While addressing the UN Security Council during a briefing on the Group of Experts report, on February 16, Rwanda's Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Claver Gatete, revealed that a report by Pole Institute indicated that the FDLR militia makes enormous amounts of money in different illegal trade activities in eastern DR Congo. The FDLR is a genocidal militia group formed by remnants of the masterminds of the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi who fled to neighbouring DR Congo. They have, for long, been collaborating with the Congolese army, FARDC, a fact which the UN Group of Experts report also pointed at. ALSO READ: Belgian lawyer on why genocide ideology doesn’t dissolve three decades after dispersion of genocidaires The report released by Pole Institute – a non-governmental organization operating in DR Congo –in 2022, shows that the economic empire of the FDLR is based on three pillars, including the deforestation of the Virunga National Park, poaching, and collection of royalties for agriculture as well as transport exploitation. Charcoal The report highlights that FDLR has strongholds in Rutshuru territory and Nyiragongo in protected areas of Virunga National Park. It has bases in Bwito, Binza, Bukoma and Busanza localities. The FDLR takes advantage of thick forests in these areas and makes charcoal which is traded in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province. As noted, the charcoal produced in Virunga National Park makes the largest portion of FDLR’s source of revenues after losing mines controlled in Walikale and Masisi. Emmanuel Demerode, Director of the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) which manages Virunga National Park in DR Congo, quoted in the report, confirmed that FDLR benefits from illegal activities in the park including the production of charcoal. He highlighted that FDLR reaps a handsome amount of money from sales of charcoal in Goma, a town with more than one million people, of whom 97 percent have no access to electricity. Global Nature Fund estimates that Goma uses at least 150,000 tonnes of charcoal per year. Other reports of non-profit organisations estimate the quantity to be between 60,000 and 90,000 tonnes per year. Of the charcoal, 95 percent is reported to be produced from Virunga National Park in the areas controlled by FDLR including Nyamulagira, Kahunga and Nyamitwitwi. Demerode disclosed that FDLR shares a portion of its profit with other armed groups including Mai Mai and FARDC soldiers. The Pole Institute report indicates that the trade of charcoal can generate up to $45 million annually. The FDLR and its business partners receive at least $20 million. To be precise, FDLR pockets $11.6 million and $8.2 million goes to business representatives, according to the report. The genocidal group’s combatants do not transport the charcoal themselves. They created a large network involving many people who benefit from the business. The network is composed of FDLR combatants, Congolese military and police personnel, civilian transporters and retailers, among others. Taxation The FDLR has expended much effort in tax collection from residents in controlled areas, as reported by the inhabitants. A big portion of the revenues is generated from agriculture and transport. The report indicates that FDLR charges rental fees or taxes so that residents can be allowed to exploit productive farmlands. Residents in areas it controls can be taxed between $0.30 and $5. As for leaders and magnates, the report says, they pay huge amounts to FDLR to make sure their security is guaranteed. Among others, the report shows that a politician running for electoral campaigns or following up other businesses can be charged up to $2,500 so that FDLR can provide safe passage for vehicles through Virunga National Park in Kalengera, in Bwisha or Tongo in Bwito. Whoever disobeys the protocol, might be ambushed and eventually risk his or her life. Transport Apart from taxes, the terrorist group also works with commercial motorcyclists and truck drivers. In Rutshuru, it fixed taxes on transportation of goods transiting through its controlled areas. The report released by the United Nations Mission in DR Congo, MONUSCO, in 2014, indicated that a driver can pay between $25 to $300 depending on the type of luggage. As confirmed in the report, FDLR has its own Fuso trucks that carry bags of charcoal and commercial motorcycles for transportation of passengers. The group hires Congolese to drive the vehicles and motorcycles. Those who dare violate terms and conditions are killed. Other sources of income The FDLR is also involved in the extraction and trade of minerals in Lubero, as confirmed by MONUSCO. The UN Mission’s report indicates that FDLR also sells timber, hemp or marijuana, and fish. When combined with illegal taxation, the total revenue from these sectors amounts to over $71 million per annum (nearly Rwf76 billion). This is where FDLR secures funding to sustain its terrorism activities. Defeating FDLR Experts say that the genocide ideology propagated by FDLR is of serious concern to the entire region. Allowing the group to openly run businesses permits it to buy weapons and recruit more fighters. The report provides different recommendations to defeat FDLR. It stressed the need to increase police and military personnel in eastern DR Congo and block all of the militia’s sources of revenues. ALSO READ: Regional force tasked to ensure total eradication of FDLR, splinter groups However, on several occasions, the Congolese government has proved reluctant to act as set out in the Nairobi peace process and the Luanda initiative. The latter frameworks requested that Kinshasa should disarm all armed groups and engage in dialogue towards a sustainable solution. The Luanda communiqué, among others, calls for continued full deployment of the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) but the Congolese government has ignored the agreement which was signed in Luanda, Angola, in November 2022. However, last week we saw protest marches organized by Congolese leaders and civil society against the regional force to sour their relationship with the local communities.