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

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Guest Blog: the FRF armed group

This is the last in a series of guest blogs on armed groups in the Kivus by Judith Verweijen.
Profile of the FRF (Forces Républicaines Fédéralistes)

Until their fragile integration into the FARDC in January 2011, the FRF were a small armed group  composed of Banyamulenge (an ethnic Tutsi group of pastoralists), which used to be active in a mountain chain in South Kivu called the High Plateaux. It was led by “General” Venant Bisogo, its President, and “General” Michel Makanika Rukunda, the Chief of Staff. The group’s origins go back to an underground political party founded in 1998 in resistance to the RCD-rebellion. In 2002, it became also a military movement, when it supported Pacifique Masunzu, the present-day commander of the 10th Military Region (South Kivu), in his armed struggle against the RCD and the Rwandan army.

During the ‘transition’, this group started to fall apart in a faction that rallied around Masunzu, who was linked to the Kinshasa government, and a group of dissidents. This division was the result of two factors. Firstly, the ‘transition’ heralded changes in the general distribution of power, which triggered factional and inter-personal conflicts. The losers of such struggles often withheld troops from army integration, a strategy also practiced by the FRF. Secondly, this group of dissidents’ political vision diverged from that of the Masunzu faction. They were against the suppression of the area of Minembwe as an independent territory, an upgrade in status it had received from the RCD- rebel administration. However, this administrative change had been turned back at the start of the ‘transition’, which had signified a relative loss of power for the Banyamulenge.

It was not until January 2007 that the first clashes broke out between the dissidents, now called FRF, and the troops of the Masunzu faction, which consisted of the 112th brigade composed exclusively of Banyamulenge troops who were only nominally integrated in the FARDC. This gave the struggle more the character of a civil war within the Banyamulenge community than that of a conflict between the Government and a rebel group. This was all the more so as the FRF gradually acquired more popular legitimacy.  As the result of a negotiated cease-fire in 2007, they were allowed to control the Kamombo and Mibunda areas of the High Plateaux up to 2009. During this period, there was relative security in these zones and the FRF also organized the population to work on the construction of a road. Furthermore, they instituted an elaborate system of mining and market taxes, which enabled them to strengthen their financial position.    

In the meanwhile, popular discontent was growing in the area controlled by the opposing faction, the zone around Minembwe. Local authorities there were perceived to indulge in corrupt practices and to do no nothing to advance the development of the isolated High Plateaux, where there is still no road or phone network. The situation worsened with the start of the Kimia II/Amani Leo operations, when new FARDC troops arrived in order to fight the FRF. As they managed to push back the FRF into Bijabo forest, the operations were officially labeled a success. However, they were accompanied by large-scale looting, destruction, torture, intimidation of customary chiefs and religious authorities, and arbitrary arrests of boys and men on the pretext of being FRF combatants. This regime of atrocities reinforced support for the FRF, which now came to play a more pronounced role as a channel for popular discontent with the central government. At the same time, the already unpopular local authorities in Minembwe further lost legitimacy by allying themselves to the Amani Leo troops.

The ongoing bad treatment of the population motivated the FRF to launch a major attack on the FARDC in November 2010, which was a sign that military operations had not reduced their capacity for harm. This contributed to the re-launching of negotiations, which eventually led to the FRF’s integration into the FARDC. A new operational sector (the 44th) dominated by the former FRF was created in Minembwe, and the latter obtained a guarantee that most of their troops would be allowed to stay on the High Plateaux  for the next 3-5 years. It essentially meant that control over this area was partially ceded to the FRF.

This shows how the DR Government often negotiates with armed groups from a position of weakness, and sometimes de facto relinquishes control over zones which it has only a weak grip on. Another example that comes to mind is the ex-CNDP’s control over parts of Masisi. The (re)establishment of central state authority over such zones  is a long-term process of negotiation and accommodation with local power-holders, the outcome of which remains highly uncertain. Most often, it leads to a situation of ‘mediated statehood’, in which the central government can only exercise forms of authority in an indirect manner, through intermediaries.

At the same time, the integration of armed groups into the military weakens central control over the armed forces, for it allows parallel command chains to proliferate, while integrated groups maintain strong contacts with their former power networks. Sometimes this includes un-integrated armed remnants or break-away factions who resist the integration process. In the case of the FRF, one dissident faction under the leadership of Richard Tawimbi has up to now resisted integration and remains in Minembwe with an unknown number of troops. It is in this respect important to note that the FRF has hardly handed in any arms upon their integration, while they are known to have large arms caches that include heavy weaponry in the Bijabo forest.

Furthermore, a part of the integrated FRF troops left the Kananda training centre on August 1st  where they had assembled for regiment formation. The stated reason were complaints about salary arrears and the non-recognition of ranks, related to the fact that these troops have not yet passed through biometrical control. This lack of administrative follow-up is a standard problem with the integration of armed groups. Part of the reason for the delays in the recognition of ranks and the distribution of functions is that these usually follow lengthy negotiation processes. This horse-trading and its outcomes tend to fuel factional competition and strife both within and outside the military.

For example, the FRF managed to obtain a number of top positions in the military command in South Kivu, like second-in-command of the Amani Leo operations. Together with the creation of an independent military sector in Minembwe, these appointments were strongly resented by (ex-)Mai Mai, who saw in this move evidence of a policy of the systematic discrimination of ‘autochthones’ in favor of ‘Rwandophones’ within the military (see also Jason’s post on the restructuring of the FARDC). Furthermore, the military domination of the purely Banyamulenge ex-FRF on the High Plateaux was resisted  by the other ethnic communities living in this area. It contributed to a remobilization of Mai Mai in Bijombo and reinforced local ‘ethnic entrepreneurs’ or political actors who tap into ethnically colored discourse in order to strengthen their power position.    

To conclude, the policy of ongoing armed-group integration into the FARDC, which has recently been officially abandoned by the DR government, presents a mixed record. It has been justified by portraying it as an incremental process, yet there are few signs that it has actually contributed to diluting the influence of these groups.  Most remain in or close to their former strongholds, and some, as is the case with the CNDP, have actually expanded their sphere of influence.  The regimentation process offers up to now little prospects that this situation will change in the short term. Furthermore, the upcoming elections threaten to create yet more tensions and reinforce armed group mobilization. Therefore, the end to armed groups in the DRC seems to be not yet on the horizon.



kgjerstad said...

It'd be great if you could include some maps, pictures, links & graphs. I know not too many are available out there, but always a plus.

andrea.trevisan said...

I've some pictures from villages beetwenn Marungu and Magunda, on the High Plateaux region.

I also have some from the Minembwe side that I will probably post in some days.

Pictures here:

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