Some thoughts and facts about the ongoing problems in the DRC (Part 2)

8 Feb

Old Ekonda woman 

Trouble in the Kivu’s                                                                                                                                      

About M23, ADF-Nalu, the FDLR

According to some of my sources at the frontline in North-Kivu the FARDC is doing rather well for the moment in the battle against the ADF-Nalu, a militia of Ugandan rebels that found shelter in the region a couple of years ago.  But most of the analysts agree on the fact that the Congolese government missed out on the occasion to sign a long lasting peace agreement with the Rwandophone Tutsi-community in the province after the defeat of the M23 movement.  Everybody agrees on the fact that the cause of the conflict between the Bagogwe’s (Congolese Tutsi’s from North-Kivu) and the central government in Kinshasa has not been discussed or solved.  And this will instigate  new problems in the coming future.  Everybody knows as well that the M23 could never have been defeated without the active support of the Rapid Intervention Force of the MONUC (the UN force in the DRC). Add to that that the M23 could not count any longer on the active support of the neighboring countries Rwanda en Uganda and the picture gets completer.  The movement was founded on the remaining bricks of the little Congolese Tutsi empire of general Laurent Nkunda who had been put under house arrest in Gisenyi (Rwanda). And  after an assassination attempt on Sultani Makenga, an ex general of Nkunda who had been incorporated into the FARDC. Makenga escaped and fled to the hills of Masisi.  M23 started with only a couple of rebels but two to three weeks later its ranks swelled with hundreds of unhappy Tutsi and Hutu fighters.  They were all extremely unhappy about their treatment in the FARDC, the fact that the army would like to send them away from their families in Masisi and Rutshuru, the fact that the Rwandophone community in the Kivus became the subject of severe discrimination and the fact that their families in Rwanda who had fled the DRC when the former Rwandan Hutu army of president Habyarimana (FAR) and the Interahamwe militia (the militia that was the main perpetrator of the Rwandan genocide) started chasing and killing Tutsi’s in Masisi, Rutshuru and in South-Kivu.  These people have always sought to return to Congo but most of their land and properties have been stolen by other ethnical groups such as the Hunde, the Nande en by Congolese Hutu’s.  This is an important thing to know and I believe it is very wrong of most of the nowadays authors about this conflict to deny these facts.

It is also a fact that the problems in the area already started before the Rwandan genocide of 1994 when president Mobutu granted large pieces of land that belonged  to Congolese Tutsi’s to the Rwandan president Habyarimana and its followers of the extremist MRND-party.  Together with Congolese Hutu’s the Rwandan Hutu’s organized  the first pogroms against Congolese Tutsi’s in 1991 and in 1993.  These pogroms were later on called the Magrevi-insurgency.  As a result of this a lot of young Bagogwe-Tutsi’s joined the RPF of Paul Kagame in Rwanda. They left Congo with one big idea in their minds: to help liberate  Rwanda and to return afterwards to their villages in the Congolese Kivu’s to correct this situation.  The grass roots of the current conflict in the region can be found here and also in the fact that most of the Congolese Tutsi’s have been living in this area for ages and that their land has been cut up by the Berlin Conference at the end of the 19th century. Another vague of Tutsi’s arrived in Congo after 1959 when they had to flee Rwanda after the independence of the country. But these Tutsi’s settled down in cities such as Goma and Bukavu.  Until now the  problem of the full recognition or the Tutsi’s as Congolese  has not been solved.  And the recent victory of the FARDC hasn’t solved it either.

The offensive against M23

I happened to be present in Goma when the offensive against the M23 started and although I was not there to cover these events I witnessed some of the euphoria that most of the top brass Monusco-officials and generals were expressing .  This feeling was shared by most of the foreign journalists present on the spot.  They told me that this was an historical moment for Congo: the army had found its second breath and was now able to chase of the Rwandans. But this was all too simplistic to me.  First of all I knew that the M23 rebels were not Rwandans, secondly because it struck me that they were redrawing so fast. The M23 movement made serious mistakes while running their liberated area in North-Kivu by mismanagement, human rights abuses and sheer structural and amateurish leadership. But it was clear to me that by pushing the movement out of the country the cause of the conflict would not be solved.  The M23 might have lost its weapons during the battle but most of the rebels made it safely into Uganda where they found shelter in several camps. When  the war was over the government in Kinshasa didn’t even see utility to discuss a longer lasting peace deal. This was a mistake, a big mistake !   Especially because most of the foreign military analysts that were roaming the region freely at that moment were very clear about one thing: Monusco and the FARDC had been able to brush out the M23 without too many problems because the major sponsor of the rebels, Rwanda, had officially and practically stopped all its support to the movement.  Several sources inside Rwanda and Uganda were  confirming this. They told me that Monusco had given their word that after the war against M23 the FDLR would be next in line to be attacked.  This seemed a very plausible explanation to me because a couple of years before Kagame had done the same with Laurent Nkunda. René Abandi, an M23 official , even told me when the offensive was already ongoing for a couple of days that a withdrawal into Uganda would be the only option given the fact that the rebels could not stand up against tanks, gunships and artillery. According to him MONUSCO even had small guard post inside the M23 area that were informing the FARDC of all the M23 movements. And the M23 wasn’t even permitted to take them out. So the battle was uneven and the M23 had already decided to sit it out in Uganda. Abandi wasn’t happy at all that the Rwandans had cut their aid previously.

But the outside world does not seem to believe that the Rwandans cut their support to Makenga’s movement.  I even met Martin Kobler at the breakfast table of a very nice hotel in Goma and he laughed away my arguments with a big smile. For this man it was clear that by pushing out the M23 the bad reputation of the UN in the region would be cleaned up once and for all.  Today he’s telling the international press that the M23 rebels in Uganda are still a threat for a longer lasting peace in the region and that the rebels might come back.  Several confidential papers the UN is distributing today contain reports about phantom M23 rebels that are being seen all over the place: in the surroundings of the Kavumu airport in Bukavu and in Masisi. The UN is relaying for nearly 100 % on FARDC-sources, sources that can hardly be credible. Kobler is even proposing that the rebels should be brought back from Uganda. But how will all this be possible without peace talks ?  The UN might have been able to help the FARDC to push out the rebels but the organization messed up big time by failing to convince the government in Kinshasa to discuss a solid peace deal.   Analysts agree that Monusco missed the chance to arrange a problem that has been causing havoc in the region for years and that will cause a lot of damage in the years to come.  They backboned and offensive of the government to push out a rebel group but they didn’t manage to oblige this government to settle the matter on paper once and for all.  People like Nkunda and Makenga were once supported by the Rwandans because they were using them as a buffer against possible FDLR-infiltrations but so far nothing has been done to neutralize this threat. The Congolese Tutsi refugees are still in Rwanda and other problems haven’t been discussed either.

For the Tutsi community in the DRC and in Rwanda one thing has become very clear: to them the UN has positioned itself once more at the wrong side of the fence and they’ll have to take care of their interests themselves.  During these events several Baynamulenge officers and soldiers (Tutsi’s from South-Kivu) who were fighting in FARDC ranks against the M23 were executed (FARDC considered them to be spies), after and during the fighting several Tutsi’s were arrested in the liberated villages and deported to Kinshasa and the manhunt on Tutsi’s in the rest of the country is still ongoing. During the clashes in Kinshasa on the 30th of December one of the hotels where cast out Banyamulenge officers were lodged was machine gunned by the Presidential Guard of Kabila. Last week a former minister of Kabila of Rwandophone origin has been arrested without any reason. Other Tutsi’s who chose already several years ago to collaborate with the Kabila’s and who are having important jobs in the army or the government administration are being threaded with sms-messages. Some of them even can’t leave Kinshasa any more.  One can hardly call this a good atmosphere to convince ex rebels in Uganda to return home and to comply with the regime in Kinshasa. According to my sources the Intore war drums (drums of ancient Tutsi warriors) are making a lot of noise in circles of the Bagogwe and it seems that their sounds can also be heard in the mountains of Minembwe and Mulenge, the home base of the Banyamulenge. The word is out to lay low for a while and to strike back when the moment is ripe.  Just a couple of days ago the Congolese government announced that M23 could count on an amnesty.  A couple of phone calls to Uganda made it clear to me that most of them do not trust this: they are receiving disturbing messages from Kinshasa, Goma and Bukavu and they prefer to stay were they are now.


Another important factor to illustrate the failure of the Monusco approach is the fact that the FDLR-militia has not been challenged yet by Monusco and FARDC forces.  After the defeat of the M23 movement the Congolese government pointed its arrows on the ADF-Nalu rebel force in the northern part of the province.  The reason for this can be twofold: first of all because the FDLR is considered by the UN as a much harder nut to crack as the M23.  The FDLR dispersed itself over big parts of North- and South-Kivu. The second reason might be that the Americans, in their paranoia about Muslim extremists (they think that some Shebab elements from Somalia and some Sudanese Muslim fighters are fighting in the ranks of ADF-Nalu),  pushed the FARDC into that action.  Despite the fact that the big hero from the war against the M23, colonel Mamadou Ndala, was killed by his own FARDC-colleagues in an ambush and that Ndala was initially in charge of the offensive against the Ugandan rebels,  the offensive appears to go well.  But the outside world is waiting for the day that the FARDC will attack the FDLR.  Last week Martin Kobler came out with another statement that the next priority of Monusco would be the neutralization of the Bakata Katanga – Mayi Mayi movement in the south of the country. Everybody knows that several big foreign companies invested big time in the province to exploit copper and other minerals and one can image that there is a lot of pressure on Monusco and the Congolese government to straighten out the situation in the south. Even when Kobler is proclaiming that the FDLR will be taken are off  soon there are no visible signs that he’ll be able to keep his promise. The offensive against these extremist Hutu’s  seems further off than ever before.  For the Rwandan government this was one of the conditions to stop helping the M23 rebels in Congo and the Tutsi rebels who fled to Uganda still continue to see the FDLR as a threat to their families and their properties in the Masisi area and in the Rutshuru plains.

The FDLR leadership came out with a statement that it will stop all its hostilities against Rwanda and against other militia’s in the DRC.  But so far not a single FDLR rebel has put down his weapon.  According to several contacts within the ranks of the movement the guerrilla’s will only do this if the international community convinces the Rwandan government start up a dialogue. It has also became clear that other Rwandan opposition groups such as the organization of general Kayumba Nymamwasa (dissident Rwandan Tutsi’s) and a Rwandan Hutu party that is in close contact with the former prime minister of Rwanda Faustin Twagiramungu have sought contact with the FDLR to set up a political opposition front against Kagame’s RPF.  The chances that the Rwandan government will be accepting this are very slim: to them the FDLR are the Rwandan version of the German SS, Kayumba a traitor and Twagiramungu a frustrated drunk.  According to my sources in Kigali the government would be ready to start up a dialogue with more moderate opposition groups (Victoire Ingabire is in jail in Rwanda but some collaborators of Kagame hinted to me that there could be an opening towards her party to start up a dialogue). But that would depend on what will happen in the DRC with the FDLR. As long as the Congolese defense flank will remain open and uncertain my sources tell me that Kagame will not engage in an open dialogue with the Rwandan opposition. For this man the risk that these extremist Hutu’s, with the moral support on the international community, will be able to constitute a bridge head in the north-west of the country is too big. The Rwandans also  tell me that  a big part of the FDLR has already been integrated into the FARDC and/or befriended militia’s such as the Pareco and the Nyatura.  According to them local Congolese leaders such as Julien Paluku (governor of North-Kivu) and Seraphin Serafuli (ex governor of North-Kivu) would have a big hand in all this.  As a resume one could say that nobody believes in a real neutralization of the FDLR. Especially not because they were already integrated for a part in the FARDC.  That might also be the reason why Kobler is pushing this problem further and further away and that the Monusco wants to look first at other conflicts in the country: if the FDLR problem would have to be faced he would have to take on the Congolese government who has been using this militia in the past several times to defend its interests. And the FDLR will also think twice to leave the jungle: about ten years ago they already did that once:  a lot of their fighters were brought to Kamina and disarmed and flown back to Rwanda.  Although the FDLR-commanders are calling their FARDC-colleagues ‘blood brothers’ and ‘comrades in arms’ (internal documents confirm this)  they don’t trust the Congolese government either !

The fact that the Rapid Intervention Force of Monusco is mainly composed of troops from Tanzania and South Africa is not doing well to its cause  either.  The president of Tanzania is known to be in favor of a solution in which Kagame starts up negotiations with the extremist Hutu’s in the DRC.  Rumors are being spread in the Kivu and in Rwanda that he’s hosting several FDLR leaders in Tanzania and that he’s facilitating the movements of general Kayumba’s followers. South Africa is hosting general Kayumba and the latter Patrick Karegeya who was killed there recently in a hotel room.  Kayumba is one of the biggest opponents of Kagame. It is a very strange thing that Karegeya was killed just a couple of days before the press conference of Faustin Twagiramungu that a political front was in the making between Kayumba’s followers, the FDLR and some other Hutu groups. In all the Skype conversations I had with Patrick Karegeya and during the rare occasions that I met him in South-Africa during the last couple of years he always told me that he was a fierce opponent of a possible collaboration with the FDLR.

About the UN report of experts

I also believe that this is a missed occasion. Instead of calling a cow a cow and a horse a horse the report seems to be an excellent example of political advocacy to justify some of the wrongdoings of the UN in the DRC. I agree that it is may be too easy to criticize the work of the UN and I’m convinced of the motivation and the good intentions of most of its staff in the DRC but an organization like this spends so much of our tax money deserves to be scrutinized.

I think the most important mistake the researchers made is the fact that they completely bypassed the reality of the region by calling some of the M23 rebels Rwandans and others Congolese.  Most of the Tutsi-rebels consider  themselves Bagogwe’s and the Bagagwe clan has been living for ages in the area north of Rwanda (from Ruhengeri and Byumba towards to Congolese and the Ugandan borders), the central part of the Masisi area in Congo (from the plains in and around Goma to Sake, up to Kilolirrwe, Masisi, Kitchanga, Birambisu) and from there on also in the plains that surround Rutshuru. In Jomba there are also a lot of Bagogwe’s and some of them have been living for ages in what is now Uganda. They all speak Kinyarwanda and their kingdom has been cut into several pieces by the Berlin Conference at the end of the 19th century.   They have been living in harmony for ages with the local Congolese population and they never had any big problems with the Hutu’s that were brought in to the Belgian Congo in the 1920 to work in the fields and the plantations of the Belgian colonists.  As I already explained the first problems between these people and the local population started in the beginning of the 9Oties when Congolese and Rwandan Hutu’s organized themselves in the so called ‘Magrevi-movement’ that started killing Congolese Tutsi’s.  One of the consequences of these killings were that a lot of young Congolese Bagogwe’s joined Kagame’s struggle to liberate Rwanda.  After the liberation of Rwanda and when they saw how the international community started pampering the Rwandan Hutu’s who had fled to Congo some of them decided to return home to protect their families.  In between 1994 and 1996, when the Rwandan Hutu refugees were living in the refugee camps outside Goma and Bukavu, nearly all the cows of the Congolese Tutsi’s were being looted. They were all brought to the camps where they were being slaughtered in improvised slaughter houses that had been furnished by international NGO’s such as ‘Veterinaries without Borders’.  At the end of 1995, when it became clear that Rwandan forces inside Congo started to reorganize themselves to infiltrate Rwanda, the plan was also set up to start killing the Congolese Tutsi’s.  This is one of the reason why so much youngsters from Masisi,  Rutshuru and Minembwe returned to their villages to defend their families.  And this is also a reason why Kagame decided to invade the Kivu’s and to set up the AFDL-rebellion. Many of these AFDL-rebels were Congolese Tutsi’s (Banyamulenge and Bagagwe) and the Rwandans innitiatialy also wanted the organization to be headed by a Banyamulenge intellectual, Ruhambika Manassé Müller.  But Müller refused and Laurent Kabila was chosen afterwards to take up the leadership of the movement. Some of these AFDL-rebels had become Rwandan citizens and already had Rwandan passports. In 1997 and 1988 when president Laurent Kabila turned against Rwanda he  started to sponsor the Rwandan Hutu extremists again and when these guerrilla’s (we called them ‘muchegnezi’) were infiltrating Rwanda to set up ambushes and to kill Tutsi refugees.  The most notorious attack took place in Mudende where nearly 3000 Tutsi-refugees were slaughtered by the Interahamwe’s. This event did not get a lot of play in the foreign media because it happened at the same day Lady Diana died in Paris.

The report of experts misses a well structured foundation. Every historian, journalist or student in political sciences will admit that any thesis that neglects the history of a population or a region can never be called credible.  Nearly all of the so called identified Rwandans in the ranks of the M23 originate in this category of people that start moving over the border after the Rwandan genocide. But their homes and families can all be found in North-Kivu.  Calling them Rwandans and using their passports as evidence as evidence of Rwandan involvement in this conflict is a terrible hoax !

It is very easy to interview prisoners of war and every journalist knows that prisoners of war just tell You what their captors want to hear. So I’m really not impressed to read in the report of experts that they talked with more than 70 witnesses (mainly deserters, villagers and prisoners of war) that told them what they knew.  I have very reliable sources in Rwanda and inside the M23 leadership that confirm us  that during the last offensive against M23 the Rwandan army did not get involved. Some members of M23 even accused the Rwandans that they were scarifying their movement as collateral damage to save Rwanda and that Kagame was just thinking about himself.  I do not want to defend the M23, neither the Rwandan of the Ugandan government who are being accused of helping these rebels. But I strongly believe that the  report of the experts is partially  biased.  I admit that it is very difficult to see clear in this Congolese soup and everybody is entitled to have his opinion but a report like this should come up with stronger evidence….  I admit that it is difficult to talk to officials in Rwanda and that they are sometimes too secretive in their way to handle journalists and people who are asking too many questions.  But the argument that the UN researchers  denied access to information in Rwanda is very weak: even when You know that the Rwandan government dislikes the attitude of the UN openly there are several other ways to gather credible information.  Or they might send in people with a more neutral approach.

About conflict minerals, poaching,…..  

The part about the so called conflict minerals is nearly copy paste of what I could read in other NGO-oriented papers of f.i. IPIS and Global Witness. Although they often contain a lot of good information most of these reports have been written and  financed by NGO’s who only seek to justify their presence and budgets in the area. As the international press left the area years ago – the 9/11-events were also responsible for this – and as the information gap they left behind was filled in by much cheaper local stringers who had to censor themselves to avoid jail several NGO-minded consultants started producing papers about the region. I don’t want to argue about their good intentions but the figures about rape, the number of war victims and child soldiers were pumped up artificially. A couple of local stringers of international press agencies even told me that they were anxious not to criticize the UN too much because they needed the logistics (helicopter rides into the interior, free seats on UN flights, protection, etc) of the organization to work in the area.  This manipulation has became so institutionalized that several foreign media and the press in Kinshasa are using these figures as facts. A study of the Belgian university of Louvain (UCL) shows us that the figure of 5 to 6 million deaths in Congo because of the war is highly exaggerated.  Some of the ONG’s even accuse Rwanda to be responsible of this. The study shows clearly that most of the deaths were not caused by the war but by underdevelopment. The same goes for the figures that are being used for raped women and child soldiers. These things happen in Congo, nobody will deny this and it’s a very sad thing. But some of the international NGO’s beefed up the stakes to attract more sponsors.  I have the impression that some of the UN experts who contributed to this report made the same mistake.  Some of them even earned their Congolese spurs while working as consultants for those NGO’s. When You talk to Congolese border officials who want to control the goods or minerals that pass the border You’ll find out that those who want to do a good job are often blocked off by their bosses and politicians in Kinshasa.  Millions of illegal dollars are being made in the DRC by people who thrive very well in this continuing anarchy. Some of the orchestrators of this scene are even collaborating very closely with Kabila.  Insiders all agree that it are the Congolese themselves who are setting up this monkey business. They might be selling their illegal minerals to Rwandans, Ugandans, Chinese or Lebanese but the local and the national authorities allow this to happen.

The part about Katanga is very modest in its explanations  about the involvement of the people who are currently surrounding the president and the president himself.  Even the part on poaching is mellow: kilo’s of poached ivory are leaving the country every month trough the airport in Lodja, a town that is situated on the southern edge of the Salonga Park (one of the biggest parks in Africa were thousands of bush-elephants are still roaming around freely).  It is in this region that most of the elephants fall prey to poachers who are entirely financed by  FARDC officers and high ranking politicians in Kinshasa. It is also a know fact in Congo that the ICCN, the government institution that is responsible for the protection of the parks, was also very much involved in the poaching business and the looting of the parks. In some cases they were even using their own chartered planes to ship out the ivory.  This happened a couple of years ago.  Anyone who knows the deep interior of the country knows that poaching and hunting is a way to survive for the local population who has nothing else to rely on. Most of the bush meat is being brought by small traders – often on bicycles – from the meat rich area’s around the Salonga Park to the Kasaï and to Katanga. Poaching and deforestation in the DRC are therefore – for a big part – a problem of sheer underdevelopment, the failure of the national and the local governments to put an end to this and to develop the local economies in a better way.  But I don’t think that the UN experts ever tried to check this out.

The UN forgets that it has a very bad reputation in the country and in the region: the organization failed to protect thousands of Rwandans during the Rwandan genocide, it protected the perpetrators of the same genocide in the DRC and in Tanzania afterwards, it failed to stop the FDLR militia to infiltrate Rwanda again in the years between 1995 and 1998, it failed to protect the Rwandophone community in the DRC in the following years and it failed to protect the population of Goma when the M23 attacked the city.   A more neutral, modest  and better researched approach would be better !

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Marc Hoogsteyns

In a couple of days I’ll publish my findings about the ongoing power struggle in Kinshasa, the ongoing malaise in the Kasai and problems in other parts of the country.




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