The Landscape of Armed Groups in Eastern Congo: Fragmented, politicized networks

The mesh off conflicts in the eastern Congo has witnessed a slow deterioration over the past year. Internal displacement has continued apace, reaching 4,1 million people, more than in Syria and one of the highest levels ever recorded since the beginning of the various Congolese conflicts in 1993, with 550,000 displaced in the past three months alone. At the same time, armed groups have continued to splinter and proliferate. While none of that sounds novel to observers of the eastern Congo, a couple of new trends have emerged since our last mapping in 2015.

Political turmoil caused by the uncertainty around President Kabila’s succession has begun to slowly affect conflict dynamics, influencing the rhetoric of some groups and quickening coalition formation among others, such as in Fizi and Beni territories. These developments have been accentuated by a national army increasingly under strain, in part due to a drop in real wages due to sharp inflation and a decline in morale. Moreover, in the wake of the Kamuina Nsapu crisis in the Kasai region, a significant number of army troops have been relocated there from the Kivus.

While the eastern Congo is no longer the arena of muscular military intervention by its neighbors, the past two years have featured an intensification of small scale cross-border dynamics fuelling armed mobilization, such as in the Rwenzori mountains and along the border with Burundi, from where armed opposition groups have entered eastern DRC since Pierre Nkurunziza’s contested re-election in mid-2015.

In this context, armed groups have continued to proliferate: in our newly launched Kivu Security Tracker (KST), we count around 120 in North and South Kivu provinces alone, most of them small in size and primarily ethno-centric, but increasingly enmeshed in an unstable web of coalitions, sometimes including wider political and business networks. Who are these groups?

Where and why do they operate? This essay discusses the main trends shaping topography of armed groups in North Kivu and South Kivu in late 2017.

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