Editor’s Note: This post is intended to provide a contextual background for understanding the complex issues that the Enough Project works on. It is part of the series Enough 101.
One of the greatest obstacles to peace in the Congo today is the fragmentation of the Congolese army and proliferation of assorted independent armed militias.
Congo’s two wars (1996-2003) solidified a system of armed militias ruling various portions of the country, particularly in the restive eastern region. This is largely the result of the absence of a functioning security sector (army or police), and thus the inability of the state to guarantee safety to civilians. As a result, the population (civilians, politicians, and businessmen) have been driven to seek protection from armed commanders, thus expanding the militarization of local governance.
The peace treaty that ended the war in 2002 provided for all the signatories’ forces to integrate and form one national army, the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo, or FARDC; however, today there are still over 20 armed groups operating in eastern Congo.
FARDC (Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo) and PNC (Congolese National Police)
The FARDC and PNC are primary perpetrators of extrajudicial killings, rape, torture, and extortion in eastern Congo and present some of Congo’s greatest obstacles towards stability. Both institutions are corrupt and ineffective, preying on the communities they’re supposed to protect.
FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda)
Perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide formed the FDLR, which is on the U.S. State Department list of terrorist organizations. While the original soldiers were Rwandan exiles, most of the current FDLR soldiers have been recruited from refugee camps in eastern Congo. According to the United Nations, between 6,000 and 8,000 FDLR fighters are currently estimated to be in operation.
CNDP (National Congress for the Defense of the People)
The CNDP is a Congo-based rebel group that was one of the most destructive groups in eastern Congo, but has since formally integrated into the national army and transitioned to become a political party. Since its official disbanding in 2009, many CNDP fighters integrated into the FARDC while others joined militia groups. The CNDP’s main objective was to protect the Tutsi population in eastern Congo and to fight the FDLR. As one of the strongest rebel groups in eastern Congo, the CNDP perpetrated well-documented mass atrocities. Even within the Congolese national army, CNDP fighters continue to operate in many of the same areas they controlled before the integration.
ADF (Allied Democratic Forces)
The ADF is a Ugandan Muslim rebel group with limited activities in Uganda and Congo. In 2010, ADF forces were active in Beni district near the Ugandan border until an FARDC operation dislodged ADF forces, while also displacing an estimated 100,000 Congolese civilians, according to United Nations officials.
Mayi Mayi Militias
The Mayi Mayi is a loosely grouped collection of Congolese militias. There are currently six main groups operating in the Kivus: the Mayi-Mayi Yakutumba, Raia Mutomboki, Mayi-Mayi Nyakiliba, Mayi-Mayi Fujo, Mayi-Mayi Kirikicho, and Resistance Nationale Congolaise. Many Mayi Mayi groups were formed by combatants who refused to participate in the FARDC integration processes, and tend to ascribe to autochthonous beliefs – meaning that they believe the land should belong to its original inhabitants. The Mayi Mayi militias are not unified under any political or ethnic affiliation, but all actively target civilians and U.N. peacekeeping forces in eastern Congo
The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)
The LRA is a rebel group led by Joseph Kony that has been active since the mid-1980s. It originated in northern Uganda and initially organized with the stated purpose of defending ethnic groups in the marginalized northern region, but the LRA no longer has a clear political agenda beyond its survival. This ruthless militia directs its violence towards civilians and operates in South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and eastern Congo. Read the Enough 101 post about the LRA.
Some recent Enough 101 posts also provide some context for understanding the proliferation of armed groups in Congo: “Congo: Colonialism through Dictatorship, 1400s-1997,” “Congo: The First and Second Wars, 1996-2003,” “Congo: First Elections to the Present, 2006-2011.”
For more information and to see the sources used in this post, check out the Enough Project's Congo Pinterest Board.