As an astute observer of the machinations of politics in eastern Congo put it to me recently, “it’s messy in North Kivu right now.” This statement does not jibe with New York Times correspondent Jeffrey Gettleman’s recent article, but after a quick survey of the news wires on the current situation in eastern Congo, it’s hard to believe Gettleman’s assertions that “the rebels are at bay” and “calm [has erupted].”
In brief, things are still quite messy—and many questions remain unanswered—in North Kivu province, the site of last fall’s round of recurrent violence:
- The United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, warned last week that increased insecurity—due to a sharp increase in attacks against humanitarians in recent weeks—may force them to reduce crucial relief for thousands of displaced and vulnerable people in North Kivu. This new form of insecurity in North Kivu is not only affecting humanitarian agencies; Congolese civilians are reporting that following the shifting alliances precipitated by the arrest of CNDP leader Laurent Nkunda and subsequent events, it is difficult to know “who the enemy is” and where to run if this unknown enemy strikes.
- The Rwanda-Congo joint military operation against the FDLR (the Rwandan Hutu ex-genocidaire rebels) is complete and Rwandan forces have left eastern Congo. But will the Rwandan forces stay out now that the anti-FDLR operations are being handled by the U.N. peacekeeping mission, MONUC, and the Congolese army? And is the FDLR threat “neutralized?” There are reports that the remaining FDLR forces appear to be pushing westward, deeper into the bush, and terrorizing civilians as they move.
- “Fast-track” integration of the erstwhile powerful CNDP rebel group (formerly led by Nkunda, who is currently under house arrest) into the Congolese army is supposedly taking place. We’ll believe it when we see it. Previous attempts at “mixage,” or integration of former enemy combatants into mixed brigades, has been roundly unsuccessful—even disastrous—in eastern Congo’s recent history. Moreover, can this newly integrated force be quickly dispersed throughout North Kivu province, and will they be a cohesive enough force to fight off the wounded-but- still-threatening FDLR?
- And in the capital Kinshasa, the majority of Congo’s top parliamentary committee has quit, reportedly over the “deepening dispute over the presence of Rwandan forces” in the East. National Assembly President Vital Kamerhe has repeatedly criticized President Joseph Kabila’s decision to allow Rwandan troops to enter Congo for the joint operation since it began in January, but he has refused to resign. Observers say President Kabila’s failure to consult the National Assembly before authorizing Rwanda’s entrance is a sign of his increasingly autocratic tendencies. Along with the Kabila regime’s brutal repression of opposition—well documented by Human Rights Watch in this recent report— are a cause for concern that Congo’s democratic process since its 2006 elections is not consolidating.
All this is not to say that certain recent developments do not hold promise. For example, the news of high ex-FDLR combatant returns in the past month during the Rwanda-Congo joint military operation, along with reports of displaced populations returning home to areas once controlled by Nkunda’s CNDP forces, are both hopeful signs. See this Economist article for one argument for why the “jungle alliance” between the two countries just might endure.