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Schola News: GlobalSecurity: Congo Civil War 2009-2017

Armed conflict has allowed elites and political factions to gain power and positions in the state through non-democratic means. Since the 1996-1997 war, taking up arms has become the most important means to gain influence in the political system. The First Congo War brought Laurent Kabila and his AFDL colleagues to power. The peace deal implemented in 2003 brought the RCD, MLC, and other rebel groups into government. Then, once again in 2009, a peace deal brought Ntaganda and others from the CNDP into the regime.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda's joint operation against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which had committed atrocities against civilians in eastern DRC, achieved military gains, but it was accompanied by a high humanitarian cost. In response to the Congolese-Rwandan actions, supported by the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC (MONUC), the rebels carried out reprisal attacks against the population more brutally in areas where they had lost business partners. The FDLR also continued to resort to banditry, kidnapping and hit-and-run attacks, often looking for food and medicine.

The Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) had also committed human rights violations, including massacres, according to the UN Secretary-General. In light of such "egregious" violations, some rights organizations and components of the UN system had called for an end to the operation. The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Philip Alston, who had visited the DRC in October 2009, labelled the joint military operations as "catastrophic."

Military operations conducted in late 2009 by the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, with the support of MONUC, continued to dislodge foreign and residual Congolese armed groups from their strongholds and enabled the Government to extend its control into previously inaccessible areas, including a number of important economic zones. MONUC also supported efforts to extend State authority, including through the deployment of national police elements to areas, from which the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR) had been dislodged.

The Kimia II operations led by FARDC against FDLR gained momentum during late 2009. In North Kivu, FARDC concentrated on dislodging FDLR from mining areas under its control in Walikale and southern Lubero territories. In South Kivu, the Kimia II operations progressively moved south towards Fizi territory. In response to the Kimia II operations, FDLR conducted a series of reprisal attacks against the population, as well as ambushes against FARDC positions, including in the Pinga, Rwindi, Kashebere, and Kikuku areas of North Kivu and near Hombo and Luliba, in South Kivu. FDLR also continued to resort to banditry, kidnapping and hit-and-run attacks, often looking for food and medicine. Patterns suggested that FDLR was retaliating more brutallyagainst civilians in areas where they had lost local business partners or where their protection rackets had come to an end.

Rudia II, the operation led by FARDC against the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), continued in late 2009, in cooperation with the Uganda People's Defence Forces and with logistical support from MONUC. Although there was an improvement in the security situation in parts of Orientale province, LRA attacks against civilians continued, including reported executions, abductions and sexual violence. Since September 2009, MONUC received reports that 83 civilians had been killed by LRA, and in October 2009 humanitarian partners reported 21 attacks in Haut and Bas Uélé. In addition, local authorities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo reported an increase in undisciplined behaviour by FARDC elements following the replacement of FARDC Republican Guard units with the newly integrated FARDC units in the context of the Rudia II operations.

However, on 3 November 2009, in a significant development, Colonel Charles Arop, who had commanded LRA operations in Haut Uélé at the time of the Christmas 2008 massacres committed by LRA, surrendered. An estimated 270,000 people were displaced in Haut and Bas Uélé at the end of 2009. Between September and October 2009, the displaced population increased from 15,800 to 26,600 in Ango territory, in Bas Uélé.

On 29 October 2009 in Equateur province, disputes between armed villagers of the Lobala community and other communities in the Dongo area, related to fishing rights, resulted in the killing of an estimated 47 police d'intervention rapide and the consequent displacement of some 36,000 people to the Republic of the Congo and approximately 14,000 within Kungu territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

On 10 November 2009, the number of civilians who had been fleeing tribal violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) into neighboring Republic of Congo since the previous week topped 21,800. Fighting first erupted in March 2009 between the Enyele and Munzaya tribes over disputes based on farming and fishing rights in the village of Dongo, in DRC's Equateur province. "Refugees have mostly stopped crossing the border amid reports that the DRC military forcefully intervened in Dongo to stop attacks by armed Enyele, who appeared to have organized into a militia," stated UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic.


The Democratic Republic of Congo stood at a crossroads in 2010, having registered progress in stabilizing the security situation in the volatile eastern part of the country in 2009, and awaiting local and national elections in 2011. On the security and democratization fronts, there were optimistic signs, but the overall political and economic situation in the DRC remains fragile. An historic rapprochement with Rwanda and improved relations with other erstwhile foes, Uganda and Burundi, unquestionably improved regional stability. Kabila's party, the People's Party for Reconstruction and Development (PPRD), held a commanding majority in both houses of parliament and appeared primed to defeat an opposition that is badly divided and weak.

Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels killed at least 11 civilians and 8 troops during attacks in Orientale Province between 11 and 14 March 2010. This followed a reduction in LRA violence in February 2010, with 7 attacks recorded versus 26 attacks in January 2010. Rudia II, the FARDC-led operation against the LRA in cooperation with the Ugandan People's Defence Forces and with logistical support from MONUC, continued.

A 4 April 2010 attack by Enyele insurgents in Mbandaka, the capital of Equateur province, led to the deaths of 10 Congolese security force members, 21 rebels, 2 civilians and 3 MONUC officers. Inter-communal clashes involving the Enyele over the control of fishing points in Dongo had led to the internal and cross-border (to the Republic of Congo) displacement of nearly 200,000 people since late October 2009.

On 9 April 2010 the leader of the Mai Mai Kifuafua rebels said a new rebel coalition comprised over 17 different armed groups would be unveiled in the eastern part of the country. Didier Bitaki said the various armed groups decided to join forces after President Joseph Kabila's government failed to fully implement several peace accords.

The Congolese Tutsi-led rebel group, the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), agreed to end its military struggle against the government and to integrate its forces into the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC). A series of military operations - Umoja Wetu, Kimia II, and now Amani Leo - targeted, with relative success, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a rebel group composed primarily of Rwandan Hutus, some of whom were remnants of the genocidaires who fled Rwanda into the DRC in 1994. Some success was also registered against the Ugandan rebel group, the Lord's Resistance Army, which has terrorized the DRC population in northeastern DRC for almost a decade.

The fighting produced major civilian displacements. The FDLR and other Congolese groups sought to profit from the instability and stepped up their own activity, which in turn, had exacerbated rape and other sexual violence, and greatly limited humanitarian access in the region. Such events stood in dramatic contrast to the situation prior to the mutiny. The FARDC and MONUSCO had been planning joint operations in North and South Kivu targeting the FDLR and other armed groups. Their efforts included “unprecedented” steps to minimize the impact of those operations on civilians, establish monitoring centres, and provide for humanitarian access. Those operations were now suspended and there had been a large reduction in FDLR repatriations. As for the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), its brutal activities had shown little change, with attacks often including kidnapping and looting. MONUSCO continued to work closely with the FARDC to forestall larger-scale LRA attacks.


In November 2011, the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) voted in their second national election since independence. While these elections were critically important in DRC, the country—with a population of over 70 million — faces multiple challenges. Due to the persistent presence of armed groups, ongoing insecurity continues to destabilize eastern DRC. Other challenges include rampant corruption, inadequate infrastructure and human resources, and a limited capacity to raise and manage revenues.

Millions of Congolese citizens went to the polls to vote in an election that featured 11 presidential candidates and over 18,000 legislative candidates. Despite the late start, more than 32 million voters were successfully registered out of 71 million citizens. International and domestic observers, have noted considerable flaws throughout the process-in the pre-election period, on Election Day, in the tabulation of votes, and in the process for electoral dispute resolution. Most domestic and international elections observation groups concluded that the results of the presidential and legislative elections lacked credibility.

Although political violence was significantly less severe than many feared in light of the DRC's history, it was nonetheless a serious problem. Human Rights Watch reported that at least 18 civilians were killed and 100 were seriously wounded by electoral violence between November 26 and 28, 2011, and that more than 24 people were killed by security forces in the period immediately following the December 9 release of preliminary presidential election results.


By November 2012 attention was again focused on the eastern DRC due to fighting between government forces and M23 rebels. However, the UN refugee agency said the situation in North Kivu Province had been growing steadily worse since the beginning of the year. Since April 2012, for example, over 40,000 people have fled to Uganda from the eastern DRC, about 15,000 to Rwanda and several thousand to Burundi. On Sunday 18 November 2012, about 10,000 people fled to another UNHCR camp near Goma called Magunga III. There were already 24,000 people in that camp before the new arrivals.

The rebel group M23 entered the city of Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, continuing their advance against government and United Nations troops. The rebels say they have taken the airport and witnesses say they are near the city center. After days of fighting, M23 rebels succeeded in their drive against the Congolese army and U.N. peacekeepers and advanced into the capital of North Kivu province.

A leading opposition politician, Vital Kamehre - who came third in the presidential elections in 2011 - called on DRC President Joseph Kabila to negotiate with M23 to end the conflict and threats to the civilian population. The November fighting came after the government refused a rebel demand to negotiate, saying it would be pointless without involving Rwanda. The DRC accuses of Rwanda of providing arms and troops in support of M23 - allegations that Kigali continually has denied.


In northern Katanga province, Mai-Mai militia leader Gédéon Kyungu Mutanga, known as Gédéon, escaped during a mass prison break in September 2011. Gédéon is under a death sentence dating back to 2009 for his role in the long-running conflict in the eastern Congo. By February 2013 the situation had reached alarming proportions, affecting a growing geographic region and already producing a major humanitarian crisis, with OCHA [the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs] estimating there were 316,000 displaced persons in Katanga because of Gédéon-related military activity. There are continuing tensions in parts of the DRC's Equateur province, where significant numbers of refugees arrived after fleeing unrest in the Central African Republic.

Eleven African countries signed a peace deal on 24 February 2013 aimed at ending decades of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the Region will likely lead to deploying an intervention brigade in the DRC. The agreement was signed at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa. The 11 signing countries are from the Great Lakes region and Southern Africa: DRC, South Africa, Rwanda, Tanzania, Congo, South Sudan, Uganda, Angola, Zambia, Burundi and the Central African Republic.

Many agreements have been signed in the past, but DRC President Joseph Kabila said he is confident that this peace accord will have more impact as it differs from previous agreements: Today it’s under the auspicious of not a region but the United Nations, the African Union and the region of the Great Lakes and the SADC region and of course our continental body the African Union. So that in itself is a change as opposed to the agreements that were signed in the past," said Kabila.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said the agreement is composed of two mechanisms: “First of all, commitment by the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo to implement all what we expect the DRC government and people would do, including security sector reform as well as capacity building and closely working with the leaders of the neighboring countries," said Ban. "And another responsibility is to be ensured by the signing parties of the neighboring countries together with the regional organization.” The agreement also calls on countries in the region to abstain from interfering in the internal affairs of neighboring countries and to structurally reform institutions in the DRC.

The UN Security Council discussed modifying MONUSCO’s mandate, including adding a “peace-enforcing” capacity, which would consist of a special brigade of peacekeepers equipped to target, neutralize and disarm militias. The UN also planned to deploy unarmed drones over eastern Congo to help monitor the movements and activities of armed groups in a bid to stop the violence.

In September 2013 MONUSCO set up a security zone to prevent the M23 rebels from launching long-range attacks on North Kivu’s capital, Goma. The city has a population of over one million. MONUSCO decided to put in place a security zone. The main objective of the security zone is to prohibit the M23 from reaching with its weapons the densely populated capital, of Goma, and this way to protect the population. The new UN intervention brigade lived up to its aggressive mandate to attack M23 positions. The UN presented evidence of Rwandan military links to the M23, and the United States has called on Rwanda to cease its support for the rebels. Kigali has repeatedly denied the accusations. Rwanda accused the U.N. mission in DRC (MONUSCO) of turning a blind eye to past cross-border bombings.

Over a two-week period in October 2013 the newly bolstered army began retaking rebel strongholds, finally crushing the rebellion. Support from a specially created UN “intervention brigade” helped change the military dynamic and push rebels into peace talks they had resisted. The government put pressure on Rwanda and Uganda, who were secretly backstopping M23. The UN brigade are 3,000 well-armed South African, Tanzanian and Malawian peacekeepers, backed by attack helicopters and empowered by the UN Security Council to neutralize the dozens of armed groups that threaten civilians in eastern Congo. The brigade started deploying in July 2013, beefing up the 17,000 UN peacekeepers already there.

The M23 rebels in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo said November 05, 2013 they were laying down their arms, after military forces drove them from their last remaining strongholds. The declaration followed a call from African leaders meeting in South Africa for an end to the fighting. In a statement, M23 President Bertrand Bisimwa requested rebel commanders prepare fighters for “disarmament, demobilization and social reintegration.” Bisimwa said the group would pursue its goals through political means. Also known as the Congolese Revolutionary Army, the group formed in early 2012. Named for March 23, the date of a 2009 peace deal, M23 included fighters once loyal to a rebel army who assimilated into the DRC army, then defected. Dominated by the Tutsi ethnic group, UN experts said the group was backed by Rwanda, which Rwanda denied.

The apparent demise of the 18-month-old M23 rebellion was unlikely, on its own, to deliver peace to the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where, in the absence of a significant presence of the state, at least 40 armed groups operate, and a chronic humanitarian crisis persists.

More than a thousand fighters were believed to have fled into Rwanda and Uganda after Congolese and UN forces quashed the eastern rebellion in 2013. Most lived in military-run camps awaiting amnesties promised under a peace deal. Rwanda and Uganda were accused by UN experts of supporting M23 with troops, arms and intelligence during the 2012-13 conflict, though both countries denied it.


The Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) information minister said 10 April 2014 that joint military offensives launched by the national army (FARDC) and the United Nations Mission to the country (MONUSC) to protect unarmed civilians had sharply reduced the number of rebel groups from 55 to about 20. Lambert Mende also said another round of military offensives have been launched against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) to defeat the armed group in a bid to ensure security and peace in parts of the country the rebels operate. “Thanks to the combination of the FARDC and the assistance of MONUSCO, we managed now to reduce from 55 armed groups to 21 or less, and we hope that this phenomenon will end very soon in our country,” said Mende.

Mende said the military campaign against the FDLR has been a success. “When we started the fight against the FDLR their number was something amounting to 7,000 to 8,000. Now, they are less than 1,000. So we can say that a lot has been done in crushing those [rebels], forcing them back to their country or neutralizing them,” said Mende. “That is what we are doing now and with less than 1,000 they will soon disappear. We need them to disappear from our country or be neutralized and disarmed.”

The FARDC suffered from weak command and control, poor operational planning, low administrative and logistical capacity, lack of training, and the questionable loyalty of some of its soldiers, particularly those in the East. For example, on 06 June 20146, the FARDC did not respond to ethnic violence in Mutarule, South Kivu province, between members of the Bafuliro and Banyamulenge communities, which led to at least 34 persons killed, including 17 women and eight children. Several victims were burned alive, while others were shot. Authorities arrested two FARDC officers for complicity during the attack, and the provincial government initiated a commission of inquiry into the incident.

The UN refugee agency said weekly massacres of civilians were being reported in the DRC’S North Kivu Province. It said armed groups had been attacking since October, bringing fear, death and displacement. The UNHCR says armed groups are striking in and around Beni – and the violence was spreading north to Orientale Province. Agency spokesperson Karin de Gruijl said 18 December 2014, “We received very credible reports of ongoing killing of civilians. About 256 people, including children, have been killed in a very gruesome manner with machetes and axes.”


The Democratic Republic of Congo’s army said April 29, 2015 it had captured a key base of the Ugandan Islamist ADF rebels in the eastern DRC, and killed an ADF chief of staff. The attack on the base was a continuation of Operation Sokola, an offensive against the ADF launched by the Congolese army in Beni territory in January 2014. Sokola means "clean-up" in the Congolese language, Lingala.

Most of the ADF’s main camps were overrun in the first few months of the operation and about 60 prisoners were taken; but United Nations experts concluded at the end of last year that the ADF had been weakened, not wiped out, and had lost few of its commanders.

Both local and foreign-influenced conflicts continued in mineral-rich parts of the East, particularly in the provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu, Katanga, and in the Bas Uele, Haut Uele, and Ituri districts of Orientale province. In North Kivu and South Kivu provinces, the rebel and militia groups (RMGs) and Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo [FARDC] soldiers continue illegally to exploit and trade natural resources for revenue and power. Clandestine trade in minerals and other natural resources facilitated the purchase of weapons and reduced government revenues. The natural resources most exploited were the minerals cassiterite (tin ore), coltan (tantalum ore), wolframite (tungsten ore), and gold, followed by timber, charcoal, and fish.

Foreign RMGs, such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), Allied Democratic Forces/National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF/NALU), National Forces of Liberation (FNL), and the LRA, as well as indigenous RMGs such as different Mai Mai (local militia) groups, continued to battle government forces and each other and to attack civilian populations. Unlike in previous years, there were no credible reports of foreign government support for the RMGs. By impeding humanitarian aid and development assistance in some areas, the fighting in the East exacerbated an already severe humanitarian crisis.

Despite progress there were credible reports the state security force (SSF) and the RMGs perpetrated serious human rights abuses. These RMGs included the APCLS; ADF/NALU; Bakata Katanga; Coalition of Ituri Armed Groups; the FDLR; the FNL; Forces of the Congolese Defense; Forces of the Patriotic Resistance of Ituri; the LRA; Nyatura; Congolese Resistance Patriots; Raia Mutomboki; and the following Mai-Mai groups: Cheka, Gedeon, Kifuafua, Morgan/Simba/Lumumba/Manu/Luc, Pareco, Shetani, and Yakutumba.


On 14 January 2016 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special representative for DRC Maman S. Sidikou told the Security Council “there has been a significant deterioration in the eastern part of the country in recent weeks,” Mr. Sidikou cited the Beni and Lubero areas of North Kivu Province where the Allied Defence Forces (ADF) and the Force Democratiques pour la Liberation de Rwanda (FDLR) pose ongoing and serious threats to the civilian populations.

In Beni, despite two years of operations against it, the ADF remains able to coordinate simultaneous attacks on the army and MONUSCO, with over 500 civilians killed since 2014, and tens of thousands of others displaced. MONUSCO responded with aerial operations and took immediate steps to strengthen the protection of civilians through increased joint police and military patrols and redeploying additional troops of its Intervention Brigade.

In Lubero, civilians had been caught up in fighting between the Mayi Mayi group and the FDLR, being displaced, forcibly abducted, or targeted for massacres or harassment, often on the basis of ethnicity and perceived collaboration with the FDLR. “The situation appears to be worsening in Lubero, potentially into openly inter-ethnic conflict between the Hum and Nande communities,” Mr. Sidikou warned. This dynamic could easily spark violence in adjoining territories where competition over land and customary authority has already heightened tensions.

“Reports of increased recruitment into ethnically-based self-defence groups are a worrying sign, and the upcoming elections period could further politicize and instrumentalize the groups on the ground,” he noted.

MONUSCO, with nearly 20,000 uniformed personnel on the ground, is mandated to use all necessary means to protect civilians, humanitarian personnel and human rights defenders under imminent threat of physical violence and to support the Government in its stabilization and peace consolidation efforts. The proposed reduction of MONUSCO’s force by 1,700 troops, Mr. Sidikou said the drawdown would be accompanied by a “force transformation” to ensure that it will exercise greater operational capability to protect civilians through rapid deployment mechanisms and aerial reconnaissance.


Up to 2.4 million people have been affected by fighting between Government forces and tribal militias loyal to a local customary chief who was killed in August 2016. The groups were accused of a number of crimes and human rights abuses, including killings and abduction, recruitment of children, and targeting schools, hospitals and churches. Thousands of Congolese fled to neighboring Angola to escape the violence.

On 26 April 2017 the United Nations appealed for $64.5 million to respond to the urgent needs of 731,000 people over the next six months in the Kasaï region, the latest “humanitarian hotspot” in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). “The Kasaï crisis is an acute crisis of massive proportions in a country that is already going through one of the world's most relentlessly acute humanitarian emergencies,” the Humanitarian Coordinator in DRC, Mamadou Diallo, said in Kinshasa. “We are facing a new challenge that requires additional resources to respond to the needs of thousands of displaced people and host families as our current capacities are being outstripped,” he added.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than one million people are estimated to be currently displaced as the violence started in Kasaï Central and rippled across neighboring Kasaï, Kasaï Oriental, Lomami and Sankuru provinces. Currently some 40 national and international humanitarian organizations were working across the five provinces to respond to the crisis, which was borne out of armed clashes that erupted in August 2016 between the Congolese army and a local militia group.

The Roman Catholic Church on 19 June 2017 said more than 3,000 people have been killed in eight months of spiralling violence in Kasai. According to figures compiled by the church and listed in a report by the papal envoy, some 3,383 people had died in violence between security forces and a tribal militia. The UN's MONUSCO peacekeeping mission had previously spoken of "more than 400 dead" while about 1.3 million people are estimated to have fled their homes in the Kasai provinces. The papal envoy's note, which was dated June 19, said that 20 villages have been "completely destroyed", 10 of them by the DRC armed forces (FARDC), four by the tribal militias and six by unidentified forces.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on 20 June 2017 accused the authorities of the Democratic Republic of Congo of arming a militia carrying out “horrible attacks” against civilians in the Kasai region. “I am dismayed by the creation and arming of a militia, Bana Mura, which would support the authorities in the struggle [against the Kamwina Nsapu rebellion] but which has carried out horrible attacks against civilians from the Luba and Lulua ethnic groups,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. A UN spokesman told AFP that it was unclear which authorities had lent support to the militia.

Autore: Vito Conteduca - 14/8/2017

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