A new phase of imponderability for the Congo conundrum

While fake rumours about Kagame’s death made the news in Goma this week, lots of stuff is happening below the surface as the DRC enters the year 2014.

As I have written a few days ago for Al Jazeera and on this site, M23’s defeat and subsequent demobilisation waves are likely not to be a panacea for peace in eastern DRC.  A few randoms thoughts, why this is:

Perhaps the most controversial events since late December’s bizarre Kinshasa uprising were the killing of Col. Mamadou Ndala, FARDC’s operational commander in joint operations to tackle armed groups together with MONUSCO’s Force Intervention Brigade, FIB. On January 2, Mamadou was victim of a bazooka attack accompanied by massive gunfire on his convoy consisting of three jeeps, close to Beni. First rumours about ADF armed group holding responsibility – or any of its smaller allies – were dismissed and so was the ex-CNDP theory (a FARDC battalion commander in Beni is an integrated ex-CNDP that had not defected to M23). Meanwhile a few FARDC in Beni have been arrested and attention has turned to Gen. Moundose of DRC’s Republican Guard, the president’s praetorians. Moundose has gone underground and the exact connections of the incident remain unexplored to quite some extent. One thing sure though, Mamadou’s success in commanding the successful fight against M23 last year had offered him the doubtful honour of numerous new enemies within the Congolese army. The latter, long-time considered as a bunch of rag-tag militia-like clusters, had undergone reshuffling after the shameful defeat against M23 in November 2012. Gen. Francois Olenga replaced Land Forces Commander Gen. Gabriel Amisi Tango Four and Gen. Lucien Bahuma became the 8th military region’s (for North Kivu province) new commander. Mamadou’s well trained Unité de Réaction Rapide (URR) were engaged in anti-LRA operations as they got transferred from Orientale to Goma. Interesting to note in this context the URR and the Republican Guard certainly are to two best-trained parts of FARDC – however with quite different range of operation and tasks assigned.

One week later and even weirder than Mamadou’s mysterious death, January 10 saw massive demonstrations in Goma. The night before, rumours of Rwandan president Paul Kagame had died seem to have multiplied within social media channels. Hard to identify their exact roots though. The next morning, things in Goma were as calm as usual, when all of a sudden shouting was breaking the everyday business on the streets. A few bike drivers, allegedly coming back from the Rwandan border brought the “news”. Confusion was the result and little happened in the following 20 minutes, until a policemen ran shouting cross the street. He carried a printout of a Facebook-page, containing a fake obituary for the Rwandan president. A nearby copy shop helped multiplying the pamphlet. Dozens, then hundreds started gathering around the copy shop awaiting for their copies before the took to the main street. Within minutes different segments of a massive crowd has formed, carrying tree branches, self-made wood crosses, and a coffin borrowed from a businessman. Later, they should even bring a dead dog to use for their celebration. As the spontaneous demonstration solidified and a long queue of Gomatraciens walked towards the Rwandan border cheering their joy about the believed death of Kagame, one observation was in particular striking: Many of the motards – as usual the drivers of rumours not only bikes in this town – openly challenged their colleagues stating the whole thing was a rumour and Kagame was well. Before any Rwandan authority had issued any statement. Besides the obvious celebrations of joy – how macabre that may be – quite a number of things remain foggy in the whole story. Neither is it clarified where the online root source of that obscure hoax came from, nor does any credible explanation exist on whether the rumour has been spread on purpose. While the demonstrations have clearly given an example how tense DRC-Rwanda relations, in particular among the population of Goma, are and how much serious political and social reconciliation after twenty years of enduring conflicts is, the event evenly makes a case for how dangerous and poisoned the circulation of rumours is. Notwithstanding the obvious observation that it is certainly not in the interested of Congolese to wish for the passing of the Rwandan president. But in a situation, where incendiary rumour-mongering has become part of everyday life to some extent, the massive demonstration also indicates the precarious state of public life and government-population interaction in the DRC, such as the events in Kinshasa did two weeks earlier.

What do those events, though unrelated at best, show in terms of the wider political and security dynamics prevailing in the Congo? The easy answer: Things are unstable in the country. M23’s defeat, hailed as the start of a new era, is not going to calm down the tense climate. While it is laudable to some extent, that FARDC finally managed to act as a real army and MONUSCO’s intervention brigade earned its first laurels without i.e. provoking mass displacement and civilian suffering, the general security situation in the Kivus has not improved beyond Goma, as an “island of stability”. The root causes allowing for M23 in the first place remain unaddressed and a source of further tension. Forthcoming joint operations of FARDC and FIB are challenged by the death of Mamadou and a bunch of operational hitches regarding FDLR and ADF as upcoming targets. Although the FIB is heavily mounting is posture – the delivery of around 50 new vehicles from Tanzania in Goma is an obvious sign, as well as the current troop movements around Beni. Still, sources clearly state that neither FARDC nor FIB seem ready for these operations. This applies to both Beni and ADF (where the Tanzanian contingents of FIB are deployed) and Western Rutshuru and Lubero, where the Malawi and South Africa battalions are supposed to engage in anti-FDLR operations. MONUSCO planning appears to be somewhat stuck for a few internal and FARDC-related issues and rumours about newly upcoming FARDC defection within the 8th military region of FARDC make the round.

On a broader, national level, several other developments bear the potential to effectively torpedo peacekeeping and peace building efforts. New (or old) uprisings in Katanga, linked to the (finally official) replacement of Gen. Numbi by Gen. Bisengimana at the helm of the police are but one example. Numbi, after the scandal around Floribert Chebeya’s killing, was put on hold by President Kabila and sent to North Katanga where he should relax and take care of his farm. At the same time, Kabila allegedly told Numbi to gain control over the Bakata Katanga dynamics that had spiralled out of control in 2013. The latter apparently did so, however the approach seems to have consisted in Numbi ossifying his own power position around the militia dynamics within Bakata Katanga and the CORAK movements. Last days troubles could have been a result and linked to Numbi’s ambitions not to be sidelined completely. Given his heavyweight position in Katanga, such a plan includes a considerable capacity to destabilise the area.

Moreover do the recent uprisings, demonstrations, and political rumblings shift the focus away from key political and structural needs to address the Kivutian conflicts. DDR programmes, to be set up newly by both the government and the UN, may suffer from further delay or hastened, unprepared implementation in a phase where there is yet dire need to push them forward and reshape them in a more effective way after considerable failures in past attempts. The demobilisation wave pursuant to M23’s demise has heightened the number of combatants to be taken care of and yet the concerning bodies (FARDC and governmental bodies) are largely unable to meet the needs. A ticking time bomb, if not thoroughly addressed soon, not only in North Kivu. This leads to Raia Mutomboki/Mukombozi. Being perhaps one of the most underresearched armed group configuration across eastern Congo – this year’s UN Group of Experts dedicate roughly fifteen lines of most superficial basic information only – it is a paradigm example of past demobilisation and reintegration failures as well as general political precariousness and inexistent of destroyed social contracts. In recent months, quite a few of the group’s branches have surrendered (incl. Daniel Meshe and Albert Kahasha). Once again, commentators quickly jumped the bandwagon of joyful celebration. However, meanwhile is appears as if the Coalition Raia Mukombozi regrouping some of their most influential commanders never really existed and some of the leaders playing a double game with and/or against Kinshasa.

A second time bomb – with unclear outcomes – and if there was not already enough of that, the politico-military turf wars in Kinshasa add on top. Exemplified by events such as Mamadou’s killing or the Kinshasa uprisings, this seems to be the nationwide Gordian knot in early (and likely mid) 2014. While the Kivus are far, not even a road connects the capital to its eastern provinces, the current fighting over power around Kabila, about a still possible government reshuffling and ongoing struggles between opposed wings within the army sheds a worrying forecast for the whole of DRC. FARDC’s URR and Republican Guards do not appear to be in good terms. Adding to the tensions, the fault lines between high-level commanders continue to exist, i.e. between Olenga and the Army Chief of Staff Etumba, the latter having allegedly tried to sabotage anti-M23 operations (reminiscent of Tango Four’s meddlings). The danger of FARDC evolving into different factions is even more dangerous in light of the observation that yet another roughly 40 armed groups roam through eastern Congo. All on top of that, Vital Kamerhe, a main opposition politician was banned from travelling by the government. Too many fronts and different issues to connect the dots at this time, but providing for a general climate of unforeseeable times ahead.

It is high time for Congolese politics, MONUSCO, and other stakeholders to address these issues and review their current templates of activity.

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