The Race Against Peace: diplomacy in the DRC

The war in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which never makes world headlines, is by far the worst crisis in numbers of people killed and uprooted, before Syria, Yemen and other severely war-torn areas in the XXI century. It is one of three countries in the world declared a level three emergency by the United Nations.

The recent surge of extreme violence which began in the fall of 2014 in Beni, North Kivu, a oil and mineral-rich region in the eastern part of the country bordering Uganda, is part of this on-going war which has plagued the area since 1996, causing the death of around one million Hutu Rwandan refugees and over 10 million Congolese.

In September 2016, following the gruesome Rwangoma massacres of 13 August in Beni territory which killed 127 people in a single day, the region’s plight hit world-headlines for a moment, as Pope Francis called for an end to the shameful silence on the part of the international community. Since then the massacres have continued and no end is foreseen.

According to Beni’s civil society organization at least 3,575 civilians have been killed and 3,877 kidnapped since October 2014 in the region.[i] North Kivu Province remains the most war-affected area in the DRC accounting for over 1.1 million displaced persons out of a total population of six million people, according to the UN agency OCHA.[ii]

Mainstream media as well as expert reports attribute the escalating violence to an aged Ugandan rebellion, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), often stating that the ADF has international Jihadist links. Lyon University law graduate and member of the geostrategic research think tank DESC-WONDO, Boniface Musavuli in his forthcoming book Congo’s Beni massacresFake Islamists, Rwandan Unending Occupation[iii] sheds light on the historical processes since 1996 which led to Congo having “an army within the army,” as well as the unending Rwandan occupation in eastern Congo via proxy rebellions as major destabilizing factors in the region, rather than the ADF.

Musavuli cites a January 2015 UN Panel of Experts report that concluded that there is no credible evidence that ADF has or had in the recent past links with foreign terrorist groups such as Al -Shabaab, Al Qaeda or Boko Haram. Page after page Musavuli exposes irrefutable evidence showing that the main perpetrators of the violence can not be attributed to the ADF who have been present in Beni territory for two decades: their defeat by FARDC General Lucien Bahuma was acknowledged officially in April 2014; the modus operandi of the current assailants differs sharply from the historical ADF; numerous witnesses through the North Kivu Military Operational Court, a recent mobile court hearing on the massacres, stated the assailants were not the ADF which they knew. Musavuli argues that an authentic rebellion does not usually attack the civilians of the country were they have taken up refuge.

The Congolese national army (FARDC) has also been signalled out by UN and expert reports as complicit in the massacres, either by directly participating in the killings or hindering protection operations, although often the population alerts them well in advance.

Seeking to understand the patterns of violence on the ground Musavuli exposes the historical process that led to the phenomenon of an “army within the army”, namely FARDC units deployed in eastern Congo composed mainly of Rwandan-speaking soldiers. This process, a main cause of instability, began with the peace process know as the Global and Inclusive Agreement on Transition in the Democratic Republic of Congo in Pretoria in December 2003.

Historically the Rwandan and Ugandan occupation of eastern Congo via proxy rebellions began in 1996. International media, later taken up by a wide range of authoritative history books on the DRC, twisted what the vice-governor of South Kivu Lwabandji Lwasi Ngabo had said in 1996, thus providing a justification for the war.[iv] The lie that the Tutsis population living in Congo was in danger was used to justify the invasion. Since then major institutions such as the European Union[v] have pointed to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) as a major security threat in the region, a smokescreen for hiding a plan to balkanize and occupy eastern Congo.

“ Neither cholera, nor the plague”, namely the impossible choice between President Mobutu Sese Seko, the relic of western dominance in central Africa and a foreign-backed Ugandan, Rwandan, US rebellion, namely Laurent Desirée Kabila’s Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (AFDL), the NGO SIMA-KIVU (Support for active movements in Kivu) had warned at the beginning of the first Congolese war in 1996.[vi]

Congolese historian Professor Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, who has written the foreword to Congo’s Beni Massacres, wrote that he refused to join the rebellion in 1998 which launched the second Congolese war, leaving a message for his long time friend Ernest Wamba dia Wamba who had asked him to adhere: “tell him I can not join something guided from the outside.”[vii]

At the end of the second Congolese war Belgian Great Lakes expert Colette Braeckman noted that Rwandan soldiers were now injecting fake Interahamwe in South Kivu, in order to terrorize the population and force them to flee, and use these attacks to justify the durability of the Rwandan presence in Kivu.

To this process, a main cause of instability, another destabilizing factor began with the peace process know as the Global and Inclusive Agreement on Transition in the Democratic Republic of Congo in Pretoria in December 2003: this phenomenon, known as mixage (mixed brigades), allowed for thousands of Rwandan troops to be integrated into the Congolese army via successive peace processes. Their subsequent defections then created new rebellions, such as the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) in 2006 or the March 23 Movement (M23) in 2012, which brought havoc to the region.

The successive internationally brokered peace processes have thus institutionalised a race against peace, rather than address the obvious structural dysfunction of the reformed national army.

“Nkunda-affiliated“ brigades, after the notorious Rwandan rebel Laurent Nkunda [viii] or the more recent “Mundos-affiliated” brigades, after FARDC General Mundos [ix] accused of having financed and recruited fighters for a rebellion that used the ADF as a cover up, are perhaps a more precise term when referring to FARDC regiments involved in the killings. This is all the more necessary as many FARDC soldiers, who disobey the renegade regiments wanting to protect the local population, are side lined and sometimes even killed.

What game is Kinshasa playing? Why are the local Nande population being targeted through nationally orchestrated smear campaigns (often mimicked by mainstream media and expert reports such as GEC, the NY-based Congo Research Group) as well as targeted killings, which Beni’s local deputies are calling a “Nande genocide”, after the major ethnic group living in the region?

Countless UN Group of Expert reports have clearly outlined Rwanda’s financing, training, arming and logistical support of all proxy rebellions from 1996: from the ADFL to the RCD-Goma, to the CNDP to the M23.[x] Many other reports have instead been deliberately suppressed by the UN, such as the UNHCR Gersony report or the UN Mapping report, which provided evidence of Rwandans committing acts of genocide in Rwanda and Congo. A letter presented during the Military II trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda reveals that President Paul Kagame invaded Rwanda with the ultimate goal of capturing, with his western allies Canada, the UK, US and Belgium, the mineral-rich areas of eastern Congo.[xi] This evidence has also been ignored.

Another striking anomaly is the huge presence of military personnel in such a small territory of 7,484 square kilometres were circa 20,000 soldiers, between United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and FARDC, are facing a few hundred armed rebels.

North Kivu, 2007 Photo Keith Harmon Snow.

Musavuli evokes astonishing details that should warrant an investigation into MONUSCO’s role as a viable presence in the region. For example on 11 May 2015 MONUSCO organized a counter-ambush, which killed two Rwandan officers that the local population recognized and denounced on social media. MONUSCO rather than revealing the Rwandan origin of the assailants they had killed preferred to remain quite, as the Congolese authorities attributed the killing to a local Mai Mai self defence group as well as the ADF.

What protection role does MONUSCO have if it dissimulates the identity of the real perpetrators on the ground? Is this not prolonging the insecurity rather than addressing its root causes? Why is Kinshasa also covering up the identity of the main perpetrators?

MONUC (Monusco’s predecessor) and UNHCR hesitated to speak openly about the human rights problems linked with mixage and even the recruitment of child soldiers by Rwanda in Rwanda, which were then sent to fight in Congo, a 2007 Human Rights Watch report denounced.

In trying to explain the excessive migratory influx into today’s eastern Congo Musavuli also looks at Rwanda’s dramatic internal politics, such as the recent 2014 unexplained fifty thousand disappeared Rwandans, as well as thirty thousand disappeared Rwandan Hutu prisoners sentenced to forced labour – for possible explanations.

Congolese historian Professor Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja interestingly underlines that the imperial powers at the time of the 1884-85 Berlin Conference chose “to give this vast territory to a King of a weak and little country such as Belgium, so as to maximize the chances of having this area serve as a free-trade zone.”[xii] 123 years after the Berlin Conference, Michel Roy, secretary-general of the papal aid agency Caritas Internationalis, speaking at a press conference in Rome in November 2017 said about the main causes of the conflict: “The DRC is extremely wealthy in natural resources, including diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt, coltan, zinc (…) multinational companies are profiting from the ‘favourable conditions’ of a weakened state in order to exploit the country’s wealth.”[xiii]

History has attributed 10 million Congolese died under Belgian King Leopold’s reign; 12 million have died under the current Rwandan occupation. For how long will diplomacy concerning the Congo be a race against peace and as one diplomat in Congo’s Beni massacres asks “should we be financing an occupation?”

[i] The figures are drawn from two open letters written by Beni’s civil society representatives of the region to President Kabila on 14 May 2016 and 5 May 2018 and

[ii] OCHA, 31 December 2017 here

[iii] Forthcoming publication Boniface Musavuli, Congo’s Beni massacres, Fake Islamists, Rwandan Unending Occupation, Foreword by Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, Postface and translation Nicoletta Fagiolo amazon, 2018. Musavuli is also the author of Les génocides des Congolais, De Léopold II à Paul Kagame, Editions Monde Nouveau/Afrique Nouvelle, Switzerland, 2016.

[iv] Interview with vice-governor of South Kivu Lwabandji Lwasi Ngabo here

[v] Charles Onana, Europe, crimes et censure au Congo, Duboiris, Paris, 2012.

[vi] In 2012 a group of scholars decided to republish the proceedings of a conference[vi] held four years before, in 2008, on the DRC’s unending crisis:  “the army within the army” was still a major destabilizing factor and as the years passed this is not addressed. Emmanuel Nashi,  La Couse contre la paix en R.D.Congo, Paris Harmattan, 2012. p 12

[vii] Nzongola-Ntalaja explains that the Don who had picked up the call in Kigali, Rwanda was “none other than the Rwandan military officer who was second in command to James Kabarebe and who is alleged to be responsible for the massacre of Hutu civilians at Mbandaka. Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, The Congo, From Leopold to Kabila, A People’s History, Zed Book, London and New York, 2002. p. 228-229

[viii] In 2007 Human Rights Watch wrote:  “In many cases Nkunda’s troops operated, post-mixage, nominally as part of the national army in the same regions where they were previously known as renegade soldiers. And in many of these places, some of the same soldiers who committed serious human rights violations were supposed to be providing security to residents.”  cit in HRW, Renewed Crisis in North Kivu, October 2007. p 17-18

[ix] The UN Group of Experts found that Brig. Gen. Muhindo Akili Mundos, the Congolese army commander responsible for military operations against the ADF from August 2014 to June 2015, had recruited ADF fighters, former fighters from local armed groups known as Mai Mai, and others to establish a new armed group. This group was implicated in some of the massacres in Beni territory that began in October 2014, according to the Group of Experts.

[x]  For example Senior RDF officers such as Colonel Jomba Gakumba, General Charles Kayonga, General James Kabarebe, the Rwandan Minister of Defence, with the support of his personal secretary Captain Celestin Senkoko, General Jacques Nziza, have been signaled out as central figures in the recruitment and political and military support to the M23. Cit in Addendum to the interim report of the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (S/2012/348) concerning violations of the arms embargo and sanctions regime by the Government of Rwanda

[xi] Christopher Black, The Rwandan Patriotic Front’s Bloody Record and the History of UN Cover-Ups, Monthly Review, Sep 12, 2010.

[xii]  Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, The Congo, From Leopold to Kabila, A People’s History, Zed Book, 2002. pp 15-16

[xiii] Inés San Martín, As safety and politics block trips, Pope to pray for Congo and South Sudan, Cruxnow, Nov 23, 2017.

Credit: FARDC and their immediate commander Colonel Chicko Tshitambue (2nd from right) push their jeep out of the mud on the road near Sake, North Kivu, 2006. Copyright Keith Harmon Snow. More of his work 



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