Who will end the FDLR  menace?

With only five weeks to the January 2 UN Security Council deadline for the DR Congo-based FDLR militia to disarm or face military action, there is virtually nothing to suggest that the group largely blamed for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi will surrender.
Some property abandoned by FDLR  last year in Rubavu. The militia is regrouping. (File)
Some property abandoned by FDLR last year in Rubavu. The militia is regrouping. (File)

With only five weeks to the January 2 UN Security Council deadline for the DR Congo-based FDLR militia to disarm or face military action, there is virtually nothing to suggest that the group largely blamed for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi will surrender.

In fact, a November 18 report by Enough Project, says the militia is after all regrouping and mobilizing political and financial support to continue its operations. Its strategy is focused on: generating more income to trade for ammunition and weapons, mobilizing political support in an attempt to gain greater legitimacy, and preparing to avoid military defeat through alliance-building and recruitment.

As a result of this, debate is now shifting from whether the FDLR will disarm to whether the UN Mission in the DR Congo (MONUSCO) will move against the militia responsible for the death of a million victims of the Genocide after the deadline.

Last month, the Security Council expressed “deep concern over the lack of progress” in FDLR’s voluntary disarmament process following an assessment by the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Martin Kobler, head of MONUSCO, recently told the Security Council that after January 2, military action against the FDLR would be inevitable. Dissonantly, however, he also admitted the disarmament process was “at an impasse.”

Yet the militia is reportedly generating revenue mainly by trading gold and by illegally producing and trading charcoal, a trade worth an estimated $32 million annually.

Enough Project asserts that, Kinshasa, which would play a critical role in efforts to counter the FDLR, hesitates partly because “its ties to FDLR are economically and politically beneficial,” while South Africa and Tanzania support Kinshasa “in large part due to business interests related to the Inga III mega-dam and because of strained relations with Rwanda”.

Most likely, some analysts say, the militia will, as it did in May,  send another dead beat group of their own to a disarmament centre if only to postpone military action.

UN aware of delaying tactics

“We all know that the FDLR have never had the intention to disarm,” Olivier Nduhungirehe, Rwanda’s envoy to UN said.

“They are only proceeding by delaying tactics. And the Security Council has also recognized this in its presidential statement of November 5, 2014”.

Though the Council has rejected any call for political dialogue with the FDLR, the bigger picture of what happens after January 2 remains hazy.

“The Security Council didn’t elaborate any scenario. It only gave MONUSCO the month of January to launch its operations for the neutralization of the FDLR,” Nduhungirehe said, adding: “What is expected is that in case of non compliance by MONUSCO and the FARDC, the Security Council may redouble its pressure on MONUSCO, on its FIB and on the DRC Government”.

The latter scenario appears to be another high-level smokescreen that keeps repeating without effect. Nearly two years after the Council adopted resolution 2098 to disarm FDLR, it is clear MONUSCO is never going to pursue the militia. Due to MONUSCO’s past reluctance to fight FDLR, analysts say, military action by the former against the militia is not plausible today or in the near future.

Prof. Jean de la Croix Nkurayija, a political scientist at the University of Rwanda, said the reluctance was due to political will by groupings such as SADC to neutralize the FDLR.

“There are organizations like MONUSCO and SADC which don’t really want to see that implemented because of their own self interests,” Nkurayija said. 

Analysts previously noted that Tanzanian and South African troops leading the 3,000-strong special UN Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) – the first UN peacekeeping unit mandated to conduct targeted operations to neutralize armed groups in the eastern DRC – under MONUSCO – cannot be trusted to do the job. Why? Last year, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete urged Kigali to open political negotiations with the FDLR and, mid this year, his foreign minister, Bernard Membe, referred to the FDLR as “freedom fighters”.

Genocide scholar Tom Ndahiro said: “Among other things, Tanzania’s foreign minister called the FDLR ‘freedom fighters.’ Was this a lapsus linguae? I doubt it was. It was well thought and he meant it. When others, including the UN are calling them a Genocidal force, he calls them freedom fighters. How then will they engage them”?

Before it was integrated into MONUSCO, the FIB, comprising of troops from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) – Tanzania, South Africa, and Malawi –was initially a SADC military mission in support of the Congolese army (FARDC) against the M23.

The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) currently headed by Frenchman Hervé Ladsous, is part of another thick puzzle. Ladsous who was France’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and defended his government’s policies, including aiding the escape of the masterminds of the Genocide into eastern DR Congo.

Other possible western interests aside, Ladsous’ current intentions remain open to discussion. In June, he requested for the lifting of a travel ban for FDLR president Gaston Rumuli Iyamuremye (a.k.a Victor Rumuli Byiringiro), to permit him travel to Italy. The UN actually flew a sanctioned FDLR leader on a UN aircraft in the DR Congo, before the operation aborted following protests from Kigali.

Game changer

Meanwhile, even if a unilateral incursion by Rwanda into eastern DR Congo to eliminate the militia threat is unlikely, it appears that something else could give it effect.

In the past few months, 10 regional countries: Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda – members of the Eastern Africa Standby Force (EASF) – hastened plans to establish a 5,000 strong fighting force by next month.

The force which is expected to be combat ready a year ahead of schedule will target negative forces including the FDLR, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a rebel group opposed to the Ugandan government, and the al-Shabaab, a jihadist group based in Somalia which pledges allegiance to the militant Islamist organisation al-Qaeda. This could be a game changer.

Other factors constant, a willingness by EASF countries to go it alone could possibly shake and galvanize the UN into action – whichever form it takes – to prevent a new massive regional conflict.

Nkurayija sees the EASF as a viable option in checking the FDLR impasse or any other negative force weighing down on the region. “The EASF may not be the only solution but it can be a last alternative if there is no progress by January 2. It is a good strategy to prevent what may happen if these negative forces are not disarmed.”

“Perhaps, a solution we never anticipated could pop up but a plan B is essential. The last solution is to protect ourselves,” he added.

The EASF, formerly Eastern Africa Standby Brigade, is largely buttressed by Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Ethiopia, which committed nearly the entire force.

Kigali often indicates that some states in the region continue to sanitize and protect the FDLR and are unwilling to support decisive action against the FDLR.

In 2011, there were reports indicating that Rwandan fugitives, including Kayumba Nyamwasa, established ties with the FDLR. Related meetings were allegedly held in South Africa, among other places.

According to Ndahiro: There has to be another FIB as I don’t see the current composition’s chemistry doing it. EASF would be a better alternative to the FIB, which is actually a fib, when it comes to fighting the FDLR”.