CONGO-KINSHASA: Eastern insecurity dents Kabila image
EVENT: The army reported today that three UN peacekeepers had been killed when suspected rebels infiltrated their base in the east.
SIGNIFICANCE: Continued insecurity in the eastern parts of the country poses a significant challenge for President Joseph Kabila. He has staked his authority on delivering security, and on defending Congolese 'sovereignty'.
ANALYSIS: Particularly since 2007, President Joseph Kabila has represented himself as the main defender of Congolese 'sovereignty' in the face of foreign interventions in the country's affairs. The strategy played well in the run-up to the 50th anniversary of independence celebrations on June 30.
Kabila has used a similar rhetoric on the economic front:
- He signed a 6 billion dollar trade and investment deal with China in October 2009.
- The mining contract review process completed in early 2009 resulted in the 61 mining contracts signed between 1998 and 2006 being renegotiated in the state's favour.
- The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) secured 7.9 billion dollars of debt relief on July 1.
Election challenge. On August 9, the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) published its timetable for next year's presidential, parliamentary and local elections. It set the date for the first round of the presidential poll as November 27 -- less than a month before the end of incumbent Kabila's term, contradicting the constitutional requirement for the elections to have begun at least 90 days before the end of an existing mandate.
Despite Kabila's claims that the Congolese exchequer will cover the cost of the polls, the CEI disclosed that the projected 700 million dollar cost will be met almost entirely by donors. Kabila's failure to keep the international community out of the elections will be seen as a challenge to his image.
Eastern insecurity. However, a more pressing issue will be securing the exit of all international peacekeepers from eastern DRC by mid-2011. Kabila's credibility also hinges to a large extent upon the establishment of the Congolese army (FARDC) as the main instrument of security throughout the east. In late May, the UN Security Council allowed the mandate of the existing UN Mission to the Congo (MONUC) to expire, but voted to create a new one-year mission, the UN Stabilisation Mission in the Congo (MONUSCO), with only a minor drawdown in forces. In effect, the UN has given Kabila, and the FARDC, a new deadline by which to prove that they can manage the security situation on their own.
Operation Ruwenzori. In late June, the FARDC launched 'Operation Ruwenzori' against the remnants of a small Ugandan rebel group, the Allied Democratic Forces-National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF-NALU), who have been holed up in several villages in the Beni region of North Kivu since the late 1990s. Best known for a series of bomb attacks in Kampala and violent raids in western Uganda during the late 1990s, the ADF-NALU have been more or less dormant since 2001.
In recent months, the Ugandan military has made public statements that the group was recruiting, and some media sources even linked them to the July 11 bomb blasts in Kampala. However, there is little evidence that the group has been mobilising again, and any role in the bombings is unlikely.
The FARDC operation is best understood as an attempt to score a quick victory against an 'easy target'. By late July, the FARDC had overrun all of the ADF-NALU positions, killed or arrested several dozen of their number (including several military leaders), and put the remainder of the estimated 1,300-strong force to flight. However, the offensive also resulted in ADF-NALU reprisal attacks against civilian targets, and to the displacement of at least 90,000 civilians.
Other rebels. In addition to a variety of Mai-Mai or other indigenous militia, particularly in Ituri region, two other rebel groups pose a significant threat:
- FDLR. Although the Hutu extremist Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) were weakened by last year's joint offensive by the FARDC and the Rwandan army, the group continues to carry out frequent small-scale attacks against civilian targets across a wide area of North Kivu. On April 29, the group attacked a village in the Kasindi region and burned down 20 houses. The following night, other FDLR cadres raided a village in Lubero, killing one person, and injuring five others. In late July, the group attacked a plane as it was due to take off from the remote Walikale airstrip -- an airport which is regularly used to transport cassiterite out of the local tin mines -- taking the Indian co-pilot hostage (the FDLR also made off with 60,000 dollars in cash).
- LRA. Further north, the Uganda rebel group the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) remains highly active across a wide area of north-eastern Congo near the borders with the Central African Republic (CAR) and Sudan, especially in the province of Haut-Uele. Although the LRA has suffered significant loses since the Ugandan Army (UPDF) began a major offensive in late 2008, the group has continued to carry out regular attacks against civilian populations, most of which involve kidnappings and mutilations.
Since late 2009, one large section of LRA cadres, under the leadership of one of the group's senior commanders, General Dominic Ongwen, has become particularly active in the countryside around Niangara Town, in Haut-Uele. In one attack in December, the group killed an estimated 345 civilians over four days (the largest single LRA massacre in the group's 23-year history). It is estimated that in the 18 months to June 2010, the group had killed more than 1,500 civilians, and abducted at least 1,600 more.
Integration and reform. The FARDC faces many problems of its own, not least those related to the recent integration of several thousand fighters of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CDNP):
General John Bosco Ntaganda -- the head of the CNDP, and now a local FARDC commander -- is still under indictment by the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes committed during the last Congo War.
Both the troops under his command -- and other troops in the regional FARDC -- continue to be accused of numerous acts of indiscipline (including violent crime, and other human rights abuses).
Recent research by UK charity Oxfam found that of 24 communities surveyed across South Kivu, more than three-quarters had experienced some crime -- especially rape, forced labour or theft -- at the hands of the FARDC. The same survey also found that some FARDC checkpoints in the area were taking up to 18,000 dollars per month in extortion monies.
CONCLUSION: Given the context of major insecurity in the east, it seems unlikely that the international community will disengage entirely ahead of next year's elections -- undermining Kabila's efforts to portray himself as a strong leader resisting foreign intervention. The humanitarian consequences of intensified FARDC operations -- and rebel attacks and reprisals -- may even deepen international engagement.