Misinformation and Misdirection in Beni’s ADF Attacks

Anonymous guest blog 

On the morning of November 6, a petrol bomb was thrown in a residential quarter of Beni town, North Kivu. The bomb injured no one, and from a military perspective was a small and ineffective deployment of violence. Senior UN military analysts dismissed it accordingly. However, the bombing, which forms part of a larger wave of violence in Beni territory since September, provides insights into how misinformation and misdirection around security threats play into local political agendas.

Pamphlets distributed in Beni town by the group claiming responsibility for the bombing were signed the ‘mujahideen.’ Reports from the Butembo-Beni diocese of the Catholic Church described rebels in the Ngadi, Eringeti, and Oicha attacks as wearing “white robes of Muslim dress.” Newspapers in Uganda—a country that gains from portraying a mounting insurgency on its border to justify military expenditures—describe rebels as networked with ISIS. The bombing and other attacks in Beni territory are attributed to the Allied Democratic Front, a group that international media outlets and the UN Group of Experts tentatively link with international terrorist networks.

This wave of violence, and the rhetoric surrounding it, builds the use of similar rumors to describe rebel activity in Beni territory since the attacks in the Watalinga chefferie in July 2013. The Vice President of North Kivu’s Civil Society, Omar Kavota, described perpetrators of these attacks as “NALU-ADF-AL SHEBAAB” on the radio and in private security correspondences. Local journalists reported that combatants were wearing turbans and shouting “Allahu Akbar.”

Yet viewing the ADF as a completely external force supported by international ties overlooks its embeddedness in and consequences for local affairs. The increased brutality of recent violence creates opportunities for politicians who may be behind attacks directly but are able to channel popular responses to it in order to shift the local balance of power. These political figures stand to gain from amplifying the perceived risk of the ADF by inscribing the group within global security threats such as Al Shabaab and Boko Haram.

The RCD/K-ML insurgency-turned-political party is an example. The party’s president, Mbusa Nyamwisi, was dismissed from his post as National Deputy in June 2013. Support for the RCD-K/ML has waned since 2011, when the North Kivu Governor Julien Paluku and the mayors of Beni and Butembo broke from the party to remain part of Kabila’s presidential majority. Beni has particularly crossed Mbusa. Once his political and military headquarters, Mbusa is now unable to travel there, including for the funeral of his daughter, given personal security threats. The RCD/K-ML can benefit from the attacks. It has been a key voice behind civilian protests in Beni leading to the deaths of four people last week. Protestors called for the resignation of President Joseph Kabila, North Kivu Governor Julien Paluku, and Beni Mayor Nyonyi Bwana Kawa—three politicians who have been particularly troublesome for the party. Protestors destroyed a statue of Kabila in town and burned flags of his PPRD political party. Insecurity in Nyamwisi’s former political stronghold can allow the RCD/K-ML to scapegoat existing authorities and demonstrate that its reintegration is crucial to the area’s stability.

Local businesses that were the financial and social force behind Nyamwisi’s national deputy campaign are divided between his RCD-K/ML party and the presidential majority. Violence, amplified via alleged external connections, can be a tactic demonstrating a continued need for businesses to seek protection of a politico-military backer.

Alleged connections with the ADF are also used to discredit political rivals. Rumors circulated in Beni last week that two captured ADF members confessed to ties to Mbusa Nyamwisi. These rumors preceded Governor Julien Paluku’s press conference on November 12 during which he accused Mbusa of instigating a new rebellion in Beni. At the provincial level, members of the presidential majority in North Kivu’s provincial assembly have begun systematic efforts to compile information on Beni dating back to the Second War. Seven provincial deputies, including the President of the Provincial Assembly and members of the UCP political party, have been at the center of these efforts. A party insider mentioned Mbusa Nyamwisi by name as a target of this investigation. These efforts indicate the North Kivu provincial government interprets ADF violence as linked with local political programs, and that the violence provides an opportunity for political positioning beyond Beni. The UCP, led by former governor Eugène Serufuli, has its main support base in Rutshuru and Masisi yet controlled much of the Petit Nord during and in the aftermath of the Second War. The UCP’s connections with minority Hutu communities also reproduce the enduring tensions with the Nande political networks from the Grand Nord, which hold the governorship and majority of seats in the provincial assembly. Current efforts to amass evidence on Beni can be an attempt by previously ruling networks to capitalize on ADF attacks to regain influence in Goma.

The security threats also help establish independence from Kinshasa at a time when Kabila is encroaching on local politics (courting the North Kivu governor and the Beni mayor) and buying lucrative properties in Beni. Although politically key, the Grand Nord has attracted little analytical attention compared with southern North Kivu, where a range of other armed groups routinely raise security threats. Rumored ties with Islamist networks carry the potential of placing international pressure on Kabila to resolve security threats, which in turn requires the support of the political figures in the Grand Nord.

Absent these political payoffs, Islamist rhetoric seems an ill fit for Beni. The Muslim community in Beni holds no serious social rift with other religious groupings and a Catholic-Protestant divide is felt more heavily. It is unclear how Beni would fit into Al Shabaab’s grander strategy, especially since the ADF appears to have forgone serious attempts to destabilize Uganda from its bases in Congo. A long-time member of the RCD-K/ML opposition party based in the Grand Nord expressed doubt about the external origins of the attacks, describing the ADF as a “masquerade.” The ADF’s intermittent use of Muslim symbols is consistent with this diagnosis. White robes, turbans, and Arabic are largely reserved for attacks, not other interactions such as economic transactions that the ADF routinely has with civilians. The use of these symbols is similar to tactics of combatants elsewhere who dress as women to scare civilians. ADF attacks target areas that were former recruitment grounds and sources of tax revenue, and where scare tactics can promote popular compliance in reestablished relationships.

Finally, the newness of rumors of external threats linked to terrorist cells makes them effective for mobilizing populations who would otherwise be resistant. This week, civil society in the Grand Nord called for the establishment of popular defense forces to respond to ADF attacks. The use of external terms to amplify ADF threats is an effective recruitment strategy for rival armed groups. Residents of Beni reported low levels of fear for Mayi Mayi or the ADF before recent attacks that couples more brutal forms of violence with rhetoric of Al Shabaab. Yet when the rhetoric of Al Shabaab and jihad appeared during the Watalinga attacks in July 2013, women selling goods in local markets began debating Al Qaeda’s intentions in Beni and the ADF’s purported links with Al Shabbab. One resident expressed that these new risk factors would lead her to reconsider her previous enjoinments to her son against joining local militias. The creation of community defense groups carries the potential to multiply sources of insecurity and assert regional autonomy from Kinshasa by undermining the power and credibility of state security forces.

These events signal the direct importance of ADF attacks to local politics, and their repercussions for internal community relations. Discussions of the ADF as an external group deflect attention from how the attacks can be repurposed and refit to local agendas and how the use of misinformation to amplify security threats is useful to redress local political scores.

XY is a researcher who spent two years working in eastern DRC’s Grand Nord.

7 Responses to “Misinformation and Misdirection in Beni’s ADF Attacks”
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  1. […] But researchers say the ADF is primarily a local armed group with close links to other Congo-based militias, communities, and army officials –who have supplied the group with ammunition, food, and uniforms, and even recruited participants to fight alongside them. […]

  2. […] But researchers say the ADF is primarily a local armed group with close links to other Congo-based militias, communities, and army officials –who have supplied the group with ammunition, food, and uniforms, and even recruited participants to fight alongside them. […]

  3. […] researchers have warned against dressing up the group’s transnational connections – something the government […]

  4. […] The ADF may also have ties to local or national politicians, to FARDC officers, and to other armed groups; however, various observers have noted the lack of hard evidence for such claims. […]

  5. […] of local and national political actors are able to instrumentalize supposed links with the ADF for various political purposes, facilitating forms of local […]

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