Currently, there is a lot going on in terms of disarmament and demobilisation of armed groups in the Eastern DRC since the surrender of M23 two weeks ago. While the situation around Makenga’s rebellion remains unclear – most of the état-major and the rank and file seem to be under Ugandan custody in Kasese – newswires and twitter feeds have been flooded by mushrooming announcements of other armed groups across eastern DRC. However, so far there is no indication that a majority of militias will be laying down their arms. Most of the 50 or so armed groups still swim likes chillies in the Congolese soup. Media reports suggesting otherwise, for example on Voice of America and Radio Okapi, should definitively taken with a pinch, or two, of salt. There are a variety of reasons for this, some of which will be discussed here.
First of all, the accuracy of such reports remains highly questionable as long as they are based on a mistaken or misleading representation of the facts. Voice of America, for instance, based its piece on statements quoted out of context. Mayi Mayi Kifuafua and the Raia Mutomboki of Bakano sector, two armed groups that confronted each other a few months ago in areas connecting Walikale, Masisi (North Kivu) and Kalehe (South Kivu) territories, signed their “˜acte d’engagement’ to cease hostilities in mid-August. This was more than two months before M23’s demise and prior to the first heavy defeats inflicted by the FARDC-MONUSCO coalition. Describing a correlation between these events is not only tentative, it is simply wrong. Neither of the two militias has had any particularly friendly or bellicose ties to M23.
Similar to this is the Radio Okapi report on the impending downing of arms among a key part of the Raia Mutomboki in South Kivus’s Shabunda territory. While it is true that some major protagonists of Raia Mutomboki – more precisely of the “˜Coalition Raiya Mukombozi’ – have announced they would lay down their arms and possibly present a “˜cahier de charges’ to President Joseph Kabila during his upcoming visit to the eastern DRC, there is little indication of a causal connection with the end of M23.
Moreover, the branches of this nebulous militia were grossly misrepresented in this article. Daniel Meshe, the acting president of the coalition, is not in conflict with Albert Kahasha (aka Foka Mike), the latter is his deputy “˜chef d’état major’. In personal communication, a spokesperson of the movement confirmed the coalition’s will to end armed opposition. Beyond Meshe and Kahasha, it seems probable that other influential chiefs and commanders, such as Donat Kengwa, Ngandu Lundimu, or Mabala Mese, will join in while others may stay in the maquis.
While the M23 factor may have partly shaped this evolution, it is premature to argue that it is the main factor. Being generally hostile to all “˜foreigners’ (meaning all rwandophone populations, regardless of whether they are Congolese or Rwandan), Raia Mutomboki’s/Mukombozi’s operations have been directed against FDLR rebels and rwandophone army regiments and not against M23. Even in their “˜acte constitutif’, M23 was not named as an enemy, while the ADF, FNL, and FDLR were. In addition, strong allegations of alleged M23 support to some Raia Mutomboki elements, notably Foka Mike, have never been completely eliminated.
Second, the motivations of those militias that are said to have laid down arms since the M23 surrender remain, at best, fuzzy. Mayi Mayi Sheka, or NDC, is just such a case. For several reasons, Mayi Mayi Sheka is not a typical Mayi Mayi group: It was created by Sheka Ntabo Ntaberi, a Nyanga businessman from Walikale territory, in order to protect his mining rackets from other conflict actors. While several FARDC defectors and commanders have been instrumental in setting up the group, Sheka is among the few militia bosses without his own military record. His armed resistance is based both on grievances – the protection and representation of Nyanga people – and greed: interests in Walikale’s copious mining areas. His links to various (in-)famous protagonists such as Bosco Ntaganda, with whom he engaged in business cooperation, and members of Makenga’s M23 faction too, make it unlikely that M23’s disappearance will greatly impact the operations of his own militia. His “˜cahier de charge’ puts much more emphasis on the nuisance potential of the FDLR, depicted as invaders pillaging and looting from the Congolese (there is no mention of M23 at all).
In Sheka’s case, another factor may play a bigger role: MONUSCO’s intervention brigade, the so-called “˜FIB’. It should not be forgotten that recent military success against M23 was not only down to the FARDC, but also MONUSCO’s first battlefield win (EUFOR Artemis was not a UN mission). The fact that Sheka was named as a potential future target for the intervention brigade – including by MONUSCO’s head Martin Kobler – has most probably been transmitted up to Walikale’s forest panoplies.
A third point: militia politics in eastern DRC remain extraordinarily complex. The defeat of one rebellion – even one as important as M23’s – cannot be seen as a panacea for all rebellions. Most of the militias in eastern DRC have at no point been engaged in direct clashes against M23. Some have emerged in actual opposition to M23 and, more or less independently, engaged militarily with Makenga’s faction.
Others have been used as proxy forces by the FARDC – either as a buffer or to open up additional fronts. These include Mayi Mayi Shetani (a Nande militia in Northern Rutshuru), the MPA (a Nyatura surrogate in Rutshuru), the FDIPC (another Nyatura surrogate in Rutshuru); the FDLR splinter formerly led by the now deceased Colonel Sok and some core FDLR (FOCA) and FDLR-RUD. Among the proxies, the most notable appearances are Masisi-based parts of Nyatura and parts of APCLS.
To add to that, some militias’ trajectories show that also within a certain group, strongly diverging wings can emerge – either within the military part or between military and political branches. The case of FDC-Guides is illustrative: Founded as “˜Guides’ that allegedly helped carry out targeted killings of FDLR commanders in Masisi, the formation became FDC-Guides with strong ties to M23. Disenchantment led to parts of the group leaving and creating the Guides-MAC, while the remaining part became FDC. Despite M23 being an important factor in this militia’s evolution, neither of the two parts have so far publicly reacted to M23’s defeat.
Based on these three points, a few remarks:
Of course, some groups have declared their self-demobilisation as a consequence of M23’s surrender, and more precisely the disappearance of a direct enemy. The most obvious example is that of the aforementioned FDIPC-part of the Nyatura; a militia based on a Congolese Hutu membership (many of them ex-PARECO). For some others this may hold true as well.
Others may also demobilise as a direct consequence of that, but for the opposite reason – because their main ally has now collapsed. There is a little room for this kind of speculation in the Sheka case, but their ties to M23 have been much weaker lately.
There are also groups that may lay down arms as a indirect consequence of what happened with M23. Different motivations may be involved here: First of all, the dissuasive impact of both improved FARDC performance and MONUSCO’s increased involvement. Second, the observation that the FARDC may be turning into an army capable of fulfilling its duties (many militia creations are partly a response to being threatened or neglected by the FARDC).
While every dissolution of an armed group in eastern DRC is a reason to be cheerful, it is premature to talk about disarmament and demobilisation. At the FARDC level, there is ongoing patchwork integration (the examples of Mayi Mayi Yakutumba, Mayi Mayi Nyakiliba, and others are telling…) which is some sort of DDR-into-regular-army. Remarkably though, the FARDC has impressive data on the myriad of militias – a wealth of knowledge that is needed to run an effective demobilisation project.
Currently no disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration (DDR) programme is in place in the DRC. There is a MONUSCO-led DDRRR (adding repatriation and resettlement to the acronym) for foreign combatants and a few remnants of DRC’s former DDR programme conducted by the “˜Unité d’Execution du Programme National DDR’.
The near future may well change that: Both the DRC’s national DDR programme and the United Nations are busy working towards a new comprehensive DDR approach for the DRC. First rumours are promising, but optimism should not belie the meagre accomplishments of previous DDR efforts; both the Congolese ones and those led by the international community through MONUC, UNDP, or the World Bank.
In conclusion, current “waves” of demobilisation need increased scrutiny. Instead of resting on one’s laurels and attributing such developments to the M23 story, much more needs to be done to both encourage and compel all the other armed groups to demobilise. This is mainly a political challenge. Without addressing underlying causes (land, insecurity, governance, Big Men politics, instrumentalised ethnicity, and so on…), even actual self-demobilisation of some groups may turn out to be a mere chimera. And without accelerating the setting up a of new comprehensive DDR programme – protected from donor ignorance and local manipulation and working in the areas it is most needed – the whole array of combatants will not be effectively guided from military to civilian life.