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

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.


Unknown said...

Rwanda is de-bunking before UN Sanctions Commitee all falsehoods presented by FDLR worshiper Steve Hege and amplified by bias, one-sided international media.

But why did the world media ignore all the rules of fairness and ethics to lynch Rwanda? Why the same attacks are not directed at MONUSCO that eats a lot of money but fails to defeat street children supplied to M23 by Rwanda? Why is Congo government does not take the blame for not defending its territory against 400 strong M23 with light weapons and solders from bushes and banana groves and refugee camps as fighters?
It is because Rwanda has made a dramatic turnaround in a very short time. This has inspired many in high and low places; in politics, academia, religion and the media. Kagame/ Rwanda have thus become global super stars. But it has also mobilised many in envy and jealous. Who is Kagame/Rwanda to be so globally feted? The more Rwanda/Kagame get praise, the more others stalk them for any slip. Its success means Rwanda often gets held to very high and sometimes unrealistic standards. And like all strong brands, the success of Kagame has attracted many opportunistic groups and interests that seek to promote their own brand by attacking Rwanda at every opportunity.

tresor said...

I think Kagame's success is overated. Rwanda has always had a history of being orgarnised dating back to the time when they were ruled by a King. Even under Habyarimana Rwanda did manage it budget(most which came from donors) well. So i don't know why Kagame is being praised. infact the mojority of Rwandan still live in poverty 70%, many of them still travel to Congo to look for money, food,study and medical treatment, but yet the labelled Congo as a country that has nothing and Rwanda is much better. If that is the case why can't all those Rwandans (mascarading as congolese)go back to their ever booming Rwanda. Even though I blame the current problem in the eastern Congo on the Kinshasa governemt, I still beleive congo should expose Rwanda for arming militia in Congo. It is also part of trying to resolve the problem.

Unknown said...

Some Rwandas go to study in Congo because fees at Congolese universities is low, like level of primary school in east africa. They go shopping in Congo because businesses are never taxed due to dysfunction system so commodities are cheaper.

Please visit Rwanda today. I agree with you that when it was under kings it was efficiently run, that's why colonialists left the governance structures instact. They left Rwanda as a unified kingdom because it was run like any other western government. But they decided to scrap togther tribes into a unified stats elsewhere because the tribal groupings were disorganized.

As to some being insisting that they are congolse, yes they are. When colonialists drew borders they did not tell all Tutsis to confine themselves in Rwanda or Burundi. Remember Rwanda king Rwabugiri ruled over much of today's eastern congo.

Unknown said...

There is a dangerous thought, backed by Monusco and Mr Reynders, that militias will no longer be integrated into the army. Irak and Somalia security challenges should serve as an example; COAGAI,FRPI etc will be pushed to the extreme, if not integrated somewhere. I would rather propose to extend federalism to the security sector. To form one sizable National army in charge of guarding national borders;50,000 is manageable number with all privileges and means as the Presidential guard today.Th police force will be of the same size. Militias can be transformed into local security forces (starting from the east and progressively reaching other parts of the country); the local security forces will be in charge of protecting local communities and perform law enforcement duties at local levels under the administration of governors(does the term "county sheriffs" means something to you?). The idea I am proposing may solve two major causes of repeated insurgencies and defections : - refusal of some in the army to be deployed far from their communities on ground that they do not trust any one else to protect them; - creating jobs in rural areas; after all the most rewarding job today in east is serving under a militia group.

@ James,
I respect your opinion and I commend you for being the voice(or ink) of your country here at congosiasa. I have seen many anti-Rwanda rhetoric and most your interventions are in reaction to that.Let's not forget that the owner of the blog would be better served when we keep opinion limited to the subject debated. After all those who read this blog are informed fellows. Blogs differ from main stream media where hate speeches easily reached to the intended audience.

blaise said...

@ Gisa Rebero
You raised some interesting points and provide some good ideas.I just disagree about some of your conclusions.
Starting backward,of course we can't condemn @James for defending his country,that what we all are doing here.The irritating part is when propaganda is used to distort reality.I don't recall in history any Country using pacifist rhetoric when confront with a belligerent neighbor.We should put things in perspective.
Your idea about the army is logic but dangerous.the core of the army is discipline.Did you ask yourselves why those militias all the sudden regain steam? They have their own grievances but most important they see an opportunity to gain more power.Morgan was asking for that since day 1.The 2009 accord created a dangerous precedent.We can thing of other way to reintegrate those militias, the police can be one way but we cannot bring to a national army militias groups without scattering them around the country.No army in the word reintegrated successfully rebels.
@ James,
those are your opinions, just puzzle by you guys saying something and acting the opposite: fdlr are genocidaire vs we welcome those who want to come back.DRc is dysfunctional vs we go study there.Who accredit diplomas?Not a government?
If the old King was so organize,why did they strip him of his domain?There is more into that.Correction,there was powerful kingdom in Congo as well but the wealth on the ground made them rival to the white men and arabs before them.Congo wasn't dysfuntional for centuries as your post may suggest.

Bismark said...

@ Blaise

Great comment as usual, keep the good work.
It is important to remind people of certain
facts of history.


Unknown said...

Media, Congo siasa blog, etx preoccupied by Rwanda and M23 when the real actors in DRC are Raia Mutomboki and FDLR!

From UN website today:

“Proclaiming to protect local populations against the predominantly Hutu FDLR, the Raïa Mutomboki are targeting civilians of Hutu ethnicity whom they consider to be foreigners and allies of the FDLR,” MONUSCO and UNHCR noted. “In turn, the FDLR retaliate against civilian populations they believe to be associated with the Raïa Mutomboki.”

Eastern DRC is home to various ethnic groups, including Hutus. In addition, some 100,000 Rwandans, mainly Hutus, fled to the area in 1994 in the wake of the genocide there, with some of them joining the FDLR.

Ms. Pillay has called on all armed groups to immediately cease attacks against civilians and noted the possible consequences for those responsible for such attacks, referring to the recent court case of a former rebel leader, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo. In July, the International Criminal Court (ICC) sentenced the former Congolese warlord to 14 years of imprisonment for his involvement in child soldier recruitment in the early 2000s.

Mr. Meece, in turn, has noted with “grave concern” that the M23 mutiny had required MONUSCO and FARDC to divert resources away from some areas. He has also underscored MONUSCO’s recent civilian protection activity in localities most affected by Raïa Mutomboki and FDLR, and reiterated the priority which the peacekeeping mission accords to civilian protection.

Unknown said...

I hear that Kagame’s contigent expectedly bored the UN SC with the same waffle of denials. The question is: did the UN SC think that Kagame’s junta can somehow become reasonable and responsible? Have they ever admitted anything before, from their previous countless incursions into Congo to the assassination attempt of Gen. Kayumba? We should all realize that it just is impossible for “professional criminal denialists” to come to their senses. I mean, did Charles Taylor admit to supporting rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone? Did Ntaganda’s friend Lubanga admit to recruiting child soldiers? Yet, based on “testimonies from witnesses” they were duly convicted.

So, , the objective evidence on the ground and the innumerable testimonies of witnesses (Rwandan and Congolese) as gathered in the GoE report about the active support of Kagame regime to M23 militia should trump anything else. This is a seminal moment for the UN SC Sanctions Committee, nothing less than Kagame regime’s culpability (and consequent sanctions) will be criminal, discrediting and unjust to long-time suffering Congolese victims. Here is the time to end this nightmare of Kagame-created-M23-militia.

In fact, M23 militia has broken the nascent peace that many, including MONUSCO, worked so hard to assure. Because the FARDC have concentrated their focus and meager resources on the real main threat of M23, there is resurgence of other small armed groups with killings of civilians.

blaise said...

@ James
Question: historically, which group has proven to do the biding of foreign forces?RCD-CNDP and now M23.
Which movement his actively recruiting and try to conquer new territories?M23
Why do you care where Congolese focus should be since Rwanda has nothing to do with this mess and is so prosperous?
Ty Bismark

Unknown said...

@muana congo,
" I hear that Kagame’s contigent expectedly bored the UN SC with the same waffle of denials". What is your source ? Tshibanda I guess.
My source is within 760 NY 10017 Room L-0253 United Nations Plaza and is independent. The name is Mathew Russell lee.

Don't understand why Tshibanda and Mende are still boasting their achievements.

Unknown said...

@ Gisa Rebero

My source has required anonymity for security reasons. LOL, just kidding. But the bloody thing is all over the net, just take this rfi report ( to see Mushikiwabo and co. found it impossible to convince anyone with same old predictable denials.

So just be careful with "sources". Remember that CNN and Reuters did the bidding of CNDP and Nkunda, and even shamelessly called Nkunda “King of Congo”. Now, they have adopted a low profile on M23 and Makenga given past mistakes.

Your “independent” source (innercity blog) consistently shows where they stands in all their posts. Particualarly in this post they purposely project “a positive side” of M23 (allow aid), and a “negative side” of Mr. Hege (FDLR allusion), Congo and Monusco (link to MaiMai). Can’t you see that, or you don’t want to?

But I would agree with you about the DRC government (Tshibanda, Mende…) if they boasted of any achievements already. Though this Matata government sends the right signals and says the right things, it is the end results that Congolese people is awaiting.

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Thanks for updating the news.It is very informative post.Keep on updating.

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