Are Rwandan Tutsis carving out a mini-state in eastern Congo?

Rwandan Tutsi rebels known as the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) are effectively running portions of eastern Congo, but their numbers may be greatly exaggerated.

By , Guest blogger

Seems the integration of the CNDP into the Congolese national army hasn't gone exactly as planned:

The scarlet-lettered flag flaps atop a lush green hill in an apparent declaration of ownership. Here, a rebel movement turned political party collects taxes, appoints local officials and even polices a border post.

These former rebels are accused of populating the land they have grabbed with thousands of people from neighboring Rwanda to form a mini-Tutsi state. The state-within-a-state is emerging in the shadow of Rwanda's genocide two decades ago, and is raising the specter of new violence in war-ravaged east Congo.

..."The situation is explosive," Jean Baumbiliya Kisoloni, vice president of the provincial assembly based in Goma, said of Masisi, one of the districts under the new flag. "I am not really optimistic that this can be resolved without conflict."

...Nkunda was arrested in 2009 under a hastily-cobbled peace accord between longtime enemies Rwanda and Congo, but his fighters were integrated into Congo's military. These fighters — known as the CNDP — have tripled the area under their control to include lucrative mines and tens of thousands of acres.

The issues of land ownership and territorial control by entities other than the state are central to understanding what's going on in the DRC.

I agree with the Pole Institute's Aloys Tegera - who is without question among the best social scientists working in the Kivus - that the numbers of Rwandans reported to be settling in North Kivu are greatly exaggerated, but it does appear that not all of the so-called refugees coming back to Masisi territory are actually Congolese.
There's no question that the CNDP is not interested in seriously integrating itself into the Congolese national government.

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They have a good thing going in North Kivu: territorial control, the ability to tax, and plenty of power. As usual, the key issues to watch will be land and citizenship rights.

Periodic disputes over the citizenship rights of Kinyarwanda-speakers that date to the immediate post-independence period flare up every few years. Since land rights flow from citizenship rights in the DRC - and since many Congolese have long lacked documentation as to their citizenship status - there's always the danger that tensions over who is Congolese (and therefore has rights to the land) and who isn't Congolese will erupt into violence.

It's also important to remember that Congolese politicians have a long history of manipulating fears of a "Rwandaphone invasion" to strengthen their political positions. As Tegera points out, North Kivu politicians are engaging in blatant fear-mongering in order to strengthen their political positions. Legislative and presidential elections are scheduled for 2011, and the Congolese government at just about every level is unpopular in the Kivus - primarily because Kabila ran on a platform of bringing peace to the region in 2006. Contrary to their expectations when the region voted for him at above 90 percent rates, most residents of the Kivus have experienced more insecurity since 2006, not less. Politicians in the Kivus have an incentive to stir up emotions in the electorate, and dredging up the spectre of a longstanding enemy is a surefire way to win support.

Are we likely to see outbreaks of violence in North Kivu in the upcoming months? I'm inclined to think not; everyone is on his best behavior for the upcoming celebration of 50 years of independence on June 30, the outbreak of fighting would be disastrous for Kabila in the lead-up to the elections, and Rwanda has an incentive to keep its allies in the Kivus calm until their elections are over in August. Violence tends to occur seasonally in the Kivus; no militant group seeking legitimacy wants to fight during the rainy seasons or to be seen as interrupting key events like the end of the school year, major religious holidays, or elections.

But, still, it must be said: until the state reestablishes territorial control and the key issues of land and citizenship rights are dealt with once and for all, there will not be an enduring peace in the eastern DRC. There's no way around it.

--- Laura Seay blogs at Texas in Africa.

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