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

Thursday, September 15, 2011

New armed groups appear in South Kivu

(Please read the comments section, as well, for informative corrections and additions by Judith.)

Yesterday, in a speech to the nation, President Joseph Kabila announced, "There is no more fire in the East, just some embers." While it is true that fighting has ebbed this year - largely due to a decrease in operations by the Congolese army - new armed groups have been popping up in South Kivu.

In the run-up to elections, we reported on efforts by the Congolese army to co-opt and repress various remaining armed groups in the eastern Congo - groups that are commonly euphemized as "residuals" by the government. The government struck deals with the FRF (Fizi/Uvira), Mai-Mai Kapopo (Mwenga), Mai-Mai Kifuafua (Kalehe) and has launched an offensive against the Mai-Mai Yakutumba (Fizi). (The army said it would no longer broker deals with groups after last June)

These efforts had been built on relatively shaky grounds - most of the deals involved cash buyouts and promises of positions in the new regiments. At the same time, the Congolese army had to reassure the previously integrated armed groups - especially PARECO and CNDP - and the national army that their power would not be diluted. 

Over the past few weeks, we have seen these efforts crumble. First, some existing deals have fallen apart, while at the same time new groups have emerged. One MONUSCO official in South Kivu spoke of "the mushrooming of new groups" there, in particular in the highlands of Uvira territory. 

One new group called Mai-Mai Kashorogosi belongs to a deserter from the police, Col. Nyerere Bunana, who defected in June and has rallied around 30 soldiers around him. His defection was prompted by allegations from the Congolese army that he was involved in a criminal network. Two other defectors have reportedly also established new groups in the same general area: Col. Bede Rusagara and Lt Col Baleke Sumahili, both of whom deserted from the Congolese army. Neither of them probably has more than several combatants under his command.

The Fuliro community, which lives in the mountains to the west of Uvira, has apparently become a hotbed for such armed group activity. All of the three above groups come from this community. In addition to those, there is the Mai-Mai Aochi, which has been active for several months now in the high plateau around Minembwe. There is also the Mai-Mai Mulumba group, also from the Fuliro community, active in the same area. Finally, a splinter group of the FRF, with its roots in the Banyamulenge community, has also re-emerged under the command of Col. Richard Tawimbi, also in the same broad area. 

What is the reason behind the proliferation of these groups this year? No one really seems to know for sure. In part, this is probably due to conflicts emerging around the integration of armed groups and the regimentation process, which has launched a competition for positions in the new army structure. In particular, the prominence of Hutu and Tutsi in these new structures has angered other communities, and the Fuliro have also been very outspoken in their opposition to the CNDP and PARECO. (In this regard, more on the recent rumors of a mutiny in Bukavu in a later post)

Others have suggested that the new armed groups are being manipulated by politicians, although I have not seen concrete proof of this yet. 

The main problems, however, are still structural: a weak army and a large country. The army is not yet strong and professional enough to deter new groups from emerging, and by buying them off the army is providing incentives for other groups to form. Once rebels join the army, they soon despair at poor pay and living conditions. It is also difficult for commanders who are often illiterate and used to an easy life in their local community to rub shoulders with educated officers who have formal training, and to move far away from home. 

Finally, the area where these groups are located is notoriously mountainous, rich in natural resources, and difficult to control, making it easy for guerrilla fighters to persist. 

These groups do not pose a serious threat to state power, but they do form a symbolic threat at a time when the government is trying to show that they have re-established peace in the East. 


Rich said...

Jason -

Thanks for this. To me the last sentence from this post was very powerful. One has to check this assertion from what happened to J P Bemba and indeed his milicia when they refused to disband after the 2006 elections.

I am sure there is a way to bring this proliferation of armed groups to a manageable level if not eradicate it but it looks like both the central government and the locals need to be fully implicated and determined to see this through.

That said, I will again, reiterate what I said to be L D Kabila's big mistake in allowing the FAZ to be scattered and completely dismantled. We've seen something similar in Irak, things are never easy when you have to rebuild the whole national army from scratch and yet in Irak they have the US trying to fix this but we all know how difficult this can prove to be.

To me, the solution is to have a strong and professional army but this may take time since the issue will always be pushed to the bottom of the list of priorities as long as there is no imminent threat to the regime.

P S. I was trying to post a comment on the previous post but failed. There seems to be a problem with the page or the computers I use...

Judith said...


I would like to elaborate a bit on armed group activity in the Moyens (MP)and Hauts Plateaux (HP)

Firstly, while your post seems to imply that much of this activity has been fairly recent, many of these groups, or parts of them have been active at least since 2009. It is certainly true that there has been an upsurge in activity especially in Uvira territory, since December 2010, when Makuba became active in Bijombo, but overall, there is a fair amount of continuity, as there has been a plethora of militia active in this region for a long time. They rise, merge, liaise, clash and fall almost continually, and sometimes some elements integrate into the army, only to desert later.

Secondly, I am not sure if this activity is limited to the Bafulero, for all ethnic groups living in or near the MP/HP area appear to be implicated: Banyindu, Babembe, Bavira, Banyamulenge and pygmees (core of the Mai Mai Mupekenya). If we look at the recent history of armed groups in the MP/HP, we see a number of groups/commanders that have been active there off and on for a while. Perhaps the most significant increase of activity was triggered with the Kimia II operations in 2009.

To give some examples, it was after the start of Kimia II that the Local Defense organized by Mwami Ndtare Simba in the MP of Lemera boomed, and it was from their ranks that Rusagara tried to recruit recently. It was also from the beginning of 2009 onwards that Fujo Zabuloni (a muvira I think) became more active in the region, when he linked up with Yakutumba in order to prevent the possible entry of Rwandan troops into Uvira/Fizi after the launch of Umoja Wetu. Vincent Naelonge (as far as I know a mubembe), also named as behind much of recent activity, formed part of the 2009 failed attempt of lt.col. Muzuri Jackson (munyamulenge) to build a multi-ethnic force in that same region (the Mai Mai Agaragara). In 2009,Mushombe (said to be spearheading one of the “new” groups) was also already active in Bijombo, whereas around Rurambo, we could find the Mai Mai group of “colonel” Namujira at that time.

Judith said...

Aoci (a mubembe, based in Mbandakila in the Itombe forest) was first part of a group that was loosely connected to the larger “Reformed Mai Mai” movement that Yakutumba tried to build in 2007/2008, and took over command or started his own group beginning 2009. Finally, Mulumba (munyindu), has been in the macquis for ages (he is said to be in his 80s). He was with Kabila in Hewa Bora, and after that fell apart, he withdrew to his fief in the forest near Kisanye, where he has been with a small group ever since.

Some of these groups have clearly been manipulated by customary chiefs: for example the Mwami of the Bavira is well-known for his manipulation in Bijombo, whereas the Chef de Secteur of Itombwe has been known to support the Mai Mai Aoci and Kapopo, not to speak of the Mwami of the Bafulero mentioned earlier.

Therefore, I think it is important not only to point to structural problems in the army, but also in local governance.

That said, it is true the past months have seen heightened mobilization (possibly also due to more FNL presence and power-shifts resulting from FRF integration) and there are strong rumours about a coalition of armed groups forming in South Kivu, with networks in the FARDC (and possibly even the FDLR). But, as we all know, radio trottoir’s emissions are not the most reliable.

Anonymous said...

This, and the guest blog a few weeks back about, is very useful, Jason.

It seems to me that a good deal of the problem here is both state collapse- which results in these buyouts and poor or no pay- and land conflict- which is aggravated by ethnic rivalry.

So instead of trying to buy out rebels, why doesn’t the government simply grant rebels perhaps 15 acres and a mule to every soldier and then make it clear that their primary income should come from the farm? This would also require ensuring a fair system of land reform and resolving land disputes.

In my view, this would dry up several challenges at once:

- it would provide both wealth to the soldiers and income which would ease costs for the central government.
- Kinshasa could then have a more volunteer army, which would free up income for reforms
- it would help revitalize the economy for what is, from my understanding, the poorest region in the nation
- the area from Bunia down to Fizi is exceptionally fertile but soil and climatic conditions vary. In Fizi, they grow mostly rice and corn given its better to do so there but in Bunia its tea, coffee, and cassava. By allocating the land in this area it would spur trade between them which, for both soldiers and everyone else, make rebelling unthinkable.
- it would provide incentives for ambitious political actors to seek out positions locally for the tax income from the farms would serve as a base for districts and territories.
- it would literally give rebels a “piece” of the Congo which would encourage them to respect its authority.
- as this deepens, the government could pursue broader land reform and offer homesteads to all Congolese.
- and as that process deepens, farmers will begin to demand better accountability from the national government which will spur it to grow more efficient in delivering services.

The area we call “Eastern Congo” is nearly twice the size of France but has less than 10% of its population. If we found a way to grant land to soldiers in exchange for declaring alliagence to the state and improving the farms we could begin to unravel this knot which is more efficient than the long, and drawn out process that is required for full scale security reform. Indeed, it would make security reform less costly given “pay” would come mostly from the farms. And if its less costly we will get more aid from donors.

Land reform, of this variety, could be a means to get to security reform and than a stronger state.


Jason Stearns said...

@Judith - Thanks for the clarifications; you should have checked the [you got it wrong] box.

You are right - Fujo, Baleke and Yakutumba have been kicking around for several years (at least since 2005, if I remember correctly, when FARDC integration began hitting the rocks), as has Kapopo (at least since his father went off to Kinshasa, but even before that).

But if there is indeed some resurgence in the past 3-9 months, what is the cause of this? The deployment of rwandophone troops? Elections approaching? My money is on the former more than the latter, but you would know better. It is also disappointing that the government hasn't been able to come up with a better strategy for the South-South.

So to be provocative - what would you do if you were Rais Kabila to deal with these armed groups?

Judith said...

Re “the sons”: after the Second War, Fujo first integrated in the FARDC , he was S3 in the second battalion of Mutupeke’s brigade (109th), but disappeared end 2008, and resurfaced in the macquis beginning 2009.

Kapopo was battalion commander in the 117th brigade led by his father Col. Alunda (collaborating with Padiri) during the Second War, refused to go to brassage afterwards and build his movement in Itombwe in 2006/2007.

Yakutumba (battalion commander in the 118th brigade under Col. Ngufu in the Second War) refused brassage and deserted in December 2006 from Baraka, officially launching his movement in January 2007.

Now about the recent upsurge in armed group activity: there have been rumours that the Masunzu/Nyakabaka (half-mufulero) camp have been trying to counter an increase in FRF influence by manipulating groups in the MP/HP, using some of their contacts in the FNL. For Yakutumba, who led a rather dormant existence in 2010, his recent awakening has definitely been influenced by his coalition with the FNL and networks based in Tanzania.

There is no panacea to end these groups’ activity. What would be needed is a multi-pronged strategy of demilitarization (reinforcing civilian governance and conflict resolution mechanisms, demilitarizing the economy, de-legitimizing the use of violence), countering the influence of cross-border supply networks, de-fusing ethnic tensions, opening up these isolated areas by building roads and phone networks …..but this is all hypothetical….it requires investments the Government can’t or does not want to make….

Ash S said...

I find the questioning of the reasons for the recent upsurge a bit strange when the prevailing view in South Kivu for months is that this is basically armed groups profiting from the security vacuum currently in the province. The FARDC regimentation process has left the majority of the province without any FARDC presence whatsoever. While the other factors no doubt play their part, these are the kinds of things that are always going on under the radar - they become major problems only in this situation of very limited state authority (i.e. even less control than at any point since 2003, I'd say).

The second major contributory factor is that the FARDC in South Kivu are increasingly perceived as "Rwandans" - the actual percentage of Rwandaphones in much of the FARDC in the province is high, and in commanding positions even more high, as you have previously noted Jason.

Also I'm surprised you don't point out that while the MM Kapopo and Kifuafua may have nominally integrated, they are not in the training centres, and are integrated in name only. They're not fighting the FARDC, but they are occupying areas of Mwenga and Kalehe/Walikale respectively. This is hardly a positive development, and not that different from the situation of the more noisy MMY.

Judith said...


I wouldn’t ascribe the recent upsurge in armed group activity in the Moyens & Hauts Plateaux and Fizi predominantly to the regimentation process. In other parts of South Kivu, like Shabunda, this has indeed played a major role, as it opened space for the FDLR to expand their influence, but not so much in the areas under consideration.

For example, in Bijombo, an increase in activity was already noticeable in December 2010, before the regimentation process started. As for the area where recent clashes with the Mai Mai Yakutumba took place (coastal strip of Lake Tanganyika from Ubwari to just north of Kalemie): there has never been any substantial FARDC deployment there, (except for some sparse badly equipped Navy elements and some isolated infantry), even before the regimentation process started. This applies to large parts of the areas of the MP and HP where there are at present armed groups: there has simply never been substantial FARDC presence in those zones. Also, the regimentation process takes part in waves, so it is not the case that the whole of South Kivu has been vacated of troops at once.

Regarding the ethnic factor, yes, it is true that armed groups in the South/South have reacted to the influx of Rwandophone troops that came with the Kimia II operations. This is why I would trace back the major acceleration of mobilization to 2009, not to recent months. But let’s not forget that this is only partly due to the arrival of Rwandophone troops itself: it was also for an important part the result of the disturbance of fragile local power balances caused by the dislocation of the FDLR and the upheavals resulting from military operations.

I agree that the Kapopo deal has largely unraveled, but Kapopo himself is still in Bukavu, about 50 of his troops underwent biometrical identification there recently, and another part is in the training centre in Kananda. The bulk, however, is in their old stronghold around Kipupu, and nominally integrated in the FARDC, although acting independently. However, in the agreement they signed with Delphin Kahimbi, they were promised an independent military sector in Itombwe. In short, I am not really sure if their recent disintegration constitutes a net deterioration: it seems that things have just remained more or less the same in Itombwe

andrea.trevisan said...

@ judith I have different informations about the leaders of armed groups:

- Fujo in early 2008 was already in the maquis. The attemp to seize the city of Uvira (17th of april 2008) was attributed to him with the support of some other mercenaries. It was in fact the first time his name became known to the public.

All the rest is a great job
- Yakutumba: I've been told that Yakutumba was held at house arrest in Kinshasa in around 2007 and that at the end of that year or during 2008 he came back to fizi territory. But I cannot confirm this.

On your previous post about the rather dormant existence of yakutumba in 2010. I think he is been very active instead. End of 2009 attack on Baraka, all 2010 clashes with fardc around fizi territory, in april 2010 kidnapping for a week of a ICRC team. It was tense down there.

Judith said...

@ Andrea,

That’s interesting, all of my sources told me Fujo’s first public action was the attack on the central prison of Uvira on April 9th 2009. Do you have more information on what he exactly did in 2008 and who was involved in the attack you describe?

Yakutumba and Looba Undji were indeed in Kinshasa from September 14th 2007 till the end of 2008, in their own words “effectively placed under house arrest”. However, I understood that their Kinshasa stay did allow them to network quite a bit with figures like Anzuluni Bembe

On Yakutumba’s 2010 actions: for sure he was not dormant then, and as you indicate, especially the April clashes around Fizi were intense. However, the group was relatively weak during most of 2010, as I was told by former combatants and FARDC sources, and not in control of important economic networks. The group themselves confirmed this, saying they tried to avoid clashes with the FARDC, and engaged mainly in ambushing.

This changed from the end of 2010/beginning 2011 onwards, when their collaboration with the FNL and FDLR started to pay off and they managed to scale up extortion and trade activities on the Tanganyika lake, allowing them to become a more serious military threat. What I mainly tried to express was that during most of 2010, the group had not the same military and economic significance as in 2009 and 2011: “dormant” was maybe not the best expression to describe this.

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