Post-M23 Euphoria and the Recurrent Peace Dividends in Eastern DRC

Post-M23 Euphoria and the Recurrent Peace Dividends in Eastern DRC

The recent killing of Paul Sadala, although little reported and largely unnoticed internationally,1 serves as a reminder of how tenuous the “peace” that was achieved in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) remains with the defeat of the March 23 movement (M23) rebels.2 Sadala, also known as “Morgan,” was the leader of the Mayi Mayi militia.3 In the company of about forty militiamen,4 Sadala had left his hideout in the forest of Ituri to surrender to the Congolese army (known as Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo, or FARDC), lay down his arms, and demobilize. Before he could be escorted from Molokai to Bunia, (Ituri District’s capital), however, Sadala and army officers quarreled, allegedly over Sadala’s demand for an immediate promotion to general of the FARDC. Heavily injured in the ensuing battle, Sadala died before he could be handed over to the nearby troops of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), who were supposed to fly him out to a hospital.

As with the murder of FARDC colonel Mamadou Ndala in January, competing explanations by FARDC, the Congolese government, MONUSCO, and individual politicians regarding who bore responsibility for the escalation of the argument and subsequent death of Sadala have made it difficult to determine exactly what happened.5 Yet one thing is obvious: the remnants of Mayi Mayi (now being led by Docteur Jean-Pierre and Manu Mboko) remain a threat to wildlife, gold miners, and civilians in southwest Ituri district and northwest Beni territory.6

The incident comes at a critical juncture in the demobilization of the Kivu Region.7 The December 2013 national Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration Program (DDR III)8 represents the latest government effort to tackle the societal reintegration of the rebels while avoiding the numerous pitfalls experienced by the two programs that preceded it.9 While the new plan still suffers from divergent viewpoints between the capital Kinshasa and most donors, FARDC is busy negotiating with many different militias across North and South Kivu, and diplomatic sources recently stated they are ready to provide substantial support to the government. However, the envisioned collaboration has so far not materialized; both the structure and content of the plan remain in dispute, with Western governments and the United Nations (UN) being highly sceptical of the DRC government’s scheme to relocate combatants by flying them out from the eastern Congo to Bas-Congo, Equateur, and Katanga provinces.10

In the meantime, this deadlock has exacerbated the dire social conditions of the ex-combatants and their dependents—most notably in the town of Bweremana, where the bulk of them are concentrated—relieved only by MONUSCO’s “humanitarian”11 engagement and the government’s rising awareness of the suffering. In January 2014, shortly before the government launched the transfer of combatants, these conditions had led to some defections from the camp where ex-combatants were cantoned and raised fears over of a total collapse of the new program before it actually even started.12

While such a failure can still be avoided, the fate of DDR III hangs by a thread. The exact number of ex-combatants already transferred to the demobilization centers in Kotakoli, Kamina, and Kitona are unclear, and there is conflicting information on whether they correspond to the numbers mentioned in government documents; on what proportion of the combatants has already been transferred; and on the reliability of the numbers collected in the different camps. As Aloys Tegera suggests, the early stages of DDR III have been fraught with uncertainty about how the subsequent steps are going to be organized.13 While spokesperson Lambert Mende has explained that the Congolese government aims to avoid past mistakes such as hasty reintegration, insufficient vetting, and parallel command chains,14 its irresolution could lead to new ones.

This year so far has seen a gradual backing off, not only from pushing forward the DDR III agenda—which is more or less underway, though still lacking sufficient donor support—but also from employing a more coercive military logic. Through its armed forces, the Congolese government has established or reestablished a series of negotiations with numerous armed groups, such as Mayi Mayi Nyakiliba, Raia Mutomboki Kalehe, Raia Mutomboki Kigulube, Raia Mutomboki Nduma, and Mayi Mayi Morgan, while pursuing large-scale military operations against others, such as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF)-Nalu, the Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo (APCLS), and Mayi Mayi Yakutumba, with considerable backing from MONUSCO and its Force Intervention Brigade (FIB). Fighters in the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), some of whom participated in the Rwandan genocide, were announced as both FARDC’s and MONUSCO’s prime target for the year 2014. However, despite numerous affirmations that operations to neutralize the group would soon gain momentum, the focus seems largely to have drifted away from the FDLR. As well, certain other armed groups, such as Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka’s Nduma Defense of Congo (NDC) and various Nyatura groups, do not appear as main concerns at this point.

Though the circumstances are unclear, Sadala’s killing is unlikely to contribute to other militias’ willingness to demobilize. A promising momentum heralded by groups such as Popular Movement for Self-Defence (MPA), Forces for the Defence of the Interests of the Congolese People (FDIPC), and others laying down their arms following M23’s demise is on the verge of being wasted. In addition, the ongoing anti-APCLS operations—which have so far massively weakened the Masisi-based militia commanded by General Janvier Karairi—happen partly with the implicit support of certain Nyatura outlets.15 Mirroring the politicized struggle between Hunde and Hutu populations in Masisi, the shifting power relations between APCLS and Nyatura, as well as a dangerous partiality pursued by both FARDC and MONUSCO, make for a potentially escalating security dilemma in North Kivu’s most complex area.16 Beyond the Masisi conundrum, these operations will sooner or later bear on FDLR-related questions too, even if the bulk of the FDLR have moved northward into neighboring Lubero and Rutshuru territories.

Similar circumstances prevail in South Kivu. In mid-April, the Kigulube branch of Raia Mutomboki (mainly constituted from the defunct coalition Raia Mukombozi) sent one of its leaders, General Maheshe, to a demobilization site to demonstrate willingness to join the FARDC-led process. All available evidence indicates this was a plain maneuver of distraction. While they continue to engage in negotiations with the FARDC, none of the Raia Mutomboki chapters appear to be sincere about surrendering at this stage, and the government’s intentions—along with its ability to take over the provision of security across Shabunda, Walungu, Kalehe, and (in North Kivu) Walikale territories—are in doubt.17

Further to the south, William Amuri Yakutumba’s Forces Armées Alleluia—one of the largest Mayi Mayi militias—currently fights FARDC regiments over control of Misisi in Fizi territory. Recent analysis from this area suggests that combat started in March has heightened levels of insecurity.18 Meanwhile, Mayi Mayi Mayele opted out of the integration process, and half a dozen small militias have newly emerged in Fizi, Uvira, and southern Mwenga territories.

Overall, this picture does not quite correspond to the more euphoric forecasts made in the aftermath of M23’s disappearance. But does it mean the rhetoric of MONUSCO and the Congolese government is a full-scale ruse?

Not exactly; some encouraging signs and events show that the picture is not all bad. Despite whatever political games and competitions have set the Congolese army on the path of negotiation, it’s being there is vital to any long-term solution. The risk, rather, is to end up with half-baked deals, hastened army integration (which is officially denied, but possibly occurring nevertheless), and contradictory action.19 Almost unavoidable, the latter originates from elite competition within the Congolese army and government. It is most noticeable in the deadlock regarding anti-FDLR operations and adds up to the divergent philosophies of FARDC and MONUSCO.

If discourses and practices are not consolidated and aligned, the risk will be high for the current range of contradictory activities regarding armed group demobilization in the wider sense. These activities include DDR III, military operations, other negotiations, and Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration, and Resettlement (DDRRR) for foreign groups, which will eventually wind up in a cul-de-sac. At the same time, the proliferation of armed groups remains a massive obstacle to peace.20 Evidence from both Kivu provinces demonstrates that, so far, neither robust peacekeeping nor efforts to regulate mineral exploitation in the region have helped dispel the eastern DRC’s militia curse. The FIB, whose decisive approach is almost antithetical to UN peacekeeping’s proverbial risk aversion, was certainly much more successful in the past than was expected by analysts, but it lost drive when facing the FDLR challenge. Furthermore, the fight against “conflict minerals”—despite correlating with a reduction of on-site predation through armed actors in the mining areas—created an embargo-like reality where joining a militia became fashionable again in the absence of other opportunities for quick income.21

The examples of M23 and ADF showcase the positive potential of decisive peace enforcement, but neither the unsatisfactory “peace agreement” following the FARDC-FIB success against M23, nor the atomization of ADF into much less powerful but persistent micro-units, are long-term solutions. While they are effective steps toward improving the security of civilians in certain areas, they remain mere starting points for establishing a safe and secure Kivu. Beyond these operational concerns, the quest for peace needs to be understood as a molecular process involving at least as much of a bottom-up as a top-down logic.

Joining forces toward a more comprehensive approach does not, however, entail the amalgamation of peacekeeping, humanitarian action, development aid, and peacebuilding, either.22 In such a complex effort of various local, national, and international stakeholders, the particularity of the respective actors contributes to a broader good. It is unlikely to be a fast-selling item, and it will not automatically resolve DRC’s multilayered contest over political power, state control, and socioeconomic capital. The transformation of Congo’s crisis economy into a social system characterized by peaceful cohabitation and exchange is going to be a lengthier process that will depend on the negotiation of governance modes 23 in an arena framed by overlapping sovereignties. The aim of peacebuilding in DRC certainly merits such efforts, in both DDR and beyond.

  1. Radio France Internationale, “RD Congo: Le chef rebelle Morgan tué lors de son transfert vers Bunia,” (DR Congo: Rebel leader Morgan killed during transfer to Bunia) April 14, 2014, http://www.rfi.fr/afrique/20140414-rdc-congo-chef-rebelle-morgan-paul-sadala-mort-tue-fardc (accessed April 26, 2014).
  2. M23 used to be eastern Congo’s largest and best coordinated nonstate armed group, controlling large parts of territory in the north of Goma. After roughly 1.5 years of insurrection they were eventually defeated by UN forces and the Congolese army.
  3. Luca Jourdan, “Mayi Mayi: Young Rebels in Kivu, DRC,” Africa Development 36, no. 3 and 4 (2011): 89–111.
  4. He was certainly not with the full line-up of his forces, which are believed to comprise between 100 and 300 combatants, depending on whether “borrowed” fighters are included in the calculation. See United Nations, “Final Report of the UN Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (S/2014/42),” United Nations, New York, 2014, and United Nations, “Final Report of the UN Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (S/2012/843),” United Nations, New York, 2012.
  5. Radio Okapi, “La mort du chef milicien Paul Sadala ‘Morgan,’ ” (The death of militia leader Paul Sadala ‘Morgan’) April 16, 2014, http://radiookapi.net/emissions-2/dialogue-entre-congolais/2014/04/16/ce-soir-la-mort-du-chef-milicien-paul-sadala-morgan/ (accessed April 26, 2014).
  6. IRIN, “Rainforest Riches a Curse for Civilians in Northeast DRC,” January 23, 2013, http://www.irinnews.org/report/97314/rainforest-riches-a-curse-for-civilians-in-northeast-drc (accessed April 26, 2014).
  7. IRIN, “Briefing: DDR in Eastern DRC—Try, Try Again,” March 4, 2014, http://www.irinnews.org/report/99741/briefing-ddr-in-eastern-drc-try-try-again (accessed April 26, 2014).
  8. Ministère de la Défense Nationale et des Anciens Combattants, “Plan global de désarmement, démobilisation et réinsertion (DDR III),” (Global plan on Disarmament, Demobilisation, and Reintegration (DDR III)) République Démocratique du Congo, Kinshasa (2013); and Ministère de la défense nationale et des anciens combattants, “Plan des opérations conjointes de désarmement et de démobilisation pour le DDR III,” (Plan on joint operations of Disarmament and Demobilisation for the DDR III) République Démocratique du Congo, Kinshasa (2013). Both documents are on file with the author.
  9. Christoph Vogel, “Many Hitches Ahead for Congo’s New DDR. Time to Get Over Them,” December 27, 2013, http://christophvogel.net/2013/12/27/many-hitches-ahead-for-congos-new-ddr/ (accessed April 26, 2014).
  10. Confidential discussions held with several bi- and multilateral stakeholders between January and April 2014.
  11. In contrary to general belief, a peacekeeping mission comprised of armed soldiers cannot be humanitarian by definition. This does not exclude that peacekeeping can have lots of positive impacts but calling the actions of such a mission “humanitarian“ is misleading.
  12. Christoph Vogel, “Dancing on the Razorblades of Meaningful DDR in DRC,” January 26, 2014, http://christophvogel.net/2014/01/26/dancing-on-the-razorblades-of-meaningful-ddr-in-eastern-drc/ (accessed April 26, 2014).
  13. Aloys Tegera, “DDR 3: Inquietudes et interrogations,” (DDR 3: Worries and questions) Pole Institute, Goma, April 25, 2014, http://pole-institute.org/index.php/nouvelles/331-ddr-3-inquietudes-et-interrogations (accessed April 26, 2014).
  14. Jason Stearns, Maria Eriksson-Baaz, and Judith Verweijen, “The National Army and Armed Groups in the Eastern Congo: Untangling the Gordian Knot of Insecurity,” Usalama Project, Rift Valley Institute, London, 2013.
  15. Action pour le Développement des Populations Defavorisées, “Masisi en proie de violences: Encore un vaste mouvement de populations!” (Masisi victim of violence: One more vast displacement trend) ADPD, Masisi, 2014.
  16. Jason Stearns, “PARECO: Land, Local Strongmen and the Roots of Militia Politics in North Kivu,” Usalama Project, Rift Valley Institute, London, 2013.
  17. Interviews with Raia Mutomboki commanders and unedited field reports between January and April 2014.
  18. Centre Indépendant de Recherches et d’Etudes Stratégiques au Kivu, “La semaine du 14 au 21 mars,” (The week from March 14 to 21), CIRESKI, Uvira, 2014.
  19. Maria Eriksson-Baaz and Judith Verweijen, “Between Integration and Disintegration: The Erratic Trajectory of the Congolese Army,” report for the DRC Affinity Group, Social Science Research Council, New York, 2013.
  20. Christoph Vogel, “The Evolving Landscape of Armed Groups in the Democratic Republic Congo,” www.christophvogel.net/mapping (accessed April 26, 2014).
  21. Conflict minerals are minerals presumed to contribute to financing the war efforts of different conflict actors in eastern Congo. They include tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold and are usually referred to as “3TG”. While numerous advocacy campaigns have informed recent US legislation on this matter, academic research clearly shows that the exploitation of such minerals are a means, not an end in itself. Hence, the struggle against these conflict minerals has so far resulted in a range of negative consequences on the local levels in eastern Congo. See Dominic Johnson, “No Kivu, No Conflict. The Misguided Struggle against ‘Conflict Minerals’ in the DRC,” Pole Institute, Goma, 2013, and discussions with the team of “Obama’s Law,” based on their research for an upcoming feature-length documentary on “conflict minerals,” www.obamaslaw.com (accessed April 26, 2014).
  22. Katharine Derderian, Aurelie Ponthieu, and Christoph Vogel, “Without Precedent or Prejudice? UNSC Resolution 2098 and Its Potential Implications for Humanitarian Space in Eastern Congo and Beyond,” Journal of Humanitarian Assistance, January 21, 2014, http://sites.tufts.edu/jha/archives/2032 (accessed April 26, 2014).
  23. Timothy Raeymakers, Ken Menkhaus, and Koen Vlassenroot, “State and Non-State Regulation in African Protracted Crises: Governance without Government?” Afrika Focus 21, No. 2 (2008): 7–21.
About the Author

Christoph Vogel is an analyst and researcher at the University of Zurich. He writes at www.christophvogel.net and tweets at www.twitter.com/ethuin.

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