Africa

The Congo-Kinshasa Conflict Part 6

Offensive against FDLR

Thereafter, the military and the FIB instead focused on fighting the FDLR (and ADF-Nalu). Assessors pointed out that it would be difficult to defeat the FDLR with military means alone. It had long been emphasized that political and economic measures would also be required to force the Hutu militia to lay down its arms and return to Rwanda. In the spring of 2014, however, the FDLR said that the group would in future only operate with political means. This was received with some skepticism.

An offensive against the FDLR began in early 2015. However, the UN chose not to participate because two of the generals who would lead the operation were suspected of serious war crimes. Initially, conflicting information came about whether it yielded results, most often the militiamen withdrew before there were any battles. Relatively few of them were killed or captured.

In the autumn of 2015, the government army finally managed to push back the FDLR, which was forced to withdraw to areas where the militia met resistance from other armed groups. In connection with these battles, the civilian population often ended up in trouble.

FDLR, which in 2002 had gathered 11,500 men, now consisted of only a maximum of a couple of thousand men. The militia had also lost control of major mineral resources, but still earned income through illegal mining and by taxing the local population.

The reintegration of former M23 rebels into society was slow. According to ebizdir, hundreds of M23 members, who would have returned to Congo-Kinshasa, were still in Rwanda and Uganda in early 2017. At the same time, there were reports that M23 rebels had taken part in fighting in North Kivu around the turn of 2016/2017.

The selection is postponed

The unrest in the country increased as the date for the presidential and parliamentary elections approached. According to the constitution, Kabila, whose term expired in December 2016, did not have the right to stand for re-election. In January 2015, the government tried to push through a new election law that would make it possible to postpone the election until a census had been taken, which in that case would take several years. After violent protests, with tens of dead, the demand for a census was removed.

In June 2016 formed several opposition parties alliance collection to jointly combat Kabila, but cooperation suffered from the beginning of strong internal tensions, mainly between the supporters of the UDPS leader Tshisekedi and those who supported Katanga’s former governor, Moïse Katumbi who both intend to set up in presidential election. The opposition weakened when Katumbi was forced to leave the country in the spring of 2016.

When the Election Commission in September 2016 decided to postpone the election, it triggered new demonstrations, which were crushed by force. The following month, the government agreed with several smaller opposition parties to move the election to 2018, which was also approved by the Constitutional Court.

Around the turn of the year 2016/2017, the Catholic Church succeeded in mediating a settlement between the government side and the opposition. They agreed that elections would be held as early as 2017. The agreement quickly began to crack, both because the opposition disagreed and because Kabila’s regime was not really prepared to relinquish any power. When Étienne Tshisékédi died in early 2017, the opposition alliance split into three parts, something Kabila used when he  decreed appointed Bruno Tshibala, from one of the Group’s factions, as the new Prime Minister in May 2017. It soon became clear that there would be no election in 2017. In the autumn of 2017, the Electoral Commission tried to move the date to 2019, but later changed to the end of 2018, probably following pressure from the United States. However, the regime clearly showed that it would not tolerate widespread opposition protests. During demonstrations organized by the Catholic Church around the turn of the year 2017/2018, at least five people were shot dead by security forces. In August 2018, it became clear that Kabila would not run in the presidential election, the ruling alliance would be represented by the hardline former Interior Minister   Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.

New wave of violence in Kasai

In the power vacuum that has arisen, unrest has risen in several parts of the country. Particularly serious was the situation in the two Kivu provinces, where at least 120 armed groups were active around the turn of the year 2017/2018, and in Kasai-Central, where a local power struggle triggered a spiral of violence that spread to surrounding provinces.

Kasai-Central was Etienne Tshisékédi’s home province and a stronghold of the opposition, but it has not previously been shaken by violence on this scale, despite being one of the most disadvantaged parts of the country. In the absence of a functioning central power, the traditional leaders have become very important. Tensions in the province rose as the Kinshasa government refused to approve the appointment of Jean-Pierre Mpandi as leader, with the title Kamuina Nsapu(sometimes spelled Kamwina Nsapu) for an area that encompasses most of Kasai-Central but which also extends across the border into Angola. After Mpandi was killed in August 2016, his supporters started an uprising, which was fueled by the pent-up dissatisfaction with those in power at national, regional and local levels. At the same time, it is unclear what the so-called Kamuina Nsapu militia really wants to achieve.

Both the Kamuina Nsapu militia, the government-backed militia group  Bana Mura  and government forces committed brutal abuses against the civilian population. By November 2017, the conflict had claimed several thousand lives, at least 1.5 million people had been forced to flee and even more were threatened with starvation and children were particularly vulnerable. At the beginning of 2018, about 10 militia groups were active in Kasai. One of them is Bana Mura, based in the tshokwe people, another Ecurie Mbembe formed by the pende people. Both of these groups, which mainly feed on agriculture and are believed to have the support of the government, are in conflict with the Luba people who control the diamond mining.

In addition, violence flared up again in the northeastern province of Ituri at the end of 2017. By March, at least 130 people had been killed and at least 50,000 people had fled across the border into Uganda.

The Congo-Kinshasa Conflict 6