Multiple surrenders of commanders cast a big blow on Raia Mutomboki

As international media focuses attention on a – finally – looming military offensive against the Rwandan FDLR rebels (Simone Schlindwein has a very recommendable backgrounder on this), the increasing series of surrenders in sequence to FARDC operations against various factions of Raia Mutomboki is remarkable (for two concise backgrounders on what Raia Mutomboki is – Jason Stearns and myself). Over the past four months, this patchwork rebel movement has lost at least three of its most influential commanders: In September 2014, ‘General’ Sisawa Wangozi was killed by the Congolese army near Tchombi. In December 2014, ‘General’ Juriste Kikuni handed himself in with numerous arms and combatants to MONUSCO in Shabunda. On the 8th of January, ‘General’ Nyanderema surrendered to the 33rd Military Region of South Kivu. Further commanders, including ‘General’ Makombo might follow. Other commanders such as ‘Mwami’ Alexander, or Maheshe also got either killed or left the maquis within the last couple of months. Nonetheless at least half a dozen splinter groups with varying allegiances continue to operate.

Besides this – until recently unexpected – sequence of high-ranking Raia Mutomboki leaders, the most remarkable observation is that Sisawa, Kikuni, and Nyanderema all belonged to different factions of the militia outfit. This is not only a sign of general implosion of the entire Raia Mutomboki franchise, whose sui-generis model of a militia had been very successful over the past years, it also represents a real window of opportunity for peace in eastern Congo.

Raia Mutomboki, in the first place, was a response to recurrent insecurity in vast parts of eastern Congo – provoked by the threat of FDLR but also by misled DDR and SSR policy, in particular the 2010 regimentation process of the Congolese army. After a brief episode in 2005/06 it emerged as a manifold armed movement from 2010 onwards. Besides a couple of ‘genuine’ militias, it also involved numerous free riders, i.e. existing Mayi Mayi militias who renamed themselves for the sake of politico-military alliance, spiritual power, or blunt PR. But besides being yet another militia(s) in eastern Congo, Raia Mutomboki is also a symptom of deeper problems. Mistrust between government and population, neglect of remote areas and the overall lack of a social contract between state and citizens was merely activated through the FDLR presence as an external trigger. The initially unsuccessful DDR endeavours of the Congolese government in early 2014 and the one-step-ahead-two-steps-back tactics of certain Raia Mutomboki leader who pretended to demobilise just to return to the maquis little later illustrate that.

Instead, the increasing tensions between various Raia Mutomboki factions, the emergence of the so-called ‘faux’ Raia Mutomboki, and a series of skirmishes with different regiments of the Congolese army increased the ‘local security dilemmas’ associated with militia activity in larger eastern Congo. However, instead of streamlining the movement (such as certain leaders like Foka Mike, Ngandu, or Meshe had tried to do in 2013), these events have deepened the cleavage between different Raia Mutomboki groups and ultimately provided the Congolese army to launch successful attacks in various strongholds. At the same time continued military and civilian diplomacy was able to convince certain leaders that there is still an exit option – Kikuni repeatedly stated publicly that if South Kivu governor Cishambo would call him to lay down arms in a conducive framework (what that means is a bit unclear, but it certainly includes the absence of FDLR and some other assurances), he would follow suit.

While in the meantime the grand window of opportunity which was the M23 defeat a year ago had passed in sequence to lots of political agony, the simultaneous surrender of these Raia Mutomboki commanders and the impending anti-FDLR operations could provide a less mediatic but much more realistic window to actually progress on substantial disarmament – not only of a huge showcase rebel outfit such as M23 but of a significant number of the still 30-50 smaller militias in the region. This, however, again depends on a bunch of ‘friendly’ conditions. It is more necessary then ever to empower the so far dead-born DDR3 process and to establish DDR as a viable alternative to both combatants and commanders not only on paper. It is crucial to ensure that both local elections and the découpage process are run with respect to community sentiment and aware of struggles over land and citizenship. SSR must come out of the taboo chamber and FARDC reform not be reduced to mere reshuffling. And finally, this must be accompanied by credible commitment of all actors – from FARDC to MONUSCO to political actors at the national and regional level – in addressing their respective responsibilities, including the dismantling of FDLR, the solution of the ex-M23 issue and a variety of other challenges.

For a more thorough background on Raia Mutomboki, consult these three lengthier papers – to my knowledge they remain the only significant academic publication on the militia:

The Rift Valley Institute’s Usalama Project report on Raia Mutomboki

Koen Vlassenroot’s and Kasper Hoffmann’s paper on Raia Mutomboki

My Raia Mutomboki paper in the 2013/14 Annuaire des Grands Lacs

One Response to “Multiple surrenders of commanders cast a big blow on Raia Mutomboki”
  1. Excellent article. I’m dealing with some oof these isssues as well..

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