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Field Dispatch: South Kivu – No Peace in Sight

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Field Dispatch: South Kivu – No Peace in Sight

Posted by Noel Atama on December 15, 2009

Field Dispatch: South Kivu - No Peace in Sight

The view from the ground in South Kivu, eastern Congo, where I spent the second half of November, reveals a deeply insecure environment as a result of Kimia II, the government-led and U.N. supported military offensive against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR, rebel group. Contrary to statements by Congolese President Joseph Kabila and the conclusions from U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon’s latest report, which balance the humanitarian cost of the Kimia II against “significant military gains,” the open conflict and deteriorating humanitarian situation in South Kivu demonstrates that such conclusions are dangerously premature. The international community must accept that Kimia II has made the situation worse, not better, and adjust policy accordingly.

Kimia II in South Kivu: One Step Forward, How Many Steps Backward?
The positive assessments of the military impact of the Kimia II operation trumpeted by military and political leaders from Kinshasa to New York do not always mesh with the Congolese army’s own assessments of what is happening on the ground. According to Congolese army officials I spoke with in South Kivu:
Outcomes released by the [military] leadership are always political outcomes, and not operational outcomes based on the result on the ground. These political outcomes are given to the media to discourage enemies and to obtain the support of the civilian population. The leadership has never provided media with operational outcomes based on operations on the ground.[1]
A realistic assessment of Kimia II must acknowledge the following realities:
The FDLR has been dislodged but is still capable of causing trouble.Military operations have driven the FDLR from some mineral-rich areas where they had maintained headquarters. But even from remote forest areas they still mobilize forces to attack both the Congolese army and civilian populations. These FDLR units benefit from increasing support from other militias, described below, as well as continuing support from some elements within the Congolese army. One recent example is the November 3 attack on the Luberizi military training center. The FDLR and a local Mai Mai militia attacked the center, seized arms and equipment, and abducted Congolese soldiers to carry the stolen loot. However, sources within the Congolese military believe that instructors working at the center were complicit in supporting the FDLR attack. The Congolese army has a long history of supporting the FDLR, and some Congolese soldiers are skeptical toward the leadership of Kimia II, which is dominated by members a Congolese rebel group with close ties to Rwanda called the National Congress for the Defense of People, or CNDP. As part of a recent peace agreement, the CNDP was recently and haphazardly integrated into the Congolese army.
The Congolese army is just as predatory toward civilians as the FDLR, especially in mining areas.Civil society groups in South Kivu describe the behavior of the newly integrated-Congolese armed forces that have replaced the FDLR in mining zones with the expression that they are “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” That is, they commit the same human rights violations as their predecessors. According to civil society representatives: “They extort, force local population to work for them, collect taxes, loot, rape, kill and commit human rights abuses against civilian population they are supposed to protect”[2]. I was shocked to hear from some civil society groups that the security situation was actually better when the FDLR was in charge, compared with the current situation.
Local militias are aligning themselves against the government and Kimia II.Although international attention has focused on the FDLR, South Kivu is awash in local militias, known as Mai Mai, with constantly shifting loyalties, diverse ethnic, commercial, and criminal interests, and who often abuse the local populations they purport to represent. Although most of these groups were involved in a recent peace program called “Amani” (peace in Swahili), wherein they were supposed integrate into the Congolese army and civilian government, the majority of groups now say that the Congolese government has not met their demands. Representatives of Mai Mai groups also cite an intense skepticism of the CNDP elements leading military operations in South Kivu.  Mai Mai view the CNDP as an enemy because of CNDP’s relationship with Rwanda, so it is hardly surprising that these groups have sided with the FDLR against the government and the CNDP-led Kimia II offensive.
The civilian population does not trust the Congolese army. A successful counter-insurgency campaign ultimately depends upon securing the goodwill and cooperation of the population. The Congolese army’s approach to this crucial issue has been sorely lacking. When asked about the current situation, a young man in Uvira responded with a proverb: “The one who slaps forgets quickly, but the one who receives the slap never forgets”[3] Given the brutal history of the war in South Kivu, it was incumbent upon the Congolese army to adequately explain the Kimia II offensive to the population and to conduct them responsibly. Instead, Congolese forces have displaced and abused these populations and then left them exposed to brutal reprisals by the FDLR. In Uvira territory, it was not until November 13, three months after the launch of operations in that area, that the Kimia II leadership met with local populations and attempted to explain the objectives of the operation.
Prioritizing peace
The U.N. Secretary General’s report details joint planning by the Congolese army and MONUC for a “clear, hold and build” strategy to secure civilian populations and restore state authority in areas cleared of the FDLR. This is a step in the right direction, but announcing this approach while simultaneously shortening MONUC’s mandate and accelerating planning for a drawdown of forces is extremely naïve. If there is going to be “success” in eastern Congo, the United Nations and the Congolese government must urgently prioritize civilian protection and get realistic about the time and the resources needed to end the FDLR insurgency and deal with the whole host of other problems that keep this part of the world aflame.

[1] Interviews with officers of Kimia II operations: Luberizi, 20 November 2009 and Bukavu on 24 November, 2009.
[2] Representative of Civil Society, Uvira, 19 November 2009.
[3] Ibid.