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

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Defector diplomacy

On Monday morning, the BBC World Service made official what some in the region - from army officers to diplomats - had been muttering about for several weeks: That Rwanda is providing support to the M23 mutiny. The BBC journalist had reportedly seen an internal United Nations report that summarized the debriefing of eleven Rwandan nationals who had allegedly joined the M23 rebellion only to desert on the battlefield. According to these debriefs, the Rwandan army had facilitated their recruitment, and potentially that of many others.

Within hours, the Rwandan government hit back, labeling the report as "categorically false and dangerous...rumours" in an official statement by their minister of foreign affairs. In private, Rwandan officials have been pushing counter-accusations, claiming the Congolese army has been collaborating with the FDLR.

However, in a sign of how far relations between Kinshasa and Kigali have thawed, both sides are now making an effort of toning down their rhetoric. Congolese Minister of Information Lambert Mende - not one known for understatement - demurred: "A priori we don't have any elements that could confirm these accusations." He went on to suggest that spoilers may be trying to poison relations with Rwanda on purpose. And this morning, Rwandan and Congolese delegations will be meeting once again in Gisenyi, and the mood is reportedly cordial, all things considered (during yesterdays' meeting there was reportedly a brief display of Rwandan ID cards taken from the prisoners). Both sides are now blaming the United Nations for its profligacy, recklessness, and so on.

The purpose of the meeting is to sign an agreement to set up joint verification teams that would be able to investigate allegations on both sides of the border. The Congolese have even contemplated asking for joint patrols with the Rwandan army along the Runyoni border.

In the meantime, the front line has not moved much. Every other day, fighting breaks out, and the Congolese have brought in the 103rd regiment from Kalehe in support of their Runyoni offensive. Unfortunately for them, one of the ex-CNDP battalion commanders in this regiment, Lt Col Gakufe Japhet, defected with 18-50 soldiers (reports vary) on May 28, just shortly after he arrived.

In the meantime, the Congolese army has opened up several other smaller offensives in recent weeks, attacking FDLR and APCLS positions on the Mweso-Lukweti (Masisi) axis, and hitting Mai-Mai Tsheka positions around Mpofi (Walikale).

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Tit-for-tat massacres kill hundreds in eastern Congo

While the M23 rebellion is taking up most of the Congo news in Congolese and foreign press, a series of largely unconnected massacres has been taking a far larger human toll in the area of Bunyakiri and Ufamando. According to United Nations reports, over 200 civilians - and possibly many more - have been killed in tit-for-tat massacres between the Rwandan FDLR rebels and the Raia Mutomboki militias since the beginning of the year.

These retaliatory killings go back to at least 2011, when the Raia (a profile will come in another post) was revived through the regimentation process of the Congolese army, which led to their withdrawal from rural areas in Shabunda territory. The Raia militia, which had initially been formed in 2005 and then slipped into dormancy, filled the void left by the army in Shabunda. They were led by former Mai-Mai commanders and deserters from the Congolese army, and were made up mostly of local youths.

The spate of killings accelerated sharply in October 2011, when Raia attacked FDLR camps in northeastern Shabunda, allegedly killing 49 people, mostly Hutu refugees. The retaliation was slow to come, but in the first days of January FDLR troops entered the villages of Luyuyu and Ngolombe, killing 58 people, according to local military and civil society sources.

This pattern persisted, with military casualties overshadowed by the civilians who were the principle focus of the revenge attacks. Since these killings, however, the attacks have been moving slowly northwestwards. Between March 1-4, 2012 Raia conducted another attack against FDLR dependents in Bunyakiri, Kalehe territory, killing 32 civilians. This movement was surprising, given the local nature of the Raia - these killings took place around 80-90km away from the home turf of the Raia and outside of their Rega community.

The retaliation killings were in the same area, and came around two months later. Between May 7-15, the FDLR reportedly killed 51 people in the Bunyakiri villages of Kamananga and Lumenje. The United Nations peacekeepers, who have a base 3 kilometers from Kamananga, were mobbed by the outraged local population following the massacre, injuring 11 blue helmets.

Now, in the past weeks, the violence seems to have migrated even further to the northwest. Initial reports from Ufamando groupement, in southern Masisi territory, suggest that several people were killed by the FDLR on May 9, including four people who were burned alive in their houses. Local chiefs from the same area told me that the Raia retaliated by attacking Congolese Hutu civilians in the same area, allegedly killing 48 civilians.

The total of just these, the largest massacres, could be 242 people, if the figures are correct. That does not include numerous smaller incidents.

We should be careful to note that the Raia, while still poorly understood, do not appear to be a cohesive force, or even one group. As one of my colleagues suggested, they operate as a franchise, with separate local militias in different areas adopting the name and the sentiment of - as their name suggests - outraged civilians.

This still raises the question of how the group has been able to spread so far so quickly against the battle-hardened FDLR. Groups that identify themselves as Raia Mutomboki can be found in Kalehe, Kabare, Shabunda and Masisi territories. They have been able to push the Rwandan rebels out of some areas of Shabunda, and when Major Idrissa, an FDLR commander in Shabunda, deserted recently, he was "scared out of his wits" by the Raia, according to a UN official who spoke with him.

Unfortunately, more often than not, the Raia's violent tactics have only bred more violence.

(The red blotches on the map are areas where Raia have clashed with the Congolese army or FDLR in the past 18 months)

Guest blog: The rise and fall of Caeser Achellam

This is a guest blog by Ledio Cakaj, an independent researcher focusing on the Lord's Resistance Army.
On 12 May 2012, the Ugandan army announced the capture of Caesar Achellam, a Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) combatant.  Achellam apparently fell into an ambush manned by Ugandan soldiers in the Central African Republic near the northern border of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The story of Achellam rise to prominence and subsequent defection sheds light on important changes within the LRA itself.
Achellam is one of the longest serving officers in the LRA having joined in the late 1980s. A former professional soldier in the pre Museveni Ugandan army, he rose in the LRA ranks and was reportedly in charge of external relations in the late 1990s. His position involved liaising with officers of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) who provided military support to the LRA until at least 2002. Achellam is rumored to have maintained an office in the SAF barracks in Juba when LRA groups were based near the Ugandan border. He reportedly speaks fluent Arabic and was a close confidant of LRA leader Joseph Kony.
According to former LRA combatants, Achellam fell out of favor with Kony at the end of 2006 when LRA forces completed relocating from southern Sudan to Garamba National Park in northeastern DRC. Vincent Otti, another senior LRA officer, accused Achellam of having secretly received money from the Sudanese. Achellam was demoted to the rank of private and his personal escort was taken away. Otti was himself executed on Kony’s order in October 2007, and Achellam reinstated as a senior officer, but his influence waned significantly.
Otti was one of the main negotiators during the Juba talks. His execution signaled the demise of these talks and meant that Achellam and his contacts in the SAF were useful once more, just as Kony was reevaluating his options. But Otti’s death and his alleged crime of having received money from the Ugandan government to defect from the LRA– in reality Kony feared Otti had become too powerful – hastened Kony’s implementation of a new internal policy where power shifted from senior to younger commanders, mostly Kony protégées. Achellam, like most other senior officers in the LRA suffered as a result.
There were early signs of this strategy as early as 1999 when Otti Lagony, the then second in command of the LRA was executed, accused of conspiring against their leader. Kony then instituted a practice of placing young officers, usually in their mid to late 20s who had been Kony’s bodyguards, in charge of LRA groups. In the aftermath of Vincent Otti’s death, LRA troops were divided into four battalions of about 200 fighters each and commanded by these young fighters, mostly captains or majors. Orders from Kony went through his bodyguards to these brigade commanders, entirely bypassing veteran officers who ultimately were relegated to acting as advisors.
The LRA has never been a strictly hierarchical organization. Kony’s decision to marginalize or eliminate top officers, and the fact that LRA groups are constantly on the move to escape capture has reinforced this. Because of the current military offensive, the LRA has increasingly become a gathering of semi-autonomous groups without a direct chain of command. Kony’s orders are disseminated to the various groups by messengers, but when the groups are forced to splinter to dodge the Ugandans, commanders are often forced to make decisions on their own in order to survive.
Each group’s power rests with its commander, who has to have Kony’s trust. More importantly, he must be able to cover long distances, find food, and motivate his troops in the process. In the immediate aftermath of the Ugandan army offensive of December 2008 that scattered LRA fighters throughout central Africa, older combatants like Achellam, who are in their late 50s and early 60s, were assigned to groups led by much younger commanders, so as to survive. Those who were separated from their groups such as Colonel Santo Alit and Brigadier Bok Abudema were killed by the Ugandan army in August and December 2009, respectively. Together with Achellam, these fighters remain the highest commanders captured or killed by the Ugandan army since December 2008.
The diminishing power of senior commanders and the emergence of young leaders at Kony’s insistence mean that Achellam’s capture does not represent a heavy blow to the LRA’s ability to survive or threaten civilian populations. It is clear, however, that morale in the LRA will suffer, and that Achellam might shed light on the current relationship with the SAF and whether the LRA has been resupplied and trained by Khartoum, as some South Sudanese officials have claimed recently. In all likelihood, Achellam’s operational value will soon become obsolete as all LRA groups he worked with change their movements and locations in anticipation of Achellam divulging their secrets.
Once Achellam is brought back to Uganda, questions about his legal status should loom large. The Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy already got the ball rolling when stating on 14 May 2012 that Achellam should not be granted amnesty by the Ugandan government but face justice. The question is what kind of justice and in what jurisdiction. Unlike other senior LRA commanders, Achellam has not been indicted by the International Criminal Court. It would stand to reason that he is eligible for amnesty under the Uganda Amnesty Act of 2000 which grants amnesty to all rebels who renounce violence.
Under this Act, at least 13,000 people formerly in the LRA have been pardoned in the last 12 years including top commanders Brigadiers Kenneth Banya and Sam Kolo, both more powerful and respected in the LRA than Achellam. However, in a surprise move last summer the Ugandan Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) brought charges of war crimes against Thomas Kwoyelo, an LRA fighter captured in DRC in March 2009. The trial was supposed to take place in front of a new division of the High Court but was halted when the Constitutional Court ruled that Kwoyelo was eligible for amnesty. Despite that ruling and the High Court’s decision to suspend the trial, the DPP has refused to release Kwoyelo from prison, essentially ignoring the judiciary.
Achellam could suffer Kwoyelo’s fate or – even worse for him – he could end up like Okello Patrick ‘Mission’. Having joined the LRA during the Juba talks in 2007, Mission - who has a degree from Makerere University – was put in charge of the political wing of the LRA and reportedly captured by the Ugandan army in March 2010 in southern Sudan. Instead of receiving amnesty, Mission is kept in a so-called safe house, an illegal place of detention run by Uganda’s security services. It is unclear where exactly he is now.
If history is an indicator, Achellam is likely to eventually receive government support, particularly if he publicly praises and helps promote President Museveni’s National Resistance Movement (NRM). Banya and Kolo have campaigned for the NRM in the past, for which they have been financially rewarded. 
Politics has often trumped demobilization and justice. Instead of ensuring that there are ample incentives for mid-level LRA commanders – the backbone of the movement – to defect, the Ugandan government has persecuted combatants such as Kwoyelo and Mission, while rehabilitating senior commanders, essentially confirming ‘the big man’ phenomenon, long prevalent in the Ugandan government itself.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A weekend of talking and heavy fighting

The military situation in the Kivus remains volatile, with fighting continuing throughout the weekend as the mutineers - now dubbed the M23 movement -  have migrated from their Masisi stronghold to the border with Uganda and Rwanda. The potential headlines from this week should include: "Congo army finds new confidence," "a mutiny stands its ground," and "army defections spark tensions between Congo and Rwanda."

Beginning late last week, Gen Bosco Ntaganda and his officers began leaving the Masisi highlands, traversing the inhospitable brushland behind Nyamulagira volcano and crossing the Goma-Rutshuru road in Kibumba. A large convoy clashed with Congolese army soldiers there on the morning of Tuesday, May 8 before making it to the Rwandan border, which they followed on their way northward, toward Runyoni and Chanzu, hills on the edge of the Virunga national park. The rebels captured these two hills on May 10. There was further fighting there on Saturday and Sunday as the Congolese army deployed several of its newly-acquired attack helicopters. They repelled an attack, but have been unable to re-capture the hills.

The fighting has displaced thousands of people, including over 7,000 people who have fled to Rwanda.

The more reliable estimates of the mutineers' strength range between 300 and 800. For some perspective, that should be compared with the 6,000 soldiers the CNDP integrated in 2009. The group is led by Col. Sultani Makenga, the former deputy commander of military operations in South Kivu.
Gen. Bosco Ntaganda's whereabouts are the subject of much speculation - every hour a new rumor pops up - but the mutineers still deny they are collaborating with him.

The Congolese army, on the other hand, has deployed several thousand troops in the area, along with tanks, artillery and attack helicopters. The United Nations blue helmets, who helped the Congolese army defend against a crucial attack in Masisi last week, are not currently participating in the fighting.
Given the mutineers' position on small patch of land next to the national park, it is unclear how long they can hold out without supplies of food and ammunition. They were reported to have dug up an arm cache when they first arrived there, which may sustain them. However, unless they are able to conduct raids into the surrounding villages, or establish supply routes through Rwanda, they could soon run out of supplies. 

Meanwhile, talks have been ongoing in Rubavu and Kigali between the Congolese and Rwandan governments. The Congolese have been represented by Kalev Mutond (the head of intelligence), Col Jean-Claude Yav (the head of presidential security), Gen Didier Etumba (the commander of the army), and the new defense minister, Alexandre Luba. Officially, the talks are only consultations, given the Rwandan government's role in bringing about the integration of ex-CNDP in 2009. The talks have been cordial and have discussed issues such as operations against the FDLR and the return of Congolese refugees, but, according to officials present in the talks, there has been little progress on the main issue - the fate of the mutineers.

While both sides are still refraining from any overt accusations, tensions are simmering beneath the surface, as Congo officers grumble about suspected support to the mutineers from across the border, and the Rwandan government points to reports of abuses against Kinyarwanda-speakers by the Congolese army. And yet, the peace deal holds.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Is it the end or the beginning of a rebellion?

Euphoria has been spreading within the Congolese army over the past several days, as its officers declare victory against the mutineers led by Bosco Ntaganda. Over the weekend, their troops took control of key towns in the Masisi highlands, perhaps making this this first time since the beginning of the RCD war in 1998 that Kinshasa might have effective control over this CNDP heartland. The self-congratulatory mood was enhanced by the fact that many Congolese officers have resented the ex-CNDP power and privilege within the army, positions that they obtained precisely because Kinshasa had been unable to defeat them fully before.

While rumors abound, it appears that many of the mutineers have surrendered, as was the case of several dozen around Kitchanga and Kilolirwe, according to the Congolese army; or been arrested, as was the case of Lt Col Djuma and his soldiers, who were captured in South Kivu yesterday. Bosco himself and some of his troops are reported to be in the Virunga National Park, behind the Nyamulagira volcano, while others were sighted close to the Rwandan border.

What comes next? As one might expect, this game is not yet over. In a communiqué signed by Gen. Dider Etumba, the army announced that it was suspending operations until Wednesday to give the mutineers time to surrender. Just a day later, however, a new communiqué was emailed around (using the same email listserv as Nkunda's CNDP used), announcing a new "current" within the CNDP called M23, a reference to the March 23, 2009 Agreement between the CNDP and the government.

Several things are interesting about this communiqué. First, it accuses the previous CNDP leadership of not overseeing the implementation of the March 23 Agreement (more on that agreement here), so perhaps Senator Mwangachuchu has been fired after just several months as CNDP president. Secondly, it places Colonel Makenga in charge of M23, which appears to be identical to the CNDP, as all officers are ordered to obey only to Colonel Makenga. Which begs the question: What about Bosco? (It also can be perceived as a dig against Colonel Innocent Gahizi, who is the main CNDP officer who has stayed loyal to Kinshasa).

Secondly, the document is issued on a CNDP-ANC letterhead. The ANC was the military wing of the CNDP under Nkunda and has not, to my knowledge, been referenced since the latter's arrest in early 2009. Moreover, under the March 23 Agreement the CNDP agreed to become a purely political organization and not to get involved in military affairs (it's soldiers were, officially at least, integrated into the army). So this new movement is supposed to "redynamize the application" of an agreement that this very declaration would appear to violate?

Lastly, and most importantly, it appears that the crisis may not be over. Most of the senior leadership of the mutiny is still at large (Col Baudouin, Col Makenga, Lt Col Zimurinda, Lt Col Kaina, Lt Col Masozera, Lt Col Butoni,...). Since it has lost its foothold in Masisi, it will have to regroup elsewhere. If it does not receive outside help, it will probably falter. Hence many Congolese officers are currently pointing toward Rwanda, accusing its army of supporting the mutineers.

Rwanda's official position has been that this is a Congolese affair. Its stance will be crucial in determining the outcome of this crisis and the future of the ex-CNDP networks in the Kivus.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Col Makenga joins rebellion

According to various reports, Col Sultani Makenga joined the CNDP mutiny during the night. This is a significant development, since Makenga was the second highest ranking CNDP officer behind Bosco in the Amani Leo structure as the deputy commander of South Kivu. If confirmed, it will bring a new élan to the mutiny, which had been rocked over the last week by the massive deployment of army troops and attacks on various fronts.

The question then arises: Why would a commander join a rebellion that seems on its last legs? Either it is not on its last legs, there is support that will be forthcoming soon, or Makenga was afraid of being arrested himself. A little bit of all three may be the case; certainly Makenga had already been fingered by the Congolese intelligence service as having been involved in the planning of the mutiny in the first place.

Will other CNDP commanders, such as Col Faustin Muhindo (in Goma) and Col Claude Micho (in Bukavu) now follow? Micho, for example, was recently ordered to reduce his rather large bodyguard; he refused.

The defection comes just hours after a meeting in Gisenyi, Rwanda between the army chiefs of the two countries, Gen. Didier Etumba and Gen. Charles Kayonga. The Rwandan press reported the meeting to be a success. I am sure other interpretations will follow.

The CNDP changes its tune

Listening to various CNDP representatives on the radio, one might think that the rebellion launched by Bosco Ntaganda in early April had a political objective. As their spokesperson, Jean-Baptiste Rudaseswa, explained on BBC Swahili service, the mutiny was prompted by the failure March 23, 2009 agreement, in particular by the fact that Congolese Tutsi refugees have been unable to return home from Rwanda.

This reasoning was hammered home through a letter signed by the CNDP's president, Senator Edouard Mwangachuchu, in which he insists that the mutiny is not due to Bosco's arrest warrant, but rather to the "obvious failure of the integration of elements of political-military movements into the Congolese armed forces." (Mwangachuchu then also said on radio that Bosco should be held accountable for his actions).

These statements are somewhat surprising, considering that, if it was indeed the March 23, 2009 Agreement that was at the root of the quarrel, one would expect there to have been talk about this agreement just prior to the mutiny. There was, to my knowledge, little such talk. I fact, the meetings in Goma between the leaders of the Tutsi community and MONUSCO related to the arrest of Bosco, not the March 23 Agreements.

However, I do think that there is more than just bluster behind this rhetoric. While many CNDP officers were not too bothered over Bosco's personal fate, they do not want the CNDP power structures in the Kivus to be dismantled. So in some sense, it is about the March 23 Agreement, although the pre-dated its relevance.

So what did the Mach 23 Agreement call for? I have posted it here for reference, although I think that more important than the details is the basic issue of whether the CNDP is allowed to maintain its networks and parallel chains of command in the East.

The main points are:

1. CNDP will integrate its troops into the police and army and become a political party;
2. The government will release the CNDP prisoners;
3. The government will publish an amnesty law for crimes committed since June 2003;
4. Both parties will work toward reconciliation, and the government will create a ministerial portfolio in charge of internal security, local affairs and reconciliation;
5. The government will create local reconciliation committees and a police of proximity in tune with the concerns of the local population;
6. The return of refugees from neighboring countries;
7. To declare North and South Kivu as "disaster areas" and to invest in development project there;
8. That for good governance it is necessary to have an administration that is close to the people (the CNDP went on the record saying it wanted greater federalism or "découpage");
9. CNDP went on the record saying it wanted administrative reform, with new, technically competent agencies in charge of public administration;
10. Both parties agreed that comprehensive security sector reform is necessary;
11. Both sides agreed on an urgent evaluation of the electoral framework to promote greater inclusiveness and prevent hate speech;
12. Solutions would be found to integrate CNDP administrative officials and MPs who had been invalidated, confirm military and police ranks and treat war wounded;
13. Economic reforms, including certification of minerals;
14. Create a national follow-up committee to implement the agreement;
15. Ask for the creation of an international follow-up committee.