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Article on the Kivus in IECAH

April 20, 2009

You can find the full article here (in Spanish)

DRC: Uncertain future for the Kivus after the return of Rwandan troops

*Nicolás Dorronsoro


More than one month after the exit of Rwandan troops from the DRC, the harsh reality of Congolese civilians has far from improved in the great part of the territories of North and South Kivu. In January, an extraordinary diplomatic turn in the relations between Rwanda and the DRC translated into the capture of Laurent Nkunda and a joint operation (known as Umoja Wetu, “our unity”) between the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) and the Rwandan army to put an end to the FDLR presence in Congolese soil. The expectations created were many, mainly the phisical elimination of FDLR in only one month and the extradition of Laurent Nkunda to the DRC. The risks of the operation were also high: according to recent history, a no return of Rwandan forces after the given period was a real possibility.


Six weeks after, reality on the ground has put an end to temporary optimism and brought us back to the known scenario of chronical unstability and impunity in the region. After the exit of Rwandan troops, insecurity reigns in the most part of the territory. Last April 7th, Oxfam affirmed that the situation in the Kivus is nowadays as bad as in 2008. There are many reasons for that judgment: Human Rights Watch recently affimed that the Rwandan armed forces and its allies have raped at least ninety women in January and have also been involved in the killings of at least one hundred and eighty civilians. The attacks to humanitarian organisations in North Kivu are on the rise: five incidents in January, thirteen in February and sixteen in March. As OCHA informs, the last five incidents registered just in the first week of April (two assaults and three ambushes) confirm this tendency. And due to the non payment of salaries, FARDC lootings towards civilian population are increasing: the pillage for the last months in the area known as Grand Nord has been systematic. Facing this reality, the UN Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of Congo, Alan Doss, told the Security Council last April 10th that the hope for peace in the Kivus was still facing “considerable” difficulties.


Up to now, the reality on the field show that the joint operation FARDC- Rwandan army did not achieve its goals. Rwandan troops abandoned Goma on February 27th . Even though the US embassy in Kinshasa promptly judged the operation as a “real success”, the outcomes declared by the Congolese general heading the operation, John Numbi, talked by themselves. 89 casualties and 140 surrenders into FDLR seemed a scarce butiny, given that this armed group is estimated in at least 4,000 men. Far from being dismantled, nowadays it seems clear that the FDLR forces retreated and hid in the forest, n order to return once the Rwandan armed forces had abandoned the territory. A few days ago, in towns such as Kitbwabaluzi, in Mwenga (South Kivu), the FDLR sent a request to the population to leave the town to avoid future combat with the FARDC.


It is interesting to point out that just one week after the retreat of Rwandan forces from North Kivu, the US company Contour Global announced an investment of U$ 325 million in Rwanda (the highest in Rwandan history) in order to extract gas from Lake Kivu and produce electricity. It is inevitable to think that the US administration has used the policy of the stick and the carrot with Kagame´s regime.


While diplomatic progress between the DRC and Rwanda continues (Rwanda will reopen its embassy in Kinshasa in about three months), the gap between progress in a macro level and the reality of civilians on the ground does not cease to grow. Massive human rights violations suffered daily by Congolese civilians in North and South Kivu clearly show that two key issues to put an end to violence -the complete reform of the Congolese army and police, and the FDLR issue- are far from being solved. The first one shows that the main problem affecting the DRC in the East is bad governance and the unability to maintain the monopoly of violence. The second deserves a small reflection.


Since the diplomatic offensive headed by the US and the UK brought about an approach between the DRC and Rwanda, the only discourse regarding the FDLR has been that of immediate surrender and complete military defeat. No one dares to talk about the possibility of a negotiation, no matter how limited it may be, with this group. This seems surprising if we take into consideration that the country the FDLR aspire to return to suffers from an extraordinary democratic deficit.


Last March 19th, the American human rights expert Ruth Wedgwood affirmed at the UN Human Rights Comittee that forming a political party in Rwanda today seems virtually impossible . Wedgwood made an interesting reflection: she reminded that hutu factions responsible for the genocide had been capable of fostering the massacre because they had nourished the fear of hutu population being oppressed and marginalized. Unfortunately, and leaving aside the economic sucess Rwanda is undoubtedly experiencing, that feared scenario seem to be similar to actual Rwanda, according to many experts. Filip Reyntjens, Professor in the University of Antwerp and one of the most respected scholars in the Great Lakes region, recently affirmed that not only the last local elections in Rwanda were manipulated, but even the report of the EU electoral observers itself, which considered them as valid. Given this democratic deficit, organizations like the European Network for Central Africa (EURAC), have advocated for a political negociation with the FDLR. However, this issue continues to be a taboo.


Regarding the CNDP, the agreements between this armed group and the Congolese government made public recognized the former as a political party and provided an amnesty to its members (let us remember that the CNDP leader, Bosco Ntaganda, is searched by the ICC under the accusation of crimes against humanity). This agreement shows once more that impunity is the prize to pay in this region. It is also worrying that the signed agreements speak about return of the IDPs (volontary, at least) in a month, precisely when the FDLR has returned to its areas of influence. We must add to this that the presence of uncontrolled CNDP elements in the areas formerly under their official authority has meant an important increase of insecurity. Due to all this, most part of the IDPs in Goma are now prudent regarding a possible return, particularly to Masisi (even though in some areas such as Sake and part of Rutshuru the situation has clearly improved). The former CNDP leader, Laurent Nkunda, continues in Rwanda in a status close to house arrest and his extradition to the DRC remains pending.


While the FARDC prepare a new operation against the FDLR, a big part of the territory continues in a neither-peace-nor-war condition. Even though the protection needs of civilians are urgent, the blue helmet force in the territory remains unsufficient as the envoy of 3,000 additional soldiers approved four months ago by the UN Security Council has not arrived. In the short term, the predictable uncapability of the FARDC to put a militar end to the FDLR could set the ground for a second phase of the operation Umoja Wetu. The future will tell us if this operation has just been an isolated move or the prelude for the begginning of a consolidation (or not) of a Rwandan presence in the Kivus.


*Nicolás Dorronsoro – Journalist and Humanitarian worker in Sub-saharan Africa since 2002. MA in International Relations (Instituto Ortega y Gasset), MSc Political Sociology (LSE). Colaborator of the Spanish Institute of Studies on Conflicts and Humanitarian Action (IECAH).



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