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, August 30, 2012

Interviews, statements from Rwanda

For those who haven't seen these interesting interviews:

Rwandan Minister of Defense James Kabaerebe gives an extremely interesting and frank interview to Colette Braeckman.

Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo's statement to the UN Security Council.

President Paul Kagame's interview with the Metro in New York.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Coalitions and Defections in a Context of Uncertainty – A Report from Ituri (Part II)

This is the second part of a guest blog by Henning Tamm, a doctoral candidate in International Relations at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford, and a pre-doctoral fellow with the Program on Order, Conflict and Violence at Yale University.

 As discussed in the first part of this guest post, the Congolese government initially didn’t respond to the demands that Cobra Matata expressed in February 2012 for integrating his Force de Résistance Patriotique d’Ituri (FRPI) into the army. An appeal by Ituri’s civil society was also left unanswered. Then, in mid-May, a new Ituri rebel coalition (COGAI, Coalition des Groupes Armés de l’Ituri) was announced.

COGAI officially consists of four groups: the FRPI; the Front Populaire pour le Développement Durable de l’Ituri (FPDDI); the Force Armée pour la Révolution (FAR); and the Forces Armées d’Intégration de l’Ituri (FAII). COGAI’s founding document suggests that “Col. Hitler” leads the FPDDI, as the creation of this rebel platform is said to have taken place “under the watchful eye of General Cobra Matata and Colonel Hitler.” The FAII is headed by “Col.” Charité Semire, his co-signatory is “Lt. Col.” Saidi Cedrick. Amos Lopa and Blaise Ngbathema signed for the FAR. The coalition’s spokesperson is John Mpigwa (FPDDI).

Who are these groups and their leaders? Apart from Cobra’s FRPI, none of these groups and individuals is well-known. The most significant characteristic of their coalition is that it is multi-ethnic: Mpigwa, “Hitler,” and Semire, for instance, are all Hema; the latter two are former UPC combatants. Although Ituri’s “war within a war,” which began in mid-1999, initially pitted Hema and Lendu against each other, rebel alliances that cross ethnic boundaries are not a new phenomenon. Since the conflict shifted to a struggle between the central government and the UN peacekeeping mission versus rebel remnants around 2005, there have been several such coalitions, e.g., the Mouvement Révolutionnaire Congolais (MRC) between 2005-7 and the Front Populaire pour la Justice au Congo (FPJC) between 2008-2010.

However, ethnicity remains an important issue. At the end of July, five Hema were murdered on their way from Kasenyi to Uganda. Radio Okapi initially reported that they had been killed by the (Lendu-dominated) FRPI. Mpigwa, the COGAI spokesman, then rejected these allegations. A civil society leader in Bunia suggested that this attack might possibly have been staged in order to increase ethnic tensions and thus weaken the rebel coalition. True or false, this example suggests that cross-ethnic cooperation remains frail.

Nonetheless, local sources believe that there is at least one issue that unites Iturians – immense frustration with and mistrust in the central government. COGAI, like the MRC before it, is trying to tap into these grievances: its founding document calls for the creation of Ituri as a province in line with article 226 of the 2006 constitution. Other demands include the creation of a new military region; the honorable reinsertion of ex-combatants into society; the reintegration of “soldiers” and the recognition of their ranks; the closing down of illegal army roadblocks; and the immediate departure of Col. Fal Sikabwe, the Congolese commander of Ituri.

Opinions on how seriously COGAI should be taken are divided. One community leader considered COGAI to be an “empty wardrobe that might be stocked in the future.” On the other hand, there have been reports of recruitments in Djugu territory (central Ituri) in both July and August that were linked to Col. Hitler and Semire. Moreover, last week, an army colonel defected with around 30 men and – according to Col. Sikabwe – joined COGAI. Earlier in August, an army major and some of his men joined Cobra’s FRPI.

It is extremely difficult to assess this rebel coalition’s cohesion and origins. We spoke to a COGAI member who played an important role in the UPC rebellion and who had been authorized by Semire and Mpigwa to speak on their behalf. According to him, the idea of COGAI was born when Semire and other Hema heard of rumors that M23 had contacted Cobra Matata and had asked him to form an alliance. Afraid that Cobra would then grow powerful enough to threaten their villages, they decided to act swiftly and offered Cobra to become the head of a new rebel coalition, which he accepted. They further claim that they added 480 fighters to Cobra’s troops.

Up to this point, the representative’s story doesn’t seem implausible, although the number of fighters might well be exaggerated. There have been all kinds of rumors regarding M23’s involvement in Ituri. For instance, unconfirmed reports from May suggested that John Tibasima – a former MRC combatant, not to be confused with well-known Ateenyi (“John”) Tibasima – was recruiting young Hema on Bosco Ntaganda’s and Rwanda’s behalf. In July, there were rumors about Rwanda being in contact with Cobra through Tibasima. These reports should not be taken at face value. (It is also noteworthy that many Iturians use “Rwandan” and “rwandophone” interchangeably.) The point is that the last few months have been marked by a high degree of uncertainty, which adds some plausibility to the COGAI representative’s account.

Similar to the rumors about Rwandan involvement, COGAI statements about their plans and external alliances should be taken as interesting claims rather than facts. The COGAI representative said that Semire and Mpigwa would be working on a new politico-military movement that would bring together elements from Ituri and Haut-Uele districts. It would fight for the security and economic autonomy of Ituri and Haut-Uele and hence demand the re-creation of Kibali-Ituri province. Negotiations for support from the Ugandan and South Sudanese armies are allegedly ongoing, and he claimed the latter have already accepted to provide support. While there were reports on relations between Jérôme Kakwavu’s Forces Armées Populaires du Congo (FAPC) and the SPLA/M between 2003-5, this alleged South Sudan link still appears rather dubious.

Moreover, the COGAI representative claimed that the Hema faction wouldn’t want to work together with Rwanda or M23. They consider M23 to be close to Bosco and believe that the latter betrayed General Floribert Kisembo (former military chief of staff of the UPC), who was killed by the Congolese army last year after being accused of launching a rebellion. It is not clear whether Semire and Mpigwa are speaking on behalf of all Hema elements within COGAI, or even whether these statements accurately reflect their opinions.

As the rumors concerning John Tibasima suggest, even those Hema willing to fight might be divided between seeking contact to Rwanda or to Uganda. Furthermore, other local sources pointed out that there are many Hema businessmen who have heavily invested in Bunia and wouldn’t want to see their investments threatened by renewed conflict. It is thus unlikely that these bold announcements about a new, powerful armed group spanning Haut-Uele and Ituri will become reality unless there is significant external support for such a project.

What about Cobra’s FRPI in these grand schemes? Semire and Mpigwa would want to keep COGAI, which would then be a coalition between the FRPI and their new movement. However, given Cobra’s current negotiations with the government, they said they were suspicious that he might give up his armed struggle. In fact, the Congolese government has finally reacted to Cobra’s demands. In June, President Kabila sent Major General Dieudonné Amuli, who himself hails from the district, to Ituri in order to negotiate an end to the “Cobra problem.” Since then, talks have been ongoing and the Congolese army has begun to provide the FRPI rebels with food.

Given the government’s experience with the CNDP, we should not expect that it will accept Cobra’s conditions for reintegration. On the other hand, Cobra now has his new COGAI allies as a bargaining chip, and he might hold out to see how things develop in North Kivu. It is thus difficult to envision how the ongoing negotiations could succeed in the near future. Ituri is bound to remain fragile.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Congolese strategy against the M23: A stick and another stick (no carrot)

The truce between the M23 and the Congolese army has held now for almost a month - both sides have silenced their guns while negotiations have stumbled from Addis Ababa to Khartoum, Kampala and finally to Goma.

Despite the reprive, however, the talks have not brought much hope, and chances for a break-through remain slim. The Congolese government’s main strategy seems to reside in donor pressure on Rwanda and the military defeat of the M23 – neither of which, standing alone, is likely to be sufficient to bring an end to this debacle.

Let’s review this approach.

The Congolese government continues to refuse to talk with the M23 mutineers, a position that has been bolstered by Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister Didier Reynders’ recent statements on his trip to the Congo. (“Integrating those who are indisciplined, that means integrating indiscipline itself.”) In private, Congolese army commanders still insist on a military solution, and have continued sending troops to the Kivus over the past months. This means that the main diplomatic efforts have been between countries in the region, and have focused on the creation of a neutral military force.

The contours of this force were sketched out in the recent meetings of regional army commanders in Goma. It should be made up of 4,000 African troops, have a UN and AU mandate, be charged to eradicate the M23 and the FDLR, and be “operationalized” within three months of the next meeting of the ICGLR head of state in September. The force would be deployed over a vast area – the Rusizi Plain, Beni-Ruwenzori, Masisi-Walikale, and Rutshuru.

However, there are good reasons not to question whether this force will be set up. Primarily: who will staff the force, and who will pay for it. The latest deal between the countries would exclude Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, and the DR Congo from the mission. While the Congolese say in private they have over a dozen countries lined up who are ready to send troops, there has been little public expressions of interest, and it is difficult to imagine who would want to send their soldiers into risky counterinsurgency operations in the Congo.

The Congolese have suggested that MONUSCO could be converted into this force – despite the clause in the Goma deal saying the troops would be African (most MONUSCO troops in the Kivus are South Asian). And there have been some encouraging mumurs from some diplomats, but it is highly unlikely that the UN or its troop-contributing countries would accept an aggressive peace-imposition mandate.

As for footing the bill – none of the donors I have spoken with seem very eager. They are already spending $1,4 billion each year on MONUSCO.

At the same time, the M23 has taken advantage of the break in fighting to train new troops and to structure their movement. One of their main challenges has always been their lack of soldiers – they started their group in May with around 200-400 men, and have since been able to expand their numbers to perhaps 1,500. But many of these troops are newcomers and have been thrown into battle after just a week or two of training. Defectors speak of suffering so many casualties in the battle for Bunagana in early July, for example, that new recruits – bakurutu in their terminology – were sent to the frontlines, many with only rudimentary knowledge of fighting.

So they have accelerated their training wing, first in Tshanzu, where the CNDP also had a training camp back in 2008, and in Rumangabo since the M23 took over the Congolese military camp there in July. This past week, there was news of a graduation ceremony there for several hundred new recruits.

In sum, the neutral force is unlikely to be the solution to the current mess, and could provide the M23 with a much-needed break in fighting.

As for the second prong of the Congolese strategy, international pressure on Rwanda, it will probably be part of the solution, but is not a silver bullet. Pressure is most effective when you can measure results, and it is difficult to figure out whether Rwanda has stopped providing support to the M23.

In addition, donors are also reluctant to play politics with aid, especially in a country such as Rwanda, which is known for its efficient use of donor money.

A first litmus test will be donors’ decisions regarding their aid money. Various donors – the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, and the African Development Bank – have suspended aid while they evaluate the situation. Some of these countries are now due to make their decision whether to continue to suspend, to disburse or to cut their aid altogether.

The UK, for example, has promised Rwanda a decision by the end of the month, while other donors, such as the AfDB and Sweden, as well as Belgium and the European Union, are due to make decisions in September. Germany has already said it will link its decision to the final report of the UN Group of Experts, which will be submitted in October.

(Another interesting development will be any changes to Rwanda's credit rating - Fitch is coming out with a new appraisal in mid-September, and Standard & Poor's will be out before the end of the year. Both currently give Rwanda a B with a stable, positive outlook.)

In any case, pressure would be most productive if one could specify concrete steps that Rwanda could take, rather than trying to measure the absence of support to the M23. En bref, donors want Kigali to be seen as part of the solution rather than being part of the problem. In 2009, for example, Kigali acted against the CNDP, arresting Nkunda and forcing the CNDP to integrate into the national army. It is difficult to imagine a similar deal now, in part also because the Congolese government does not appear ready to compromise.

This is perhaps now the most important task – trying to figure out what political compromise can form the fulcrum of international pressure and diplomatic activity. Should it be the reintegration of the M23 into the Congolese army, perhaps deploying commanders elsewhere in the country, while arresting others? Should it be a more comprehensive peace process, that would address political as well as military issues (refugee return, decentralization, etc.) and would include other groups in addition to the M23? Or should it be the focus on the deployment of a military force, either to hunt down the FDLR and M23, or to observe the Congolese-Rwandan border?

For now, these questions are moot, as the Congolese government refuses to consider any political compromise. In the end, military offensives and pressure on Rwanda may be part of a comprehensive political strategy. But only a part.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Coalitions and Defections in a Context of Uncertainty – A Report from Ituri (Part I)

This is a guest blog by Henning Tamm, a doctoral candidate in International Relations at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford, and a pre-doctoral fellow with the Program on Order, Conflict and Violence at Yale University.

While international media have focused their attention on North Kivu, a lot has happened in Ituri. This district, which used to be the most violent place in the Congo, has been relatively peaceful since 2007, with the notable exception of Cobra Matata’s Force de Résistance Patriotique d’Ituri (FRPI) group in southern Ituri.

However, since early this year, there have been defections from the army, a new rebel coalition, and even announcements that there will soon be a new rebel movement uniting elements from Haut-Uele and Ituri districts. In general, Bunia is awash with all kinds of rumors, some more plausible than others. This two-part guest post provides an overview of these developments.

On February 14, 2012, around the time of Dan Fahey’s update on events in Ituri, an army defection occurred in Marabo, around 40km west of Bunia. The leaders of this mutiny were officers from North Kivu, and several reliable sources confirm that there was a link between the Marabo mutiny and the M23 rebellion in North Kivu. In fact, there have been suggestions that the mutiny in Marabo was supposed to occur simultaneously with M23 machinations in North Kivu but had to be pushed forward due to a leak. The army commander in charge of operations in Ituri, Col. Fal Sikabwe, has openly accused its ringleader Col. Germain of collaborating with M23, although we should be careful not to exaggerate the links between events in Ituri and those in North Kivu.

The Marabo mutiny had consequences for an originally more local issue, that of Cobra Matata’s FRPI (Force de Résistance Patriotique d’Ituri). Cobra has been one of the key FRPI figures since its very beginnings around 2000. In 2002, having killed the FRPI’s first leader (“Col.” Kandro), Cobra became military chief of staff when Germain Katanga – currently on trial at the ICC – was named president of the group. Cobra was finally integrated into the Congolese army in 2007, but defected in mid-2010 and returned to Walendu Bindi collectivity, the FRPI’s stronghold in Irumu territory (southern Ituri). According to a community leader, Cobra himself gave three reasons for his defection: He didn’t obtain a proper position in the army, his housing conditions in Kinshasa were poor, and he did not receive his salary.

Although the FRPI gained some strength after Cobra’s return to the bush, it remained in the Tsey forest and only ventured out into other parts of Walendu Bindi for hit-and-run operations. “Col.” Mbadu Adirodu, who had been in charge of the FRPI after Cobra left in late 2007, moved into his position of second-in-command.

So how did the Marabo mutiny in February 2012 relate to the FRPI? Concerned by these army defections, General Gabriel Amisi (“Tango Four”) came to Bunia. He wanted to speed up the regimentation process, which he had initiated to restructure the army, and asked soldiers to regroup in several military centers. Cobra’s FRPI took advantage of the security vacuum created by these redeployments and took control of most of Walendu Bindi.

At the end of February, a delegation of local officials and community leaders met with Cobra in Bukiringi (Walendu Bindi). Cobra listed his conditions for reintegrating into the army to the officials, who said they would have to forward Cobra’s demands to the provincial level (Kisangani), from where they would be sent to the government in Kinshasa. Somebody present at this meeting suggested that Cobra’s demands were inspired by the (now infamous) agreement between the CNDP and the Congolese government of March 23, 2009 – among other things, Cobra demanded that he and his troops be integrated whilst remaining based in Ituri. At the time, Cobra claimed that his FRPI had 1,500 fighters – a figure that could not be confirmed and was considered exaggerated by observers.

For a long time, the Congolese government simply didn’t respond to Cobra’s demands. In the meantime, local community leaders organized food collections for FRPI troops so that they wouldn’t continue to prey on civilians. While this local arrangement worked relatively well, it is also indicative of a central authority that most (if not all) Iturians consider absent at best and exploitative at worst.

It was only after the M23 trouble had started in North Kivu that the Congolese government and the army command seemed to begin caring about the FRPI. By then, however, there were rumors about links between M23 and Cobra’s FRPI, and a new Ituri rebel coalition (COGAI, Coalition des Groupes Armés de l’Ituri) had formed. As one well-informed observer suggested, the government had wasted its chance to negotiate with Cobra from a position of relative strength.

The second part of this guest post will deal with COGAI and the context of uncertainty in which it has been created and is still evolving. It will also discuss a bold announcement, made last week by representatives of COGAI factions, that they are already working on a new politico-military movement that will span Haut-Uele and Ituri.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Defining a negative - When will donors un-freeze aid to Rwanda?

Yesterday, Sweden announced that it was suspending aid to Rwanda. Their aid was $32 million last year, which would come on top of the aid that the Netherlands ($6 million), the African Development Bank ($38 million), Germany ($26 million over next five years), the United Kingdom (up to $50 million), and the United States ($200,000). That's a total of $152 million. There are now suggestions that even the World Bank and the European Union, who give large amounts of aid to Rwanda, are reviewing their portfolios.

But the key word here should be: "suspended." With the exception of the US, which was legally forced to cut a symbolic amount of military aid, all these donors have frozen aid while they wait to see what Rwanda's response will be to allegations of support to the M23. After several months (in the case of the AfDB, one month), they could decide to disburse or further delay funding.

The problem is: What will convince donors to release aid? As one diplomat told me this week: "It amounts to defining a negative. We have to know when Rwanda has ceased supporting the M23, something they have denied all along." That will be very difficult. There is no acid test for Rwandan involvement, no easy way of knowing when this behavior has stopped.

The British Development Minister Andrew Mitchell tried a different tack, trying to identify what concrete steps (defining a positive?) the Rwandan government could undertake to show its good faith:
"We expect the Rwandan government to play a most important role in (regional) discussions ... and we look also, of course, to the Rwandan government to make clear where they stand on the issue of the mutiny, the rebellion which is taking place by the M23 group in the DRC."
In other words, Rwanda needs to look like part of the solution and not part of the problem. An oft-mentioned analogy is Kigali's actions in 2009, after a UN report accused it of supporting Laurent Nkunda's rebellion. Then, Kigali also denied the charge, but then swiftly arrested Nkunda and struck a deal with Kinshasa. While donors had little doubt that Rwanda was supporting Nkunda's CNDP, Rwanda was seen as a force for good. Sweden and the Netherlands, which had suspended aid, unfroze it.

It's not clear how Rwanda could carry out a similar sleight of hand now. The Khartoum and Kampala meetings, which have mulled over the creation of a "neutral force," have been received with hefty skepticism by most donors I have spoken with, who don't see how this force would be staffed or funded (nor do I). In other words - this is not the solution that donors are waiting for, at least it doesn't look like it.

Unfortunately, the furore over Rwandan involvement has led to smugness in Kinshasa and indignation in Kigali - not emotions that are exactly conducive to pragmatic problem-solving. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Changes to comments section

I have made a slight alteration to the comments section. Readers will now have to register in order to post comments. I want to maintain this space as a place for constructive debate, but the discussion has become at times unnecessarily aggressive, even spiteful, in recent weeks. Thanks for understanding.

Resoliving the Kivus crisis: Beyond Khartoum and Kampala?

Countries from the regional International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) have been meeting, first in Khartoum and now in Kampala to discuss steps to deal with the crisis in the eastern Congo.

What are the options on the table?

While Kigali has been insisting on negotiations with the M23, Kinshasa has been emboldened by recent pressure on Rwanda and has been pushing for a military solution. Through its bumptious spokesperson, it refused negotiations with the M23. However, the government is not speaking with one voice, as the North Kivu governor suggested that the implementation of the March 23, 2009 deal (the raison d'etre of the eponymous M23) should be evaluated. In his speech last week, President Kabila also said that his government will also avail itself of political and diplomatic options to solve the crisis, and there are some reports that M23 has sent a delegation to Kampala to negotiate with the government on the sidelines of the regional summit there.

So there have been some contradictions in the government's resolve, especially given the series of defeats its soldiers have suffered in recent weeks and the possibility that Goma could be the next town to fall.

It is not surprising that Kinshasa would be looking for military support. First, its representatives, along with other states in the region, asked for a neutral force to come and hunt down the M23, FDLR and other "negative forces." Now, Foreign Minister Raymond Tshibanda is suggesting that MONUSCO be part of such a force, and that the UN Security Council change its mandate so that it can take offensive actions against these refractory groups. 

(Here is the official report of the Khartoum meeting.)

But a dose of realism would be welcome, as this chimerical force will be difficult to achieve or, worse, could become an unnecessary distraction from more worthwhile initiatives. Why?
  • Money. Donors are already spending $1,4 billion per annum on the UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo. It is unlikely that they would want to spend millions more on a new, aggressive mission to hunt down rebel forces. 
  • Troops. Where would the troops come from? In theory, troops would have to be neutral, which could rule out many countries in the region, such as Angola, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and perhaps others. Also, which country would want to send their troops into the deep Congolese jungles to hunt down the FDLR, and into Rutshuru's hills to fight the M23? The UN has already had a hard time to find troops to staff its peacekeeping mission, and I doubt the main contributing countries to that mission (India, Pakistan, Uruguay) would like seeing their men and women take on a more aggressive, risky role.
  • Transforming the UN mission. The Congolese government has said the UN should change MONUSCO's mission to take on a more offensive role, in effect becoming the neutral force the ICGLR has asked for. Like I said, the troop contributing countries are very unlikely to accept this kind of aggressive mandate. 
  • Time. It will take months - at least - to create and deploy a neutral force. During this time, the M23 and related armed groups are likely to make moves and gain ground. 
  • Other options. There have been suggestions that the M23 would be significantly weakened if it did not have support from Rwanda, or at least a rear base there. Rwanda has denied this, but why not just set up joint Rwandan-Congolese-MONUSCO patrols along key parts of this border? At the same time, it would illusory to think that we can put the genie back in the bottle with pure military force. By now, we have mobilization linked to the M23 In Ituri, the Ruwenzoris, Walikale, and perhaps parts of South Kivu. Rwanda may be playing a critical role, but it is not the only actor here. So what kind of peaceful options can we pursue without, as a previous guest post argues, undermining army reform and encouraging the mobilization of new groups? Some real thought needs to be put into a proper stabilization strategy in the Kivus that does not repeat the mistakes of the 2008 peace conference and the 2009 peace deal with the CNDP. More on that soon.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Rwanda, the Group of Experts and the M23

This post initially said that the UN Group of Experts' visit to Kigali took place in April. It took place in May. Apologies. There have also been some questions about whether the Group told the Rwandan government they would discuss allegations of support to the M23 during the May 2012 meeting. According to diplomatic sources in Kigali (as mentioned below), in their letter to the Rwandan government asking for a meeting, they also asked for information regarding groups hostile to Kigali (such as the FDLR and RNC), but did not explicitly mention Rwandan support to the mutiny (the M23 name did not yet exist when they wrote the letter). However, they planned to discuss this support and during the one 30-minute meeting the government had with them, the Group said they wanted to talk about cross-border support to the M23. However, this meeting was largely just to inform the Group that the government was not available to discuss specifics. 

There has been a noticeable souring of rhetoric in the debate surrounding the M23, including in comments on this site. People have resorted to ad hominem attacks and worse. It may help to review some of these contentions here.

Rwanda's rebuttal to the UN Group of Experts

Rwanda has provided an official 131-page response to the UN Group of Experts' report. It can be found here. The response is worth reading in full, and I can't cover all the points. But here are the main claims:
  • The Group did not give Rwanda a right of reply and did not talk to Rwandan officials. As the rebuttal points out, according to informal UN guidelines, the Group should provide those accused of serious wrongdoing with an opportunity to respond. It is not however, true, as this document states, that the Group did not contact the relevant government agencies in Rwanda. In fact, according to diplomats in Kigali, the Group visited the Rwandan capital for three days in May to talk to the government about the ex-CNDP mutiny and allegations of Rwandan support. Since the publication of the report, the Group has visited Kigali and met with Rwandan officials at length. Again according to diplomats based there, the response has been predictable: They deny all the allegations (along the lines below).
  • The report relies largely on anecdotal and unreliable sources, with little material proof. While the Group did furnish some material proof (see below), it is true than the core of its report relies on eyewitness testimony. Almost all of these sources were anonymous; not surprising, given the nature of the allegations. Is it possible that (a) the experts were biased, so they could just concoct the evidence, or (b) all the sources were biased, misinformed or manipulated by Congolese security sources? The former is unlikely - the experts' conclusions are reached by consensus among all six members, and the experts themselves are named by the UN Secretary General and can be vetoed by the UN Security Council. Several of the experts were involved in the gathering of these testimonies. The latter is also unlikely - the experts interviewed eighty M23 deserters and dozens of local villagers, former Rwandan officers, and Congolese security officials. The deserters, in particular, had little reason to lie - many had defected straight to UN bases, without going through Congolese army hands (this was the case, for example, of the eleven interviewed in the DDRRR base in Goma on 23 May, 2012, and who had surrendered to the UN base in Rugari three days earlier). It is true that, when they were interrogated by a joint Rwandan-Congolese team, some of them changed their story, but some still maintained they left Rwanda with weapons and went through Rwandan army positions. In short, it would have taken a vast conspiracy to fabricate the report, involving hundreds of people from different walks of life. 
  • The material evidence provided by the Group is bogus. Some phone calls made between M23 and RDF officers, a picture of a defector in a Rwandan uniform, pictures of ammunition and weapons belonging to the M23 - all of this does not constitute incontrovertible proof, the Rwandan government says. Yes, that is true. But that does not mean it's bogus.
    • The M23 does indeed have some ammunition that is not in Congolese army stocks, which deserters say they received from the Rwandan army (which says they don't have it in their stocks, either). 
    • While Bosco's alleged house in Gisenyi is owned by someone else, according to official records, many people in Goma and Gisenyi have testified that it really belongs to Bosco.
    • According to the Rwandan government, some of the people the Group alleges crossed into Rwanda to participate in M23 mobilization meetings do not show up on immigration registers, several other participants in the meetings say they were there. 
    • Rwandan officials implicated in the report deny they were involved and have provided statements and log books to prove this - however, many of the sources interviewed by the Group state the contrary.
  • UN experts are biased, in particular Steve Hege, the current coordinator. In 2009, Hege was cited as a contact person for a discussion paper on the FDLR, which stated that the militia is better understood in relation to the massacres of Hutu in the eastern Congo by the Rwandan army and its allies in 1996-1997 than in relation to the genocide (he never denied the genocide or that FDLR officers took part in it). He was also suggested that the lack of political space in Rwanda was not conducive to FDLR return, and argued that getting rid of the FDLR would not solve all the myriad problems in the region. Supporters of the Rwandan government, including some Rwandan officials, are now suggesting that Hege is a "terrorist sympathizer" and even "pro-genocide" on Twitter (just look for #Hege). An article in government-run The New Times suggests that Hege could be guilty of genocide denial and revisionism, crimes which carry heavy jail sentences in Rwanda. I see absolutely no evidence of these allegations in his FDLR piece, and no reason for this kind of tasteless denigration. In fact, Hege has been on the UN panel for three years now as the armed group expert, and has contributed to deeply critical reports of the FDLR and their criminal activities in the eastern Congo (see last year's report here, for example), as well as collaborating with German investigators in prosecution of FDLR leaders. I should mention that similar accusations, albeit not by the government, have been leveled against myself (the coordinator of the Group in 2008), as well as Dinesh Mahtani (the coordinator in 2009), after the latter wrote an article critical of Kigali in The Guardian.
So where does this leave us? Not all of the evidence in the UN report is incontrovertible proof, but taken together - and along with reports from  other organizations - they form an extremely compelling case for Rwandan support to M23. From my recent conversations in Kigali, New York, Kinshasa and Goma, very few non-Rwandan diplomats and civil society activists (Tony Blair is an exception) have any doubts about whether there is Rwandan support to M23, although there is disagreement about how much and why.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Guest blog: The M23 rebellion and the dead-end street of military integration in eastern DRC

This is a guest blog by Maria Eriksson Baaz, Associate Professor at the Nordic Africa Institute and the School of Global Studies, Gothenburg University, Sweden; and Judith Verweijen , PhD Candidate at the Centre for Conflict Studies at Utrecht University and the Faculty of Military Sciences at the Netherlands Defense Academy. 

Recent events in the Kivu provinces have highlighted, once again, the dangers of never-ending armed group integration, as well as its deleterious effects on the Congolese army. This blog post addresses some issues which, so far, have been absent in discussions of the new rebellion. By placing the M23 in the context of armed group integration into the FARDC, we intend to shed light on the processes that contributed to its formation, the weak response of the FARDC, and most importantly, what a potential peace-deal with the M23 should avoid.  

The Congolese Government has officially, so far, refused to negotiate with the M23, and has expelled its leading officers from the FARDC’s ranks. This could be judged as a non-constructive engagement from the Congolese side. However, we would argue that this position could be seen as a positive sign, reflecting a potential commitment to the recently declared non-compromising policy towards army defectors and re-mobilized armed groups.

 The vicious cycle of military integration and erosion

Let us begin by attending to the question why the FARDC, yet again, (so far) have proved unable to hold ground or make significant advances  in spite of the fact that several foreign-trained elite units (by Belgium, the US and South Africa) were deployed as reinforcements. What certainly plays a role is the relative strength of the M23, bolstered by Rwandan support in the form of the supply of ammunition and weapons, new recruits and direct operational interventions by Rwandan troops. However, the most important explanations must be sought in the weak combat capabilities of the FARDC. The main problem here is not the lack of training, as suggested by some observers. It is much more systemic and is, as we argue, to a large extent a result of the “carrots without sticks” politics of military integration.

One explanation for the FARDC’s disappointing performance is the lack of centralized and efficient command and control, logistical support and organizational capacity. Combat requires seamless command chains and a high level of coordination and organization, as the military units involved need steady supplies of especially ammunitions, rations, medicine, and transport for rapid (re)deployments. This support has, yet again, been insufficient. Secondly, the constant leaks of military intelligence have deprived the FARDC of the element of surprise. Parts of the ex-CNDP have remained integrated into the FARDC, but are suspected to maintain links with their former colleagues. Despite some efforts to redeploy the most distrusted commanders and units, the dominance of the ex-CNDP in North Kivu’s command structures as well as their in-depth knowledge of the area and of the combat tactics of their opponents have made it both impossible and undesirable to entirely remove them from the scene. 

Thirdly, the relative lack of material (e.g. salaries) and non-material (e.g. social status, recognition) rewards for FARDC soldiers weakens their enthusiasm to risk their lives on the battlefield. It should be acknowledged that motivation has been stronger this time than previously, in that the resentment against the privileged position of ex-CNDP troops was strongly felt among military personnel. Furthermore, the demonstrated involvement of Rwanda has fully revived deeply rooted anti-Rwandan/Tutsi sentiments and unleashed a wave of popular support for the FARDC, now newly branded as patriotic heroes. However, this has not been enough to compensate for the absence of other factors generating incentives to engage in the risks involved in combat (e.g. unit cohesion and minimum standards of service conditions concerning salaries, rations, medical care and social services).

The three factors mentioned above have been immensely aggravated by what we would argue is one of the main problems in the DR Congo’s defense sector, namely the Government’s “carrots without sticks” politics of military integration. The absence of serious military pressure on non-integrated forces, the lack of sanctions for defectors, and the promises of high ranks and good positions for those (re)joining the military, has made defecting from and then renegotiating back into the FARDC an attractive option for military entrepreneurs. This has contributed to creating incentive structures that promote the proliferation of armed groups as well as army desertion, with the military becoming a revolving door for armed factions.  The M23 seems to be a direct product of this logic: rather than directly challenging the established state structures, it initially appeared to be mostly geared towards the creation of a strong position for future negotiations, although it has gradually also obtained a momentum of its own.

Aside from creating incentives for insurgent violence, never-ending military integration has weakened the military. By allowing autonomous power networks to remain partly intact, it has promoted the proliferation of parallel structures of command within the military, thus negatively impacting on its performance. Additionally, continuous armed group integration has created feelings of unpredictability and unfairness within the ranks of the FARDC: who would want to risk their lives for an enemy that might very well be welcomed back again into the army, perhaps in an even more privileged position than before? While desertion is considered the most grave form of indiscipline in other armies, subject to severe punishments, the Congolese authorities –often encouraged by the international community -  have regularly welcomed defected units and commanders back into the fold, sometimes even rewarding them (at least on paper) with better opportunities. Apart from gravely undermining cohesion within military units, this has profoundly shaken up soldiers’ understanding of the military profession and their own role and identity. 

Tackling M23: reproducing or reducing violence?

A vicious cycle has been created in which military integration has undermined the improvement of military capabilities, rendering the military defeat of armed groups infeasible. This, in turn, has encouraged the DR Government to co-opt rather than to combat armed groups, in this way further weakening the FARDC. Moreover, by allowing integrated groups to stay in their former strongholds, and granting them autonomous control over lucrative areas of deployment, this process has become intractable. In the case of the ex-CNDP, Rwandan support has exacerbated this autonomy, rendering the gradual dilution of its influence in the FARDC, as was the rationale behind its original integration, merely hypothetical. 

If this cycle continues there is little hope for progress in the military reform process. It will further demoralize already demoralized troops and feed indiscipline and continuous internal conflicts and parallel chains of command. Additionally, it will encourage a further militarization of the economy and administrative functions in the Kivus, as violence continues to be rewarded.  In this respect, it is important to stress the absence of vetting mechanisms, allowing past abusers to obtain time and again important positions in the military, sets a dubious example both within the FARDC and for society at large. 

To be clear, we are not saying there is no other solution to the M23 rebellion than a military one. However, any negotiation with this group and its foreign and domestic backers should recognize that they deserted from the army and that welcoming them back in again will have serious detrimental effects both on the military reform process and the prospects for reducing violence and armed group activity in the Kivus.  Military integration has proved to fuel rather than to reduce the militarization of eastern DR Congo: let’s not drive into this dead-end street again.