militia activity has been observed. With numerous combatants demobilising now and yet more to come, artisan mining represents an opportunity to tie them to peaceful means of income. While it remains key to keep the mines de-militarised, other initiatives in the realm of certification and formalisation seem rather unfavourable and may be better if adjusted or paused.
  5. Lastly, the state as such. A Congolese evergreen, perhaps, but still worth debating. While the standard failed-state-non-state jabber of commentators such as Herbst, Mills, Pham, and others is not helpful in that regard, this debate still needs to be confronted. Interestingly, the Congolese are not against the state. They want the state. Some even want it as much that they actually mimick the behaviour, attitude, and appearance of the state while setting up their local militia. Raia Mutomboki and various Mayi Mayi are telling examples. That is an opportunity. The Congolese government, at various levels and where necessary with the help of other local and international actors needs to seize this opportunity to constructively engage with its populations, i.e. in decentralisation but other fields too. Koen Vlassenroot’s quick take on this issue illustrates exactly that.
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  1. […] such as good governance and corruption, justice, reconciliation, and security sector reform. Amani Itakuya – Peace will come has published a list of articles written by journalists, academics, activists, and practitioners on […]

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