Yesterday, in a speech to the nation, President Joseph Kabila announced, "There is no more fire in the East, just some embers." While it is true that fighting has ebbed this year – largely due to a decrease in operations by the Congolese army – new armed groups have been popping up in South Kivu.
In the run-up to elections, we reported on efforts by the Congolese army to co-opt and repress various remaining armed groups in the eastern Congo – groups that are commonly euphemized as "residuals" by the government. The government struck deals with the FRF (Fizi/Uvira), Mai-Mai Kapopo (Mwenga), Mai-Mai Kifuafua (Kalehe) and has launched an offensive against the Mai-Mai Yakutumba (Fizi). (The army said it would no longer broker deals with groups after last June)
These efforts had been built on relatively shaky grounds – most of the deals involved cash buyouts and promises of positions in the new regiments. At the same time, the Congolese army had to reassure the previously integrated armed groups – especially PARECO and CNDP – and the national army that their power would not be diluted.
Over the past few weeks, we have seen these efforts crumble. First, some existing deals have fallen apart, while at the same time new groups have emerged. One MONUSCO official in South Kivu spoke of "the mushrooming of new groups" there, in particular in the highlands of Uvira territory.
One new group called Mai-Mai Kashorogosi belongs to a deserter from the police, Col. Nyerere Bunana, who defected in June and has rallied around 30 soldiers around him. His defection was prompted by allegations from the Congolese army that he was involved in a criminal network. Two other defectors have reportedly also established new groups in the same general area: Col. Bede Rusagara and Lt Col Baleke Sumahili, both of whom deserted from the Congolese army. Neither of them probably has more than several combatants under his command.
The Fuliro community, which lives in the mountains to the west of Uvira, has apparently become a hotbed for such armed group activity. All of the three above groups come from this community. In addition to those, there is the Mai-Mai Aochi, which has been active for several months now in the high plateau around Minembwe. There is also the Mai-Mai Mulumba group, also from the Fuliro community, active in the same area. Finally, a splinter group of the FRF, with its roots in the Banyamulenge community, has also re-emerged under the command of Col. Richard Tawimbi, also in the same broad area.
What is the reason behind the proliferation of these groups this year? No one really seems to know for sure. In part, this is probably due to conflicts emerging around the integration of armed groups and the regimentation process, which has launched a competition for positions in the new army structure. In particular, the prominence of Hutu and Tutsi in these new structures has angered other communities, and the Fuliro have also been very outspoken in their opposition to the CNDP and PARECO. (In this regard, more on the recent rumors of a mutiny in Bukavu in a later post)
Others have suggested that the new armed groups are being manipulated by politicians, although I have not seen concrete proof of this yet.
The main problems, however, are still structural: a weak army and a large country. The army is not yet strong and professional enough to deter new groups from emerging, and by buying them off the army is providing incentives for other groups to form. Once rebels join the army, they soon despair at poor pay and living conditions. It is also difficult for commanders who are often illiterate and used to an easy life in their local community to rub shoulders with educated officers who have formal training, and to move far away from home.
Finally, the area where these groups are located is notoriously mountainous, rich in natural resources, and difficult to control, making it easy for guerrilla fighters to persist.
These groups do not pose a serious threat to state power, but they do form a symbolic threat at a time when the government is trying to show that they have re-established peace in the East.
– Jason Stearns blogs about the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Great Lakes region at Congo Siasa.