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Run for Unity – Maison des Jeunes (3 May)

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Haitus

For professional reasons I will not be contributing any new posts until at least October 2015.

MONUSCO: Last Man Standing

As election-related tensions are rising and operations against the FDLR rebels are looming, MONUSCO is going to lose most of its political and military leadership. Changing personnel at this pivotal point in time is going to make it even more difficult to play a positive role for peace and development in 2015, especially because the momentum of the past year has been largely lost.

The first to leave the ship is Abdallah Wafy, Deputy Special Representative for Rule of Law and Operations in eastern Congo. He will assume the position of Ambassador of Niger to the UN. During his tenure, General Wafy was a well-respected official on relative good terms with the government.

Charged to oversee humanitarian affairs, Moustapha Soumaré will leave for South Sudan this month to serve as the UN Deputy Special Representative for political affairs. Originating from Mali, Soumaré has previously worked with missions in Liberia, Rwanda, Benin, Mali and at the UN secretariat in New York.

Chief of the mission Martin Kobler has recently been nominated as a candidate to replace Valerie Amos as head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). While it is unlikely that he is going to get the position in light of humanitarians’ unease about his role in ‘militarizing’ the mission, it is clear that he wants to get out in four to five months. Kobler is well respected inside the UN and having served in other hardship places such as Afghanistan and Iraq might eye for a position in New York.

Lastly, we should expect General Carlos Alberto Dos Santos Cruz of Brazil to leave this summer. He became the Force Commander of MONUSCO in May 2013. With more than 40 years of military experience, including as Deputy Commander for Land Operations of the Brazilian army and as Force Commander for the UN mission in Haiti, he strikes many as an ambitious and committed commander but one that is increasingly frustrated. He will likely return to his retirement in Brazil.

Their achievements and shortcomings over the past two years

In 2013, the Congolese government faced one of its most powerful adversaries, the rebel group M23. Allegedly supported by Rwanda and Uganda, the group had taken the bold step to occupy Goma in late 2012. Embarrassed that it had lost the provincial capital to the rebels, MONUSCO had to reassert is authority as the ‘sheriff in town.’ After months of deliberations, the international community eventually agreed to send in a 3,000-men force – known as the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) – to accompany the Congolese army into battle against the M23 and other armed groups. Coinciding with the arrival of the force, MONUSCO’s political and military leadership was reconfigured.

With the new head of mission Martin Kobler and Force Commander Dos Santos Cruz, a refreshing wind of change blew through the corridors of MONUSCO. They took to work immediately, eager to turn things around. Together with Deputy Special Representative Abdallah Wafy, MONUSCO had committed personnel ready to take charge and lead blue helmets into uncharted terrain. Within a few months, the leadership scored a number of important wins. Following the crushing defeat over M23 in late 2013, more than 4,000 combatants from other armed groups came out of the bush and surrendered. After 14 years of try-and-error interventions in the Congo, there was reason for hope. The UN was back. And never before had the Congolese army shown such discipline and fighting spirit in the face of a very powerful adversary (video). The Congolese population, army and MONUSCO alike were euphoric.

Riding out the momentum in early 2014, the leadership supported the army in taking on other armed groups, including the ADF, APCLS, and NDC, and relocated most of the mission from the west to the east. Fighting wars while reforming a notoriously slow bureaucracy are by no means an easy feat.

The honeymoon began to sour in 2014

Following the defeat of M23, the euphoria gradually gave way for reality, however. On the front line problems began to emerge. While the international community hand-picked the FDLR as its next target, the army decided otherwise drawing the peacekeepers into combat against the ADF while sidelining them in operational planning. The operations were successful in dislodging the rebel bases but the group’s leadership remains intact while a series of machete attacks killing hundreds of people in late 2013 underscore the continuous volatility of the Grand Nord.

A month into fighting ADF, the mission stumbled into yet another fight against the local defense group APCLS. Unable to resist orders from the army and fully understand the context of the fighting, MONUSCO’s relationship with the local communities as a whole soured in light of the confrontations with many feeling betrayed and insecure. The mission, however, presents the fight as a successful demonstration of the FIB. “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” a senior UN official admitted to me.

Throughout 2014, it became evident that the Congolese government had no interest in actually seizing the opportunity to initiate a credible disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration program for the thousands of rebels that had surrendered following the demise of M23. Worse, it left more than a hundred men, women, and children to starve in make shift camps later that year as reported by Human Rights Watch.

On the political front, Kobler slowly lost much of his political capital. In the summer of last year, the government publicly scolded him for initiating roundtables with the Congolese opposition and months later expelled his human rights chief Scott Campbell for reporting on abuses by the Congolese security forces. All the while, progress stalled in implementing the regional peace agreement known as Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework and is likely to lose further momentum in 2015 with the announced departure of the United States Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region Russ Feingold.

Unable to deliver on its promise to focus on the FDLR, MONUSCO was then outmaneuvered by the very countries that contribute to the Force Intervention Brigade, particularly Tanzania and South Africa. It became increasingly clear that africanizing a mission with soldiers from neighboring countries might make for a better fighting force but comes with its own baggage of geopolitical interests. The Southern African Development Community – of which Tanzania and South Africa are part of – was heavily involved in brokering a six-month reprise for the FDLR, a decision that not just angered MONUSCO but bore no substantive results by early 2015.

In stunning developments a few weeks later, the Congolese government announced it would launch an assault on the FDLR but based on a new military plan after it had spent months deliberating over joint planning with MONUSCO. Utterly surprised and even clueless, the mission initially struggled to get hands on the new plan and contemplate its next move. Complicating matters, the Congolese army handpicked Generals Fall Sikabwe and Bruno Mandevu to lead the battle against the rebels. Blacklisted by the UN for serious human rights abuses, MONUSCO cannot partake in the operations unless they are removed. For weeks, the mission tried in back-channel negotiations and via public pressure to persuade the government to remove the generals, a plea that fell on deaf ears. Last week then, on 15 February, President Kabila summoned twenty foreign ambassadors as well as Martin Kobler to reprimand them for interfering in what he believes are sovereign matters. Subsequently, the Congolese government renounced any support from the peacekeepers. Some analysts believe the Congolese government – unwilling to confront the FDLR in earnest – deliberately appointed these generals to prevent any cooperation with MONUSCO. Operations are yet to commence.

Ahead

Despite the challenges of 2014 and 2015, Kobler, Cruz, and Wafy will be largely remembered for their positive track record. Much of what went wrong last year is out of their hands. MONUSCO does not have the political clout many wish it had. Without the buy-in of the Congolese government, there is only so much outsiders can achieve. And right now the Congolese government is consumed with politicking for a series of local, provincial and presidential elections. All the while, MONUSCO is trying to build its exit strategy to leave Congo (here and here).

In many ways, it might be best for Kobler to leave. As important a force for change he is to the mission as much is he an over-ambitious figure in the eyes of the government. He was the right tool at the right time. While one should be careful what to wish for, a new SRSG – some suggest Leila Zerrougui of Algeria – might have another chance at pursuing good offices and exerting positive influence in a country with another crisis in the making.

Timetable for elections in Congo

Following recent election-related violence across Congo, the Independent National Electoral commission (CENI) published yesterday the timetable for a number of very important elections in the Central African state. According to the President of CENI, the elections cost  more than $1 billion US dollars. While it is a positive development to have the electoral timetable in place, the road towards elections will be rocky at best. For a latest analysis on the political backdrop to the elections, I recommend Jason Stearns’ article in World Politics Review.

Timetable:

  • 25 octobre 2015 : Élections provinciales, municipales, urbaines et locales
  • 10 décembre 2015 : Publication résultats des élections provinciales, municipales, urbaines et locales
  • 17 janvier 2016: Élections des sénateurs et députés provinciaux
  • 31 janvier 2016 : Elections des gouverneurs et vice-gouverneurs
  • 27 novembre 2016: Scrutin Présidentiel et Législatif
  • 07 décembre 2016: Annonce des résultats provisoires de la Présidentielle
  • 17 décembre 2016 : Publication des résultats définitifs de la Présidentielle
  • 20 décembre 2016: Prestation de serment du président élu.
  • 27 janvier 2017 : Publication des résultats définitifs des élections législatives.

Telema protests in Congo

In the past week, demonstrations were held in cities across the Democratic Republic of Congo against proposed changes to the electoral law. The following storify explains what happened, using tweets, articles, videos, radio excerpts, official statements, pictures, and cartoons.

https://storify.com/MuellerTimo/telema-protests

The Force Intervention Brigade – A reading list

Debates among analysts

  1. The UN Intervention Brigade in the Democratic Republic of the CongoGen. Patrick Cammaert and Fiona Blyth, International Peace Institute, 2013.
  2. UN’s elite force raises the stakes in DRC, Carol Jean Gallo and Christoph Vogel, Al Jazeera, July 16, 2013.
  3. DRC: Assessing the performance of MONUSCO’s Force Intervention Brigade, African Arguments, Christoph Vogel, 14 July 2014.
  4. The Intervention Brigade: Legal Issues for the UN in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Scott Sheeran and Stephanie Case for the International Peace Institute,
    November 2014.
  5. Is the Force Intervention Brigade neutral? Institute for Security Studies, 27 November 2014.
  6. On the issues of drones used by FIB, I recommend you take a look at a 2014 joint NGO letter here, here and here.
  7. For a critical analysis of ‘Islands of Stability’ – following military operations – see the discussion by Christoph Vogel.

Concerns by humanitarians

Several NGOs including NRC, MSF, Oxfam, Refugees International, CAFOD have issued concerns about the FIB.

  1. NRC warns against excessive faith in new force, Olivia Kallis for Norwegian Refugee Council, April 26, 2013.
  2. Joint NGO letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “Progress Needed in DRC,” May 28, 2013.
  3. Bertrand Perrochet, “MSF accuse l’ONU d’entretenir la confusion à l’Est,” Direct.cd, July 5, 2013.
  4. DR Congo unrest: Fears over UN intervention, Mark Doyle, BBC News, July 25, 2013.
  5. Oxfam reaction to UN announcement on the enforcement of a security zone and call for disarmament in Goma and SakeOxfam International Press release, July 31, 2013.
  6. Escalating violence in DR Congo pushes humanitarian situation to crisis point, Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, August 9, 2013.

Rebel groups

  • For an overview of FARDC/FIB operations against ADF, APCLS and FDLR, see my reporting herehere, and here.
  • For a current comprehensive mapping of armed groups, see here.

Increased rebel activities in eastern Congo

Over the past few weeks, eastern Congo has seen a resurgence of rebel activities in many places. The rebel groups ADF, FDLR, FRPI, Lafontaine, Morgan, LRA, and Sheka were increasingly active with civilians bearing the brunt of the violence in Beni, Walikale and South Lubero in North Kivu province as well as Mumbasa, Irumu and Haut and Bas-Uele in Orientale Province.

In more positive news, in contrast to failed attempts with FRPI and Morgan, ongoing negotiations with Nyatura and APCLS in Masisi territory seem to make progress

Beni territory: ADF (map)

In Beni territory, the ADF rebel group reportedly killed nine people and wounded several others in the town of Oicha and Tenambo on 8 October, prompting the displacement of approximately 70% of Oicha’s population. A week later, ADF allegedly staged another attack in the provincial capital of Beni, killing close to 30 people. (Listen to a first reaction of North Kivu civil society.)  MONUSCO peacekeeper later specified that more than 10,000 people have been uprooted, adding that “the situation remains tense.”

In staging new attacks, ADF underscores that it can still wreck devastation despite having lost all of its strongholds and many combatants during a fight against the Congolese army and UN peacekeepers earlier this year. For background, see my earlier reporting.

Editor’s note: On 21 October, Dominic Johnson of Germany’s TAZ raised a number of questions about the alleged involvement of ADF. His points are very worth considering. 

Orientale Province: FRPI, Mai-Mai Morgan, LRA (map)

Further north, in Orientale Province, the FRPI rebel group staged several attacks (here and here) in Irumu and Walendu Bindi after earlier attempts to negotiate a disarmament of the group had failed. In response, the Congolese army conducts military operations against them in collaboration with MONUSCO. (For a background of the negotiations and group, see my earlier reporting.)

Another group, which is increasingly active in Orientale Province is Mai-Mai Morgan, which most recently abducted 47 people (herehere, and here), sparking protests of angered citizens. Later, on Wednesday, authorities uncovered three mass graves of potential victims of Mai-Mai Morgan. In early 2014, the group also negotiated with the Congolese army about a possible surrender but the talks collapsed after its leader was shot by the army.

The activities of FRPI and Mai-Mai Morgan underscore the difficulties of providing credible and trustworthy incentives for rebels to surrender while at the same time making sure that human rights abusers are brought to justice. As we will see further below, negotiations with Nyatura and APCLS seem to make progress, however.

Further north in Orientale Province, the LRA resurged as well operating in Haut et Bas Huele. The renewed activities prompted chief of MONUSCO Martin Kobler to visit the area. He expressed his support for joint FARDC/US-Africom and MONUSCO operations against LRA and for a greater securization of Garamba Park, an important sanctuary of the group (here, here, and here). For background, I suggest you have a look at three info graphics that visualize latest LRA activities (here, here, and here) .

Walikale and Lubero: Sheka, Lafontaine and FDLR

Lubero territory saw renewed clashes between Sheka and Lafontaine around Bunyatenge, which is now reportedly secured by the army. Sheka has also been increasingly active on the Mpofi-Kashebere axis in Walikale. Rumors that Sheka might have reconciled with Gedeon have not been officially confirmed yet. Sheka has been under attack by the Congolese army and UN peacekeepers since 2 July. The operations are still ongoing but have yet to deliver a final blow. As I described in an earlier report, Sheka needs a military as well as political solution. The latter is missing, however.

As for the FDLR, negotiations about the disarmament process are ongoing but effectively stalling. In early July, the group had been given a last chance to surrender over the course of six months or face military confrontations. Kobler together with a delegation of British diplomats recently visited a transit camp for FDLR elements in Kanyabayonga, urging them to honor the agreement. While FDLR is very unlikely to do that, recent findings by Human Rights Watch that more than 100 men, women and children in a demobilization camp of the Congolese government starved to death do not necessarily invite more surrenders, however.

Disappointed at FDLR’s lack of commitment, a high-ranking official at MONUSCO reported that they “don’t move. They have unrealistic goals and want to blame others for a later failure of the process. […]. They are playing games. What happens on 3rd of January [a day after the ceasefire expires] will be very interesting. Maybe SADC will no longer be asked [about what to do about FDLR].” SADC had single-handedly decided to give FDLR another chance in July, angering MONUSCO as well as Rwanda.

Pressure to eventually use force against the rebel is mounting. During a Security Council debate on the increasing challenges of peacekeeping on 9 October MONUSCO’s force commander reiterated the “moral duty” to protect civilians and use force if necessary (here, and here; video here). Earlier, on 3 October, the UN Security Council issued a press statement (here and here) “noting with deep concern that since 2 July no further voluntary surrenders of FDLR have happened and the FDLR have failed to deliver on their public promise to voluntarily demobilize.” Reiterating the need for a “swift neutralization” of ‪FDLR, the Council stressed that “only substantial progress toward the full demobilization called for by the region and committed to by the FDLR could justify any further reprieve from military action against the FDLR.” Days prior, the US Ambassador to Congo expressed similar disappointment.

In addition, during a high-level meeting on the situation in the Congo at the margins of the UN General Assembly on 22 September, FDLR received particular attention with Presidents and Foreign Ministers urging FDLR to disarm in earnest, echoing the sentiment of the International Contact Group that met a week earlier in London.

(For further background on 6-month process, see my earlier reporting. In addition, Washington Post recently published a series of features about the FDLR (here and here).

Masisi: Nyatura, APCLS, ‘M27’ (map)

In Masisi, the situation looks more promising. For example, Nyatura ‘Colonel’ Kotala Dedieu, better known as Kikingi, surrendered together with ten of his men on 12 October. The surrender seems to be a direct result of a 30-day deadline to lay down arms by the Governor of North Kivu. Apart from Nyatura groups, the appeal called “Masisi sans arms” might also have a positive effect on near-by groups such as FDC, Kifufua (details of negotiations here) and certain Raia Mutomboki groups. Sharing this sentiment, MONUSCO asserts that “we can expect more to come out.”

Another rebel group, which is currently negotiating a possible surrender is APCLS.  Large-scale military operations against APCLS started in February this year but are currently suspended to make room for negotiations. Leader of APCLS Gen. Janvier reportedly wants to avoid any further confrontations in light of the crushing defeat he suffered in the earlier operations. Operations might re-start in the following weeks if negotiations fail to bear fruit.

In southern Masisi, around Remeka and Ngungu, unconfirmed reports about recruitment drives by a group called M27 – a possible successor of M23 – continue to circulate (here, here, here, and here). While MONUSCO “doesn’t rule it out,” it “struggles” to verify it. “We are still ascertaining,” the mission said on Wednesday. M23 and the Deputy Ambassador of Rwanda to the UN Security Council refute the rumors.

Last week, MONUSCO released new findings that M23 killed, raped and tortured hundreds of people. (See commentary by author). News broke also that its former leader Bosco Ntaganga will face trial for 13 war crimes and five counts of crimes against humanity in June 2015. The fate of approximately 2,000 ex-M23 elements remaining in neighboring Rwanda and Uganda remains unresolved.

Katanga: Bakata Katanga (map)

Meanwhile, the situation in northern Katanga remains worrisome. After clashes with the army in Kyona Nzini (Pweto territory), Bakata Katanga reportedly conducted several incursions, prompting the displacement of 3,000 people (here and here). For a recent mapping of displacement in the province see here.

Conclusion:

The resurgence of rebel activity underscores that military operations alone will not yield sustainable effects (see ADF in particular) even though they seem to have pressured APCLS and Nyatura into negotiations, a development that authorities should pursue with conviction. However, these negotiations will only produce meaningful results if authorities finally put in place a credible DDR program (see FRPI, Morgan, partially FDLR, and HRW reporting). And next to a robust DDR, political efforts are needed to resolve rebellions (see M23 and Sheka).

Further resources:

For a mapping of armed groups see Christoph Vogel.

Photo credits:

  • 1-4: Photos of ADF attack by Dearbhla Glynn for Vice and AlJazeera.
  • 5-7: Cobra Matata, Germain Katanga, and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui (the latter two stood trial at ICC)
  • 8-9: Paul Sadala of Mai-Mai Morgan by UN Group of Experts and RFI.
  • 10-11: Sheka.
  • 12-14: Visit in Kanyabayonga by Iain Griffiths
  • 15-16: FDLR elements by Pete Muller for Washington Post (here and here).
  • 17-22: APCLS elements by Alexis Bouvy for Search for Common Ground.
  • 23-25: M23’s Sultani Makenga and Bosco Ntaganda at the ICC.

What happened to the APCLS rebel group in 2014?

 

In February this year, the Congolese army supported by MONUSCO launched large-scale operations against the APCLS in Masisi territory, North Kivu (map). After earlier operations against the M23 and ADF rebel groups, it was the third time MONUSCO’s Force Intervention Brigade participated in combat.

Officially speaking, the operations were the result of an attack by APCLS on army units they suspected were led by or included ex-CNDP elements, their longtime enemies. Three FARDC officers of the 813th regiment were reportedly killed in an ambush against theirs in northwestern Masisi. It was under these circumstances that the 813th regiment (later supported by the 810th) launched massive attacks against APCLS elements on 9 February. The UN peacekeepers supported the army with gunships to root out the groups. Some argue that elements of Nyatura (Hutu) also supported the army against APCLS.

On 17 February, after intense fighting, the Congolese army reportedly took Nyabiondo, one of the main strongholds of APCLS in northwestern Masisi. The army deployed heavy weaponry, including attack helicopters, to target not just Nyabiondo but also APCLS positions in Kashebere. In late February, the group was reportedly dislodged from Kibarizo, Muhanga and Butare without offering much resistance. Following the liberation of Lwibo on 4 March, the Congolese army prepared a final assault on the last bastion of APCLS in Lukweti.

On 30 April, fighting between the APCLS and FARDC broke out again in Nyabiondo. Three South African peacekeepers with the FIB were wounded in the attack. Another six Congolese soldiers were killed and three wounded. A MONUSCO official called the attack “very bold,” adding that “APCLS continues to have very good intel even though they got to be weak these days.” Despite the military successes, in May, the humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF declared that the “situation [in Masisi] is untenable.”

For APCLS’s areas of influence as of June, see the mapping of Christoph Vogel.

Liberating areas from APCLS is a welcome development because the group poses a danger to citizens, including Hunde. However, the Congolese army did not behave well either following the operations. “We hear daily reports of human rights abuses at the hands of the FARDC in former APCLS-held areas, a MONUSCO official admitted in an informal interview in May. A representative of a human rights organization later confirmed this.

Why was APCLS attacked?

The incident alone as described above does not fully explain the launch of the operations. The army and APCLS have had a rocky relationship for years now, oscillating between partnership and animosity. A key supporter to the army in repelling the M23 rebel group (largely Tutsi) in 2012-2013, APCLS laments that the army failed to reciprocate. In the absence of genuine trust, APCLS refused to surrender many of its combatants in late December 2013, when 4,000 rebels came out of the bush following the defeat of the M23 a month earlier. APCLS’ attempt to integrate into the army in early 2013 failed miserably, causing many deaths.

Many important figure heads in the Hunde community perceive the confrontations against the APCLS as part of a wider campaign spearheaded by the Hutu and Tutsi community to wipe them out. Members of the Hunde community in Masisi repeatedly reference as proof the large-scale fighting between the Congolese army and APCLS in the town of Kitchanga in February 2013. During the combat, 146 people died and 518 houses were burnt, a government-commissioned report asserts. “They haven’t finished us [Hunde] yet but they want to,” an influential member of the Hunde community said. While this is a claim I cannot confirm, it is important to bear in mind that perceptions matter.

Who is the APCLS?

The Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo, or APCLS, is an armed group in Masisi territory. They largely hail from the Hunde ethnic community, who are native to Masisi but outnumbered by the Hutu community, many of which were transplanted by Belgian colonialists to mitigate growing overpopulation in Rwanda and confront a labor shortage in the very fertile territory of Masisi. Over time, Hunde increasingly lost political power, customary authority and especially land.

In this increasingly tense environment, powerful elites manipulated and politicized notions of citizenship, ethnicity, and land, pitting the different communities against each other. The simmering tensions festered over time, infrequently leading to violent outbursts. It was in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide in 1994 that the unrest finally spilled into large-scale war.

With a strong anti-Rwandan and anti-Tutsi bias, the group’s main arch-enemies are the M23 (successor to CNDP and RDC; largely Tutsi), Sheka’s NDC (largely Nyanga), units of Nyatura (Hutu) and to a lesser extent MAC (Hunde). ‘Since we felt that our country had been overrun by foreigners, we felt obliged to find ways and means to free the country,” APCLS’ self-proclaimed General Janvier Buingo Karairi said.

As explained earlier, the group’s relationship to the Congolese army has been rocky oscillating between partnership and animosity depending on the composition of the army. While APCLS has been a steady supporter of the army in repelling M23, it has also clashed with units of the army in February 2013 and – as shown above – in Spring 2014. In addition, APCLS has mixed relationships to FDLR and certain elements of Nyatura (both Hutu), sometimes co-exististing and collaborating and other times fighting each other.

That said, the dynamics are ever-changing, friends frequently become foes and foes become friends.

Why did MONUSCO participate in the fighting?

When MONUSCO failed to deliver on its promises to attack the FDLR and stumbled instead into operations against the ADF during which the Congolese army was unwilling to cooperate fully, the APCLS proved to be a convenient target to prove the usefulness of the brigade. As per one account, the brigade fought the ACPLS with “mortar and 40mm grenade fire and highly effective strafing runs from two Rooivalk attack helicopters.”

A high-ranking official with MONUSCO admitted, “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

After years of failing to protect civilians, the UN Security Council gave the mission a last shot at improving its performance in the Congo. Many in the donor community are tired and want to slowly draw the mission to an end. To leave a positive mark behind, the Council has given MONUSCO a tool to change things for the better, the Force Intervention Brigade (here and here). As helpful as the brigade is, it also puts enormous political pressure on MONUSCO to deliver results … not only for Congolese.

MONUSCO’s relationship with the Hunde community

Worryingly, MONUSCO’s relationship with the Hunde community as a whole has soured in light of the fighting. Unfortunately, the mission does not fully appreciate the dynamics between Hutu and Hunde in Masisi and has largely failed to reassure the Hunde community of the mission’s neutrality vis-a-vis ethnic groups.

Members of the Hunde community continue to accuse MONUSCO of selectivity, repeatedly citing Mai-Mai Sheka as an example. While MONUSCO is very keen on arresting Sheka, the arch-enemy of APCLS, it so far has failed to do that. Even though this is due to the absence of political will on the side of the Congolese government, many in the Hunde community, however, blame MONUSCO for it.

Many forget, however, that MONUSCO and the army dislodged Sheka from his stronghold in Pinga in late 2013 and that as of recent they are actively fighting Sheka in Walikale territory. Hopefully, this will reassure Hunde community leaders that MONUSCO does not single out a select few groups. The operations are underway. Whether they will be successful is another question.

Generally speaking, not just Hunde but Congolese citizens in eastern Congo have little trust in MONUSCO, as a recent study shows.

Simmering tensions ahead of local elections

While APCLS is severely hit, tensions in Masisi remain and are likely to augment in anticipation of local and national elections to be held in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Prominent community leaders, politicians and senior Congolese army commanders continue to distribute fire arms to members of their ethnic groups, particularly in North Kivu, and will likely do so even more in the lead-up to the elections as happened in 2011. In distributing weapons, politicians gain leverage over armed groups, which they in turn instrumentalize to boast their political standing in provincial and national politics. Influence over an armed group translates directly into political power.

In addition, politicians gain social capital vis-a-vis their own communities. In the absence of a strong army that can protect its people, communities in eastern Congo often need to protect themselves. Distributing weapons is an effective way for politicians to prove their continuous commitment to the community, which in turn is expected to cast their votes in their favor.

For more on the topic, see a short article by Judith Verweijen (@judithverweijen) and a larger report by Rift Valley Institute.

Meanwhile, (un-)confirmed reports indicate that a number of new groups sprung up (here and here) while the FDLR refuses to surrender in earnest; developments I will turn to in due time.

Further resources: 

  • The United Nations Group of Experts has provided the most comprehensive study on APCLS over the past several years.
  • Search for Common Ground and International Alert published a very detailed account and photo series about the APCLS earlier this year. They spent several weeks in Lukweti and Nyabiondo – formerly held by APCLS – interviewing key stakeholders.
  • Christoph Vogel (@ethuin) published an analysis of the fighting in early March. You should definitely subscribe to his blog, too.
  • To learn more about the conflict in Masisi and the origins of the PARECO group from which the APCLS split up, you should read the report of the Usalama Project. Make sure to follow the author Jason Stearns on Twitter and check in on his blog.
  • In December last year, independent journalist and researcher Justine Brabandt (@justinebrabant) shared her insights following a visit to APCLS in Lukweti.
  • For a critique of the concept of ‘Islands of Stability,’ which is implemented around Pinga, you should turn to Christoph Vogel’s recent piece.

Photo credits: Alexis Bouvy (@AlexisBouvy) for Search for Common Ground and International Alert (here; #1-3) and MONUSCO (#3-6).

Operations against ADF: A recap

Over the course of 2013, the ADF rebel group became increasingly active, sharply expanding kidnapping campaigns and attacking UN peacekeepers and towns in North Kivu province. As a a result, military operations against ADF called Sukola 1 (“clean”) started on 16 January 2014 in the town of Oicha, Beni territory. The operations were later carried out on the axes Mbau-Kamango, Kokola-Nadui and Kahinama-Nadui (map). It is noteworthy that the current operations are the sixth of its kind and are the most important ones in terms of men and military equipment deployed to engage the militia.

ADF lost its strongholds

The Congolese army has been successful when it comes to capturing strongholds of the ADF, including Chuchubo, Nadui, Canda, Commander Ibrahim Battle Group and Medina. On 14 April, after ten days of “intense combat”, the army reported the capture of Medina, a “formidable fortress” of the ADF, and headquarters of ADF leader Jamil Mukulu. A week later, an Ugandan army spokesperson alleged that “[t]he ADF has lost a large amount of weaponry. Their source of food is now no more, their supply lines were disrupted and their fighters are in disarray.” The Group of Experts believes that “FARDC has seized all known ADF camps.”

Fighters killed or captured

As for fighters killed or captured, the success is minor mainly because of inappropriate sensitization campaigns by the Congolese army. On 10 May, the Congolese army reported that ADF had killed 217 of its elements. The Group of Experts said that according to FARDC the rebels had wounded 416 soldiers as of 7 May 2014. While the Group “believes that those figures are reasonably accurate,” these numbers have to be treated with caution, however. In an informal meeting, a MONUSCO official lamented that the Congolese army has been hesitant to share details about the exact death toll.

As for the number of rebels killed, the army reportedly killed 531 combatants as of 7 May, a claim that the Group of Experts believe “may be exaggerated”, also because the group “could not identify the whereabouts of ADF casualties, which should be numerous.” No senior ADF leader is confirmed dead nor has the army captured many ADF combatants alive.

ADF’s leadership and remaining hostages

While the ADF has lost its strongholds, it was able to melt into the Rwenzori rain forest and others fled northward to Ituri. (This started as early as December 2013 before the military operations started.) ADF seems to be reorganizing with Jaber Ali Nansa as the new military commander while its head of ADF Jamil Mukulu has reportedly fled the DRC to an unknown location.

Of the about 900 hostages taken by ADF, only 146 have come back, according to a list compiled by local administrative and community leaders. In early September, a nurse of Doctors Without Borders was liberated. Three other staff remain missing.

The Group of Experts says that “the operation has produced few known escapes from ADF,” adding that since the operations started, “estimates of the number of people kidnapped by ADF have increased significantly.” It is likely that ADF fled with most of the hostages given that no mass graves have been found so far either by the army or independent sources.

Future of ADF

While hard hit, the ADF remains a guerrilla group to be reckoned with and whose comeback is possible if military pressure abates. In its recent report published on 25 June 2014, the UN Group of Experts says it “believes that the command and control of ADF remain intact and that it has the potential to reconstitute itself, as it did after Operation Rwenzori in 2010.” For ADF’s approximate location as of recent, see the mapping by Christoph Vogel.

With the passing of General Bahuma of the Congolese army, it is important that the army quickly reconstitutes and continues the pressure on the ADF. At the same time, it needs to reign in its elements, who have frequently misbehaved in the areas taken from the ADF. In a press release of June 24, civil society in Beni called for the enforcement of discipline within the Congolese armed forces.

Role of MONUSCO

The UN peacekeepers have been involved in the operations first providing logistical and intelligence support and later deploying military helicopters. Contrary to some rumors, the mission was not involved in actual ground operations, however.

As early as 18 January, MONUSCO had deployed the FIB, its North Kivu brigade and the Nepalese battalion to protect civilians and support the FARDC. A day later, MONUSCO’s military spokesperson reported (here and here) that they assist the FARDC with logistics and intelligence. Eventually in early March, MONUSCO deployed its military helicopters to attack a stronghold of ADF.

In unfortunate circumstances on 3 March, a man riding a motorcycle threw a grenade into a MONUSCO truck, wounding six MONUSCO soldiers. The mission has been unable to attribute responsibility to ADF for the attack, including the earlier one on 5 February.

Despite these cooperations, a MONUSCO official said that “I wouldn’t call the operations against ADF joint operations. There wasn’t really any joint planning. The FIB [Force Intervention Brigade] later joined in. That’s it.” Another MONUSCO official later confirmed the lack of genuine cooperation between the FARDC and FIB.

Role of Uganda

Military operations against the ADF also serve the interest of Uganda, which is amongst others concerned about instability close to its oil fields in the Albertine rift basin where Tullow Oil, Total and China’s CNOOC are slated to operate.

(Uganda expected in early May 2014 that the bulk of its commercial oil production will start by the end of 2017 as it awaits a pipeline to export crude oil and a refinery to be built. In late May 2014, the World Bank said it will fund infrastructure projects worth $245 million to revamp facilities in Uganda’s Albertine oil region, ahead of first oil production in the country.)

Two days into the operations against the ADF, on 18 January 2014, the Congolese army clarified that the Ugandan army does not participate in the fighting.

Wilson Asiimwe

Further readings:

For an extensive literature review on the ADF, see my earlier post from January 2014.

Photo credits: Reuters (# 1-3, 11-12), New Vision (# 4-6,8-9), Getty Images (# 7), AFP (# 10), Wilson Asiimwe (#13).

6 Tips for MONUSCO to confront the FRPI in Orientale Province

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Last week the Congolese army and the United Nations announced that they would launch joint military operations against the rebel group Front for Patriotic Resistance of Ituri (FRPI) in Orientale Province after its leader failed to honor a meeting with the army to discuss the group’s terms of surrender.

A local customary chief who had facilitated an earlier meeting called on all parties to give peace one last chance and meet up this Wednesday. The leader of FRPI Cobra Matata said he was ready for war (photo above).

The conflict in Orientale is worrisome but has largely been ignored in the press. The situation is particularly grave in southern Irumu territory, which the United Nations call the “new epicenter of displacement in Orientale Province.” (See for a map here).” The situation has worsened considerably since April this year with FRPI becoming increasingly aggressive. According to a MONUSCO official, the “protection of civilians is a catastrophe.”

While the threat of military force might be helpful if not necessary to pressure FRPI to surrender, MONUSCO must not repeat mistakes from the past. There are six main lessons MONUSCO must remember if the meeting on Wednesday were to fail and military operations to begin.

Same old same old?

The last time the army seriously fought FRPI was in fall last year. The operations were very badly conducted and aggravated an already dire humanitarian situation, causing the displacement of 150,000 just a month into the fighting. According to the UN Group of Experts, the Congolese army conducted the operations “with insufficient logistical support, which limited progress on the battlefield and led to predatory behaviour by soldiers.”

First, MONUSCO must not forget that the army conducted these operations unilaterally, informing the mission of the forthcoming attack only one day in advance. Eventually, MONUSCO had no chance but to step in eventually to provide logistical and medical support and help clean up the mess. So, if joint operations were to begin, MONUSCO must make sure that it is not just fully involved but puts in place robust measures to mitigate humanitarian fallout that is certain to ensue any operation.

Second, FRPI has been around for now twelve years and has withstood many military operations. While the operations last year “severely weakened” the rebel group according to the Group of Experts, MONUSCO should have a clear idea of what new operations would actually yield in the grand scheme of things. Will MONUSCO pursue a new military strategy or just conduct it as usual and hope for the best?

The map below by Christoph Vogel shows FRPI’s approximate position as of June 2014.

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Third, FRPI is trained in guerilla war and has got its bearings in very remote areas. That said, if you really want to neutralize them, you should be able to do it. But MONUSCO should ask itself: do the actors involved actually want to do that once and for all?

Fourth, MONUSCO must not forget that the General it would cooperate with is General Fall Sikabwe (photo below, on the right). In April this year, Sikabwe was mandated to discuss the surrender of another rebel leader – Paul Sadala of Mai Mai Morgan – but mishandled the process, which led to the death of Sadala. His death is a serious discouragement not just for Cobra Matata but all other rebel groups in the area. In addition, the General had misinformed the UN Group of Experts last year, asserting that MONUSCO had actually been involved in the planning of the operation against FRPI.

Photo Morgan_0

Fifth, MONUSCO must bear in mind the circumstances under which Cobra Matata is contemplating his possible surrender. Not only might he be afraid that he faces the same fate as Paul Sadala, he will certainly remember what has happened to his fellow comrades. His predecessors Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui but also his arch-enemies Thomas Lubanga and Bosco Ntaganda of the UPC rebel group have stood or currently stand trial at the International Criminal Court. Bearing that in mind does not mean, however, that authorities should grant Matata amnesty in order lure him out the bush. On the contrary.

Sixth, MONUSCO should use its clout over the army to ensure that the meeting on Wednesday will take place.

A suivre.

Further resources

  • For the latest information on FRPI, see the report of the UN Group of Experts: S/2014/42, paras. 58-63, 139, 141, 165, annex 30.
  • To learn about FNI/FRPI and UPC, I can highly recommend the Usalama Project reports written by Hennig Tamm of Oxford University. Make sure to follow him on Twitter (@hetamm).
  • To get a deeper historical background on issues of ethnicity and exploitation of natural resources in Congo’s north east, take a look at Usalama’s report on Ituri written by Dan Fahey.
  • To learn more about the 1999-2006 Ituri war which pitted the FNI/FRPI against the UPC (among others), I suggest reports by Human Rights Watch (here, here, and here), International Crisis Group (here and here), the UN Secretary-General and the resolutions from the United Nations Security Council.
  • For accounts of human rights violations committed by FRPI, see amongst others reports by the US Department of State (2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2004).

Photo credits: Brazilian Post, MONUSCO, RFI, and International Criminal Court.