Amidst impending FDLR operations, insecurity is on the rise in North Kivu

It has been over two weeks ago, the concrete announcement of anti-FDLR operations by the Congolese army FARDC (with a still unclear role as to MONUSCO support) has raised waves of media comments, fears, and expectations. In the slipstream of this announcement, a number of difficulties seem to delay the actual start of the offensive and – not unexpectedly – they are pretty much multi-layered and not necessarily easy to resolve.

At the same time, recent tendencies of heightened insecurity seem to slightly exacerbate around the potential theatres of operation, most notably Northwest Rutshuru, Northeast Masisi, and South Lubero. In several instances, abductions, killings, and violent robberies have happened, with most of these events circling around the area of Kiwanja. These were accompanied by worrying social media communication. On Facebook, for instance, a couple of user groups (usually referring to either Rutshuru or Masisi territories) became the scene of implicitly violent debate. One example includes a user warning “Hutu of Kiwanja and Mabungo, be weary of the dog that will bite you without barking”. Yet, these events did not receive significant coverage as the debates are mostly held in local language Kinyabwisha, Rutshuru’s variety of Kinyarwanda.

Given the volatility of the concerned area, several explanations for this rise in potential menace and actual events can be traced to a whole set of reasons. To pick just to of them, they could related to a further deterioration of relations between the Nande and the Rwandophone populations of North Kivu. Due to political and economic interests, relations between these communities (or more precisely: their respective powerbrokers) have soured over the past couple of months. Recent insecurity have prompted significant migration from Rutshuru into South Lubero alongside the shores of Lake Edward. This area is a kingpin for the trade between Goma and Butembo but also features are few key roads into neighbouring Uganda that are as much important for regional trade and business. This, and increasing signs of political competition for provincial power (North Kivu’s governor Paluku has just temporarily relocated to Beni town, despite – and officially because of – the violent events there) is fostering a general sense of uncertainty whose geographical crater seems to be found at the margins of Rutshuru and Lubero territories.

Then, the overarching Damocles sword of anti-FDLR operations adds dynamism to a yet complicated situation. After a raw over newly appointed FARDC generals to lead the military campaign against the evergreen Rwandan rebels in eastern Congo, little seems to be moving ahead. Both the new commander of the 33th military region (North Kivu), Gen. Fall Sikabwe, and the commander of operations, Gen. Bruno Mandevu, are accused by the UN’s human rights office to be responsible for violations. However, given its secrecy requirements, the responsible MONUSCO unit finds itself in a catch 22 as to reveal why and how these generals are suspected of human rights abuses. The Congolese government in turn, so far refuses to exchange them and several senior army members acknowledge the presence of Sikabwe and Mandevu on this list but criticise the methodology it is led by. Mandevu, for instance, is known by other accounts as a capable commander with excellent knowledge of the area and a sufficient lack of any FDLR affinities. The official status quo in this debate remains unchanged for a few days at this point. Rumours over why this constellation could come into play have gone wild in the past 10 days. While some analysts accuse the Congolese government of diverting responsibility for inaction towards MONUSCO by appointing commanders the UN cannot accept, other explanations include that South Africa and Tanzania have pushed Kinshasa to do so in order to avoid sending their FIB troops (which are anyways not part of the currently decided plan) against FDLR. As much as other tentative explanations, these two scenarios have to be taken with a pinch of salt though.

In the meantime, FDLR has had enough time to reorganise its lines and prepare for an eventual attack by FARDC. RUD, FDLR’s main splinter group even seems to enjoy carte blanche – neither the joint ICGLR-SADC-UN ultimatum nor the planned operations seem to exactly target them as group. And finally, a new politico-military movement referring to the acronym FPP (after earlier rumours about an Nyatura-FDLR merger in summer 2014) seem to emerge within the forests of Virunga park. This development, though not yet perfectly identifiable besides dubious press releases, bears a high potential for escalation given an assumed coalition between Rwandan and Congolese Hutu combatants and potential other allies. It feeds both into the yet grand challenges for anti-FDLR military operations as much as into the patterns of violence and migration mentioned further above here.

 

 

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