Is DR Congo no longer a safe haven for armed militias?

DR Congo has demonstrated commitment to address the insecurity problem, dealing a heavy blow to the two Rwandan armed groups in recent months.

IN a September 22, 2019 interview on TV5Monde, a French television network, DR Congo’s new President, Félix Tshisekedi, addressed a wide range of issues in his country, including corruption, poverty, war and insecurity, and how he intends to deal with them.

He showed a sense of urgency.


“The Congolese want answers to their questions about poverty because they know Congo is a very rich country and it is not normal that they live poor,” he said. “They ask questions about education, health, employment, and as such, we have no time to waste.”


“Today, the Congolese want peace and security.”


He added: “And that is my engagement because while doing my [presidential campaign] I was in the east and I saw how my compatriots suffer.”

Tshisekedi said his primary objective was to deliver peace, serenity, and calm to the people in eastern DR Congo.

Granary of the republic has become hell’ 

“The east of the country, in the past, I recall, was called the granary of Zaïre; the granary of the republic. Today it has become hell. This is unacceptable. I cannot be a Head of State of the Democratic Republic of Congo and accept this situation. That is the priority.”

The Congolese are suffering today and are among the poorest people in the world, he admitted, a paradox of sorts considering DR Congo’s vast natural resource wealth.

DR Congo is widely considered to be the richest country – with untapped deposits of raw minerals estimated to be worth in excess of US$24 trillion – in the world regarding natural resources.

The country which has nearly 80 million inhabitants, 80 million hectares of arable land and more than 1,100 listed minerals and precious metals, according to the World Bank, “has the potential to become one of the richest economies on the continent and a driver of African growth, if it can overcome its political instability and improve governance.”

In 2012, up to 77 per cent of the population was living in extreme poverty on less than $1.90 a day.

The most recent World Bank estimates put the extreme poverty rate in the country at 73 per cent in 2018, one of the highest in sub-Saharan Africa, only ahead of Nigeria.

‘A noble cause’

What he wants, above all, Tshisekedi said, is to get rid of this paradox.

And sorting out the peace and security perspective will be crucial.

If the new Congolese government is to pacify the east of the country it will have to eliminate a myriad of armed groups, including terrorist organisations, with bases in eastern DR Congo. Among them are Rwandan elements, chief of which are FDLR and RNC.

FDLR is an offshoot of the forces and militia groups that crossed into DR Congo from Rwanda after playing a major part in the slaughter of more than a million people during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.

RNC is a terrorist organisation formed in 2010 by Rwandan dissidents and is blamed for a spate of grenade attacks in Rwanda between 2010 and 2014 that killed at least 17 people and injured over 400 others.

MONUSCO, reportedly the UN’s largest and most expensive peacekeeping operation, with a budget (for 2017/18) of $1.14 billion, has not done much in neutralizing armed groups. An array of armed groups remains deeply ensconced in the country’s east and continue to terrorize the population.

According to the Rule of Law in Armed Conflict Online Portal (RULAC) project, a website that tries to identify the parties to armed conflicts, at least 100 armed groups are active in the Kivus.

Already, DR Congo has demonstrated commitment to address the insecurity problem, dealing a heavy blow to the two Rwandan armed groups in recent months. Congolese troops have conducted operations targeting the negative elements, killing several of their leaders, including fugitive FDLR supreme commander “Lt Gen” Sylvestre Mudacumura, along with several of his lieutenants. Several RNC fighters, including Captain (rtd) Charles ‘Sibo’ Sibomana, who’s believed to be the militia group’s second in command, were also killed. Many others such as RNC’s top commander Major (rtd) Habib Mudathiru were arrested in a major blow to a terrorist organisation led by fugitive Kayumba Nyamwasa.

And Kigali is willing to help.

Just last month, officials at the Rwanda Demobilization and Reintegration Commission (RDRC), including chairperson Séraphine Mukantabana, held a four-day consultative meeting with a high-level delegation from DR Congo’s Demobilization and Reintegration Commission.

Both commissions are key in efforts to persuade combatants to lay down weapons and repatriate peacefully. The meeting discussed a joint strategy to get rid of criminal armed groups in DR Congo.

Rwanda has received and reintegrated some 12,000 mostly former FDLR combatants and both sides believe that the success of this effort could persuade other fighters to denounce violence and return home.

During the meeting, Mukantabana’s team shared experience with their Congolese counterparts with view to building on best practices to encourage more combatants to embrace peace.

The Congolese team wanted to learn how the Rwandans ably demobilise so many combatants and ensure they do not re-join armed groups, and instead engage in productive endeavours.

President Tshisekedi, Mukantabana said, “came with new, strong and dedicated plans with the understanding that to be able to take his country forward, armed groups must be eliminated; be it those from foreign countries or Congolese armed groups, so that the country is organised with one recognised national army.”

She hailed Tshisekedi for seeking to forge collaborations with fellow leaders in the Great Lakes region.

“You must recall the meetings recently held in Angola, and others. All this is in line with eradicating illegal armed groups and bringing much needed stability to our region. It is a noble cause.”

In May, Presidents Paul Kagame, João Lourenço of Angola and Tshisekedi signed a tripartite agreement in Kinshasa, agreeing to strengthen cooperation in the area of security.

The three leaders also deemed it necessary to invite other regional leaders to this effort.

Subsequently, the first Quadripartite Summit involving Presidents Kagame, Lourenço, Tshisekedi, and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, was held in the Angolan capital of Luanda in July.

These diplomatic efforts were being pursued in tandem with resolute action on the ground, and the killing of FDLR’s Mudacumura, a man who had eluded capture and survived successive operations for over two decades, points to changing dynamics in the grand scheme of things.

Mudacumura was not the first FDLR leader to be dealt with in a few months.

Signs of the shifting dynamics first came to light back in December last year when Congolese security organs arrested FDLR spokesperson Ignace Nkaka, best known as LaForge Fils Bazeye, and Lt Col Jean-Pierre Nsekanabo, its head of intelligence. The two were returning from Uganda where they had attended a meeting with RNC operatives. They were later transferred to Kigali and are on trial.

The meeting, it later emerged, was also attended by Uganda’s state minister for regional affairs, Philemon Mateke. Kampala has in the recent past been linked with several armed groups bent on destabilising Rwanda. Kampala denied this.

‘Critical challenges’

Themistocle Hakizimana, a Reuter’s journalist who has spent 25 years reporting events in DR Congo, reckons that President Tshisekedi is on the right track even as he faces “critical challenges.”

It is “very good” that the Congolese leader has made security and elimination of negative groups a priority, he said.

Hakizimana said part of the security challenges that DR Congo has faced over the years has originated from other regional countries, pointing out that “some of these armed groups are linked to these countries.”

He said there is need for regional countries to support Kinshasa in its bid to pacify the country and questioned professed intentions of some countries as far as this issue is concerned.

To date, he observed, regional players who say they want to help get rid of armed militia in DR Congo don't really have the same purpose and mission.

He took aim at Uganda which, according to a UN report published in December 2018, is a major source of new recruits for ‘P5’, a coalition of anti-Kigali groups, including RNC and FDLR.

“Considering what we know, today, it’s hard to say that Uganda is interested in remove RNC and FDLR from Congo.”

In addition, there are economic interests involving western multinationals, as well as political vacuum in parts of the country, which have compounded the problem.

Hakizimana said both regional countries and the international community should back DR Congo’s efforts in pacifying the vast neighbour, underscoring the need for Kinshasa to assert its authority in its lawless eastern regions.

Dr Francois Masabo, the Director-General of the University of Rwanda’s Centre for Conflict Management (CCM), said Tshisekedi can really get rid of armed militia.

“I think he can actually do it. It is possible because he has the will. He needs cooperation [from regional partners] because it won’t only be achieved through battle alone as diplomacy and regional cooperation factors in too.”

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