Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Sunday, December 30, 2012

A UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes: Can the UN absorb the regional process?

Following the fall of Goma to the M23 and the lack of progress in the Kampala talks, the United Nations has inched closer to naming a special envoy in order to jumpstart a larger, more serious peace process. While this could constitute a major shift in international engagement with the Congolese conflict, there are many questions and doubts remaining.

According to a UN official,  it is very likely that the Secretary General will name a special envoy in the coming weeks. In addition, Ban Ki-Moon is trying to use his offices to broker a new peace process, one that would involve all concerned countries in the region and that would tackle some of the root causes, including Congolese army and governance reform and outside intervention in the Kivus.

The ball got rolling in New York after Ban sent Susana Malcorra, the head of the UN's Executive Office, to the Congo in November to meet with President Kabila and to visit the Kivus. Following the fall of Goma––and the criticism of UN failure to stem the M23 advance on the city––members of the Security Council were receptive to the idea of a new approach.

While details are still being discussed in New York, this approach seems to involve creating a framework for talks that would include Rwanda, Congo-Brazzaville, Congo-Kinshasa, Uganda, Burundi, and Angola, with the UN special envoy as the facilitator/mediator. The issues on the table could include political reforms in the Congo––such as decentralization, land conflicts, and security sector reform––as well as stabilizing the Kivus.

At the same time, the UN is considering absorbing the proposed Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) force that is supposed to be deployed under a Tanzanian command. This force could then form a special intervention brigade within MONUSCO, with a more robust mandate and rules of engagement to address the criticism of military weakness levied against the mission.

But many questions remain. Within this regional process, how could the Congolese government credibly commit to the very political reforms it has resisted? Kabila is still very reluctant to allow the UN to meddle in Congolese internal affairs and has been unable to carry out the necessary reforms. How would regional talks change this? (See my previous post on how I think the UN needs to be re-politicized to address some of the challenges). Distrust is deep in the region and impediments to change in Kinshasa, Goma and Kigali are formidable. Creating a process without an outside body to implement the agreement could just result in more talk.

How would such a process ensure that Rwanda and Uganda refrain from backing armed groups in the Congo, especially since they both deny such meddling? True, having boots on the ground from Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Malawi (other still to come...) is in itself a deterrent, a way of making sure these countries are invested politically as well as militarily. But it is difficult to imagine this SADC force waging risky counterinsurgency operations against the M23 or FDLR, and the more the Congolese army and government appear inept, the more other countries might turn a blind eye to foreign support to the M23.

The Kivus are the graveyard of peace processes––there have been many in recent years, ranging from the mixage arrangement of 2007 to the Goma peace conference of 2008 and the Ihusi Agreement of 2009. The temptation for the Security Council is to concoct another short-term fix, a mixture of beefing up the military approach and regional talks. But neither is likely to address the deep-rooted challenges the region is facing, perhaps foremost among which are Kinshasa's reluctance/inability to reform its institutions and Kigali's interference in the eastern DRC. Tackling those issues will require a much greater political engagement from the UN Security Council than we have seen in the past.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The delusional peace: How has the UN failed in the Congo?

Since the M23 seized Goma in November, a cascade of criticism has rained down on MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo. The opprobrium was widespread and came from Congolese civil society, foreign diplomats and media alike. Why couldn't the 19,000 blue helmets prevent the biggest trade hub in the eastern Congo from falling? Why couldn't they live up to their mandate and protect civilians in imminent danger?

I, too, have been disappointed by the UN, but not for the above reasons. In short: the UN has been stripped of what it does best, brokering a political peace process and has been reduced to what it is worst at––military protection.

UN peacekeepers have never been very good at protecting civilians in imminent danger. In part, this is because it is extremely difficult to do––once the danger is imminent, it is often too late to intervene, especially in a country as vast and infrastructure-challenged as the Congo. (In part, of course, it is also due to poor leadership, as the Kisangani and Kiwanja showed). The way to do civilian protection is through pre-emption, not firefighting, but that requires more risky and aggressive operations, which many of the troop contributing countries (TCCs in UN lingo) did not sign up for. "We don't want to see our men come home in bodybags," is the frequent refrain from the contingents.

Not that these kind of aggressive operations are impossible––in 2005, for example, the UN conducted "robust peacekeeping" in Ituri, declaring certain areas demilitarized and then aggressively shutting down remnant militia there, killing dozens and dismantling entire groups. But even then, the UN military leadership felt that they wouldn't be able to apply the same tactics to the Kivus, with its more battle-hardened armed groups and difficult terrain.

What about Goma? The main problem in November was that the UN's modus operandi was to prop up the Congolese army, in accordance with its mandate. When the army crumbled between 19-21 November and fled from town, the UN was left holding the metaphorical bag. The UN there––who, with ill-advised braggadocio had said they would not let Goma to fall (as they had said in Bunagana in July)––was unwilling then to fight a difficult counterinsurgency against the M23 (and perhaps the Rwandan army, as well), especially since they would have to share the town with them.

No, the main problem with UN peacekeeping in the Congo is not its military failings, although there have indeed been many. It is that, since 2006, its mandate has been largely emptied of its political content. The UN is best at facilitating a political process, brokering a peace deal, and then shepherding that process through to its conclusion. This is exactly what it did during the Lusaka peace process, beginning in 1999 and culminating in the transitional government (2003-2006), when it was the legal guarantor of the transition. This was the UN's largely unsung success: making an unruly and difficult political compromise stick, stepping in every time the transition was about to go off the rails, and helping to then organize elections.

The problem is that since the 2006 elections, we have been living in a post-conflict fantasy. Kabila won the elections and promptly marginalized the UN peacekeeping mission, declaring the country sovereign and largely at peace. Although violence escalated in the Kivus––reaching levels similar to those at the height of the 1998-2003 wars––there was never an official, genuine peace process there to deal with the political challenges that remained there. So the UN stayed on, but wasn't given an official role in institution building, as could happen in a post-conflict period. Nor was it allowed to mediate or even facilitate in the conflict in the eastern Congo. The only deals made there were either backroom deals between Kinshasa and Kigali (as the mixage agreement of 2007 or the March 23, 2009 deal) or the hypocrisy of the 2008 Goma conference, when all sides were preparing for war almost as soon as they sat down to talk. While Olusegun Obasanjo was nominally involved in implementing the 2009 deal, the real negotiations happened behind his back, between Kigali, Kinshasa, and other regional capitals. The UN––and most of the international community with it––has been politically sidelined from the conflict.

Military force in the absence of a political framework is, at best, firefighting. While the UN obviously has a responsibility to protect vulnerable civilians where it can, its larger role should be in forging and implementing a political deal to end this crisis, as there does not appear to be a military way out.

The recent ICGLR initiative is a welcome one in this regard. There is some attempt by countries in the region to grapple with some of the underlying political drivers of the conflict––Congolese institutional failure, meddling by its neighbors, and communal conflicts at the grassroots level. The problem is that body appears to diplomats and many Congolese officials as too biased to be an honest broker.

There is currently a push at the United Nations to re-politicize the UN mission and to get involved in the peace process. There is little doubt that a "Super-Envoy" will soon be named, probably with both a mandate to broker regional peace and to manage the peacekeeping mission, and hopefully with an AU mandate, as well. Names are being bandied about––Ibrahim Gambari, Bill Richardson, and Benjamin Mkapa have been floated, as have other names. While the person will be key, the political lessons of the past are even more so. Without a political process that is able to obtain the buy-in of all key parties and that grapples with the key underlying issues, even the best military strategists will be stumped.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Kampala process: The mediators' view

An earlier version of this post mistakenly said that the ICGLR chair will pass to Congo-Brazzaville in January. Uganda will keep the chair for another year.

 The peace talks in Kampala kicked off on December 9th before adjourning for the holidays on December 21st. We will have to wait until January 4th for the resumption––time for reflection. Until now, the talks have been stuck in the preamble as the two sides haggle over procedure.

First, there was the issue of whether M23 military commanders could attend, then the Congolese government refused to sign a formal ceasefire. Most worryingly, the two sides come with radically different ideas of what needs is being negotiated: the Congolese government intends to listen to the M23's grievances and evaluate the March 23, 2009 agreement it signed with the CNDP and other armed groups; the M23 has voiced demands that range from electoral and security sector reform, to freeing Etienne Tshisekedi from house arrest, to knowing the truth about the attacks against Floribert Chebeya and Denis Mukwege.

Luckily for us, the Ugandan facilitation has compiled a list of the various demands, both as outlined by the March 23, 2009 deal and the twenty-one new demands made by the M23. This synopsis predates the Kampala talks but is useful nonetheless (see here). The facilitator, Defense Minister Crispus Kiyonga (accused by many Congolese to be too close to Mbusa Nyamwisi, a co-ethnic), has boiled these new grievances down to six:
  • Assassinations of ex-CNDP soldiers, in particular of forty-six troops in Dungu––Kiyonga said he could confirm these allegations and asked for an investigation;
  • Poor welfare of the army, in particular the embezzlement of salaries and poor living conditions––Kiyonga pushes for army reform;
  • Reluctance to carry out operations against negative forces (FDLR, ADF-Nalu)––Kiyonga does not dwell on this;
  • The marginalization of the eastern Congo, in particular the lack of infrastructure development and the embezzlement of revenues––Kiyonga does not dwell on this;
  • Cheating by President Kabila in the 2011 elections––Kiyonga does not dwell on this;
  • Kabila has not lived up to his campaign promises––Kiyonga does not dwell on this.
What about the March 23 Agreement? Here Kiyonga reports that Kinshasa has either made good or significant progress on 18 of the 24 articles, leaving six areas outstanding:
  • National reconciliation––the government says the Human Rights Commission is being set up for this, but Kiyonga thinks this is insufficient;
  • Community police––on a similar note, Kiyonga thinks more to be done to make this police force effective (even though in much of Masisi this police force had been hijacked by the ex-CNDP);
  • Management of territory––here Kiyonga contradicts himself, initially saying the government had taken satisfactory steps to begin decentralization, then later saying their efforts had been insufficient;
  • Return of misappropriated properties––Kiyonga says that not enough has been done on this, but it is unclear which properties need to be returned to whom;
  • Management of natural resources––most Congolese will snicker when they see Kiyonga suggesting that there needs to be a better management of resources. This was a very vague statement of principle in the initial March 23, 2009 deal, difficult to operationalize or evaluate;
  • International monitoring mechanism––the follow-up committee rarely met and President Obasanjo, the UN mediator, did not play a significant role after 2009.
 En bref, Kiyonga focuses on the March 23, 2009 deal, not on the new grievances, and thinks that Kinshasa has complied with most of the peace deal. But he does not chart out a very clear path forward, and the recommendations are broad and unwieldy. That, combined with the yawning gap between the Congolese government and the M23, means that a possible settlement is still a long way off.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

What can we expect from Kampala?

The M23 and Congolese government delegation have finally begun negotiations today––it wasn't a very promising start, as both sides led off with accusations. 

Discussions will begin in earnest tomorrow. What can we expect?

These initial discussions will focus on the rules of the game––who participates (government, opposition, M23, civil society?), what is on the agenda (just the M23 agreement or much broader political issues?) and what the procedural guidelines will be. It is clear that the two sides will lock horns over all of these issues.

President Joseph Kabila's delegation, led by Foreign Minister Raymond Tshibanda, has said the talks will focus on the March 23, 2009 agreement––aside from the return of refugees, these are largely issues to do with the ranks and salaries of M23 officers, as well as the integration of their political cadres. One of the previous negotiators told me, "For us this is a matter of offering the officers positions in the army, the political demands are window-dressing." One of the current delegates suggested that they could integrate both political and military cadres, and that the main sticking points had to do with the most notorious human rights abusers, such as Bosco Ntaganda, Innocent Kaina, and Sultani Makenga. It's probably redundant to say: this cutting-up-the-pie logic has not been very successful in the past.

For the M23 much more is at stake. Their delegation, led by Executive Secretary Francois Rucogoza, has said they want to discuss the fraudulent elections of last year (which, ironically, some of their own officers helped rig), the "constitutional order" (they have said they want more decentralization or federalism), and justice for attacks against Dr. Denis Mukwege and Floribert Chebeya. "A lot has happened since the M23 deal," Bertrand Bisimwa, their spokesperson, told me, "we have political demands, too." He continued, "We know for them this is about partage des postes [a sharing of positions], but that is not what we want."

But, at the same time, contradictions plague each delegation. In the Kinshasa camp, there have been some sharp contradictions––General Olenga, the new land forces commander, has said they will continue to wage war against the M23, a view shared by many in the army who are dismayed at having to negotiate with their enemies once again. But Kabila and his inner circle seem sure they can strike a deal with the rebels. According to parliamentarians, when Prime Minister Matata Ponyo went to parliament recently and began to fiercely denounce "the Rwandan aggression," phone calls came from the presidency to ask him to stop. A close Kabila advisor also said "the boss" was not happy with General Olenga about his belligerent statements. Nobody, however, in the presidential camp seems ready to talk about constitutional reform, the rigged elections, or justice for Chebeya and Mukwege (although a bill on electoral reform was already being discussed before Goma fell).

In the meantime, the political opposition has declined the government's offer to participate, saying that the March 23, 2009 agreement had never been approved by parliament. Meanwhile, the Episcopal Conference (CENCO) made a strong statement, warning about "the trap of negotiations," and against "deals that could bring about the balkanization of the country." The M23, unfazed, has demanded that both civil society and the opposition take place in the negotiations.

In the rebels camp, tensions continue between officers loyal to Bosco and those close to Makenga (and by proxy, Laurent Nkunda), the so-called kimbelembele and kifuafua ("ahead-ahead" and "chest forward"). Baudouin Ngaruye, a Bosco loyalist, was recently promoted to the rank of general, reportedly without consulting Makenga, and M23 officials I spoke with in Goma were openly critical of one or the other camp.

The rifts between the two sides, as well as within each delegation, will make for a rough, and probably lengthy, ride.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Interview with Bertrand Bisimwa, M23 Spokesperson

Just before the M23 left Goma this morning, I spoke with Bertrand Bisimwa, their spokesperson. This is a transcription and a translation from French.

Can you explain the goals of your movement? You began in April demanding the implementation of the March 23, 2009 agreement, but since then you have put forward demands that go far beyond that.

The M23 is made up of armed groups that signed the March 23 agreement. We started by asking for the implementation of that deal. The government fought us, saying we didn't have the right to demand that. Then we reflected on the situation in the country and saw that many other things had happened since the March 23 agreement, things linked to governance and the legitimacy of Joseph Kabila. We couldn't not integrate these new facts into the demands of our movement. So today, in addition to the March 23 agreement we want good governance in the country and a legitimate government.

Precisely - when you talk about legitimacy and the rigged elections, didn't ex-CNDP soldiers help rig those elections in Masisi?

You have to realize that not all ex-CNDP joined the M23. In fact, most didn't. It was these others, those who didn't join, who helped rig the elections in Kabila's favor in Masisi. But also, cheating didn't start with the elections, it started with the changing of the constitution by Kabila, which allowed him to be elected by a minority of Congolese. It all started there.

In his press conference at the Ihusi Hotel this week, M23 President Runiga put forward a list of demands that include many points that Kabila will be very reluctant to negotiate with you, like dissolving the electoral commission, arresting General John Numbi and the liberation of political prisoners. Did you set the bar too high?

Those were not demands by the M23, but confidence-building measures we wanted to see in order to create a good climate for negotiations. Those negotiations will then focus on the governance of the country, the problems of Congolese society.

Bertrand Bisimwa,

What exactly do you want in those negotiations?

We have a cahier des charges that lists our demands, but it isn't public yet. We want, above all, a vision for the development of the country that includes infrastructures, employment. security in the east of the country, and the return of refugees––from Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi. We also want to discuss the form of the state, we want a state that is more decentralized that the current constitution states. We will, of course, also need guarantees that Kabila will carry out these reforms.

But won't the reintegration of your troops and cadres be one of the fundamental points of negotiation?

Integration is a measure that will follow once our demands have been answered. We are fighting for these grievances, as soon as we can find an agreement an on these points, we can proceed to figure out how to do reintegration.

You mention that you need guarantees from Kabila. You obviously have very little faith that Kabila will keep his word. What kind of guarantees can he provide?

We can agree on military reintegration and collaboration with the Congolese army without dissolving our troops. One example that I think about a lot is the Ivory Coast. There, the Forces Nouvelles were in a power-sharing government while their troops were still controlling the north of the country. Guillaume Soro was the prime minister while the country was still split. Kinshasa can maintain authority over the East without dissolving our troops.

What about political power-sharing, isn't that one of your demands?

No, it's not that important for us. If we can agree on our demands, as well as calendar for their implementation in time and space, that's enough for us. Many of us don't even want to have positions in government. But there needs to be follow-up, at the end of every month we need to sit together to evaluate the implementation of the deal.

You emphasize that you are a multi-ethnic group. That is true for your political wing, but not for the top military leadership, which is mostly from the Tutsi community. Is that a problem for you, given that many Congolese see you as a Tutsi movement supported by Rwanda?

The Tutsi are emblematic, they are easy to notice. If you, for example, sit down at a table with eight Africans, you will stick out because you are white. The same goes for Tutsi. In our army, Tutsi are in the minority if you look at the whole army. There are many Tutsi in the leadership, but you have to understand that Tutsi have been discriminated against more than other Congolese communities. This has made them react and mobilize more than others. When we constituted our army, we chose officers based on merit, and Tutsi officers were in a good position.

Now you are withdrawing from town in order to negotiate. But what will you do if Kabila does not negotiate?

We are also certain that he won't negotiate. There is no credibility in his promises. Since the RCD, he has been tricking the Congolese people. We are almost sure he won't negotiate - Lambert Mende said so, and he speaks for the government, and General Olenga said it, and he speaks for the army. In the end, the Congolese people will decide, we all share the same suffering. If the Congolese people decide to get rid of Kabila, we can do so. We won't go on the offensive, we will only defend ourselves against the government.

But your military spokesperson Colonel Kazarama said you would go all the way to Bukavu, all the way to Kinshasa. That's not a defensive position.

Kazarama was expressing the will of the Congolese people, not our policy. If Kabila attacks us, we can silence the weapons from where they are being shot, if necessary.

We have seen armed rebellions before in the eastern Congo that have had similar objectives as yours. The AFDL, RCD, CNDP all shares similar ideals - what makes you different from them and how can you avoid their mistakes?

The main difference is that our goal is not integration or power-sharing. We want to solve the problems of the Congolese, that's our goal. The second difference is that we want to negotiate a vision for the country, the RCD didn't have that approach.

I share some our your criticisms of the Congolese government, but disagree with your methods. Don't you think an armed rebellion will just create more resentment within the Congolese population against you?

This is a serious problem for us––but Joseph Kabila doesn't leave us a choice. You know, we had a political-military movement, the CNDP, that wanted to negotiate with Kabila. We were made up of civilians and politicians. But Kabila opposed us with weapons. What choice did he leave us?

Our military have the same problems as our civilians. Most of them have relatives in the refugee camps. So they decide to use the same means Kabila uses to defend themselves. But war is not good. That's why we say that our objective is to finish the war as soon as possible and have negotiations. We have always said that we want negotiations, that's it. We are even willing to make very big concessions––we are leaving Goma, a very big town, that is a big concession for us.

There have been many reports of Rwandan support to the M23. Many of your leaders live in Rwanda. What do you say to this?

You make me laugh a bit when you say many of our leaders live in Rwanda. If a Frenchman lives in Belgium and goes back to France to cause trouble, do you immediately say that Belgium is supporting him? As for Rwandan support, this is propaganda from the Congolese government. Rwanda is an easy target, a much easier one than we are, as they are part of the international community and sit in international institutions.

But I have spoken to many villagers, dozens of former M23 soldiers, all of whom testify to Rwandan involvement.

You know, when a Congolese villager sees a Tutsi, he will say that he saw a Rwandan. This is a perception that has made its way into the Congolese population. As for the deserters, they flee to MONUSCO and then they say they are Rwandan because they are trying to seek protection from the Congolese army. But they are actually Congolese, I know some of these guys. One of them is the brother of [name omitted]. If they were handed over to the Congolese government, they would be arrested, which is why they say they are Rwandan––if they go to Rwanda, nothing happens to them.

We have seen in the past couple of days what appear to be contradictions in your movement. General Makenga said you would withdraw from Goma, then your political leadership said the opposite. What happened?

This is about the content of the ICGLR agreement [to withdraw from Goma]. We thought that only the army was concerned by the retreat, there was no mention of the police or administration. But when we saw that Kinshasa wanted everyone to withdraw, we agreed, so that Kinshasa would not use this as a pretext to start fighting.

There was no contradiction––Makenga spoke for the army, Runiga for the political wing. Now we have agreed to leave. Everyone, the police and the administration.

What about the tensions within the military wing. Ever since Nkunda was arrested, there have been tensions between the pro-Bosco––even if you say he isn't involved today––and the pro-Nkunda officers, the "kimbelembele" and the "kifuafua." Isn't that a problem, expressed for example in the tensions between Makenga, an Nkunda loyalist, and people like General Baudouin Ngaruye, a friend of Bosco?

Look, if our movement didn't have cohesion, we wouldn't be as efficient as we are today. These tensions did exist, but there are part of the past. We have been able to manage these tensions, even though our enemy knows they exist and has tried to manipulate them. We have a positive diversity, that is good for our movement. There are no internal contradictions.

Since you have been here in Goma, there have been many accusations of looting, the stealing of cars in particular. What do you say to this?

There has not been any looting. What happened is that the government in its flight left behind its vehicles, often hiding them in the compounds of private individuals. We needed to get these vehicles, but we set up an investigative commission to evaluate each case. The only thing we asked was to see the ownership documents. If they didn't have these documents, we took the vehicles. There were many cases when people came to us, showed us the documents and we gave them their cars.

Where do you go now?

The politicians are going back to Bunagana. The military will go to Kilimanyoka [just north of Goma]. The military headquarters will be in Kibumba.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Who is the M23?

I have been getting a lot of questions about the M23, its origins and goals. I suggest you read my recent report, written for the Rift Valley Institute's Usalama Project, on just that. For those interested in understanding the critical historical and social background to the conflict in North Kivu, you should also read our backgrounder. The French translations will be out soon.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Who is General Francois Olenga?

This post has been revised since it was first published. 

 Two days ago, President Kabila removed Major-General Gabriel Amisi as head of the Congolese land forces, one of the most powerful positions in the military. Amisi, aka Tango Four, was a well-known racketeer, who had made a fortune from kickbacks and embezzlement in the army, and who has also been cited for grave human rights abuses, including the May 2002 Kisangani massacre. Yesterday, Kabila named Lieutenant-General Francois Olenga as his replacement.

The rot in the Congolese army runs deep; naming a new commander will not change the way things are done. But we should still ask - who is Olenga?

Olenga, who is from the Kusu ethnic group of northern Maniema, emigrated to Europe when he was young, graduating from the University of Paris in 1972. He has been an important, if discrete player in Kinshasa since the days of Laurent Kabila. Leaving his home in Germany, where his family still lives (he speaks fluent German), he fought in the AFDL to topple Mobutu, taking advantage of his connections in eastern Europe to organize weapons shipments, which got him named as the head of logistics for the Congolese army in 1997. He kept up this role until recently, traveling often abroad to organize supplies for the Congolese army. In 2002, he was cited by a UN investigation for using money from the state MIBA diamond mining company to purchase weapons for the army. He has also been accused by local human rights groups of having killed a street child for stealing his phone.

This is not the first time Olenga has been head of the land forces. When Laurent Kabila was assassinated in January 2001, Olenga replaced Joseph Kabila as the commander in this position for two years, overseeing some of the most important operations against the Rwandan army. In this sense, Kabila is falling back on a trusted commander with experience in similar offensives. This morning, he was already inspecting troops on the front line in Minova.

In July 2005, Olenga was named as Inspector General of the army, a job he kept until last week. But this oversight body was never functional and Olenga kept a low profile.

Susan Rice and the M23 crisis

As the M23 crisis has unfolded in the eastern Congo, the US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice has emerged as a holdout within American foreign policy, a sort of minority report to the prevailing criticism of Rwanda and the M23.

The first indication of this emerged in June, when Rice delayed the publication of UN Group of Experts' interim report, insisting that Rwanda be given a chance to see the report first and respond. While these UN investigations are supposed to give the accused the opportunity to respond and explain––the Group says it was refused meetings by the Rwandan government, which Kigali denies––they rarely allow them to see the entire report before publication. In any case, the Group finally did brief a Rwandan delegation in New York in June in New York (unsurprisingly, the Rwandan rejected the report as flawed) and the report was released.

Rice emerged as skeptic within a State Department that had largely accepted Rwanda's role in backing the M23. Both Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson and Special Envoy Barry Walkley have told Kigali explicitly to stop supporting M23. According to sources within the Obama administration, Rice has weighed in during these conversations, even when they do not directly relate to the United Nations.

According to an international NGO that follows Security Council politics closely, "Rice isn't convinced that support is ongoing––maybe [there was some] in the past, but not now." Others point to her skepticism at the UN Group of Experts reports and their methodology.

Her latest controversial step was to block the explicit naming of Rwanda and Uganda in this week's UN Security Council resolution, condemning the M23 occupation of Goma. As in previous statements, the body demanded that "any and all outside support to the M23 cease immediately." Other Council members had wanted to name Rwanda explicitly, but Rice demurred, arguing that this would not be constructive in a process in which Rwanda must be part of the solution. Rice's supporters say that this was simply the official US position, and she was following orders from Washington.

Rice's relationship with Rwanda goes back to the Clinton administration, when she began her diplomatic career. She worked on the National Security Council from 1993 to 1997, rising to become the Senior Director for African Affairs. Infamously, she is quoted as having asked in a cabinet meeting during the Rwandan genocide what its impact would be on the mid-term congressional elections.

Guilt over her inaction during the genocide––when she was still in a more junior position––and frustration with first Mobutu and then Laurent Kabila fueled her sympathy toward Rwanda. By 1997, Rice had been named Assistant Secretary of State for Africa. When the Second Congo War broke out in 1998, Rice was at the helm of a US policy that, according to colleagues of her at the time, did not denounce Rwandan abuses or involvement in the eastern Congo during this period. As Howard Wolpe, the US Special Envoy at the time, told me about Rwandan involvement in this war: "We just didn't know what was going on, most of the reports about abuses were coming from the Catholic Church and we didn't know what to make of them." For many, including Rice, the Congolese government was corrupt and inept, Rwanda's was efficient and had good security imperatives to justify their involvement in the Congo. (An excellent, if controversial, account of this era is a 2002 article by Peter Rosenblum in Current History.)

Now, however, the predominant mood in the State Department seems to have shifted to become more critical of Rwandan interference in the Congo. Past wars have brought suffering and few solutions, the FDLR threat, while still present, is much diminished. 

Rice is now favored by President Obama to become the next Secretary of State, a choice that, according to a Rwandan official, "would make many in Kigali happy. Rice understand us."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The politics of the fait accompli

As the M23 engages in urban warfare in Goma (the latest news is that they have taken the town) one wonders what their strategy could be. While unfolding of the M23 rebellion has involved a lot of shooting from the hip––from all sides, including Kigali, the M23, and Kinshasa––one would imagine that by now, a strategy would have coalesced. So what is it?

In the past, I have speculated that it will be difficult for the M23 to conquer and hold territory, mostly due to their lack of manpower, which started off at around 400-700 and is probably around 1,500-2,500 now. They have been able to rely on Rwandan (and, to a lesser degree, Ugandan) firepower for operations close to the border (in particular Bunagana and Rutshuru, allegedly also this recent offensive), the farther into the interior they get, they harder it will be to mask outside involvement.

Alliances with other groups­­––Sheka, Raia Mutomboki, FDC, etc.––have acted as force multipliers, but have been very fickle, as the surrender of Col Albert Kahasha last week proved. From this perspective, the M23 strategy could well be more to nettle the government, underscore its ineptitude, and hope that it will collapse from within.

However, the recent offensive on Goma has made me consider another, bolder alternative. If the rebels take Goma, thereby humiliating the UN and the Congolese army, they will present the international community with a fait accompli. Yes, it will shine a sharp light on Rwandan involvement, but Kigali has been undeterred by donor pressure thus far, and has been emboldened by its seat on the Security Council. Also, as the looting by the Congolese army and their distribution of weapons to youths in Goma has shown, the battle for Goma is as much of a PR disaster for Kinshasa as for Kigali.

In any case, at least in the short term, if Goma falls, donors––and probably the Congolese government––will have no choice but to deal with the rebels and call on Rwanda to help. Already, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has called on President Kagame to “use his influence on the M23 to help calm the situation and restrain M23 from continuing their attack."

This is the magical and perverse logic of the fait accompli. Of course, this assumes that donors do not change tack and permanently cut aid to Rwanda. But this would not only go against entrenched aid bureaucracies, but also antagonize the only government that can quickly bring an end to the conflict.

This is just speculation for now. And it leaves many questions in suspense. Such as: take Goma as a stepping stone for what? Genuine talks or as an interlude to a further push (as the M23 have suggested) toward Bukavu? Although a Congolese delegation has reportedly flown to Kampala to negotiate discretely, I still have a hard time envisioning a compromise between the two sides. Just try to imagine Sultani Makenga and Bosco Ntaganda integrated back into the army as generals and you will know what I mean.

Thoughts are welcome.

What's going on in Goma - a timeline

This article has been updated.

 The escalation we've all been fearing has taken place. How did this unfold? Here is a rough timeline, including some possibly unrelated events:
  • Sunday, November 11:
    • Belgium halts its small military cooperation plan with Rwanda and says it wants to push for further sanctions against the country;
  • Monday, November 12:
    • The Ugandan government, under fire for supporting the M23, closes its Bunagana border post, where the rebels had been gathering tax revenue;
  • Tuesday, November 13:
    • One of the main allies of the M23, Colonel Albert "Fokka Mike" Kahasha surrenders in Bukavu with thirty-five other soldiers;
  • Wednesday, November 14: 
    • The US Treasury and the United Nations put Sultani Makenga on their sanctions lists;
  • Thursday, November 15: 
    • Fighting begins in Kibumba, 30km north of Goma, bringing an end to the three month-long ceasefire. Kibumba was the main defensive position for Goma, and the Congolese army, which had dug in here with several thousand troops, initially pushed back the M23. There were reports from the United Nations of heavy casualties on the rebel side;
  • Saturday, November 17: 
    • The M23 launches an early morning offensive and succeeds at pushing back the Congolese army, despite support from UN attack helicopters. According to the local civil society, foreign journalists on the ground and the Congolese army, the Rwandan army participated in this offensive, crossing the border around Kabuhanga or Kasizi. This attack also put the 16,000 households in the Kanyaruchina IDP camp on the run toward Goma;
    • At the same time, the M23 pushed back Congolese army positions in Kalengera and Mabenga, two different front lines 30km and 60km north of Kibumba, respectively. The Congolese army was reported to have used local militia here to tie down M23 positions;
    • The UN Security Council condemns the M23 offensive and warns them not to take Goma. Other diplomats follow suit, including the US, the UK and the EU;
  • Sunday, November 18: 
    • The fighting reaches Goma, with M23 infiltrating units behind the front lines, giving the impression that the Congolese army is being attacked from behind. "Tunavipata kwa kifua na matako," one officer told me. (We're getting it in the chest and the buttocks);
    • The Congolese opposition leader Vital Kamerhe calls for negotiations with the M23.
    • A high-level Congolese military delegation arrives in Goma, along with reinforcements from South Kivu;
    • After the Kibumba defeat, the morale of the Congolese army plummets and several units take to looting in Goma;
  •  Monday, November 19:
    • Fighting escalates in Goma, as Congolese army units withdraw from parts town, briefly giving M23 control;
    • In frustration, the Congolese army lobs mortars across the border, killing several Rwandan civilians. Unconfirmed reports suggests that Rwanda responded in kind, hitting several locations––including a gas station––in Goma;
    • Various reliable sources, including the UN, suggest that Rwandan army troops briefly cross the border, but withdraw by nightfall;
    • Several eyewitnesses see the Congolese army distributing weapons to youths or militiamen from Masisi as army units flee town;
    • The M23 call for Goma to be demilitarized and for negotiations with the government. The government refuses, but there are rumors that a high-level delegation left Kinshasa for Kampala;
    • The French government is due to propose a Security Council resolution that would probably include condemnation of Rwanda;
  • Tuesday, November 20:
    • The Congolese army redeploys in most of Goma, including at the airport and by the border, while fighting continues in town.
    • By 2pm, however, the M23 had advanced to control the airport and much of the town.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Fighting north of Goma - the end of the ceasefire?

Fighting began early this morning north of Goma, around the Congolese army's defensive positions in Kibumba. According to various sources––including the Congolese army and the UN peacekeeping mission––the M23 launched the attack, pushing down toward Goma. While the M23 deny this, saying they had been provoked, there have been M23 troop movements observed in the past days that suggest that they had been preparing an attack.

We know that, at least for now, the offensive was pushed back by the Congolese army. But it's more difficult to figure out casualties. The North Kivu governor told the press that 44 M23 soldiers had died, and UN sources report having seen over a dozen bodies on the front lines.

Kibumba is the Congolese's army's main defensive position to the north of Goma, around 25 kilometers from the provincial capital. Under the command of Colonel Somo, one of the Belgian-trained officers, there are now reportedly over 3,000 army troops deployed in the surroundings, many of them dug into trenches. The Congolese army was quick to boast of its success, also claiming that they had been attacked from the Rwandan border at the town of Kasizi, just east of Kibumba.

It would appear that we are heading toward the end of ceasefire. While there have been skirmishes in Masisi and Rusthuru in recent weeks, these appear to have involved proxy groups on both sides––Mai-Mai working in collaboration with the Congolese army north and east of Rutshuru town, and M23 allies in central and northern Masisi. This appears to have been the first major fighting directly between M23 and the Congolese army in several months.

This does not mean that these other allies are quieting down––at the same time as the Kibumba fighting took place, there were reports that forces allied to the Congolese army pushed toward Rutshuru town from the north, coming into Mabenga village, with shooting heard as far south as Kiwanja. Also, fighting has been reported to the north of Bunagana on the Ugandan border since Saturday, some local sources suggest that this may be local Hutu militia, that are working in collaboration with the Congolese army.

The M23 has also been using its alliances––on Monday, a coalition of Sheka Mai-Mai and local militiamen allied to the M23 pushed the Congolese army out of Pinga, in northern Masisi territory, after killing several soldiers. And M23 allies, led by FDLR defector 'Colonel' Mandevu and ex-CNDP Colonel Eric Badege, have been nettling army positions in central Masisi, around Kilolirwe, in recent weeks.

This use of (often unreliable, ramshackle) allies on both sides is dangerous, as it brings the fighting to civilians and undermines any semblance of chain of command.

It is unclear whether the fighting today marks the end of the ceasefire that has held for several months as talks have been pursued in Kampala. But rumors were circulating today, especially within the Tutsi community in Goma, that M23 will be trying to take the town. Not the first time such rumors have been spread––and the M23 are known to use psychological warfare––but a warning that should be heeded, nonetheless.

Monday, November 12, 2012

From the CNDP to M23

Last week, we published a report on M23, tracing its roots back through the CNDP to deeper history. What is the take home message from the report?

The CNDP (2004-2009) and the M23 (2012-) emerged out of the failures of the Congolese peace process. The negotiations that began in Lusaka in 1999 and culminated in the Accord global et inclusif in 2002 succeeded in unifying the country, but also disadvantaged one of the strongest belligerents. The Rwandan-backed RCD went from controlling a third of the country to 2-4 per cent representation in national institutions. In response, elites in Goma and Kigali created the CNDP, led by Laurent Nkunda, to maintain leverage on Kinshasa and to protect their interests in the East. These interests are varied, and include economic investments, security fears, and the general perception that North Kivu lies within Rwanda's sphere of interest.

These movements draw on deep historical grievances, but are propelled mainly by military and political elites. The CNDP and M23 are led mostly by Congolese Tutsi and have deep roots in this community. Especially during CNDP times, there were mobilization cells across the region, and even in the US and Europe, that gathered funds and represented the movement. There is no doubt that many in this community saw the CNDP as a vital protection against an abusive and often xenophobic state. However, the main instigators were Congolese Tutsi officers––people like Nkunda, Bosco, and Makenga––and, in particular, the government in Kigali. Interviews with dozens of ex-CNDP officers show clearly that, while the CNDP maintained a large degree of autonomy from its Rwandan allies, Kigali was crucial in the creation of the group in 2004-2006 and then in leading it to the gates of Goma in October 2008. During the M23, this influence has become even more decisive, as Kigali stepped in to prop up a foundering mutiny in April 2012 and has been a key factor in all its military offensives.

The CNDP and M23 are Tutsi-led movements; this does not mean that community is united or a puppet of Rwanda. Many Congolese lump all Tutsi together, from both sides of the border. It is true that many Congolese Tutsi fought for the RPF's in Rwanda's civil war (1990-1994), and have featured prominently in all Rwandan-backed rebellions in the Congo. But deep tensions have emerged between Congolese Tutsi and the RPF. Many of the former have a deep sense of belonging in the Congo, and feel that the RPF has not looked after their interests. An example of this was the Murekezi mutiny of 11 November 1997 (exactly 15 years ago), which pitted Congolese Tutsi against the RPF, as well as similar mutinies in South Kivu. These tensions have grown, and the M23 seems to be a turning point in relations. A majority of Congolese Tutsi officers have refused to join the mutiny, and have been used by Kinshasa in the front line against the M23. Even those who have joined the M23, such as Sultani Makenga and even Bosco Ntaganda, often have difficult relations with Kigali––the arrest of Nkunda by the RDF in 2009 created mistrust among top CNDP officers, especially the Makenga wing.

The M23 has a much narrower social base than previous movements. The cornerstone of Rwanda's strategy between 1998-2003 was to create a communal alliance between Banyarwanda in the eastern Congo, if possible extending it to other groups, as well. Thus, Congolese Hutu and Banyamulenge (Tutsi from South Kivu) featured prominently in the RCD. When the CNDP was created in 2004-2006, Rwanda and Nkunda tried to revive this alliance. This strategy, however, failed, with Hutu strongman Eugène Serufuli leading the defection of several thousand Hutu soldiers from the CNDP in 2005-6. The M23 has an even narrower base––aside from a few officers, the military leadership is almost entirely Tutsi, with very few Hutu or Banyamulenge joining. (The group has a very multi-ethnic political wing, but few of these leaders have much legitimacy in their communities, with the somewhat bizarre exception of the Nande).

The group's strategy relies more on creating instability than on taking and controlling territory. Precisely because the group has a narrow social base, it has been hard pressed to take much territory. Besides the lack of cross-ethnic alliances, the group had a manpower problem––they started off with 300–700 men, and have since grown to 1,500-2,500. Despite military backing from Uganda and Rwanda (whose troops do not want to venture too far from their borders), this makes conquering and holding territory difficult. The group has therefore relied on a web of alliances with other Congolese groups. But, since their historical Hutu and Banyamulenge allies have refused to go along, the M23 have sought out more opportunistic alliances, often among communities that are historically deeply anti-Rwandan. These alliances––the Raia Mutomboki, Sheka's group, the FDC, Bede Rusagara, Mbusa Nyamwisi––are volatile, as many of the groups have no love lost for the M23 or Rwanda, but their interests (fighting against Kinshasa) happen to converge for now. The M23 will not be able to use these alliances to conquer territory, but rather to highlight the derelict nature of the Congolese state and the need for a change of leadership in Kinshasa.

Absent a credible political process, there is likely to be further escalation. The only political channel currently open is through the ICGLR, chaired by Uganda, and which is proposing the deployment of a neutral force to 'eradicate' the M23 and FDLR. Since the Ugandan government, however, has backed the M23, and few countries seem willing to staff or fund the neutral force, this initiative is unlikely to succeed. Kinshasa's strategy, on the other hand, relies on donors putting pressure on Rwanda and Uganda––but donors are reluctant to do so without channeling their pressure into a larger political process. Since the sticks available are limited––the Congolese army is weak and donors are unlikely to lead––the solution will have to pass, at least in part, through negotiations.

A long-term solution will have to grapple with systemic issues. In order for this kind of compromise to be successful, and not to return us to a volatile 2009-style agreement, systemic issues will have to be dealt with. Kigali will have to accept a much-diminished ex-CNDP force in the Kivus, while Kinshasa will have to strengthen its institutions and reassure the Tutsi community. Various policy options should be considered––none of them easy or straight-forward––including decentralization, cross-border economic projects, land reform, and the complete overhaul of the stabilization program for the Kivus. Donors, on their part, can no longer separate Rwanda's admirable development successes from its interference in the Congo. (I will be blogging more in detail on these policy options).  

Sunday, November 4, 2012

What is the Usalama Project?

As you may have seen (see previous post), the Rift Valley Institute just launched the Usalama Project, which will publish a dozen reports on armed factions in the eastern Congo over the next year.

So what's this project about?

There are plenty of opinions about the conflict in the Congo, and some excellent policy research on human rights, security sector reform, and governance. However, despite the grinding violence, there is relatively little information out there on the main belligerents. Who are the M23, Raia Mutomboki and Mai-Mai Yakutumba? Why are they fighting and who supports them? Perhaps most importantly, why has conflict died down in some areas of the Congo, such as Ituri and northern Katanga, while it has escalated again in the Kivus?

There have been some answers to these questions, most notably in the reports by the United Nations Group of Experts. But their mandate is limited to reporting on material support networks - taxes, cash contributions, recruitment and military backing. They do not seek to understand the social or historical forces that drive these groups, or - more importantly - their interests and motivations. Other organizations - such as diplomatic missions or the UN peacekeeping mission - compile extensive profiles of armed groups, but do not publish any of their information.

The Usalama Project tries to step into this gap. We are a group of local and foreign researchers, compiling information largely via in-depth interviews with the actors involved in the conflict. For this report on the M23 and CNDP, for example, we interviewed over fifty military officers, politicians, businessmen and civil society leaders who had personal connections with these groups. Some of these interviews span days and take up to ten hours.

We understand these groups as arising out of particular social circumstances - some are driven by elite interest groups, others form as grassroots self-defense groups. All draw on, albeit in different ways, a long history of conflict in the region, in which state weakness, the manipulation of identity, and natural resources such as land and minerals have played key roles. Look out for our backgrounders on conflict - the first of which was released on Friday - that flesh out these histories.

In the coming weeks, we will have our own site within the RVI website, where we will post biographies of leaders, key documents on the conflict, and transcripts of some of the interviews. We also will be welcoming feedback on our reports, including constructive criticism. In line with the Rift Valley Institute's ethos, Usalama is not advocacy organization, but seeks rather to inform. In this line, we will put forward policy suggestions, but these are supposed to stimulate debate, not posture as end-all solutions.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Introducing: The Usalama Project



The Rift Valley Institute's Usalama Project is delighted to announce the launch of the first two reports in a series of publications on armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). You can download both reports from our website.

The first Usalama report is an account of the origins and trajectory of the new M23 rebellion and its alleged relationship with the Rwandan government. The second report traces the deeper history of conflict in the CNDP's and M23's stronghold, North Kivu province.
From CNDP to M23: The evolution of an armed movement in Eastern Congo
The first report explores the roots of the latest rebellion in the eastern DRC. It also discusses the implications of the rebellion for Rwanda and Uganda, who have been accused by the UN Group of Experts on the DRC and by Human Rights Watch of aiding and abetting the M23. 'Despite the Congolese army's sporadically strong resistance, well-armed M23 soldiers have dealt it several humiliating defeats and are trying to assemble a broad coalition with other armed groups in the region,' says the report author, Usalama Project director Jason Stearns. 'This crisis has the potential to destabilize the eastern DRC, as well as the government in Kinshasa, and has set in motion social and political dynamics that will be hard to reverse.'

North Kivu: The background to conflict in  North Kivu province of eastern Congo 
The second Usalama Project report describes the historical context of the current conflict in the eastern DRC. The province has been the epicentre of war in the DRC and has generated a multitude of armed groups, with more than two dozen emerging over the past two decades. It was here that the precursors to the Congo wars began with ethnic violence in 1993, and it is here that the most formidable challenges to stability in the country persist today. The report sketches the historical backdrop to these conflicts, describing their social, political, and economic dynamics.
We hope you enjoy these first two reports. The third, The PARECO coalition and Hutu resistance in North Kivu, is due for publication in early December. Further reports on the armed groups of North Kivu, South Kivu, and Ituri will be published at regular intervals during 2013. Please feel free to circulate these reports among colleagues and friends. French versions will follow in late November.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Guest blog: The Gordian knot of identity-based conflicts in the Kivus: the case of the chefferie of the Ruzizi Plain

This is a guest blog by Judith Verweijen, a PhD candidate at the Center for Conflict Studies at Utrecht University. She has spent several years living among and studying armed groups in the eastern Congo, especially in the Uvira-Fizi area.

 In his recent post on the possible spread of the M23 rebellion into South Kivu, Jason mentioned the attack on the military base of Luberizi in the Ruzizi Plain in Uvira territory. This attack was at first ascribed to one of the two parties of an ongoing conflict around the chefferie  (customary chiefdom), of the Ruzizi Plain, pitting Barundi (perceived as belonging to the “rwandophone” camp) against Bafuliiru (self-styled “autochthones”). 

The intensification of this conflict – which is decades old – dates back to April this year, when the mwami (traditional paramount chief) Floribert Nsabimana Ndabagoye of the Barundi was killed, leading to protests and violent incidents. When the Luberizi army camp, which lies at the heart of this chefferiewas attacked this month, it was immediately assumed that it was related to this conflict.  It was only later established that the events were the work of armed groups related to M23. 

However, one of the two groups cited as responsible for the attack, that of Mufuliiru Major Bede Rusagara, is believed to be also implicated in the conflicts surrounding the killing of the mwami.  Born in Mutarule, at a stone’s throw from Luberizi, Bede started his military career in the Mai-Mai of Col. Baudouin Nyakabaka.  He was subsequently co-opted by the RCD, then briefly served in the CNDP, and eventually integrated into the FARDC.  At the start of 2011,he deserted in order to form his own armed group in the hills near Kahanda, close to his home village. Given this past, it is not surprising that he is described by local sources as un aventurier (an opportunist, a brigand). 

Bede is the cousin of Bike Rusagara, who was acting Chief of the Ruzizi Plain at the moment the murder occurred. That this post was assumed by a Mufuliiru is related to the turbulent history of the chefferie.  In 2004, when Ndabagoye was in Kinshasa, where he served as Member of the Transitional Parliament for the RCD, a Mufuliiru was installed as mwami (allegedly with the help of Col. Nyakabaka, current Deputy Commander of the 10th Military Region). Since then, repeated attempts of the Barundi chief to resume power have failed. 

What then, is at the root of this conflict? And what is the relevance of taking a closer look at these seemingly never-ending quarrels between ethnic groups? Firstly, the story of the chefferie of the Ruzizi Plain shows how much conflicts around local administration and access to land continue to be defined in ethnic terms, often along the “ autochthone/rwandophone” divide. Secondly, it illustrates how easily more localized conflicts become linked to larger conflicts that play out at the provincial, national or sub-regional levels. Thirdly, the conflict around the chefferie of the Ruzizi Plain elucidates the ease with which power conflicts between civilian actors become militarized, in the face of the omnipresence of armed factions. This sounds, I am sure, very abstract, so let me explain.

As the name indicates, the Barundi are a people whose origins can be traced back to Burundi. They moved into what is now the Congo in the course of the 19th century. At that time, there were no international boundaries, population movements were ongoing, and not all territories were permanently inhabited or controlled by local chiefs.  In general, the organization of power was not always rigidly delineated in a territorial sense, as it was mostly tied to control over people. When the colonial authorities arrived, they started to drastically reorganize the local administration in Uvira, regrouping various chiefs and their clans into bigger groups, delineating administrative boundaries, and eventually creating a system of chefferies headed by paramount chiefs.  The Barundi too were granted their own chefferie-secteur. However, in the immediate post-independence era  of the 1960s, when the Mulele rebellion rocked the area of Uvira, the Bafuliiru started to claim control over the chefferie of the Barundi.  They said it had been unjustly awarded by the colonial authorities, as the Barundi were “foreigners”, who had immigrated to a piece of land of which the Bafuliiru claimed to be the original inhabitants. However, if one reads the history of the Ruzizi Plain, as documented for example by professor Bosco Muchukiwa, it becomes clear that these claims are based on a rather selective reading of history. 

What makes these conflicts so explosive is that, at various times in history, they have become linked to events at the national or sub-regional level, often reinforcing the autochton/foreigner fault lines.  This was for example the case in the era of the RCD rebellion (1998-2003), when the mwami of the Barundi, under siege by the Bafuliiru Mai-Mai, allied himself to the RCD.  More recently, the reorganization of the armed opposition in Burundi and the M23 rebellion have kindled similar dynamics. Just after the assassination of the mwami, the Barundi were first accused of seeking reinforcements from Burundian armed groups and mercenaries across the border. This is not strange, given that fighters thought to be linked to the FNL, but also to other Burundian armed opposition groups that operate on a near-permanent basis in Uvira territory.  For their part, it was thought that the Bafuliiru had sought reinforcement from Bede’s group, whereas some also cited the implication of a local defense militia created by mwami Ndare Simba of the Bafuliiru. (Interestingly, the latter recently lost the elections, in which he ran as an independent candidate, and is said to try to use the current upheaval to restore some of his eroded popularity).

The M23 rebellion has given a new twist to this conflict.  As said, Bede is believed to be associated with this group, which is not strange given his ex-CNDP background. However, whereas the M23 are uniquely associated with rwandophones, Bede is believed to defend the autochthone (Fuliiru) side in the conflict in the Ruzizi Plain. This shows the complexity of the political and military dynamics of the Kivus, and that we can not assume divides to mechanistically follow identity-based lines. This is also illustrated by the fact that the Banyamulenge, an ethnic Tutsi group, have thus far overwhelming resisted any overtures from the Tutsi-led M23 (except the small fringe of Nkingi Muhima, mentioned in Jason’s blogpost).  Similarly seemingly unnaturalcoalitions have emerged in Masisi, where Hutu have allied with the government, while some Tembo groups – who traditionally label themselves anti-Rwanda – have established shaky alliances with the M23.

Hence, conflicts in the Kivus continue to be the product of multiple socio-economic, political, and military developments, of which (ethnic) identities are but one dimension.  Whereas this makes things immensely volatile, given the resulting constantly changing alliances, the good news is perhaps that it demonstrates that self-styled autochthones and rwandophones are by no means automatically opposed to each other (although some would call cross-ethnic alliances mostly opportunistic). Rather, identity-based alliances, and to a lesser extent identities, continue to be relatively flexible.  Although perhaps in a distant future, this could eventually serve as a basis for a society where identities are less polarized and ethnicity plays a less pronounced role in social interactions.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The stakes of the Kampala summit

For the fourth time in three months, the eleven countries from the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICLGR) will meet in Kampala tomorrow. Their discussions will focus on ways to deal with the crisis in the eastern Congo, in particular the creation of a neutral force.

Preliminary meetings have already begun - various UN and AU delegations have spoken with ICLGR's military advisors, and a report from the Joint Verification Mechanism (JVM) is being provided. A diplomat attending the summit told me that they will need some more time for the military planning, and a Military Assessment Team (MAT) will apparently brief the ICLGR again on October 24-25.

The mood in Kampala is skeptical - the meeting comes on the heels of the mini-summit organization on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York on September 27. Little concrete came out of the summit, and the UN said that the neutral force idea would have to be further refined for it to receive the backing of the UN Security Council.

Meanwhile, relations between the Congo and Rwanda have reached a new low. Kagame, in an interview with TIME and a speech in front of parliament, has described Kabila's government as "ideologically bankrupt" (along with the M23), and "does not respect or work for its citizens." He has also accused Kinshasa of incorporating genocidaires into his army. A member of the Congolese delegation, on the other hand, has said the Rwandans weren't acting in good faith during the negotiations, taking the M23's side (Kagame has said publicly that there needs to be a political solution, the M23's demands need to be listened to).

But the biggest obstacles to the so-called neutral force are logistical: Until now, only Tanzania has pledged troops, and even then it is unclear whether those troops would accept to conduct risky counterinsurgency operations in the mountains and jungles of the Kivus. And no one has figured out how to finance the force - while many African countries are enthusiastic about it, the funding would mostly likely come from western donors, who are largely skeptical.

While the Congolese and the M23 have had some informal contacts in Kampala, both sides are already planning for further military operations. The Congolese have moved thousands of troops to the Kivus for reinforcement, and the M23 have trained  hundreds of new recruits in recent months. The Congolese have also reached out to southern African countries for bilateral military support, and there are suggestions (largely coming from Kinshasa) that the Angolans and South Africans might be willing to back them if push comes to shove.