“War is a profitable business”: The FDLR in Masisi Territory
By Bertin Kirivita and Nkuba Kahombo*
“North Kivu is losing out”, said our older politicians years ago, at the time of the inter-ethnic wars in 1993. Even today, one cannot but recognize that North Kivu and Masisi in particular are in a downward spiral: multiple conflicts, ever worsening poverty, the spread of HIV/AIDS, the disconcerting plummeting of economic indicators.
The already existing chaos was aggravated by the arrival of massive numbers of Rwandan refugees. Not a single locality was spared. Nowadays they are organized in a politico-military movement, the FDLR. The FDLR division in Masisi goes by the name of “Zenith” and it is directed by General Mudacumura. Its main area of operations is south-east Masisi. It counts about 2,165 fighters, divided in four brigades:
- Battalion SCUD under Major Safari Martin: 380 fighters
- Battalion PUMA under Lieutenant-Colonel Igor Araphat Franck: ca 470 fighters
- Battalion BICPES under Lieutenant-Colonel Cadence: ca 415 fighters
- Battalion PM under Lieutenant-Colonel Romeli: ca 500 fighters
This Masisi division also has a protection force of some 500 people. The massive presence of the Rwandan refugees and the FDLR in particular is at the root of worsening poverty among Congo’s population, which has fallen victim to its own hospitality. Frustrations about increased poverty have contributed to social tensions and the destabilisation of local communities, setting the context in which conflicts over citizenship, national identity and nationality have resurfaced.
The conflicts in Kivu are a profitable business for the FDLR, hence its refusal to return to their home country where its members would not enjoy similar economic benefits. Their repatriation needs to be subject to political negotiations in order to avoid massacres of the local population that is already taken hostage. In Masisi, the FDLR is deeply involved in every aspect of political and economic life. Leading an unencumbered life, the group is not prepared to leave this paradise, where they can live without problems.
In view of the insecurity caused by the FDLR in the Great Lakes region, various propositions have been advanced to neutralize them or else to find a solution to the problem. In our opinion there are several ways forward:
- The FDLR claims to fear “victor’s justice” in its own country. Thus, they demand that negotiations must precede their repatriation, although we know well that they are a terrorist group. Therefore we suggest that they negotiate political asylum with their host country. As a prerequisite, however, they must lay down their weapons. Nowadays the road to power passes by the ballot box.
- We call upon the DR Congo to assume its responsibility for protecting the local population against the FDLR. It must also promise to the national and international community that the FDLR will never again attack Rwanda. Given that the DRC has signed several agreements that do not permit it to tolerate the presence of a politico-military group on its territory that could potentially destabilise neighbouring countries, the Congo must make sure that the FDLR no longer poses a threat.
- Rwanda needs to act responsibly too, by embracing a new policy to facilitate the repatriation of every Rwandan citizen and even more importantly to prevent Rwandan refugee camps abroad. Recent history suggests that these camps always turn out to be a ticking time bomb for the countries in question.
- Considering that the destruction of trust between citizens and political leaders contributes to war, we need to restore a climate of trust between the government and the population to foster peace.
In conclusion, we emphasize that insecurity in North Kivu and South Kivu will remain pervasive and that bilateral relations between Congo and Rwanda will not improve as long as the FDLR remains active in the Congo.
*Authors are Congolese and were provincial deputies from Masisi. This article was written in 2008 and was published by Pole Institute in 2010