The Nexus between Mineral Exploitations, Armed Groups and Conflict in Eastern DR Congo


By Emmanuel Nibishaka


The mineral trade in the Great Lakes region is faced with a number of interrelated challenges. Topping the list is the conflict mineral phenomenon, whereby minerals and mine sites are used as a source of financing by armed groups, be they rebels, militias or military forces acting independently of government control. While this phenomenon occurs primarily in eastern DRC, the deleterious effects are felt throughout the region. Political spillovers include the influx of refugees and temporary or prolonged incursions by armed groups into neighbouring countries of Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda.

In order to understand the nexus between mineral resources, armed groups and conflict in the eastern DRC, we need to understand the dynamics of the conflict and the various groups operating in eastern DRC and their symbiotic relationships to mineral trading as. This paper attempts to investigate the nexus between armed groups, mineral resources and the continued instability in eastern DRC, and provides an analysis of conflict resolution efforts that have been deployed to stabilize the DRC.

The first section discusses the background of the expropriation of minerals in eastern DRC its supply chain from the mines to the markets; and then presents an overview and motives of active armed groups in eastern DRC, and their connection to mineral exploitation.

The second section explore major international and regional  conflict resolution efforts that have been undertaken to stabilize the DRC, as well as a systematic analysis of the failures behind those initiatives, including the ICGLR processes, the Tripalitite Plus Commission and the Nairobi Communique, Goma Conference  and the Role of the UN.

Mineral Resources, Armed Groups and conflict in DRC

Overview of mining exploitation in Eastern DRC

Since the beginning of the 20th century, the eastern DRC, especially the provinces of South and North Kivu have been known both regional and internationally as mining areas.  Minerals available are gold, tin, cobalt, uranium, coltan, diamonds among others (Bashizi, 1998:108-121).  However, the mining industry in DRC has been constantly disrupted by factors such as the disintegration of the Congolese state in 1990, corruption throughout Mobutu’s reign, the destruction of local infrastructure during the first and second Congolese wars (1996-2003), as well as the subsequent formations of irregular armed groups (International Alert, 2010:14). This disruption gave a way to informal mining and mining exploitation, which employed thousands of miners and the formation of militias seeking control of the mining and mineral trade to finance their lifestyles and power struggles.

Exploitation of Mineral Resources: An old story

Mining exploitation in the eastern DRC did not start in the 20th century but can be traced way back over a century before during the colonial origins of the mining economy (International Alert, 2010:13). Human Rights Watch (2005:2) suggests that in 1903, two Australian explorers found gold in the Angola River and named this area after the local Chief Kilo. It was after the discovery of the gold-bearing region in Moto in the Upper Ituri that the site was named Kilo-Moto. This name has been the symbol of the DRC’s gold for more than a century (International Alert, 2010:14). In 1926, the Société des Mines d’Or de Kilo Moto (SOKIMO) was founded, following the influx of many colonial companies such as the Union Minière du Haut Katanga, characterised by their paternalist policies towards their labour force (International Alert, 2010:14). These companies, veritable states within a state, were closely involved in the financing and management of regional infrastructure, including socio-educative infrastructure such as transport, health and education (Human Rights Watch, 2005:2).

However it was only during the 1920s in the Kivus, that mining became important. This importance was generated by two influential mining companies namely: the Minière des GrandsLacs (MGL) and the CNKI Comité National du Kivu (CNKI) (Bashizi, 1998, 108-121). This mining was mostly concentrated in the area of Maniema which soon became the major area for tin mining, with centres in Kalima, Punia, Kasese and Sakumakanga (ibid). Two companies, Symetain and Cobelmin of the Empain Group, established in 1932 and 1933, dominated the mining sector until after the DRC’s independence.

However, the instability of world markets and the weakening and disorganisation of economic and administrative structures associated with bad governance, widespread corruption detrimentally affected the mining sector.

Companies such as Symetain and Cobelmin and a number of others in 1976 created the Société Minière duKivu (SOMINKI) in which the Zairian government held a 28% shareholding and the Empain Group 72% (International Alert, 2010:14). However this initiative was already hampered by the costs associated with the relative isolation of the Maniema mines from the international market. Thus the newly formed SOMINKI in 1985 proved its inability to cope with the sharp drop in the price of tin on the world market. After reaching a peak in February 1985, the price of tin on world market peaked at over £10,000 a ton and in 1986 the price dropped to around £4,300 a ton. The continuing decline caused the Empain Group to sell its majority shareholding in SOMINKI (Ibid. 15).  The continuous decline in mineral production following the collapse of world prices was further aggravated by the AFDL attacks in 1996.

In late 1996s, SOMINKI was sold to a Canadian group known as the Banro and as a result of the raging war that same year, Banro’s legal position with regard to the control of SOMINKI mines was not clarified until 2003 when it was allowed to resume mining activity. Banro had started its activities by 2003 but by 2008 production had not officially begun. (Ibid.16) This situation prompted informal mining by different groups.

The collapse of formal mining in Kivu saw many miners bereft of jobs and needing to survive by informally exploiting the deposits they knew well (International Alert, 2010:15, De Koning, 2011:6). Dogging this informal exploitation, a parallel semi-legalised mechanism of exploitation was initiated placing exploitation of minerals from mining to exporting in the hands of agencies. Coupled with illegal control of mines by armed groups, this system of exploitation elevated mineral resources in the DRC to one of the major issues in regional conflict.

Mineral exploitation in the eastern DRC can be divided into two main areas of production, namely:

• Gold – alluvial or in lode deposits representing most of Ituri’s production (Orientale Province) and also found at many North and South Kivu sites.

• Various metals making up the composite minerals in the tin group – the “3Ts” – tin, tungsten and tantalum (De Koning, 2011:5; Heath, 2012:10) In the DRC, tungsten is known as wolfram/wolframite; tantalum is present in Colombotantalite, commonly known as coltan, which also contains varying proportions of niobium.

The composition of the ore varies according to the sites. Coltan and cassiterite are often found together, but coltan can also be found with tungsten (Heath, 202:10). The interest in one or other metal depends entirely on demand: in 1999-2000, cassiterite was merely an insignificant by-product of coltan; today, the opposite is true. The ores also always contain iron, regarded as an impurity that requires separation to obtain a sufficient concentration, at least 65% tin, to be profitably sold.

The eastern DRC has 13 major known mines, with another 200 mines in the region (Heath, 2012:18). Twelve of the 13 major mines are controlled by armed groups while over 50% of the 200 of the total number are also under the control of armed groups and the military (Heath, 2012:18). In an interview with MONUSCO in Bukavu, this figure could not be verified or disputed.

Supply chain of mineral trade

According to De Koning (2011:5), the supply and export of minerals from the eastern DRC is handled by comptoirs trading houses based in the towns of Goma and Bukavu.  Artisanal miners of gold and the 3Ts are connected to the respective trading chains by small-scale traders known in French as petits négociants, who buy minerals for cash but more often pre-finance mining operations by bringing in equipment and supplies in return for minerals. The minerals are bought and sold by traders (négociants) and eventually sold to buying houses (comptoirs), which arrange export (Heath, 2012:18; De Konging, 2011:5).

Those comptoirs act as markets themselves, as they buy minerals from across North and South Kivu as well as other locations, including those produced by and benefiting armed groups and the FARDC and then sell them to companies and agencies.

The primary customers of the comptoirs are foreign companies (Heath, 2012:8). With the majority of exports emanating from the two provinces, the comptoirs are effectively acting as a gateway to the international markets (Global Witness, 2009:54; MOUSCO 2012). According to estimates made by both the South Kivu branch of the Fédération des Entreprises du Congo (FEC), the federation of Congolese businesses in 2007; of which most of the main comptoirs are members; official comptoirs in South Kivu each month export an average of 450 tons of cassiterite, 45 tons of wolframite, 16 tons of coltan and 10 kg of gold (FEC, 2008:2).  In an interview with Life & Peace Institute, there are calls for the comptoirs’ licences to be reviewed and reregistered in order to have a clear picture of those operating who operate illegally.

In reality, even if comptoirs are legalised, most of them and their international buyers are not dealing with legal traders.  According to the UN Mission in Congo (MONUSCO), they are  buying and selling minerals supplied by armed groups or FARDC units, a process that is  entirely illegal (MONUSCO, 2012).  In 2008, there were approximately 40 registered comptoirs in North and South Kivu (Heath, 2012:18) run by individuals who have been involved with buying and selling of minerals throughout the wars.

Most of those individuals run successful businesses as they are willing to trade with armed groups, directly or indirectly, regardless of their history of violence and human rights abuse (Global Witness 2009:55). These are well-known high-ranking personalities inside the DRC such as Mudekereza Namegabe, who heads the comptoirs Group Olive and MDM, Muyeye Byaboshi, who runs the comptoir known as Etablissement Muyeye.

In its report, the UN Group of Experts (2008:IV.B) named these individuals as  trading minerals produced by armed groups and mentioned  Groupe Olive, Muyeye, MDM, WMC, Panju and Namukaya to be dealing in minerals produced or handled by the FDLR.

From comptoirs to foreign companies

In recent efforts to regulate the mining industry in the eastern DRC, the responsibility to make sure that the trade in mineral does not benefit the armed groups was not vested only on the government or civilians of Kivus, but also on foreign companies who buy minerals from North and South Kivu (BSR, 2010:5). However some of these companies most of which were based in Europe and Asia, had not complied with this responsibility as they continue dealing with comptoirs who they know have been trading with armed groups for several years. According to De Koning (2011:8), trade in the 3Ts is facilitated by both road and air shipments from mines (mostly controlled by armed groups) to either Goma or Bukavu. At this stage, licensed négociants pay a small fee for a transport authorization issued by the Service d’assistance et d’encadrement du small-scale mining (SAESSCAM, Small-scale Mining Assistance and Training Service) or the provincial Division of Mines. Once minerals arrive in Goma or Bukavu at the comptoirs or the airline office, authorities from the Division of Mines register the shipment in the name of the négociant. The Centre d’Evaluation, d’Expertise et de Certification (CEEC, Centre for Evaluation, Expertise and Certification) registers transactions between négociants and comptoirs and provides a voucher (bon d’achat) to the comptoir. The CEEC also issues an export certificate for each consignment (weighing 23-55 tons) shipped. Currently, there are 17 exporters based in Bukavu and 24 based in Goma (Heath, 2012:18). The export certificate does not name the négociant(s) involved in supplying the minerals or where the minerals were purchased or mined. This information has been confirmed in an interview with the UN Mission in DRC.  Consignments of 3Ts from eastern DRC are then transported by road to the Kenyan port of Mombasa and the Tanzanian port of Dar es Salaam, from where they are shipped to importing or processing companies in Asia and Europe (De Koning, 2011:8).

According to statistics realised by the Congolese government,  companies registered in Belgium accounted for the largest proportion of cassiterite, wolframite and coltan imports from North and South Kivu in 2007 and  2008 and from North Kivu from January to September 2008, with the main companies originally from Belgian namely Trademet, Traxys, SDE, STI and Special Metals (Custers & Cuvalier, 2009:12-19).

The second largest buyers of cassiterite from North and South Kivu in 2007 and 2008 were the Thailand Smelting and Refining Corporation (THAISARCO),  thirdly the world’s fifth-largest tin-producing company owned by the large British metals company Amalgamated Metal Corporation (AMC) Group; Afrimexa.  Some companies were registered in UK and other in the region (Global Witness, 2009:61)

The Malaysian Smelting Corporation, Berhad, which was the world’s fourth-largest tin-producing company and some companies based in China (African Ventures Ltd in China), India (Met Trade India Ltd), Canada (BEB Investment Inc. ), Austria, and  the Netherlands and Russia (Eurosib Logistics JSC) also featured on the list of companies exploiting mineral resources; with links to armed groups (Global Witness, 2009:61). These companies accounted for an increasing proportion of cassiterite imports from North Kivu between January and September 2008. In terms of coltan, the largest importers in 2007 and 2008 were Traxys, THAISARCO and companies based in Hong Kong and South Africa and a Belgium-based company (Trademet and Specialty Metals) the largest buyer of wolframite in 2007 and 2008. Other buyers included Afrimex, and companies registered in the Netherlands, China, Austria, United Arab Emirates and Russia (Division des Mines Nord-Kivu and Division des Mines Sud-Kivu, 2008: Annex B).

In terms of current trends in mineral trading, from North or South Kivu there are not reliable because the Congolese government’s statistics are incomplete, and there are large inconsistencies with corresponding statistics from importing countries. For example, statistics from Thailand and Malaysia report much higher figures for cassiterite imports from the DRC than those listed by the Congolese government, suggesting that various actors unknown to the DRC Government within DRC sell minerals in those countries. Congolese government statistics also sometimes list the transport or freight company, rather than the buyer, as the importer. In some cases, this may distort the picture as the transport company may not be based in the same country as the buyer.

The role of transit Countries

DRC neighbouring states such as Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda have been accused of facilitating mineral transit from North and South Kivu. The accusations put forward that once minerals have been transported through these countries, the minerals usually leave Africa through the ports of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) or Mombasa (Kenya). As evidenced in the following section however, Rwanda, a country that has been accused in several reports; has initiated measures to deal with illegal transit and trade of minerals from DRC, suggesting that either those reports are flawed or faulty lines still exist in other countries except Rwanda.


Due to poor control on the Congolese side of the border, Congolese authorities argue that, the main channel or routes through which minerals leave eastern DRC to other countries is Rwanda. However, Rwanda has set up verification mechanisms to show the origins of minerals in its territory. Global Witness (2009:62) points out that prior to 2008,   there was no mechanism to ensure that the minerals Rwanda imported had not been produced by, or benefited any of the warring parties in the DRC. Regardless of the fact that Rwanda has now  its own mineral deposits, and a developing domestic mining sector which accounts for an increasing proportion of its exports, the official opinion in DRC is  that Rwanda  imports and re-export significant amounts of minerals from eastern DRC (Global Witness, 2009:70). For instance in Rwanda,  before the genocide in 1994, Rwanda produced 3% of the world’s cassiterite. Between 2001 and 2004 there was a sharp rise in demand for the mineral, mainly because of the telecom and computer electronics boom that escalated both demand and market price.

In 2008, the price of cassiterite on the London Metal Exchange hit US$19 000 per tonne – nearly four times its level of US$5 000 in 2003. This has encouraged the country to explore its potential to supply the world market, with companies like Microsoft, Hitachi and Samsung leading the way.

Gold has also been explored in some parts of the country, and some semi-precious stones – including topaz, amethyst, opal and agate – have been discovered. The Rwandans are intent on penetrating the growing Asian market, which includes buyers from such countries as China, South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, India and Japan. This new drive has attracted several foreign mining companies, including two large American firms interested in gold-mining licences

A major problem with these minerals is that the Congolese minerals exported legally from Rwanda are not easily and always distinguishable from minerals produced in Rwanda. To overcome this, the country’s Geology and Mines Authority (OGMR), has set up a mineral tagging and sealing scheme which aims to curb the illegal trading of conflict minerals such as tin, tantalum and tantalite.

This project, called iTSCi (ITRI Tin Supply Chain Initiative) was set up by UK tin industry organisation, and plans to ensure that minerals from Rwanda are verified and traceable right from their source to smelters.

In addition, Rwanda urged all consignments of minerals entering the country to arrive with “required trade documents” and to be “certified and tagged by competent authorities”. All minerals transported within Rwanda outside of designated mining concession areas must be tagged with the mine of origin identified. Furthermore, mineral trading is restricted to specific areas of the country and traders are asked to submit monthly reports of purchases and sales to the government.

If indeed Rwanda is the only country in the Great Lakes that set up the verification mechanisms that seem to be successful, then the continued illegal trade and exports of mineral were and are not surely transiting through Rwanda.  It means that faulty lines in reporting and exporting minerals s are somewhere else outside, either in other neighboring countries or within DRC itself.


According to a report by the Global Witness (2009),  a significant proportion of the gold mined in South Kivu is controlled by armed groups namely the FDLR or  the FARDC. Burundi also has been accused of offering an easy exit route for minerals produced by these armed groups to international markets (Global Witness, 2009:73). The UN Mission to the DRC (MONUSCO) confirmed in the interview in 2012, that although this trend has subsided to some degree, significant quantities of mineral transit through Burundi to the port of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

Furthermore, Burundian border control is exceptionally weak, and in some cases, customs officials are involved in facilitating illegal imports from the eastern DRC (Global Witness, 2009:73).  Gold is often smuggled into Burundi from the southern part of South Kivu through channels controlled by the FDLR. This route transverses Lake Tanganyika or through the many informal crossings along the Ruzizi River that mark the northern Burundi-DRC border to the rural hinterland. According to Global Witness, the smuggled gold is then sold to traders in the capital, Bujumbura, and exported to the international market from there. Global Witness Report of 2009 indicates that Bujumbura international airport is one of the most direct routes through which gold from South Kivu leaves the region and reaches world markets (Global Witness, 2009:73)

Armed groups active in the eastern DRC

The major source of instability in the eastern DRC is the continuous presence of irregular armed groups and the ineffective means by the DRC government to control them. The Integrated Regional Information Network (2010:1) identified among others, nine armed groups that were active in eastern DRC. However thoser groups are estimated to be more than 20, including the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Popular Front for Justice in Congo, Independent Liberation Movement of the Allies known also as (Nzobo ya Lombo), Mai Mai Yakutumba (Pro-government militia), Mai Mai Gedeon allied to separatists in southern Katanga province, Mai Mai Sheka, Mai Mai Hume, Mai Mai Kifuafua, Mai Mai Raia Mutomboki has fought both FDLR (congolese army) and FARDC (rebels), Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) or Forces démocratiques pour la libération du Rwanda (FDLR) or ex-FAR / Interahamwe, Alliance des Patriotes pour un Congo Libre et Souverain (APCLS) or Alliance des patriotes pour un Congo libre et démocratique or Patriotic Alliance for Free and Sovereign Congo (APCLS) operates in Masisi area west of Goma, Patriotes résistants congolais (PARECO), M23 Troops loyal to Bosco  Ntaganda and those loyal to Sultan Makenga (who has defected from the Congolese army) have created the armed group March 23 Movement (M23) comprising of former members of the rebel National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), National Liberation Forces (FNL) Burundian rebels, mainly in South Kivu, Congo Defence Front (FDC), Patriotic Resistance Forces of Ituri (FRPI) operates in Ituri Province near Uganda border, Nyatura, Vutura, etc.

As far as this study is concerned, this section explores seven major armed groups that have been identified in the past to be profiting from mining activities in one way or another. These include: the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP, now M23), the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), the Mai Mai militia, Union Patriotique Congolais (UPC) and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). Five of them are shown on the map below in their respective areas of control and linked to the types of minerals they exploit.

Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR)

After the 1994 Rwandan genocide that left more than 1 million Tutsis dead, more than 2 million Rwandan refugees and elements of the former Rwandan armed forces and the Interhamwe militia settled in eastern DRC in various refugee camps.  The remainder of the former Rwandan army and the interahamwe militia quickly set up a military wings to resist the new regime in Rwanda and, over the past 17 years, they have carried out numerous attacks inside Rwanda (up to 2000, and few sporadic incursions in 2012) and against Congolese civilians. The FDLR is in essence, a continuation of its immediate predecessor, the ALIR (I and II) and, like the ALIR, rooted in the various structures that were created among and by the Rwandan refugees and combatants who fled the country in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide (Romkema, 2007:7) (For more information on ALIR structures, see our previous issue -DIALOGUE N0 200).

They are now known as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR – French acronym) and owing to its influence in eastern DRC,  until recently, this armed group  has been controling every aspect of the daily lives of civilians under the zone of  control.  According to analysts and officials, its estimated manpower in the region was about 6 000 to 8 000 (BSR, 2010:5) in 2010. At the time of writing this paper, this figure may have changed as various reports suggest that FDLR has intensified its recruitment campaign, while at the same time  there have been two joint operations by the Government of DRC and Rwanda that targeted the FDRL that might have significantly weakened its strenght and effective.

Although the FDLR has assimilated individuals, mostly young recruits from the Rwandese refugee community in the DRC, its leadership is still dominated by members of the former Rwandan army and politicians from the regime that ruled Rwanda before and during the genocide (Romkema, 2007:7). Several FDLR leaders are direct complicit in the Rwandan genocide in one form or another and they use the movement to protect themselves. There are many different estimates abound on the number of ‘génocidaires’ in the ranks of the FDLR. In the 2008 African Rights report, it is claimed that there are ‘hundreds’ within the DRC and ‘dozens’ abroad (African Rights, 2008:60).

Romkema estimates that 200-300 suspects of genocide atrocities remain within the ranks of the FDLR (Romkema, 2007: 66).  The names of some of them circulate publicly, for example: Major General Sylvestre Mudacamura (Chief of Staff) and Idelphonse Nizeyimana (Deputy to the 2nd Vice-President of the political wing).

The regular combatants of the FDLR, still the largest and strongest armed militia group active in the Kivu provinces, would prefer to disarm and return to Rwanda, irrespective of the political developments there, as most of the benefits from mineral wealth is claimed by the senior officers and their families; while the balance is used to sustain the movement. However some ordinary foot soldiers are held captive by their senior commanders as to continue hiding in the jungles, while at the same time producing means of survival.

Furthermore, while most of its political leaders are based in Europe, the FDLR has not managed to attract a strong and reliable ally or donor, so has no political backing internationally except some isolated scholars who espoused the revisionist ideology and FDLR publicists like Steve Hege and alike . However, the volatile political transition in the eastern DRC offers a favorable   political and secure environment for the FDLR and its business, especially now they are working hand in hand with the FARDC.

Although the exploitation of natural resources was not the main raison d’être for the FDLR when it was first established, the opportunities that presented themselves in North and South Kivu proved to be irresistible (Global Witness Report, 2009:38).  Over time, the FDLR’s economic activities became increasingly lucrative.  Experts estimated that the FDLR was making profits “possibly worth millions of dollars a year from the trade in minerals” and describes the mineral business as “a high priority for FDLR”. Resource Consulting Services (RCS) estimates that in 2008 the FDLR, obtained up to 75% of its revenue from the taxation of DRC minerals, predominantly gold (Nicholas & Mitchel, 2009:6). In my interview with MONUSCO officials in early 2012, it was confirmed that the FDRL depends most entirely on mineral trade, even if it was difficult to evaluate the exact revenue involved.

Hence, the FDLR’s trading activities in South Kivu appears to have become an end in itself. In parts of the territories of Shabunda, Mwenga, Walungu, Uvira and Fizi the FDLR has become extraordinarily well ensconced and connected (Romkema, 2007:5; Global Witness Report, 2009:38). The report further claims that all the territories under FDLR influence have gold or cassiterite mines. For example, in the collectivité chefferie of Burhinyi (in Walungu), the FDLR controled nine of the 18 groupements in 2009, all rich in minerals, forests and agricultural land. Their products are sold in the nearby markets, using local civilian support to collect their loot and provide transport accompanied by one or two of their soldiers.

With those profits, the FDLR had established efficient and extensive business networks and were able to obtain other supplies, including weapons, without difficulty.  Worse of it, most of their business dealings have been in full or in part facilitated by the FARDC, who also benefit from illegal exploitations of mineral resources. According to Global Witness (2009:38), the FDLR also set up political, economic and social structures and administration, including, for example, their own parallel justice system, without however the DRC contest.  The United Nations Stablising Mission to DRC (MONUSCO) confirmed, in an interview in 2012, that this situation has bit changed in territories previously under their control owing to two joint military operations aimed at dislodging them. They conceded however that the current security situation in DRC might allow them to regroup and relaunch their business ventures, while at the same time, increasing their security threat to Rwanda.

The National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) now M23

According to IRIN News (2012), the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) was the second dominant armed and strong group in eastern DRC until 2009, when it started integrating into the regular Congolese army (IRIN, 2012:1). At the time of writing this paper, most of its former combatants had defected from the regular army and formed the rebel movement called M23, following failures by the DRC government to implement the 23 March 2009 Agreements that paved the way for their integration into the FARDC.

CNDP claimed to act on behalf of all local ethnic groups in eastern DRC as per their troops configuration, but some regional experts point to the grievances of the Congolese Kinyarwanda speaking that are majority in eastern DRC to be central to its agenda, including demands for political representation, refugee repatriation and protection from the predations of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) (Shepherd, 2011:43). United under this objective, the CNDP appeared to be a powerful armed group with its support stemming from most civilians population of eastern Congo, but after the Congo-Rwanda joint military offensives in 2009, the CNDP ceased to be a cohesive group.

Once led by Laurent Nkunda, CNDP has its origins in RCD (Rassemblement Congolais pour la Democratie), as many of CNDP combatants previously fought for the RCD. Having resisted integration into the Congolese national army during the post-war transition as a result of serious flaws in the transitional government, they re-emerged under Nkunda’s leadership during the Bukavu crisis of 2004 when Tutsis in that areas were at the verge of extermination; and later formed the core of the CNDP military. CNDP was therefore, an organization, reflecting the deep complexity of local and national problems in eastern DRC that represented the continued incapability of the Congolese state to meet the expectations of its people over lack of political power, security and land.

As stated above, in the 23 March 2009 agreements, the stipulated political demands were not met and the structural causes of conflict, such as land distribution, nationality, resources, demobilization of foreign militia and Congolese refugee repatriation, remained salient given the continuous presence of FDRL in the areas inhabited by people the CNDP claims to represent.

According to Global Witness (2009), the CNDP never relied as heavily on the mineral trade as the FDLR or other militia groups, because the territories that used to be under their control in North Kivu tend to contain fewer large mineral deposits. However, some reports, as that of Global Witness( 2009)  suggest that CNDP benefited heavily from mineral taxation (Global Witness, 2009:48). The CNDP controlled some areas where mineral deposits are found. These include coltan mines at Bibatama; a wolframite mine at Bishasha; and cassiterite deposits in other locations. Resource Consulting Services (RCS) estimates that in 2008 the Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple (CNDP) obtained up to 15% of its revenue from mineral exploitation ((Nicholas & Mitchel, 2009:6).

More significantly, CNDP troops found other ways of cashing in on the mineral trade, through the imposition of “taxes” – which they collect in cash or kind – along the roads, at checkpoints and at border crossings border. Renowned CNDP critics Spittaels & Hullebroeck (2008:7) argue that a particularly rewarding source of revenue for the CNDP has been the crossing at Bunagana, on the DRC-Uganda. Those claims have not been verified or researched by the author, as the security situation has deteriorated in eastern DRC, including Bunagana.

The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF)

The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), like the FDLR, is a foreign armed group in DRC, originating from Uganda (Congressional Research Service, 2011:6). The ADF is a Ugandan Muslim rebel group with dual objectives both in Uganda and in the DRC; however, their activities are limited in both Uganda and the DRC. In 2010 the ADF was reported to operate in the Beni district near the border between Uganda and the DRC. However, their actions were short-lived because in June 2010 the governments of Uganda and DRC joined forces to squash ADF activities.  At that time the Congolese armed forces launched a military operation known as Rwenzori against the ADF and its allies in Beni (CRS, 2011:7). Although the military operation was successful in dislodging ADF forces,  according to UN officials it was a failure in the sense that it displaced an estimated 100 000 Congolese civilians.

Mayi Mayi Militia

The Mai-Mai militia is a less cohesive group comprising a number of Congolese militia with disparate political demands. While the Mai Mai groups pretend to have a national resistance agenda, in reality their fights are more often than not, local. Their grievances derive from Kivutian disgruntlements that predate the two “liberation wars” of the past decade and will endure beyond any national peace deal unless it addressed directly with them. Since 1998, control over gold or coltan mines been a prime motivation for Mai Mai infighting. The anti-Tutsi and, by extension, anti-Banyarwanda agenda is one of the unifying forces since Rwandophones remain the easy scapegoats for all political and economic frustrations in the Kivus. This explains the relative fragility of Mai Mai allegiance to the Kinshasa government and to any power-sharing agreement that Joseph Kabila might sign with other armed groups including M23.

Historically, the Mayi-Mayi militia did not start its operations when war broke out in 1996; but was already operating prior to the Congolese wars.  However, it was mainly after the start of the RCD-rebellion that it gained prominence and was able to occupy parts of South Kivu’s interior (Vlassenroot, 2008:11). In the areas under its command, the Mai Mai militia instituted a highly militarised authoritarian regime that claimed sovereign authority (Reinventer, 2005:1).

Even if the movement was promoting total freedom for the autochthonous population, its strong control over civilian administrators and the population through ideological seminars and the introduction of repressive justice mechanisms, confirmed that the movement relied heavily on disciplinary and sovereign techniques of government (Hoffman, 2007:102). Unlike the FDLR which generated income through business connections, the Mayi-Mayi militia generated it through taxation, from the population and the local economic activities to finance the movement’s bureaucratic apparatus. However as the situation progressed, the militarisation of mining and trading activities came to the forefront of financial support and completely changed the pre-war integrative administrative structures which were in place (Vlassenroot, 2008:11).

The Mayi Mayi currently comprises several groups. Besides smaller groups, the main Mayi-Mayi force in the eastern DRC is the Coalition of Patriotic Congolese Resistance known as PARECO allied to several Mayi-Mayi groups.  As of 2008, the leadership of the coalition is in the hands of Colonel La Fontaine of Nande ethnicity (Spittaels & Hullebroeck, 2008:14)

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)

The LRA is the oldest rebel group in Uganda and its existence can be traced back to the mid-1980s under the leadership of Joseph Kony (CRS, 2011:7). With similar practices to those of the FDLR, the LRA is an interstate rebel group with military operations and presence in northern Uganda, the DRC, the Central African Republic (CAR), and Southern Sudan. With the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in Sudan, LRA units fled to DRC in 2005. In March 2011, attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) displaced more than 1 200 people in the Dungu area, Orientale Province of DRC, while UNHCR reported 33 attacks in north eastern DRC in 2012 (International Displacement Monitoring Centre, 2012:1). Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people recently fled their homes in North Kivu Province, following attacks by unknown armed groups. Some have implicated LRA while others blamed the attack on the FDLR.

Union Patriotique Congolais (UPC)

In July 2001, the Hema movement Union Patriotique Congolais (UPC) started its activities as a parallel development to the Mayi-Mayi militia and RCD activities in North eastern DRC (Vlassenroot, 2008:12). Initially led by Thomas Lubanga, now in ICC custody, the Union Patriotique Congolais (UPC) was instituted by civilian and military Gegere leaders as the final stage of a strategy to seize political and economic power in Ituri. Vlassentoot (2008) put forward that prior to the formation of this armed group, close collaboration between Ugandan army commanders controlling the Ituri region and certain Gegere political leaders and economic actors led to the creation of a trans-border power complex that was able to monopolise trade networks and secure access to local resources (Vlassenroot, 2008:12).

After the arrest of its leader, Thomas Lubanga in March 2005 by Congolese authorities on charges of human rights violations, including genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity; the UPC announced a cease-fire and an end to its insurrection. On 17 March 2006 Thomas Lubanga was transferred to The Hague to stand trial before the International Criminal Court.


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