On Tuesday, April 15, the director of Africa’s oldest national park, Virunga National Park in eastern Congo, was shot by unknown gunmen in North Kivu. Human Rights Watch and the Enough Project released the following statements following the attack on Mr. Emmanuel De Merode:
Ida Sawyer, Senior Congo Researcher at Human Rights Watch said:
“The April 15 attack on Emmanuel De Merode, the director of Virunga National Park, is a painful and shocking reminder that people working to protect Africa’s oldest park – its habitat, wildlife and the local communities in the area – do so at enormous risk. Congolese authorities, with international support, should urgently launch a comprehensive investigation and ensure that those responsible for the attack are arrested and prosecuted. While it remains unclear who carried out the attack on De Merode, it follows a string of arbitrary arrests, death threats and assaults against park rangers, civil society activists, and community leaders who have criticized or opposed plans for oil exploration in Virunga as harmful to the park and in violation of Congolese and international law. Congolese authorities need to take steps immediately to ensure a secure environment for those seeking to uphold the law, protect the park, and peacefully express their views.”
Timo Mueller, Field Researcher at the Enough Project, said:
“Since 2008, Emmanuel De Merode has devoted his life to the protection of the Virunga National Park and surrounding communities in eastern Congo. He is relentlessly working towards the regeneration of the park, attracting investment in tourism and social infrastructure. The park is home to an extremely rich but fragile flora and fauna. Congolese authorities must bring to justice those responsible for such a spineless attack on his life.”
Virunga National Park, in Congo is one of the most bio-diverse places in the world and home to the last of the mountain gorillas. A small and embattled team of park rangers – including an ex-child soldier turned ranger, a carer of orphan gorillas and a Belgian conservationist – protect this UNESCO world heritage site from armed militia, poachers and the dark forces struggling to control Congo’s rich natural resources.
To learn more about Virunga National Park, watch the trailer for “Virunga,” a documentary directed by Orlando von Einsiedel:
On Friday, March 14, the United Nations Security Council heard a briefing from the Special Representative of the Secretary-General Martin Kobler (statement here) and Special Envoy Mary Robinson (video here). Both presented reports by the Secretary-General on MONUSCO and the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework. Following their remarks, Ambassador of Rwanda Eugène-Richard Gasana (full transcript here) and Ambassador of Congo Ignace Gata Mavita wa Lufuta took the floor, as well. The Council then held consultations behind closed doors, debating the extension of MONUSCO’s mandate ending on March 31.
What follows is a quick overview of what was being discussed.
The Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the region (PSCF)
Signed in February 2013, the PSCF spells out commitments on the international, regional and national level to achieve lasting peace in the Great Lakes Region of Africa. At the international level, a meeting was held on March 5-6 to finalize benchmarks for the implementation of the international commitments (draft here). At the regional level, signatories to the peace agreement approved a Plan of Action for the implementation of the regional commitments. In other positive news, the Regional Oversight Mechanism endorsed Robinson’s initiative to organize, together with the ICGLR, a private sector investment forum later this year.
At the national level, however, problems remain. Nine months following its establishment, the national oversight mechanism has no rules of procedure, limited resources and its members only met once. Consequently, Robinson told the Council that the mechanism needs to be “strengthened.” In April, the government and the peacekeeping mission will meet to elaborate and refine the national benchmarks.
Earlier progress reports by the UN Secretary-General on the PSCF can be found here, here, and here. In 2013, the Enough Project together with other organizations released two open letters (here and here), calling for robust commitments of the PSCF.
During the preceding three months, the security situation deteriorated in North and South Kivu, Maniema, Orientale as well as Katanga provinces. Together with the Force Intervention Brigade, the Congolese army engaged in large-scale combat with the ADF and APCLS rebel groups and confronted Mai Mai Sheka and the FDLR. In Katanga, the rebel group Bakata Katanga burnt 600 houses since October, displacing 50,000. With the total number of internally displaced people increased by 200,000, the humanitarian situation remains “precarious,” according to the UN Secretary-General. Against this backdrop, Kobler called for more active presence in Ituri, South Kivu and Katanga.
With a certain measure of delay, operations against the FDLR rebel group commenced on March 9. In his address to the Security Council last Friday, Ambassador of Rwanda Gansa argued, however, that these are merely “propaganda operations,” dismissing MONUSCO’s caution about civilian collateral damage as unfounded. He further asserted that the rebels are engaged in “enhancing collaboration with FARDC especially at operation level,” enabling FDLR “to refit, re-arm, share intelligence, have freedom of action and free passage for infiltration and terror attacks in Rwanda.” The Ambassador of Congo strongly rejected the claims, adding that Congolese are bearing the brunt of atrocities committed by the FDLR. In its report in January 2014, the UN Group of Experts could only establish collaboration at the local level.
In her address to the Security Council, Robinson rightly lamented that the undetermined fate of approximately 2,000 ex-combatants of M23 in Rwanda and Uganda remains a serious problem. Earlier, the Secretary-General argued that this remains a “complicating factor in the building of confidence” in the region. Consequently, she urged all invested parties to quickly implement the provisions of the Nairobi declarations that spell out a roadmap for dealing with ex-M23 elements.
Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR)
Kobler rightfully said that a failure of implementing swiftly a DDR plan would be a “serious setback.” Echoing similar remarks made earlier by the Secretary-General, Robinson added that “DDR needs immediate traction,” lamenting that the program remains stalled because of a lack of agreed approach and funding plan. In a recent report, open letter, policy alert and discussions with the media, the Enough Project urged authorities to implement without further delay a viable and effective national strategy on DDR.
Security Sector Reform (SSR)
Following Kobler’s expressed concerns over the stalling reform process, Robinson pressed that SSR has to be “more of a priority.” Security sector reform is a long and daunting challenge but one that must be taken to address a root cause of the prevailing insecurity. Sharing their opinion, the Enough Project repeatedly called for a comprehensive overhaul of the security sector, including in a comprehensive report and the media.
In the forthcoming years, Congo is scheduled to hold a series of elections at the local and provincial level, holding in 2016 legislative and presidential elections. Earlier presidential elections in 2011 were marred by irregularities, the curtailment of the freedom of press and the blatant abuse by security forces. While a roadmap for the electoral cycle has already been released, the President of the Electoral Commission remains a very controversial figure, sparking repeated protests by the opposition. With discussions ongoing, Kobler rightly expressed his concern about the lack of freedom of movement of opposition leaders, referring implicitly to Congolese politician Vital Kamerhe whose travel was recently obstructed and public speech violently dispersed by the police. Kobler promised to use his good offices to support the elections.
In matters of justice, Envoy Robinson congratulated President Kabila for the passing of an amnesty law for rebel elements and welcomed the proposal for the establishment of mixed courts. Nonetheless, impunity still prevails and the Congolese justice system needs serious reforms, as recently argued by the US State Department. For more on the topic of justice, consult Enough Project’s report and recent op-ed.
Kobler also discussed his concept of “Islands of Stability” as one modality to operationalize the so-called International Security and Stabilization Support Strategy (ISSSS), which seeks to stabilize areas freed from armed groups in North- and South-Kivu and Province Orientale. To that end, Kobler is currently modernizing the peacekeeping mission to allow for more flexible and mobile operations. However, the idea of “Islands of Stability” is not without criticism (see for example Doctors without Borders and Christoph Vogel).
Kobler’s and Robinson’s address to the Council had a fair measure of realistic optimism, recognizing both hard-won achievements such as the defeat of M23 and continuing challenges. Unfortunately, the session was also a testament to the continuing political bickering between Rwanda and Congo. Both traded accusations, mirroring an earlier briefing on January 30 during which Gasana accused Congo of “crying like small babies,” while his Congolese pendant Lufuta argued that Rwanda’s “arrogant behavior must stop.”
Today, the Enough Project signed onto a joint NGO letter, expressing concern about the lack of progress and development of the national disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration plan (DDR III) in the DR Congo. The signatories include International Alert, Tearfund, Norwegian Refugee Council, Christian Aid, World Vision, Care, the International Rescue Committee, and ZoA International.
The joint letter in full below:
As the above-named humanitarian and development organisations working in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), we are concerned by the progress and development of the national Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration plan (DDR III).
In the weeks following the military defeat of the M23 in November 2013, several armed groups in eastern DRC announced their intention to disarm. This presented a unique opportunity to contribute to stability in the region, with both MONUSCO and the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) reporting increasing numbers of defections from armed groups.
Unfortunately, lack of prior planning for DDR has created a number of situations in which this opportunity has been lost. For instance, concerns remain about the lack of rapid follow-up provided to those ex-combatants currently present in Bweremana cantonment site, which lacks appropriate facilities to accommodate them. These gaps ultimately pose a serious risk to civilians in the surrounding areas and the government and its partners must take action to urgently respond to these immediate concerns.
It is a priority to agree on a DDR plan, for all national and regional armed groups, as otherwise combatants are likely to return to their armed groups. In the longer term, it is essential that the civic reintegration phase of the DDR plan is not neglected. Reintegration has proven particularly problematic during past programs. The contents of the proposed DDR plan, however, do not contain the necessary precision to render civic reintegration operational. The plan lacks details regarding engagement with communities, the reintegration of particularly vulnerable groups such as women and children, and monitoring mechanisms for the reintegration process. As a result, its success is far from guaranteed.
Government ownership and the appointment of experienced staff rather than political appointments needs to be encouraged. In its development and implementation of DDR III, the government of the DRC may benefit from external technical assistance to improve the quality of the programme and monitor its implementation. The organisations signatories to this letter understand that currently, funding of the DDR plan has not been confirmed but that the World Bank has been approached for support. Using its financial leverage, the World Bank should ensure that the plan reaches a standard that is fit for purpose and prevents failures of DDR programs in the past. In particular, we recommend that the final DDR III plan includes the following points regarding reintegration:
It is paramount to respond immediately to the needs of surrendering combatants, and for this reason the plan must move forward both in its design and its implementation. However, to go beyond emergency assistance and ensure the sustainability of the overall DDR plan, it is essential that the process is neither rushed nor incomplete. DDR for the numerous armed groups present in eastern DRC is one of the critical challenges for lasting peace in the wider region. The successful reintegration of thousands of ex-combatants into civilian communities is crucial: the alternative is to see them pose a continued threat to civilian safety and stability in DRC.
We thank you for your consideration of this letter and would appreciate the opportunity to discuss this further with you at your convenience.
Implementing a viable and effective national strategy on disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration, or DDR, of ex-combatants of armed groups in eastern Congo is an urgent issue in the regional peace process for the Democratic Republic of Congo, argues a new Enough report.
Implementing a viable and effective national strategy on disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration, or DDR, of ex-combatants of armed groups in eastern Congo is an urgent issue in the regional peace process for the Democratic Republic of Congo. The government of Congo has finalized its national DDR plan, and the United Nations and U.S. Special Envoys to the Great Lakes, Mary Robinson and Russ Feingold, prioritize DDR as a focus of the peace agenda. However, Congo and international partners have not yet agreed on how to implement and fund the DDR plan. Without an effective program, demobilizing combatants in eastern Congo may not see the benefits of defecting and may choose to remain armed. The March 5-6 meeting in the Netherlands of the International Contact Group on Congo provides an excellent opportunity to address this urgent issue. Robinson, Feingold, and other leaders and donors should prioritize efforts to resolve outstanding differences with Congo on DDR and move forward.
New opportunities to advance peace in eastern Congo emerged following the signing of the Nairobi Declarations in December 2013, which established political agreements among Congo, the M23 rebel group, the Southern African Development Community, or SADC, and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, or ICGLR. Greater numbers of combatants from the spectrum of armed groups in eastern Congo are willing to disarm and engage in demobilization programs following the military defeat of M23. The speed and efficacy with which the government of Congo and its international partners implement a viable national DDR strategy and reintegrate former combatants will to a great extent determine the future of peace and stability in the region. The process and sequencing within the U.N. Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for Congo and the Region, or PSC Framework, will determine the success of DDR efforts by Congo and its regional and international interlocutors.
The regional security landscape has recently changed in dramatic ways that have created new opportunities for the Congolese government and U.N. forces to establish peace and stability in eastern Congo. The U.N. Intervention Brigade, a 3,069-troop brigade composed of forces from South Africa, Tanzania, and Malawi, assisted the Congolese national army, or FARDC, in efforts to militarily defeat M23. The brigade has a mandate to take offensive military action against the threat of armed groups in eastern Congo. The deployment of new unmanned aerial vehicles,or UAVs, now also provides surveillance and reconnaissance for the intervention brigade to take military action against armed rebel groups.
The addition of more robust forces, mandates, and technology has altered the strengths and incentives of rebel groups. A swift effort by the joint FARDC/Intervention Brigade force resulted in the military defeat of M23 forces in North Kivu province late last year, and other armed groups took note. Defections have soared. For example, a total of 2,674 combatants—accompanied by 3,084 dependents—from a range of armed groups have voluntarily surrendered since the M23 defeat at the transit camp of Bweremana in the Masisi territory of North Kivu province. However, the ex-combatants currently at the camp do not yet receive clear communication about DDR plans and live in poor sanitary conditions that could affect their incentives to remain.
As defections from rebel groups grow, so too does the need for an effective DDR program. The number of combatants in eastern Congo is difficult to determine, and the capacity of the government and U.N. to assist those who wish to disarm is currently in question. National DDR programs in the past have failed due to the lack of resources and political will, duration of program implementation time, failure to effectively sensitize armed groups and communities, and failures to properly reintegrate ex-combatants into the military or provide alternative livelihoods. Renewed efforts on DDR must apply lessons learned from past experiences—both failures and successes.
Timo Mueller for The Monitor
Defeating the FDLR requires a drastically different approach than that pursued with M23, which while defeated militarily has not been entirely dissolved. Political and military leaders must factor in the group’s unique military capabilities and sources of support.
In early November, the Congolese army, supported by the United Nations Force Intervention Brigade, defeated the most powerful rebel group in eastern Congo – the M23. The brigade has since identified as one of the new targets, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR, a rebel group led in part by commanders implicated in the 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda. The new focus may in part be the result of political overtures toward Rwanda for ending its support to M23, but neutralising the FDLR is a worthy effort by itself and critical for peace in eastern Congo.
The focus on addressing the FDLR comes at a pivotal moment. Over the last few weeks, elements of as many as 20 rebel groups across eastern Congo have either surrendered to the Congolese army or offered to lay down their weapons. Targeting the FDLR now will likely sustain this momentum, as many of the surrendering groups sprung up in defiance to the FDLR.
Effectively neutralising the FDLR will require a comprehensive approach addressing the complexity of the threat and the group’s unique traits. An effective strategy should feature more robust grassroots partnerships to promote defections together with a mix of targeted and better informed military operations aimed at the FDLR hardline leadership. As earlier operations against the FDLR brought great humanitarian fallout, the brigade must improve civilian protection.
When conducting military operations against the FDLR in conjunction with the Congolese army, the UN brigade must ensure the Congolese army severs linkages that have helped FDLR members secure military gear and intelligence to relocate troops before military offensives. The UN must also vet Congolese army units for human rights abuses and provide human rights training. Armed groups have repeatedly been reintegrated into the national forces without such measures. With little to no payment, in an environment rife with insecurity, soldiers often use their own weapons to make ends meet, exposing local populations to grave risks.
The UN brigade should break the potential armed alliances of both their co-collaborators, the Congolese army, and their target, the FDLR. Most importantly, targeted military operations against the FDLR must accompany robust efforts to disarm, demobilise, repatriate (DDR), and reintegrate, and resettle (RR) FDLR combatants. Contrary to wide-held Congolese perceptions, many FDLR members were born or grew up in Congo and need a national-level solution such as nationalisation and relocation. Any DDR/RR programme must offer long-term support, real security guarantees, and sustainable livelihood alternatives without inducing others to join rebel groups to reap the DDR/RR benefits. UN Special Envoy Mary Robinson and US Special Envoy Russ Feingold should urge Kinshasa to make DDR/RR an immediate priority.
To further facilitate defections, MONUSCO could pursue direct negotiations with moderate FDLR commanders and establish more safe reporting sites in areas accessible to FDLR combatants to assuage defectors’ fears of reprisal attacks. Rwanda’s assistance in defection efforts is also pivotal. Kigali must make public a shorter and more realistic list of FDLR members it wishes to prosecute for genocide. Defectors who repatriate to Rwanda also deserve better post-repatriation treatment.
Existing DDR/RR initiatives for armed groups need broader sensitisation campaigns and greater coordination with intermediaries that offer considerable local knowledge. Albeit weakened, the FDLR remains resilient and capable of rebuilding; it could also pose a greater danger to the local population in acting out of fear for its survival. Drawing on a network of local support systems and illicitly exploiting natural resources including gold, the FDLR uses sophisticated guerilla tactics and has the ability to break into small groups to blend in with the population. Contrary to M23, the FDLR factions do not control one main territory but operate in several remote areas deep in the bush that they know very well. Going after the FDLR presents a formidable challenge that must not be underestimated.
Defeating the FDLR requires a drastically different approach than that pursued with M23, which while defeated militarily has not been entirely dissolved. Political and military leaders must factor in the group’s unique military capabilities and sources of support when considering how to target the FDLR while also minimising civilian casualties and preventing retaliatory attacks.
On January 17, the Congolese military began conducting military operations in northeastern Beni territory, in North Kivu province, against one of its oldest and least understood armed rebel groups: the Allied Democratic Forces – National Army for the Liberation of Uganda, or ADF-NALU. Formed in 1995 to resist Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and to establish an Islamic state in Uganda, its leader is now Jamil Mukulu, who faces international sanctions. The ADF-NALU is based in the hills between eastern Congo and Uganda and has successfully infiltrated local economic and security networks. With an estimated force of 1200 to 1500 fighters, the ADF-NALU is resilient, highly organized, and increasingly active in conducting attacks that directly threaten civilians and peace efforts in eastern Congo.
The Congolese army had first announced its intent to lead counter-ADF-NALU “Sokola” operations in late December, but operations had been delayed following the assassination of a key Congolese military leader, Col. Mamadou Ndala, who was instrumental in the defeat of the M23 rebel group. The Congolese army is positioned to command counter-ADF-NALU operations while MONUSCO, the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo, provides logistical and tactical support. As of the writing of this post, neither major fighting nor casualties have been reported, but the rebels are said to be fleeing north toward Orientale province.
In 2013, the ADF-NALU had become increasingly active, sharply expanding kidnapping campaigns, attacking public schools, U.N. peacekeepers and large towns. On December 9, the group was reportedly redeploying in anticipation of the Congolese army’s operations. A week later, the U.N. discovered 21 civilians, including women and children, had been slaughtered in a suspected ADF-NALU attack. On December 25, ADF-NALU rebels attacked the town of Kamango, northeast of Beni, leaving more than 50 people dead.
As ADF-NALU rebels move north and potentially increase their activities, and as counter-ADF-NALU military operations take shape, we review several resources with insights on the motives, interests, regional ties, and history of the ADF-NALU.
On January 28, the U.N. Group of Experts released its report for 2013 (an earlier leak is here), finding that the ADF-NALU had grown in strength and led increasingly brazen attacks on local people, humanitarian workers, and U.N. peacekeepers. Foreign Arabic speakers of unknown origin conducted military training with the group, which also expanded its territorial range and has dispersed fighters to smaller bases in anticipation of U.N. operations. An ADF-NALU attack on Kamango in July and displaced some 66,000 people into Uganda enabling, rebels to use the cleared area for military operations. The attack was the largest of several on medical facilities that resulted in the looting of medical supplies, suggesting the group anticipates an upsurge in armed clashes.
On January 27, Integrated Regional Information Networks, or IRIN, published a new briefing on ADF-NALU, providing additional figures from civil society groups on ADF-NALU abductions and recruitment in 2013. The IRIN briefing also assessed rumored ADF-NALU connections to Islamic groups and citizens of neighboring countries, including Tanzania and Somalia, as well as the group’s intelligence capabilities, military skill, and ability to cross borders and blend with state and non-state actors.
An African Defense Review interview with freelance journalist Caroline Hellyer, and Congolese journalist Ley Uwera’s interview with scholar and book author Jason Stearns, both in January 2014, reviewed military operations against the ADF-NALU and assessed the group’s strength and tactical capabilities. In December 2013, Christoph Vogel of the University of Zurich published a comprehensive map, showing the locations of ADF-NALU in eastern Congo as of October 2013, though operations in January 2014 have since caused these positions to shift. [To compare the approximate areas controlled by ADF-NALU over time, consult older maps from International Crisis Group (p. 15) and Oxfam (p. 26).] In December 2013, Stephanie Wolters of the Institute for Security Studies commented on the ADF-NALU for Good Governance Africa in an article that provides a political history of the group and reviews its connections to former leaders of Congo, Sudan, and Uganda.
In late November 2013, Reuters published excerpts of an internal study on ADF-NALU by MONUSCO that argued for military intervention against the group. The report noted a “sharp expansion in the number of kidnappings,” and an “intense” military training program that had created a force that “has never hesitated to fire on MONUSCO.” In mid-October 2013, IRIN Newsreported on the ADF-NALU’s alleged links with Islamic militants and discussions about options for ADF-NALU amnesty. Earlier, in August, Fidel Bafilemba and I published an overview, analyzing the group’s origins, interests, strengths, and both amicable and hostile interactions with other armed groups, and spheres of influence.
A 2012 International Crisis Group report, and scholarship by Kristof Titeca and Koen Vlassenrootand Lindsay Scorgie have provided excellent historical context and discussion of the influences of Islam, socio-economic factors, and regional and transnational border dynamics on the ADF-NALU. Scorgie discussed her research in an Al Jazeera article, elaborating further on ADF-NALU’s alleged relationships to Al-Shabaab, its socio-economic integration in the region, and the limited effectiveness of earlier military operations against the group.
The U.N. Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of Congo has tracked ADF-NALU activities and provided regular in-depth reports. Prior to the January 2014 report on ADF-NALU activities in 2013 (S/2014/42), the group published a report in July 2013 (S/2013/433, Paras. 90-96; Annex 41, 49), November 2012 (S/2012/843, Paras. 104-111), June 2012 (S/2012/348; Paras. 15-21, Annex 3,5-6), December 2011 (S/2011/738, Paras. 18, 37, 39-65, 658; Annex 4-6, 9), June 2011 (S/2011/345, Paras. 28-29; Annex III), November 2010 (S/2010/596, Paras. 2, 19, 29, 108-112, 121, 171, 241, 288, 307; Annex 11), November 2009 (S/2009/603, recruitment table below Para. 317, Paras. 336, 373), December 2008 (S/2008/773, Para. 69, Annex 31), and July 2007 (S/2007/423, Paras. 102-105)
The reports reviewed are not comprehensive,and do not necessarily reflect the Enough Project’s views on the ADF-NALU.
Fidel Bafilemba and Timo Mueller for The Enough Project
Following the military defeat of the M23 rebel group in eastern Congo in November 2013 and the unprecedented desire of several other armed groups to surrender in subsequent weeks, “The region is going through a period of renewed turbulence,” United Nations Special Envoy Mary Robinson said on January 13, 2014.1 During his current visit to the Great Lakes region, U.S. Special Envoy Russ Feingold should work to re-energize the U.N. Force Intervention Brigade. He can also help renew efforts with Congolese and regional leaders to address key security issues, including the strategy to contain the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR rebel group and the development of a new disarmament plan, and the next stage of the regional peace process.2
A series of security crises
Eastern Congo has faced heightened security challenges over the past month, with new attacks by Ugandan-linked rebels, a coup threat, the death of one of its leading army commanders, a renewed recruitment drive by M23 rebels, and new security worries over Rwandan rebels. On Christmas Day 2013, the ADF-NALU rebel group attacked the town of Kamango, leaving more than 50 people dead.3 Over the course of 2013, the group became increasingly active, sharply expanding kidnapping campaigns and attacking U.N. peacekeepers and towns north of formerly M23-controlled territory.4
As 2013 drew to a close, on December 30, people pledging loyalty to Joseph Mukungubila Mutombo, a pastor who unsuccessfully ran for president in 2006, attacked the state radio and television station and the international airport in Kinshasa in an apparent attempt to oust President Joseph Kabila.5 Parallel to the events unfolding in Kinshasa, dissidents launched attacks in the provincial capitals of Kindu and Lubumbashi. More than 100 people died in ensuing confrontations with the Congolese army, which later regained the upper hand. While Kabila survived, but the attacks highlighted security vulnerabilities.
Three days later, on January 2, unidentified men assassinated Congolese army Col. Mamadou Ndala. As he was instrumental in the defeat of M23, many Congolese people celebrated Mamadou as a prominent hero and reacted angrily to the murder, which threatens the cohesion of an already weak and ill-fragmented army.6 While investigations are still ongoing, his former bodyguard states that the attack was been an inside job of army officer rivals.7 With the start of government military operations against the ADF-NALU on January 17, and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR, and other armed groups posing challenges, the Congolese army cannot afford internal power struggles to derail military activities.
In other news, another prominent Congolese armed group, Mai-Mai Sheka, attacked the town of Pinga in Walikale territory, North Kivu, on January 13, leaving at least three people dead and displacing 1,000.8 In November 2013, the group had vacated its strategic stronghold and agreed to surrender 140 of his men in the face of growing pressure from the U.N. Force Intervention Brigade and after peace talks with the Congolese government stalled.9 The January attack puts a damper on the earlier partial disarmament, which gave renewed hope to finding a solution in this conflict- ridden part of North Kivu.
On the same day, the chief of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo Martin Kobler, noted with concern that “there are credible reports that the military recruitment of the M23 did not cease […] and of emerging M23 activities in Ituri in northeastern Congo.”10 In its report leaked in early January, the U.N. Group of Experts on Congo asserted that it had “credible information that sanctioned M23 leaders are moving freely in Uganda and that M23 continued to recruit in Rwanda.”11 Both countries adamantly deny the accusations.
Following the defeat of M23 in early November, approximately 1,500 former M23 combatants fled to Rwanda and Uganda.12 While the Government of Congo and M23 signed declarations ending their armed struggle in December, both sides have yet to implement their part of the agreement, one that leaves unresolved questions about the fate of M23’s leadership, amnesty, disarmament and vetted reintegration.13
At a time when it is essential to secure political buy-in from Rwanda, Rwanda and the head of MONUSCO are both expressing serious concerns that one of its main security worries, the FDLR, is not being seriously addressed. Following the demise of M23, the U.N. had identified its brigade’s next target, the FDLR, a rebel group led in part by commanders implicated in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The new focus may have been in part the result of political overtures toward Rwanda for ending its support to M23, which was instrumental in the latter’s defeat. However, on January 15, Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo publicly scolded the U.N. peacekeepers: “We had a meeting with the head of MONUSCO, and we showed our displeasure that what was said was not done… We shall not allow the problem of FDLR to continue without being handled.14 For the last few weeks, we have been waiting for something to be done but nothing has so far been done.” Martin Kobler expressed frustrations about the Congolese army not focusing enough on the FDLR during his presentation to the U.N. Security Council earlier this month, despite his extended diplomacy with Rwanda. In an announcement that will likely harden Rwanda’s frustration, Congolese army spokesperson Lt.-Col. Olivier Hamuli said that the army is prioritizing ADF-NALU over the FDLR.15
While ADF-NALU is becoming a serious threat, addressing the FDLR is arguably more important for peace in the region. MONUSCO’s dilemma is that it normally follows the Congolese army’s lead, so when Congo prioritizes ADF-NALU, the UN must do so as well, which creates the political difficulties with Rwanda and undermines the credibility of previous pledges by the UN to prioritize military operations against the FDLR. The brigade theoretically has a mandate to conduct independent operations, as its mandate states that it “can carry out targeted offensive operations… either unilaterally or jointly with the [Congolese army].”16 In this case, the FDLR is truly a centerpiece to unlocking progress in eastern Congo, as many other armed groups have sprung up in reaction to it, and it is a major security concern for the entire region. MONUSCO and the Brigade should urgently develop a more comprehensive strategy regarding the FDLR, including working with Rwanda to secure intelligence on the group, as was started but not fully implemented in late 2013. That would help reassure Rwanda that addressing the FDLR will be a key priority. Rwanda must also not underestimate the emerging crisis caused by ADF-NALU, which is also a major concern to Uganda.
The need for decisive action The new challenges are excellent opportunities for the senior U.S. and U.N. special envoys, Feingold and Robinson, to exercise leadership. Specifically, Feingold can help defuse the crisis by supporting the implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for Democratic Republic of Congo and the Region signed in February 2013 to guide the peace process.17
Feingold can do three specific things:
First, he can help MONUSCO and its Force Intervention Brigade develop and prioritize its plan to deal with the FDLR, a major regional security threat, with as much support from the Congolese government as it can give. Second, he and Mary Robinson can help regional countries open a mediated dialogue to discuss their respective security and economic interests. As part of this dialogue, he should call for the swift implementation of the Nairobi declarations, urge Rwanda and Uganda to prevent the recruitment of ex-M23 troops, and help accelerate the extradition of former M23 combatants.
Third, he should urge MONUSCO and the Government of Congo to agree as soon as possible to put in place a new disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration plan for Congolese armed groups. Currently, the two sides are arguing over details of the plan, but meanwhile there are no options or incentives available to Congolese fighters who lay down their arms, which creates larger security risks.
The region has too long been a theater of war to lose the momentum that existed in 2013 for positive change. New vitality must be injected into the search for peace. Special Envoy Feingold’s role will be key in reenergizing the process.
1 Timo Mueller and Fidel Bafilemba, “Policy Alert: Rebels Surrendering in Eastern Congo – Time for Feingold and Robinson to Act,” The Enough Project, December 18, 2013, available at https://www.enoughproject.org/blogs/rebels- surrendering-eastern-congo-time-feingold-and-robinson-act. Edith M. Lederer, “UN says Congo’s defeated M23 rebels active again,” Associated Press, January 13, 2014, available athttp://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/UN_UN_CONGO?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAUL T&CTIME=2014-01-13-17-57-55.
2 Department of State, “Special Envoy Feingold’s Travel to Africa”, January 13, 2014, available at http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2014/01/219627.htm.
3 Pete Jones, “Rebel group attack kills 40 in eastern Congo,” Reuters, December 26, 2013, available at http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/12/26/us-congo-democratic-rebels-idUSBRE9BP0AW20131226.
4 Michelle Nichols, “U.N. task force looking into one of next Congo targets: Islamist ADF,” Reuters, November 22, 2013, available at http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/11/22/us-congo-democratic-adf-idUSBRE9AL16920131122.
5 Al Jazeera, “DR Congo army regains control of capital,” January 1, 2014, available at http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2013/12/congolese-army-regains-control-capital-201312301132596774.html.
6 Daniel Magnowski and Kamlesh Bhuckory, “Congolese Army Says Colonel Mamadou N’Dala Killed in Ambush,” Bloomberg News, January 2, 2014, available at http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-01-02/congolese-army-says- colonel-mamadou-n-dala-killed-in-ambush.html.
7 Juakali Kambale, “Was Mamadou Ndala’s death a conspiracy?” Africa Review, January 7, 2014, available at http://www.africareview.com/News/Was-Col-Mamadou-Ndala-death-a-conspiracy/-/979180/2137714/-/wbh8cnz/- /index.html
8 United Nations Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo, “Congo-Kinshasa: Head of Monusco, Martin Kobler, Strongly Condemns Attack By Mayi Mayi Cheka in Pinga”, January 14, 2014, available at http://allafrica.com/stories/201401150807.html.
9 Agence France-Presse, “RDC: une milice accusée de tueries et viols massifs rend les armes (Kobler)” November 29, 2013, available at http://reliefweb.int/report/democratic-republic-congo/rdc-une-milice-accus-e-de-tueries-et-viols- massifs-rend-les-armes.
10 Edith M. Lederer, “UN says Congo’s defeated M23 rebels active again,” Associated Press, January 13, 2014, available at http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/UN_UN_CONGO?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAUL T&CTIME=2014-01-13-17-57-55.
11 Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, December 12, 2013, available at http://africanarguments.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/FINAL-REPORT-GoE_DRC.pdf.
12 Michelle Nichols, “Rwanda asks for U.N. report on Congo sanctions to be dismissed,” January 17, 2014, available at http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/17/us-congo-democratic-un-rwanda-idUSBREA0G1JF20140117.
13 Declarations of Armed Struggle, The Enough Project, available at https://docs.google.com/a/enoughproject.org/file/d/0B-dzsOjJZzgDMGNPcmlRMkc0WG8/edit. Aaron Hall, “Congo at the crossroads: Time to capitalise on recent gains,” December 28, 2013, available at http://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/OpEd/comment/Congo-at-the-crossroads-Time-to-capitalise-on-recent-gains-/- /434750/2127458/-/ocmlgt/-/index.html.
14 Ostine Arinaitwe Gashugi, “Rwanda demands action on FDLR,” January 15, 2014, available at http://focus.rw/wp/2014/01/rwanda-demands-action-on-fdlr/.
15 Agence France Presse, “U.S. Urges U.N. Force to Go after Rwandan Rebels in DR Congo,” Naharnet Newsdesk, January 18, 2014, available at http://www.naharnet.com/stories/en/114510-u-s-urges-u-n-force-to-go-after-rwandan- rebels-in-dr-congo.
16 U.N. Security Council Resolution 2098 (2013). March 28, 2013. Available at http://www.un.org/en/sc/documents/resolutions/2013.shtml
17 Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary –General for the Great Lakes Region of Africa, “A FRAMEWORK OF HOPE: The Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Region”, February 24, 2013, Available at http://www.un.org/en/sc/documents/resolutions/2013.shtml
On December 10, rebel leader Paluku Hilaire Kombi, commander of roughly 280 rebel troops, surrendered to the Congolese army. He reportedly turned himself in, along with five officers to the Congolese army in the village of Mbwavinywa in southern Lubero territory, North Kivu. Earlier on November 26, Governor of North Kivu Julien Paluku urged him and other groups in Beni and Lubero territories to give up on their insurgent activities. This stunning development is part of a larger defection trend that escalated after the army, along with the United Nations Force Intervention Brigade, defeated the M23 rebel group in early November. While this is a very promising trend, the U.S. and U.N. Special Envoys Russ Feingold and Mary Robinson should quickly urge the Congolese government to act now to implement a new robust demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration, or DDR, program. Without this more robust program, the trend is at risk of reversing.
After operating in Congo for more than a decade, the U.N. peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO, has taken on a more vigorous mandate. Following a decision in March 2013 by the Security Council, the U.N. tasked the Force Intervention Brigade with carrying out targeted operations to neutralize armed groups and contribute to civilian security and political stability.
Since the demise of the M23, elements of over 20 rebel groups across eastern Congo have either surrendered to the Congolese army or offered to lay down their weapons. For example:
During a speech in Goma on November 29, President Joseph Kabila asserted that over 4,000 rebels have already entered demobilization camps in eastern Congo. In contrast, on December 13, the U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said some 2,300 rebels had surrendered their weapons in the past two months or so.
In other developments, the rebel group ADF-NALU is also reportedly fleeing from locations in Beni territory towards Orientale Province since early December. But while on the run, the group allegedly slaughtered 21 civilians including women and children in the village of Musuku in Rwenzori, Beni Territory, North Kivu.
Meanwhile, on December 8, MONUSCO stepped up its pressure on armed groups, offering rebel groups present in Ituri the chance to surrender. The groups include Cobra Matata’s FRPI, Morgan’s Maï-Maï Simba, FLPC, and the Ugandan Islamist group, the ADF. A day later, five officers of the rebel group MAC conceded in Walikale. On the same day, MONUSCO launched its first operations against the FDLR in Masisi and Walikale territories. Meanwhile, on December 10, the Governments of Congo and Burundi pledged to strengthen their efforts to neutralize the rebel group FNL.
The surrender of Hilaire Kombi and the pledge of other rebel groups to lay down their arms is a promising development. However, it must be accompanied by a robust and better designed DDR program from the Congolese government. While the Government of Congo announced a new plan in late November, it has yet to be publicized and operationalized (for earlier concept papers, see here and here; MONUSCO had urged the government to finish its plan earlier on November 13). Any DDR program must offer long-term support for ex-combatants and their home communities, real security guarantees, and sustainable livelihood alternatives without inducing others to join rebel groups to reap the DDR benefits.
After a two-week visit in Goma, DRC’s defense minister Luba Ntambo highlighted on December 4 the lack of funding and logistics. “Old DDR programs have benefited substantially from U.N. support, and this one won’t be an exception,” he told reporters. “There are still some issues [re: implementation and financial management] between GoDRC and MONUSCO that we need to settle,” he added.
On December 10, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, deplored the conditions in the temporary disarmament camp in Bweremana, Masisi territory. According to a MONUSCO representative, there are 1,933 ex-combatants with 958 dependents in the Bweremana demobilization camp, all expecting to benefit from DDR packages. Similarly, further north in Beni territory, North Kivu, civil society spokesperson, Lawyer Omar Kavota told Enough Project earlier on Friday:
“[Congolese] army troops are sharing the same camp with the [surrendered] rebels. Their living conditions [in these camps] don’t encourage other defections.”
In addition, an army commander in Beni shared his concerns with the Enough Project:
“[w]e’re concerned the [surrendered] rebels would possibly leak strategic information to the ADF [a rebel group the army is considering to launch operations against in due time] because they can see our equipment and operation movements.”
To reiterate, the recent surrenders are a very positive development but if the Congolese government together with international partners including MONUSCO do not act swiftly and put in place a robust DDR plan, the momentum might wane so quickly.
Additional resources on this topic:
For more on armed groups, see Enough Project’s table detailing 28 armed groups and reports by the Rift Valley Institute. In addition, PhD student Christoph Vogel provides a comprehensive map of armed groups.
Over the past 19 years, one of the most intractable symptoms of mass violence in Congo’s eastern regions has been the proliferation of armed groups that threaten security, perpetrate horrific human rights abuses, and undermine economic development. Two of these armed groups—the M23 and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR—not only have committed some of the worst atrocities in the conflict, but they have also internationalized it in multiple ways. The FDLR is headed by some of the perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, and it has attacked Rwanda in the past year. Kigali believes the FDLR poses an existential security threat. The M23 is an offshoot of several previous rebel groups, and the United States and other groups have linked it to the Rwandan government, but Kigali denies the link. Therefore, dealing with these two groups addresses one of the most destabilizing factors in the Great Lakes region: the relationship between Congo and Rwanda. The Allied Democratic Forces, or ADF, is also becoming a destabilizing force in Congo and threatens Congolese communities and Uganda.
By Timo Mueller and Fidel Bafilemba
On Sunday, July 14, 2013, fighting between the Congolese army and the M23 rebel group resumed on the outskirts of Goma in eastern Congo, with each side blaming the other for initiating the hostilities. This field dispatch explores the recent fighting and lays out the implications for peace in the region.
On Sunday, July 14, 2013, fighting between the Congolese army and the M23 rebel group resumed on the outskirts of Goma in eastern Congo, with each side blaming the other for initiating the hostilities. Following earlier skirmishes in May 2013,1 the fighting is now the heaviest it has been since M23 temporarily occupied Goma last November. Alarmed by the escalation, the United Nations’ peacekeeping mission, the U.N. Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or MONUSCO, put all of its agencies on high alert.
Visiting the front lines during the first three days, the Enough Project witnessed many rounds of intermittent artillery fire north of Kanyaruchinya, a few kilometers north of Goma. With frequent lulls, the warring parties traded mortar fire late into July 16. A shell fell as close as 100 meters from Goma’s airport, and at least 1,000 people escaped the fighting in Goma and found temporary shelter in neighboring Uganda, according to the United Nations. After a respite the following morning, the fighting resumed in the afternoon, taking its first reported toll on a local news crew. A driver was wounded by an incoming mortar attack, and an accompanying local journalist lost consciousness.
The challenges of reporting in times of conflict are manifold. Rumors spread like wildfire in Goma and on the Internet, making it increasingly difficult to discern facts. On July 15, for instance, Congolese government spokesperson Lambert Mende boasted that the army managed to kill 120 M23 rebels while accruing as few as 10 casualties. On the following day the army presented two dead corpses and a wounded man to the Enough Project, arguing that they were M23 fighters. The army could not, however, substantiate its claims. Later, on July 24, 10 days into the fighting, M23 claimed it had killed more than 400 soldiers of the Congolese army. Surprisingly, international news outlets cited both estimates without much second-guessing, despite the lack of independent verification.