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, March 27, 2012

The Congolese army launches new operations in the Kivus, raises fears

Without much fanfare, and after almost a year of staying in holding positions, the Congolese army launched a new military offensive on February 18th. Eager to improve on past operations, this one is called Amani Kamilifu ("perfect peace" in Swahili), a successor to Amani Leo ("peace today"), Kimia I & II ("peace I & II") and Umoja Wetu ("our unity"). 
The operations appear to be confined for the moment to South Kivu, to the territories of Kabare, Kalehe, Mwenga and Shabunda, and are primarily focused against the FDLR. According to one source in the Congolese army, five battalions have been currently mobilized for these operations, one in each sector, including the following
  • 6 Sector (Colonel Rugayi): Battalion 10611 under  Lt Col Avula Yav in Hombo-Ekingi
  • 7 Sector (Col Mungura): Battalion 10721 under Lt Col Simeon in Nindja-Mpesi
  • 8 Sector (Col Kabundi): Battalion 10812 under Lt Col Kavz in Miki-Mbandakila
  • 9 Sector (Col Bernard Byamungu): Battalion 10911 under Lt Col Jaguar in Marungu-Lubumba
  • 10 Sector (Col Saddam): Unknown.
The operations have raised fears among humanitarian officials, but they also will try to build on the successes of the past months. For almost a year, the total number of displaced people had slowly fallen as aggressive military operations had largely come to a halt in the run-up to elections. Now, the United Nations has documented several new waves of displacement and abuses, especially against humanitarian workers, that may involve both army soldiers and rebel forces.

For example, a Doctors Without Borders team was attacked and robbed of their belongings in Marungu (Uvira territory) on February 27, which led the NGO to suspend its services to 38,000 vulnerable people in the area. The health center of Tchombi (Shabunda) was attacked and pillaged on February 12, allegedly by the Congolese army. The FDLR raided several villages in Kabare in March, including Cifuko, Kahamba and Mupoke, killing at least three people and burning down over a hundred huts. 

By far the worst incident occurred during a confrontation between a local militia, the Raia Mutomboki, and the FDLR in Ekingi, in the Bunyakiri region of South Kivu. Between March 1st and 4th, the Raia Mutomboki allegedly killed over thirty wives and children of the FDLR, along with a local chief. Following these incidents, the FDLR hunted down and killed three Raia Mutomboki soldiers.

It is not yet clear whether there was any collusion between the Congolese army unit based nearby, which had allegedly been in the same FDLR village just days before, and the Raia Mutomboki. Survivors of the attack report that they had never seen the Mutomboki there previously.

In the meantime, there are other operations ongoing against the FDLR, ADF-Nalu and Congolese armed groups in North Kivu that have led to the displacement of thousands of other civilians.

A series of attacks by the Congolese army and local militia over the past several years has led to the steep decline in the strength of the FDLR. Most recently, a spate of assassinations against their leaders - allegedly by Rwandan special forces based in North Kivu, together with local militia - has been particularly devastating for the organization.


Walter said...

The road to Marungu is a rather notorious stretch of dirt track for NGOs traveling on it. Last time I was in Uvira (2011), I counted at least 5-6 NGO vehicles that were held up and robbed around the same spot over the course of the year; the only time there was violence involved was when an MSF vehicle did not stop when flagged down by the bandits (contrary to UNDSS/OCHA protocols), and so their vehicle was strafed and several MSF staff members injured.

There was also one (possibly apocryphal) story about a GIZ driver who was stopped and robbed by the bandits near Marungu, and asking for the SIM card for the mobile phone that had been taken from him. Interestingly enough, the bandits acquiesced to the request and returned the SIM card.

The consensus was that it is the same group of local criminals (ex-soldiers/militia) that seemed to be taking advantage of a particularly remote spot of road.

Personally, I'm curious if Amani Kilifu is eventually planning on dealing with Mai Mai Yakutumba in Fizi Territory.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Jason.

Nothing about LRA in these operations? Just the FDLR?


Anonymous said...

well, i wish the troops and generals well.

but as long as we continue with these "band aid" and badly named operations that do not FULLY pacify the region AND end impunity within FADRC we will be back in the same place.

and to that I'd add a question: what is kinshasa's broad goal for operations in the east?

does anyone know?

and to be clear, it can't be "peace" because if it was we wouldn't have these tactical operations as the sole means to bring it about- precisely because we all know getting rid of FDLR, by itself, can't bring lasting peace.

thus, does anyone know what the main game plan here is?


Judith said...

Attacks on road the road to Marungu have also been ascribed to Fujo Zabuloni, who has recently teamed up with Colonel Baleke and his “Mouvement pour la Defense du Peuple” (now also under attack by the 104th regiment)

According to some sources, the attack on MSF in Marungu was carried out by the Mai Mai Mushombe (who still hang out in the Marungu area the after all attempts at negotiations last year failed), likely driven by anger as the FARDC accidentally killed one of theirs after mistaking him for an FDLR and because of frustrations over the failed negotiations and their total lack of resources

Ops against Yakutumba have been ongoing by the 105th regiment (HQ in Baraka) even before the official launch of “kamilifu” (they resumed pretty much directly after the elections); his troops have largely withdrawn from the Mboko area, and combats have lately been concentrated around the Makama/Kongolo gold mine just south of Baraka.

Maybe it’s interesting to note that the logic behind the ops in the Itombwe forest has been to encircle the FDLR (from Lubumba, Mbandakila & Miki), who are really in a quite vulnerable position there, although the FARDC have always proven bad in holding out in impenetrable forests. Perhaps all the weed plantations in Itombwe will help them hang on.

Anand said...

@Mel - I think I read something about a joint effort between military forces of Uganda, DRC, and CAR in a new effort to combat the LRA. Not sure if this is connected with Obama's 100. I'm sure someone can chime in with more details.

There was also the particularly brutal FDLR attack in Shabunda in January. I have a hard time trying to decipher these new operations. As Jose mentioned, they seem like band aids. But band aids to what aim? I am still unconvinced that the current regime has the political will to bring stability to the east. It seems like they will do what is most politically expedient for them and their allies. Seems like extinguishing FDLR would fit these parties common interests, but I am not so sure if this extends to other armed groups. I am further unsure whether there is any noble reason at all behind government sanctioned FARDC operations. I have a hard time talking about these entities being engaged in legitimate activities for the benefit of the general citizenry. Is it too far fetched to view the powers that be as running the FARDC as essentially their own militia? I'm not sure. Wishing all involved safety, in light of these new operations.

Rich said...

Jose & Anand -

It is not clear about the long term plan for peace or stability in the east of Congo but here is a link to the recent meeting between the interim PM Koyagialo, North Kivu governor Paluku, the head of police Charles Bisengimana and all heads of security services. It all seemed like focus is on fdlr and North Kivu.

Here is the link, you can jump to the section starting from minute 0:40 and ending at minute 2:49.


blaise said...

Long term? I don't think that there is any long term plan or left alone a plan period to end this.
We have to remember that Jk (2001) promised to restore peace in the East. 11 years later, we are still talking about the same thing. One should ask what exactly the army is doing. What is the track record of those officers anyway in term of " fait d'armes"?
I think Jose is right by calling this ops a band aid. Their plan is to either occupy some mines or siphon money from the international donors. They don't care about the population as usual. If the army is as big as 100,000 as they were planning and the FDLR has more or less 5,000 troops, how come they cannot be outnumber? Even a quarter of the effective should do the trick. If they are in the forest, block their trade roads, make their life hard. That if they want to finish them off. Again, is not in anybody interest except the poor population.

Anand said...

Rich - Thanks for the timely link!

Blaise - I share your skepticism. I don't see any indicators that Kinshasa is serious about stabilizing the east.

Judith said...


I don't think the outcomes of military operations are necessarily determined by mathematical calculations of troop numbers (plenty of historical examples here, look at Afghanistan for example)

The extremely difficult terrain (especially for armies without logistics and air support), the FARDC’s lack of situational awareness (vs FDLR knowing every tree in the forest) and lack of motivation (vs. FDLR indoctrinated to die for their cause), in combination with permanent leaks of intel (there is not any operation the FARDC carry out where their adversaries haven’t been informed beforehand) make operations by the FARDC relatively ineffective, no matter what number of troops you put there (and that tiny bit of MONUSCO support won’t make a lot of difference either, in the face of the insurmountable structural obstacles to enhancing the FARDC’s operational effectiveness)

Worse, FARDC operations have often a negative impact on local conflict dynamics, even more so since they are seen as biased and Rwandophone-dominated in the wake of CNDP and PARECO integration

However, not putting any military pressure on armed groups appears not a good idea either-only carrots without sticks has yielded little results-and even reinforced groups (think of the notorious Goma Conference). The problem is that there is no policy to deal with AG beyond military operations.

Usually, governments involved in counter-insurgency apply a whole set of complementary policy tools, of which military operations is just one.However, in the DRC, negotiations with AG are totally haphazard, uncoordinated, often linked to electoral campaigns or other efforts of politicians to put themselves in the spotlight, and sadly, a lucrative business for both the negotiators and the targeted AG. I know at least a few of them who made handsome profits by just sitting at the negotiation table-only to reinforce their group after walking away.

Rich said...

Judith -

Thanks for your insight, no one could have said it better than you. Good to read from you again on this blog.


Anonymous said...

"The problem is there is no policy to deal with AG beyond military operations"

that, indeed, is the problem, judith.

and thus the question, in my mind, is why?

it just seems to me that the regime really does need to make some fundamental (and very hard) decisions:

- it admits the obvious and simply allows the kivu's to secede/and/or give them to Rwanda
- it decides to turn the region into one big occupation zone and snuff out the truly bad guys(in and out of FADRC) and finally deal with all the conflicts (land, citizenship, ethnicity, etc)

i completely realize their are no good options here and that either one would likely severely disrupt internal politics in kinshasa and those with its client states (namely, Rwanda)- not to mention test the capacity and capabilities of FADRC.

but again, this latest operation- while tactically understandable- doesn't seem to really have a point other than to give the boys in the barracks something to do and burnish the image of pols in the region.

and, in the meanwhile, this lack of coherence from kinshasa is leading to volatile things like this....

"Up to 7,000 Congolese Flee into Uganda"

And ofcourse, those of us in the West get near constant appeals to "help" but, as one is surely to find out, that help goes for naught given there is never enough money because the underlying problem is never dealt with which allows the "need" to keep growing.

as I stated earlier, i would surely like to know what is the policy behind military operations.

if its nothing than alteast that is an answer.

meanwhile, people are dying because they can't farm or are forced to flee their homes....


Anonymous said...

Oh, Jose. I sense your frustration and appreciate your love for Congo. You a patriot of our nation, Jose! But, problem is, all this assume a government that is not concern with self-preservation and can think clearly. We do not have this in Congo, unfortunately. So policy is, as you say, "band aid"- not seeking resolution.- Marie

Anand said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anand said...

Thanks for the analysis, Jose and Judith. Your comments are poignant and insightful. I am reminded of something Anthony Gambino said at this panel discussion about the elections (a little while back, with Dizolele and Jason). He was making the point that the elections are the cornerstone of everything Congo. Conflicts, economy, ethnic clashes, healthcare, education, etc. In this thread, as well as the last one, I find myself always back at square one. No proposed solutions (to the east or to other issues), will come to pass under a regime that simply doesn't have the priority or agenda to make them happen. FARDC has numerous failings no doubt. But, the larger issue is that there is little to no effort from above to address them. FARDC fails, because the government fails in its basic, fundamental duties and functions. It has failed foremost in addressing the simple legitimacy of its own existence, in terms of the leaders who are in power. The election was paramount, and the the world watched as it went by in all of its flawed fraudulence. This event, left largely unaddressed, is the most significant event in recent Congolese history. It will affect everything we are talking about for years to come. I think Judith's last paragraph starts to sum up what I am trying to say. Even the things often heralded as "solutions" (integrating CNDP into the army) are based on political expediency, not what is in the interest of the people. In trying to unravel these operations, I think we must first consider, what is the real motivation of those setting these operations into action?

Rich said...

Thanks to all -

Before we get carried away too far thinking on what a solution to the problems in the east of DRC should look like, let me just add this.

Against all the odds, on January 22, 2009, just when cndp seemed ready to take Goma and probably Bukavu, nkunda was stopped and his men told to disband without delay. In a significant switch of alliances the conflict in the east de-escalated to a great extent hence reducing sensibly the noise of gunshots in that area of my country and unjust killings/sufferings of innocents.

So, although we strive with our legitimate concerns and questions about the lack of a long term solution, we also must admit that there are so many under the table dealings or unknowns that we may not be aware of.

My general impression is that people (local and regional leaders) in the east are the ones to frame how these ongoing conflicts can find an realistic and integrated solution. Mind you the problems in the east did not start yesterday adding to that, the rwandan genocide and the collapse of the Congolese state did not help this already messy situation.

In my opinion, the best way forward is, as I said, to see local and regional leaders in the east commit seriously to find a solution to this problem whilst the central government will join in to consolidate any gain.

I hear many times, people saying, a professional and strong FARDC will end the problems in the east. Although I agree with part of this thinking, but its practicability poses many problems. You cannot have a serious army where you don't have a serious political environment, a serious economy and a serious mentality. Army is a culture, army is a tradition you do not form a serious army in 10 years, 20 years, 30 years etc... a good army never lost the war to the point of being completely dismantled, like it was the case of the FAZ (the FARDC's parent).

So, it is up for local and regional leaders to frame the way forward then the central government as well as the international community can join in to support those efforts by, for instance, making sure rwanda is kept at bay and ensuring everyone live up to their engagements.


Anand said...

Rich - Thanks for the interesting perspective. When you say regional leaders, are you referring to governors, leaders of particular communities, city leaders? I am interested to know how this might work. Do you think local leaders can generate enough leverage to bring about change? What about unifying the populace in spite of ethnic divisions? I think you have a very interesting idea here. I am wondering how such a process might evolve, what obstacles it would face, and what spark might set it in motion.

Anonymous said...

I believe we all agree on your point, Rich. Clearly, local solutions are always best.

I think where folks like me, Jose, and Anand are falling, however, is the continuing problem of legitimacy- and the symptoms that lead to tactical maneuvers like this latest "surge"-that besets Kinshasa.

The elites in Kinshasa, whether they like it or not, now face pressure from a variety of fronts given the elections. This is a direct result of the fact that its opponents (both within and outside the so called "majority") sense blood in the water and are likely going to try to undermine Kabila's authority in ways large and small. Well, the practical result of this will likely be more internal political instability which, externally, is leading to the situation we have now whereby we still do not have a government, Etienne is still under house arrest, and half-measures like this operation.

Indeed, as Anand is suggesting (which was suggested by Dr. Gambino) as long as we have this low-grade political crisis still festering EVERY aspect of policy is going to be disjointed and lack cohesion and clarity.

I don't doubt there are things "under the table" going on in a government that has a parallel power structure. I think what some of us are questioning here is the motivations of the regime given the environment they are NOW (vs 2009) they are operating in and the degree to which this is reflected in this fairly incoherent operation.

Resolving the problem in the East is going to require a diplomatic, logistical, structural, and political calibrations.

It appears, though I may be wrong, that maximizing the will to do this is becoming rather problematic and it is likely because the elites recognize something has changed in the political dispensation.

Just my (admittedly amateurish) thinking.


Anonymous said...

Why can't Pres. Kabila nomitate someone like former VP Azarias Ruberwa to be the minister of defense or justice. He is one of the only true statesman of Congo who has no record of corruption whatsoever and is seen by the international community as one of the few real statesmen of Congo...Can anyone tell me What Kabila is thinking?

blaise said...

@ Judith,
you absolutely right about the numerous challenges the FARDC had to face regarding the FDLR. I just beg to differ about your assertion concerning the number of troops and the outcome of a war. In the contrary, number really matter. To take your example of Afghanistan, the surge pushed the Talibans out of most of their stronghold. How about somalia? El shabbab was supposed to be out of reach as well.
In our case, I believe that if there is a will, the problem can be solve. I don't think those FDLR are as fanatic as the Talibans. If it was the case, we will have heard about suicide bombing in Goma or Bukavu. I believe their effectiveness is overrated. Paluku said they just have 2000 in north Kivu.
I think the army has to clean up his backyard first. Those who sold uniforms or information to the FDLR are known. It's an open secret. The regional intelligence community knows where to find those FDLR, they taped their phones, they cannot keep secrets themselves. Are they in the forest? well, cut off their finances. They are trading gold and charcoals in the opening! If there was a will to neutralize them they will have been history by now. That what colombia is doing with the Farc. The FDLR don't even have a safe heaven in neighboring countries! Something is wrong here.

Rich said...

Anand -

What I meant by regional leaders was any with some kind of influence at regional level. This can be politics, religious, businessmen even certain tribal chiefs etc...

Now the way I see this pan out will be through something similar to the 'search for common ground' approach where various community will sign up to not use violence to settle land related disputes. An example of that is what is going on in Equateur province where people from groupements of Damia and Libanza have signed a peace agreement and set up a local committee of conciliation to help resolve conflicts and rivalries between the two communities.

Yes it is hard to predict how this will work but I know in the case of eastern Congo, the question of identity will always poison good initiative and some politics and transnational ethnic leaders will use identity to reinforce their influence.

Mel -

I am with you too on the continuing problem of legitimacy. Unfortunately this will always be the problem where politics refuse to recognize that their adversary, even if in their eyes represent satan, have many people who identify themselves in him and are ready to do what it takes to support him.

Congolese politics need to learn how to respect (they can disagree but they need to respect them) their opponents' supporters. Rather than thinking if someone supports him he must be corrupt or stupid...


Rich said...

Just wanted to share the link below. It is about the LRA and the new 5000 men force created by the African union on 24 March 2012.

Sorry I've got not time to translate it but maybe someone can help.

It is interesting because general J C Kifwa is giving his perspective on the LRA. Kifwa also said to be surprised that the recent campaign on the web seems to trigger this decision by the African Union to create this force with a mission to hunt down Kony.


Anand said...

Rich - Thanks for elaborating. I understand a little better now what you mean. Also, did not know about this process in Equateur. I'll look into it; interesting.

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Anonymous said...

Send all niggas to their gods in heaven, and peace will come back to congo.

Anonymous said...

Rebels and troublemakers of all kinds should be shot on the spot. This will help MSF (DWF) in their humanitary assistance of women, children and good men. Niendela samba matawobazze!!!

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