Kampala sets up, Kabila wakes up, M23 makes up, Masisi flares up.
This post’s header shot has been taken in proximity of one of Lushebere’s IDP camps, a few kilometres east of Masisi town, the administrative centre of Masisi territory, a part of North Kivu province. The shown area, if further neglected that much in terms of attention, may turn into a major hotspot of renewed Kivu conflicts, as I will show below. First to a couple of more visible and more widely perceived issues.
Last week a new round of Kampala talks, this time including emissaries from M23 and the DRC government, took onset in Munyoni Resort under mediation of the Ugandan government. In absence of highest-level authorities (Kabila went first to the Southern African Development Community) SADC summit in Daressalaam while Jean-Marie Runiga and Sultani Makenga preferred to abstain themselves. Makenga, whom close ties to Museveni and Uganda in general are alleged to, appears to have traveled to Kampala too for a different reason, but this is not confirmed.) delegations were led by former CNDP cadre and North Kivu provincial minister François Rucogoza on the M23 side and veteran diplomat and current Foreign Minister Raymond Tshibanda for the government side. None of the sides abstained itself to open verbal attacks and employed confrontative negotiation strategies before the very negotiation had even begun. While M23 was asking Kabila to step down in favour of a transitional government, the DRC government made implicit offers to re-integrate M23. The contrast illustrates how fundamental the cleavage is just at the point of finding a common denominator on which topics and which bases to discuss. The charade surrounding sporadic rhetorical moves has been going on throughout roughly one week with M23 some days refusing to appear. As of now, actual negotiations have still not begun. Meanwhile the SADC summit resulted in a de facto redesignation of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region’s (ICGLR) neutral international force (NIF) into a SADC toy – spearheaded by Tanzania, South Africa, and probably Zimbabwe. To which extent this will influence the role of ICGLR as a regional peace broker is a matter to be seen, but the Conference has been suffering limited influence yet before, given Museveni’s positioning.
On Saturday, December 15th, the sleeping giant Joseph Kabila (rather defined as giant sleeper by some critical observers) has reappeared in the public sphere, giving an address on the state of the nation before a joint parliament and senate chamber in Kinshasa. While a couple of his loyalists, especially Tshibanda and Lambert Mende had been more precise in their accusations before, this was the first time since the beginning of M23’s odyssey that the President explicitly named Rwanda as being the aggressor. Other main point of his speech relied mainly to military issues. Kabila called upon the youth to join the army (a plea he apparently made before the opposition parties too, a few days earlier) while at the same time affirming that the most urgent aspect of national security was to reinforce the quality of the FARDC’s response to the armed groups threat. The logics behind seem bizarre, but are obvious. Of course, Kabila needs to improve the responsiveness and capability of his troops – his political survival might soon be even more depending on that. On the other side, as his father and himself earlier did, he tries to rely upon various splintered militias too (during the last weeks, these have mainly included: APCLS, some Nyatura, Mayi Mayi Shetani, maybe some FDLR, and a couple of micro-groups) to defend against the M23 threat.
The latter meanwhile profit from ongoing political stalemate and scale up their force de frappe. Having widely accommodated their increased logistical, material, and personnel needs (on the financial side a question mark remains as the alleged 50 million USD Central Bank robbery in Goma is now considered as a hoax) with confiscations and looting during their short-time control over Goma, the movement of March 23rd maintains its ante-Goma home turf with some extensions until shortly before Munigi (confirmed) and into the Virunga national until close to Kirolirwe, Kitchanga, and Nyanzale (unconfirmed). To the north the influence stretches up to Mabenga on the Rutshuru – Kanyabayonga axis at least, while Nyamilima – Ishasa remains under split control of Mayi Mayi Shetani and FDLR-SOKI. Recently, M23 has reinforced positions in the north and in Rutshuru, but most notably around Kibumba, where they seem to concentrate and develop an operational basis (…that could be useful to quickly retake Goma). Allegations of Rwandan and Ugandan support have no ceased despite fierce denials. In absence of material proofs (while photos do not necessary seem to be much more credible than eyewitness testimony in the photoshop age) a bunch of different media outlets, international NGOs, civil society organisations, a certain number of personal sources of this blog underlined renewed RDF troops movements happening approximately in the surroundings of Kabare. MONUSCO officials support the claims while for understandable reasons, they do not issue public confirmation. Fewer but still sufficient sources in addition confirm the concentration of several additional brigades in short distance from Cyangugu – Bukavu border crossing. Many other rumours and allegations including RDF but also the Ugandan army UPDF are circulation via twitter, non-identifiable websites, and a couple of notorious Congolese tabloids, but they are not credible enough to present them here. The notion of an nth Rwandan military incursion into the DRC (counting previous illegal and legal ones) is no ultima evidentia for a joint M23-RDF conquest of the Kivus, however. The danger-and-pretext of FDLR activity has turned out to prevail as two recent attacks in Rwandan territory show. At the same time it is obvious, and has been affirmed by James Kabarebe, that FDLR in its current shape is in no way able to pose a substantial threat to Rwanda’s well-trained, paid, organised, and adequately equipped army. As of not it seems that, whether directly backed by Rwanda and Uganda or not (read: indirectly or not at all), M23 would probably be able to retake Goma in a coup de main. Concerning further expansion towards Sake – Minova axis, resistance depends on a possible change in the aftermath of Kabila’s speech and Olenga’s appointment (if the reshuffling managed to partly dismantle the Tango Four mafia). For the Virunga front, there does not seem to be a major opponent on the way, but crossing the park, serious series of reaction may spark off.
Masisi territory has a large record of civil unrest, often underlined by ethnic or pseudo-ethnic (ethnicised by political or economic elites) tensions, with for instance a widely unnoticed peak around 1993-1994 roughly parallel to the Rwandan genocide. Masisi is historical home to both the Bahunde (“Hunde”) and many of the DRC’s Abahutu (“Hutu”). Strictly seen the Hunde are autochthon while the Hutu are migrants. DRC’s Hutu population is not to be confused with the génocidaire Hutu that crossed the then Rwando-Zairian border after fleeing from Rwandan Patriotic Front that terminated the genocide of Abatutsi (“Tutsi”) in Rwanda in absence of an international effort to do so. While the génocidaires (interahamwe and ex-FAR) first operated under the name ALIR they founded the FDLR, which is currently decimated by a couple of joint operations of FARDC and RDF and distributed over at least 3-4 sub-groups (-SOKI, -RUD, -Rasta, etc.). The Congolese Hutu in Masisi are distinct as they originate from earlier migration waves (forced migration in colonial times and human flight throughout the 20th century) and do not share political identities with the génocidaires, at least not overall. Their armed wing is called Nyatura, a locally-fashioned militia important in numbers and well organised compared to smaller groups. During recent turmoil they were meant to be integrated to fight against M23 but integration failed – partly due to local-regional power games including a Nyatura commander called Munyamariba. The Hunde community on their side is the second main ethnic group of Masisi, militarily represented by the APCLS of Colonel Janvier but partly also diverse Raia Mutomboki groups and what remains of the “eastern” branch of FDC-Guides under so-called General Butu Luanda. In the north of the territory (where most of APCLS have currently been based) a branch of FDLR is also operating. Westwards from neighbouring Walikale territory Sheka Ntaberi’s NDC has been trying to find a way via the axis Pinga – Kalembe – Mweso in order to join M23-affiliated satellites (Colonel Badege, the Erasto militia, and others) and finally the M23 core force (if the cross). Sheka has been withheld by first the FDLR and most recently a merger of APCLS and FARDC forces, losing his deputy commander while he survived despite other rumours. During M23’s siege of Goma and advance to Sake and Mushaki, another fighting dynamic has increased the complexity of armed activity in the zone. Nothwithstanding these events and their probable resurgence if a new major M23 operation is unleashed, tensions in Masisi have been extreme and close to 1993-1994, 2007-2008 dimensions. A report by the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights has mapped and monitored widespread abused and killings along ethnical fault lines and a number of incidents and concomitant reports/letters by local civil society affirm that trend in tremendous and alarming ways. Particularly the situation of the Hunde gives reason to worry. Adding to that the proximity of the Bunyakiri – Hombo axis in South Kivu’s Kalehe territory augments the danger of conflagration given that Masisi is linked to that zone via Rubaya and Ngungu. This zone again, is one of the main hotspots of several Raia Mutomboki elements, and thus of Rwandophone pogroms.
In conclusion, bearing in mind that Rutshuru is well controlled by M23 and consorts and Goma keeps being virtually on their strategic menu, much suggests Masisi territory being the neuralgic point, both in terms of politico-military contest and its humanitarian consequences. A re-take of Goma will probably take a similar shape than at November 20th – few urban fighting, comparably few primary humanitarian consequences (rather secondary, as witnessed in Mugunga and Lac Vert camps during the last weeks – and for humanitarian response a far more difficult task), and limited killing and abuse. Any extension of the M23 conflict farther into Masisi territory, be it via Sake and Mushaki or via Kirolirwe and Kitchanga (eventually resulting in a M23-Sheka reunion) contains immense potential of escalation. The blazing violence might experience an igniting push through further military incursion and alliance-building will, as history may tell, mushroom in unnatural ways, including such not foreseeable at this point. It is therefore necessary that all actors engaged in peacebuilding, mediation, and either type of political or military conflict resolution lessen their obsession with M23 and structure their thoughts according to socio-economic impacts of the current conflicts.