“The true master of the area”: The FDLR in Walikale territory
By Primo Pascal Rudahigwa*
One part of North Kivu where the FDLR presence is clearly visible is Walikale territory. According to the administrative head of this resource-rich area, only 40% of the territory is actually under his control, the rest is administered by the FDLR and its local allies. Given the obvious difficulty in inviting the FDLR to Goma, the journalist Primo Pascal Rudahigwa travelled to their fiefdom. In a general way the statements below reflect the opinions of the FLDR.
In most parts of Walikale, the Rwandan Hutu combatants are labelled “FDLR”, while the civilians are identified as “Rwandan refugees”. However, it is difficult to differentiate the civilians from the soldiers. According to Major Karim, the local division chief of FOCA, the FDLR is a politico-military movement. Its armed wing is called FOCA: Forces Combattantes Abacunguzi. The military wing is active in the east of the DR Congo, in particular the two Kivu provinces. It is commanded by a colonel based in Lubero district (North Kivu) whose identity was not revealed by our interlocutor. In turn, the political wing of the movement is directed by civilians living in Germany who maintain regular contact with FOCA.
FOCA is composed of several brigades manned by both older and more recently recruited soldiers. The newly recruited young men and women receive continuous training in the General Staff of the brigades. All refugees learn how to handle weapons to prepare them for an eventual return to their home country by force.
The relationship between the FLDR and the local population is shaped by mutual interests: local residents who refuse to comply with the rules of the FDLR are abused and flee their villages. At present, the chiefs of the four sub-districts (groupement) of Luberike, Ihana, Kisimba and Walowa Yungu have left their administrative entities.
The armed groups that accept cooperation with the FDLR have been able to retain control over certain localities. This is the case for the Maï Maï of Tasibanga in Kisimba and PARECO in the villages of Kichanga, Mera and Kibabi near the Mpofi-Nyabyondo road. The national police and the Congolese army (FARDC) cannot use the roads controlled by the FDLR without their permission. As a result, they are only present in the territory’s capital and along the route that is important for mining, which connects Walikale with Mubi, Njingale and Bisie.
Relations between the FDLR on the one hand and the armed groups, the army and the police on the other are characterised by submission – given the fact that the FDLR is the true master of area.
In economic terms, the FDLR is present in many areas of Walikale, pursuing a variety of activities:
- Bakano (since 1999): trade in cattle and goats, local bars and restaurants
- Bakanjo (since 1999): schools, health posts, markets, mining and fish farming
- Bakasu (since 2006): transport (motorbikes and bicycles)
- Ihana (since 1999): artisanal gold mining and petty trade
- Kisimba (since 1999): trade, agriculture and artisanal gold mining
- Luberike (since 1999): woodworking, exploitation of stone quarries, trade in local drinks
- Usula (since 1999): ivory and gold trade
- Utunda (since 2005/06): artisanal gold mining, transport, local snack bars, cattle trade
- Walowa-Loanda (since 1997): car rental, wholesale trade in beer, trade in cattle and goats, fish farming and agriculture
- Walowa-Uroba (since 1997): taxation of local markets
- Walowa-Yungu (since 1997): taxation, artisanal gold mining, trade
- Wassa (since 2006): artisanal mining and transport of cassiterite
At the political level, local sources report that the FDLR played an important role during the 2006 elections. Numerous Rwandan Hutu either registered as voters or presented themselves as candidates in an effort to support the presidential contender Joseph Kabila or candidates of his party (PPRD) for national and provincial assembly seats. Captain Rwaka Vital of the S5 Division of FOCA, who received us in Kibua, denied this. He claimed that the role of the FDLR was limited to providing security for the ballot boxes and for national and provincial deputies during their election campaigns.
In terms of security, some chiefs of the sub-districts concede that a large part of Walikale is under the control of the FDLR. In these places, local residents are forced to share their harvests with the soldiers. Captain Rwaka Vital admits that he organizes the collection of harvests, a practice he considers to be characteristic of “African solidarity”.
The FDLR claim that they compensate for the deficiencies of the FARDC. “It is thanks to us that Laurent Nkunda did not succeed in advancing into Walikale”, Major Karim and Captain Rwaka Vital assert. Likewise, they claim to have recaptured Katale in Masisi in December 2006 after the FARDC brigade under Colonel Yav had fled. They also provide security for all politico-military, administrative and religious officials as well as all visitors who report to their General Staff with valid travel permits.
On the socio-cultural level, relations with the local population are not very close. Since the arrival of the Rwandan refugees, the chief of a sub-district told us, not a single marriage has been concluded between members of his community and members of the FDLR. He explained this by pointing out that the locals resent their forceful domination. Moreover, the FDLR considers them as “uncivilized” forest dwellers.
Their respective villages are still separated from each other. The Nyanga (or Wanianga) live along the road that crosses the valley while the FDLR members build their houses in the hills. Even so, some of their children attend the same schools and church services as the Nyanga. Priests and pastors from Masisi often visit the area to perform wedding ceremonies among the Rwandan Hutu.
Six FDLR brigades are stationed in Walikale: in Kashunga, Kashebere, Pinga, Usala, Lusamambo and Mangele. The commanders of these brigades are replaced every year. The units of the FDLR are constantly on the move and maintain close contact with their brothers in arms in other parts of North Kivu and South Kivu. Contact with South Kivu is kept via Hombo.
The FDLR in Walikale has three main demands:
a) The FDLR has lent its support to successive governments of the DR Congo (Mobutu, Laurent-Désiré Kabila and Joseph Kabila). In return, they expect
b) Congo to provide diplomatic backing to the FDLR by putting pressure on the international community in an effort to bring about an Inter-Rwandan dialogue in Rwanda.
c) The Rwandan government should stop considering the FDLR as genocidal forces to the degree that the Tutsi have also been implicated in massacres of Hutu in Rwanda and the DR Congo. In view of the numbers advanced by international organisations, according to which four million Congolese and 200,000 Hutu refugees have died during the war, the FDLR considers the Tutsi to be even more genocidal than the Hutu. Thus they too should be brought to justice. Rwanda needs to become a real democracy. Otherwise, power will forever remain in the hands of President Paul Kagame.
Soldiers we met told us that these demands have been repeatedly transmitted to the United Nations Secretary General and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees – without success.
The declarations that we collected suggest that the FDLR is not willing to voluntarily return home. The soldiers believe they are militarily strong and cannot be neutralized because they are well equipped with weaponry. A number of local chiefs have noted that arms deliveries arrive from Kasugho and Futaua in Lubero district.
The FDLR in Walikale control an uncontested territory they can quietly exploit, becoming richer every day. It would be naïve to expect them to spontaneously return to start a new life on Rwandan hills that do not offer the same amenities. As for local residents, they reject a forced disarmament as stipulated in the Nairobi Communiqué: they may become victims of the FDLR. Therefore they suggest a negotiated solution to avoid such a worst case outcome. A local chief compared the FDLR in Walikale with “a snake hatching eggs”. If you try to get rid of it by force, all the eggs may be smashed and the reptile could bite you.
*The author is a Congolese and this article was published by Goma-based Pole Institute in 2010