Trouble all over – where is Raia Mutomboki heading to?

Later this year, I am going to have a peer-reviewed article in the Annuaire des Grand Lacs, but the situation on the ground develops as quickly and unexpectedly that it asks for a current overview. In particular the set-up of this ‘franchise’ (as Jason Stearns coined it) presented in this paper will already be outdated massively upon publication. Unfortunately, there is a tremendous lack of scholarly analysis prevailing for Raia Mutomboki. Besides Stearns, Vlassenroot/Hoffmann, and a few unpublished local researchers, there is no quality work around. Some bizarre papers even argued a while ago, Raia Mutomboki were Tutsi rebels. In all honesty, what a blatant misreading.

Recently, Koen Vlassenroot and Kasper Hoffmann have impressively shown a few socio-economic and political traits of the Kalehe-based Raia Mutomboki. In fact, the state-simulating posture and creative mixings of stick-and-carrot relations towards their populations appear to be a key feature of this militia configuration. Male civilians are taxed at the rate of 500 Congolese francs (0.55 USD) per roadblock (i.e. 7-8 roadblocks between Lubimbe II and Kigulube) and traders according to the goods they transport, e.g. 10 USD for someone who transfers 5 cows. Many Raia Mutomboki sub-groups also engage in informal artisanal mining. However, it would be mistaken to adapt a simplistic ‘conflict minerals’ cliché to these activities. While informal, these mining activity is often rather well-organised. Even state services like SAESSCAM or the mining division are present (and carry away their taxes). However, and linked to customary taxation, a share is devoted to Raia Mutomboki leaders too, in particular where they also act as civilian pit owners. While it cannot be excluded, there is surprisingly little evidence for considerable violence used in this context. In contrary, even civilian reports speak of a mostly orderly situation (with occasional abuses not excluded of course).

The past few weeks have brought a series of escalations including several of the militia’s sub-groups – one of them preventing me from moving on with fieldwork as to the dangers of ongoing shooting. I will roughly sketch three major ones before giving an overview on what Raia Mutomboki resembles to in August 2014.

The clashes between Charlequin and Makombo

In sequence to earlier clashes between Sisawa and Charlequin, the dominating territorial order among the southwestern parts of the East Shabunda Raia Mutomboki (see latest mapping of June 2014 and explanations on the structure below) has been shattered. Sisawa was put more towards Shabunda and temporarily left joint deliberations. He had been seen negatively by other commanders already before, after he once attacked an ICRC car. Months later, tensions emerged between Charlequin and Makombo due to misunderstandings. Certain militiamen of Charlequin had overtaken the tasks assigned to them and behaved badly (harassing civilians) in an area controlled by Makombo. The latter ordered his troops to strike against Charlequin’s men, prompting a few deaths and increased tension among the two leaders. Makombo on his side, had previously suffered defection from his deputy, commander ‘ça arrive’ and is now assisted by commander Bravo.

The clashes between Maheshe and Nyanderema/Lukoba

In the past three weeks, commander Maheshe has been dislodged from his strongholds at the border between Walungu and Shabunda territories. A coalition of Lukoba and Nyanderema (benefitting from Ngandu’s goodwill) started to hunt Maheshe away, after a group of commanders had contemplated the latter was tarnishing the image of Raia Mutomboki vis-à-vis the local population. Apparently, Maheshe had increased local taxes and began to summon civilians for alleged wrongdoings without consulting customary authorities.

The clashes in Bunyakiri 

In the past weeks, increasing readiness to violence can be observed with the Kalehe-based Raia Mutomboki (in many aspects a late successor of Mayi Mayi Tembo/Padiri of the early 2000s). Reports on incursions by the group into the Kalehe lowlands (towards the lake, Katana, Ihusi etc.) have been confirmed by local FARDC regiments, who tried to counter a series of thefts and robberies ascribed to Raia Mutomboki. Early August, a few militiaman were detained by government troops. While local Raia Mutomboki commanders pleaded for their release, the army refused and proceeded to transfer them to Bukavu. In order to prevent such, different Raia Mutomboki factions (from Kambeketi, Kambali, Bulambika, Hombo, and Kalonge) coupled forces and aimed at a liberation operation. Starting with roadblocks all around Bunyakiri, they tried to hinder FARDC to proceed. Soon, gunshots let the situation escalate, with reports about casualties varying (depending on whether you trust FARDC or Raia Mutomboki sources). In sequence, the 10th military region (responsible for South Kivu) sent reinforcements to Bunyakiri what contributed to the army gaining temporary upper hand. Civilian sources, though, confirm that the renewed clashed generated over 30 victims, most of them civilian. Simultaneously, Raia Mutomboki managed to burn down a series of soldier houses and parts of the battalion HQ, capturing a considerable amount of weaponry and ammunition. While retiring to the surrounding forests, FARDC responded by burning down a lot of houses in Kambali, including the habitation of Hamakombo, Kalehe’s most important Raia Mutomboki leader. At this point, the situation seems to have calmed down, but tensions have increased and the militia’s currently aggressive stance brings along possibilities of further escalation.

The clashes in Kalonge

Further west in Kalehe territory, a rather weird series of confrontations has produced confusion. As to Raia Mutomboki sources, ‘fake Raia’, coming from Nindja area, have attacked FARDC in Kalonge and Cifunzi in early August. On an early morning, they infiltrated the local military camp and killed a FARDC major and other officers, harvesting AK47s, RPGs as well as cattle and goats from the local population. Afterwards, they kidnapped a vehicle of an international humanitarian NGO and forced them to transport the bounty back into their fief. In fear of reprisals by FARDC, the ‘actual Raia Mutomboki’ based in Nindja area, Nyaderema’s group was alerted and mounted a counterinsurgency operation against their mimicries.  A week later, these operations seem to be ongoing and smaller skirmishes have causes deaths on both sides.

…the ever-changing structure of Raia Mutomboki

It has never been easy to understand the group’s set-up, perhaps even more difficult than for other militias in eastern DRC. Currently, it is unclear how many clear sub-groups exist (as compared to earlier this year, or last year, or two years ago). As far as it can be approached at this time, there are still four main groups existing – Kalehe, Walikale, North Shabunda, and East Shabunda. Outreach had been done by several appointees, mainly trying to establish closer ties to Mayi Mayi Yakutumba in Fizi and APCLS of Janvier Karairi in Masisi. While there is no operational coalition so far, these negotiations have led to semi-formal partnership agreements. In the eyes of certain Raia Mutomboki leaders, the links to these groups shall help establish what they call a ‘belt’ (without further explanation, but geography would guess a belt around Bukavu…).

Kalehe

In Kalehe, there is one Raia Mutomboki general – Hamakombo in Bunyakiri, who happens to be the most influential leader of the group in this territory. He closely collaborates with Shukuru Kwaya, the Hombo-based commander. The Kalonge group is led by Chipopa and Safari. Other, smaller units (now called brigades in their own words are dispersed across the moyen plateaux of Kalehe in vicinity of Hombo, Bunyakiri, and Ziralo. As earlier said, most Raia Mutomboki in this area used to be Mayi Mayi Tembo before. While they align to the Shabunda factions, they display a differing identity and do not always use the same dawa and the same traditions. Lately, however, they have been more integrated during ongoing attempts of re-ordering Raia Mutomboki as a whole (like with the re-naming of brigades and other structural features). The so-called ‘fake Raia’ is a group of roving armed men led by a certain Blaise Gaston. It appears, that Mayi Mayi Kirikicho – a very old Mayi Mayi group operating between Kalehe and Masisi – would be interested in joining Raia Mutomboki too, while Mayi Mayi Kifuafua (a former Raia Mutomboki faction) has split into a faction led by its boss Delphin Mbaenda, while a rival faction emerged around his former deputy Limenzi.

Walikale

The Walikale group remains the least connected and least understood group. While they have been encroached in rather serious fighting against Mayi Mayi Kifuafua (who where Raia Mutomboki in 2012 for half a year), they are evenly known for untypically violent abuses against their own populations (most Raia Mutomboki try to find a balance between protecting and racketeering their people). Currently, all other Raia Mutomboki faction have distanced themselves from the Walikale groups, stating the latter had sold out the movement’s ideology.

North Shabunda

The evergreen North Shabunda faction is still led by Juriste Kikuni who followed up on currently imprisoned Eyadema. Like Hamakombo, he holds the rank of general, commanding over some brigade and axis commanders around Nduma and Lulingu. Together with the meanwhile defunct founding group in South Shabunda, led by Jean Musumbu, this is the oldest and most stable Raia Mutomboki group. They appear to have a fair type of semi-coercive relationship towards their populace and do engage in a lot of mining activities (several Raia Mutomboki are former miners that have lost their job in sequence to the Dodd-Frank-Act-provoked embargo on Congolese minerals, as the Obama’s Law film project discovered).

East Shabunda

The East Shabunda group is probably the most complex in terms of set-up. Emanating from the ominous Coalition Raia Mukombozi that included Albert Kahasha alias Foka Mike (ex-FARDC, ex-Mudundu 40, ex-Lafontaine, ex-M23 etc.) and charismatic political leader Daniel Meshe, who have abandoned in the meantime. Currently, the group spans across West Walungu up to close to Shabunda centre westwards. Its key leaders currently include generals Nyanderema, Makombo (not to confuse with Kalehe’s Hamakombo), Lukoba, Ngandu Lundimu, and Donat Kengwa. Important brigade or zone commanders are Mabala Mese, Malewa, Maiti ya Nyoka, Ndarumanga, Maheshe (currently pushed out), Charlequin (with recent tensions towards Makombo), and Sisawa Wangozi (notoriously oscillating between contest and collusion with the rest of the leadership). They occupy most of the road from Nzibira to Kigulube/Nzovu and large stretches of the surrounding forestal areas (incl. Lubila, Nyambembe, Nindja etc.).

Comments
2 Responses to “Trouble all over – where is Raia Mutomboki heading to?”
  1. marta says:

    Hey Christoph, great stuff, thank you. I just came from Mwenga and not-consolidated information links elements of RM to issues around the conflict in the Chefferie of the Basile. I think your question is crucial: Where are they heading? How are they redefining their objectives?

  2. John says:

    I work for MONUSCO and I find the information you have provided closest to reporting work that I have involved in ever since I started working for MONUSCO. Prior to this, I was working for the ICRC between 2010 and 2012 and had an opportunity to report of the RM activities in Shabunda. In sum, you have provided a clear and neat analysis on the RM dynamics that we are still monitoring.

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