Masisi meanders…

It has been relatively quiet again for a couple of months in North Kivu’s Masisi territory – at least considering the frequency and amount of reports and news out in the wires. But as often before, this goes without prejudice to the fact Masisi remains sort of an epicentre in over two decades of cyclical conflicts in eastern Congo. On the area’s key role for larger conflict dynamics, I already wrote at previous occasions, for instance here and here. What happened ever since major military operations (targeting mainly APCLS) have changed the fragile balance of power among local powerbrokers and communities?

Taking APCLS as a starting point, the group led by veteran militia commander Janvier Karairi (previously a key commander controlling one of three major wings in PARECO) has been considerably weakened. During joint operations of MONUSCO’s intervention brigade and Congolese army FARDC (and with support of local militias in Masisi to be associated with Nyatura), APCLS was not only pushed out of its strongholds around Nyabiondo but also further divided. An earlier spit had occured when parts of the Goma-based political leadership of the group fell out with Janvier and created the APCLS-Bord du Lac (a group that largely surrendered into the Bweremana transit camp after the defeat of M23, not far from where their fief was supposed to be). Military pressure sparked a further breakup, leaving the inner circle around Janvier his key deputies weakened and confined to the hills surrounding Lukweti. The simultaneous weakness of Sheka’s NDC – a key ennemy of APCLS – helped the group not being pulverised in between the frontlines. Over the past couple of months, though, APCLS’s excellent civilo-military networks across Masisi (and, still, into Goma’s political elites although the Hunde community is little represented in both provincial and national parliament) helped the group recovering while military operations against them experienced a decrease. As of now, there are reports of the group recruiting again and expanding their area of influence within the northern parts of Masisi. The long-term cohabitation (not necessarily coalition) with FDLR-FOCA, however, seems to have come to an end.

The latter, as their most recent press release indicates (and along these observations), are increasingly uncomfortable about their position and lost trust in both SADC’s mediation efforts as well as the MONUSCO DDRRR process (which was arguably are relatively successful process given the difficulties of the tasks) since the latter has been literally replaced by the Kanyabayonga/Walungu process under FARDC leadership. This reflects basically where the two larger demobilisation waves have ended up. It remains unclear whether the planned transfer to Kisangani will be fully processed in the near future. As of now, the northern wing of FOCA (the southern hiding in Mwenga and Walungu territories of South Kivu) appears to enlarge its range of influence again. Congruent reports believe them back into the northern ends of Masisi (under a climate of acceptance between them and certain Nyatura factions) and into western Rutshuru (mainly via Tongo, where a window-dressing mission of MONUSCO had displaced them earlier in 2014). In recent years, FDLR-FOCA has been smart in escaping military confrontation and engaging mainly as proxy or camouflaged, such as in the case of alleged alliances with Lafontaine’s (another key former PARECO commander) UPCP in southern Lubero between Bunyatenge and Kilambo. As a remnant of its past as a génocidaire army that was a ‘government-in-exile’ as well, FDLR-FOCA are naturally sensitive to larger political dynamics. The recent election of Angola replacing Rwanda as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council (while holding ICGLR chairmanship) from 2015 to 2016 is likely to impact on the situation in the recent future, bearing in mind that a demobilisation deadline will run out in January 2015.

Back to heartland Masisi, the role of Nyatura remains key. Genealogically, the militia configuration has its roots in earlier political and/or military movements such as Mongol, TPD, but also PARECO of which it was the third key component (alongside today’s APCLS and UPCP). Nyatura, a Kinyarwanda term for something along the lines of ‘pushing strong’ or ‘hitting hard’, was a largely decentralised militia from its inception between 2010 and 2011. At the heights of name proliferation in 2012, there were the following groups: FODP, Vutura, FDDH, Noheri, M26, Nyatura, and a few others, plus ‘franchises’ in Rutshuru (mainly FDIPC and MPA). The defeat of M23 provided for both a nominal centralisation within Nyatura and reduced activities. Two major factions crystallised around Katoyi/Kibabi in the south and Mweso in the north of Masisi. Ever since 2012 there have been revolving rumours of demobilisation, in particular including key commanders Habarugira, Kigingi, or Kasongo but the credibility of such remains in strong doubt given their marginal nature in between regular and irregular forces. In many places, Nyatura is difficult to differentiate from FARDC. In connection to FDLR-FOCA, the notion of FPP being as new (in parts ethically motivated) militia outlet operating between Masisi and Rutshuru gained currency over the summer months of 2014. However, despite concrete affirmations over the negotiations, there is no evidence from the ground this group physically exists.

Little is known on the whereabouts of other Masisi-based militias, such as Guides-MAC and FDC, and further small scale self-defense groups. The Virunga-based M23 proxy under Badege vanished with its patrons. At the southern ends of Masisi, Mayi Mayi Kifuafua, one of the longest-standing militias of its type, is reported to have split under the leadership of competing commanders Delphin and Limenzi. One of the factions appears to return under the label of Raia Mutomboki, linked to the latter’s Kalehe and Walungu factions.

Recent rumours (and subsequent detentions) also heralded the creation of M27, a group considered to be an M23 successor. So far, little is known besides a few names of combatants detained by the Congolese government. However, at the current stage, this group is unlikely to be an actual M23 successor. The established links point much more at a combination of disgruntled army officers, some of them ex-CNDP members, other local actors, and last but not least a few individuals around the former entourage of Bosco Ntaganda. The M23 connection, thus – if at all – hints clearly at the Bosco Kimbelembele faction and/or his former private guard.

 

 

 

 

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