Congo’s immobilised demobilisation programme

Yesterday, various Congolese media reported the surrender of ‘Gen.’ Justin Banaloki (also known as ‘Cobra Matata’), military leader of the Ituri-based Front de Resistance Patriotique d’Ituri (FRPI). FRPI is one of the most long-standing militias in eastern Congo, created as early as in 2002 among the Ngiti community around German Katanga, allying to the Lendu-centred Front des Nationalistes et  Integrationnistes (FNI) of Floribert Ndjabu. Backed by groups such as Mbusa Nyamwisi’s RCD-KML, this coalition primarily fought Thomas Lubanga’s and Bosco Ntaganda’s Union des Patriotes Congolais (UPC). In the frame of the Usalama Project, Henning Tamm wrote two meticulously researched and rich pieces for more background on these militias.

Allegedly, Banaloki handed himself in together with ‘Col. Adirodhu’, the group’s former military leader. Given the multiplicity of Ituri-based militias over the past few years, caution is necessary when assigning a new trend to these events. While it has been confirmed by Lambert Mende, little is known about the whereabouts of other FRPI leaders such as ‘Col. Hitler’ or ‘Col. Mbadhu’ and satellites in the COGAI militia-sphere, including groups referred to as FAII, MRPC, FPDDI. MONUSCO’s deputy chief Wafy speaks of 800 combatants that left the maquis alongside Banaloki. The surrender comes few days after Jerome Kakwavu, former leader of the now defunct FAPC and short-time ally of Banaloki’s FRPI has been convicted to ten years of prison by a Congolese military court after serving several years as a re-integrated general with FARDC.

Earlier on – in April 2014 – another Ituri-based militia leader, Paul Sadala of Mayi Mayi Morgan, died under mysterious circumstances while surrendering to FARDC’s Ituri operational units led by Brig.-Gen. Fall Sikabwe. Meanwhile, Sadala is allegedly replaced by ‘Col. Manu’ who served as a commander and doctor to the Morgan group for several years before.

All the while (since December 2013), the DRC has had a new disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration plan. Third of its kind, this most recent approach is coined DDR3 (not to be confounded with DDRRR, which is the concordant programme for foreign combatants led by MONUSCO – now de-facto sidelined in sequence to the ongoing FDLR demobilisation and relocation story). The plan as such is ambitious, it foresees six steps instead of the classic threefold approach that was originally taken over from Liberia for the DRC’s first DDR plan in 2002/2003:

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However, even after its last revision in June 2014, most long-standing stumbling blocks remain unaddressed by both the Congolese government and the donor community. A notable exception is the shut-down of ill-fated Kotakoli centre after Human Rights Watch had denounced what was already known to many: large-scale starvation and severe medical conditions threatening both cantoned combatants as well as their dependents.

The meagre share of disbursed international assistance (MONUSCO’s ongoing 8 million USD contribution being the exception) for the roundabout 100 million programme has, in conjunction with poorly planned government implementation, triggered the perpetuation of dire conditions for the demobilised such as they were already existing from late 2013 in the Bweremana camp. On the other side, Sadala’s death heightened mistrust among other militia leaders contemplating over surrender and several military operations (e.g. against Mayi Mayi Yakutumba, parts of Raia Mutomboki, or APCLS) have hardened the sensitisation task. In addition, certain militias appear to be anxious towards the government’s multi-layered approach and the concomitant FARDC sticks-and-carrots tactics.

Moreover, the fate and future of other militia configurations such as Bakata Katanga and Raia Mutomboki remains virtually impossible to foresee. The latter, for instance, staged an outright boycott underlined by a few ‘fake-surrenders’ between April and August 2014. During that time, FARDC emissaries were busy shuttling between Kinshasa, Bukavu and the Raia Mutomboki strongholds, but the latters’ mistrust, increasing internal tensions, and impending FARDC operations prevented significant diplomatic advances until all of a sudden major waves of violence were unleashed in the concerned area.

Others have repeatedly refused to lay down arms without insurances (there is a slight analogy to certain FDLR claims here) that go way further than stipulated by the current DDR3 plan, others will only demobilise if they are rewarded with senior army positions such as during the eras of brassage and mixage. Yakutumba, Nyakiliba, and Kirikicho are such cases, but the list is potentially much longer. The 2008 Goma conference has helped instal a climate of pre-emptive reward and entrenched beliefs that setting up and maintaining militias is more profitable than abstain from such activities. The example of Mayi Mayi Shikito in South Kivu is telling: The group was principally set up prior to the Goma conference to increase leverage of the involved. Little later, things got out of control and the Shikito militia eventually started preying on the populations.

In light of the Kakwavu judgement and the earlier incident with Sadala, it is almost surprising that ‘Cobra Matata’ Banaloki surrendered right now. However, the slight chance of this being a new window of opportunity should not be overlooked. Some of the – at least medially and politically framed – ‘real bad boys’ – FDLR and Sheka – do face increasing pressure even if actual military operations targeting them have not overcome the status of announcements. This could, as with M23 a year ago, prompt others to disarm and ease the complex local security dilemmas prevailing in most of Ituri, North Kivu, and South Kivu. On the other side and as various analysts and diplomats confessed over the past months, the actual window of opportunity – M23 defeat and the increased capacity of FARDC and MONUSCO (through FIB) – has waned again.

Electoral gambling, the reshuffling of the army, and resurging violence around Beni do not seem to contribute to an improving security climate either. For DDR3 to actually work, much will depend on donor will to finally engage – including locally and in person & kind. With the grand political climate in the DRC shifting towards electoral politics at a very early stage, renewed interest in making DDR3 work remains dependent on many other factors – the impending census just being one. On the other side, though, any possible turbulence during the electoral cycle is likely to be magnified in the east if a coherent and meaningful DDR3 is not running by then. Combining the number of available small arms, existing grievances, unsolved conflicts, elite interests, and available manpower results in a fragile equation for the two years to come.



2 Responses to “Congo’s immobilised demobilisation programme”
  1. sperazzone says:

    Reblogged this on Then They Were None.

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  1. […] these ex-fighters will require job training and other economic support, which will likely cost more than $100 million. Without progress, fighters like these could decide it is in their interest to […]

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