Why FDLR won't disarm and why force is the only option

The deadline has come and gone. No action has been taken against the misnamed Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and none seems to be planned in the near future.

The deadline has come and gone. No action has been taken against the misnamed Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and none seems to be planned in the near future.

No tanks have rolled yet. No helicopter gunships have been heard pounding their positions. The media that screamed itself hoarse about M23 is strangely silent. And rights groups seem to have become dumb and blind.

The FDLR continues to defy international pressure to disarm and peacefully return to Rwanda. That is not how it was supposed to be.

We were promised that as soon as the Congolese M23 rebels had been defeated the next target was to be FDLR. It is more than a year since M23 rebels were beaten but nothing has been done.

Many excuses were given for inaction ranging from the armed group no longer being a military threat to Rwanda to difficulty fighting it because it was embedded within a civilian population.

In the end the excuses were untenable and a six month deadline that ended last Friday was set for them to disarm or else face military action from the United Nations forces in DRC.

Instead of the expected attack on the FDLR, we are beginning to see renewed diplomatic activity in the region. In the past this has been used to buy more time for FDLR or to avert military action against them altogether. It may well be the intention again.

President Jacob Zuma of South Africa has been very active lately. He has been to Tanzania and Uganda apparently to plead FDLR’s cause. He has now come out with a statement essentially asking for more patience with FDLR. According to him, they have shown a willingness to voluntarily disarm.

This month SADC and ICGLR will meet to discuss the issue. Later in the month the African Union will do the same. All this means further delay in military action against FDLR. The question is: what is there to talk about? All that really remains is to implement an existing decision.

Although diplomats assigned to the region have been making the right noises, this new round of diplomacy has convinced some that no action will be taken against the FDLR. And they may well be right. This is why.

President Joseph Kabila and his government are not very keen on ending the FDLR menace. He cannot be expected to order the FARDC (Congolese army) to launch any attacks.

There are several reasons for this.

First, Kabila’s political survival depends on the manipulation of the security situation in the east of his country. It is a convenient bargaining tool with major western powers to remain in power. It also serves to distract political rivals from his many incompetence.

Second, he is beholden to the FDLR fighters, some of whom are believed to form his close protection unit. Others are also believed to be part of the Congolese armed forces. Many more helped in the fight against M23 rebels.

Third, for him and his major foreign backers, the FDLR is seen as a useful nuisance against Rwanda that will keep that country bogged down by security concerns and prevent it from playing any influential role in the region.

The leaders of countries that contributed troops to the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) whose specific mandate is to neutralise FDLR among other illegal armed groups are not keen on military action either.

For instance, Tanzania has been active in trying to sanitise FDLR into a regular political organisation. President Jakaya Kikwete even advised President Kagame to negotiate with them.

Subsequently there were many reports of senior FDLR commanders travelling to Tanzania and being hosted at a very high level.

South Africa has been a haven to Rwandan fugitives from justice who pass themselves off as legitimate political dissidents. It is well-known that these fugitives have been trying to forge a united front with FDLR against Rwanda, with the tacit approval, if not outright support, of their hosts.

Besides, it is also common knowledge that some of South Africa’s leaders have huge mining and other commercial interests in DRC.

Malawi, although less vocal, has a big, wealthy and influential constituency of FDLR supporters among Rwandan exiles in the country.

For the various concessionaires from the West and elsewhere, a united, stable Congo is not good for continued plunder. The unstated policy seems to be to keep the country impoverished, disunited and its administration incompetent.

It is almost certain that a certain godfather of FDLR at the UN Office of Peacekeeping Operations will thwart every effort to go after them with force.

Clearly, some of those involved in renewed diplomacy are not honest brokers. Apart from commercial interests, a good many are driven by animosity towards Rwanda.

And so the FDLR remains intransigent as always. Only the overly optimistic believed that FDLR would ever disarm and leave Congo peacefully in the first place. That would be like asking them to change their spots and become different creatures. They are not about to do that.

Persuasion has not worked. Appeals to a sense of honour won’t do because that is not one of their virtues. Deadlines keep shifting. The threat of force seems to be half-hearted. Only decisive force will.