Field Dispatch: Tensions in North Kivu

 

The end of 2009 saw optimistic statements about the situation in Congo from both the United Nations and the Congolese government. However, my experience on the ground in North Kivu seemed to point to a different picture. This is the first of two field dispatches based on my travel to particularly contentious territories in the region.


Masisi and the Parallel Administration

The territory of Masisi, located to the west of Goma in North Kivu province, is among the most contested regions of eastern Congo. A longtime power center for the National Congress for the Defense of the People, or CNDP, the area is a flashpoint for potential conflict stemming from tensions over land rights and conflict between local ethnic groups and Congolese of Rwandan descent, exacerbated by the recent population movements described in a prior field dispatch.
 
Despite the CNDP’s peace agreement with the Congolese government, the movement continues to operate their own government structures throughout much of Masisi, including lucrative tax collection and control over security services. This operation is based out of the town of Mushake. Following a meeting between the CNDP and the Congolese government on December 21, the CNDP agreed to close down the parallel administration. But the CNDP continues to argue it first needs to be politically integrated at the national level before stopping their tax system and parallel administration. This is another worrying sign of strains in the relationship between the Congolese government and the CNDP, despite the move by the government to take charge of CNDP’s war-wounded around Christmas time last year.
 
The Mushake administration feeds several worrying dynamics:
 
  • The CNDP split. Since Laurent Nkunda was deposed by the Rwandans, there has been a dangerous split within the movement between those who remain loyal to him and those loyal to Bosco Ntaganda. Allegedly, the taxes collected by the parallel administration are not going to the main CNDP administration, widening this rift.
  • Multiplying Militias. Authorities have described a new movement called the Force for the Liberation of Eastern Congo, based in the town of Biza, with a battalion of 500-1,000 fighters. This group is linked to wanted war criminal Bosco Ntaganda, and has conducted forced recruitment in the region. Ntaganda, reacting to the call by U.S. envoy Howard Wolpe for his arrest, is evidently arming multiple militias to defend himself.
  • Anti-government alliances. During a meeting held in December, the parallel administration in Mushake replaced the national police in the area with a police force consisting of CNDP forces and members of the Hutu militia called PARECO.
 
Most of the people I spoke with think the CNDP is using these multiple armed groups and the maintenance of the parallel administration to increase its leverage in negotiations with the government. The end goals are the return of refugees from Rwanda, the recognition of senior appointments in the military, the full integration of the CNDP into the government, and the recognition of Mushake as a territory, thereby splitting political power in North Kivu. Thus far, the result has been increased confusion, rising tensions, and greater potential for these political, military, and economic manoeuvres to trigger widespread violence.