A few days ago, a so-called ‘midterm review’ on the FDLR demobilisation imbroglio was due. In his latest report on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon underlined that ever since the two waves of voluntary surrender in late May/early June 2014 no more serious action was observed on the side of the Rwandan rebel group.
The FDLR is a late successor of the genocidal interahamwe and Hutu Power brigades that unleashed Genocide and the concomitant horrors over a period of 100 days 1994 in Rwanda.
Afterwards, they were chased by invading Rwandan Patriotic Front (that established the current Rwandan government after having stopped the Genocide), mainly into then Zaire were they subsequently formed RDR, ALiR I, ALiR II and finally FDLR and its armed wing FOCA (with main splinter groups RUD and Soki).
Throughout meanwhile two decades, FDLR and its predecessors spread horror across eastern Congo and became part and parcel of subsequent civil wars provoking local militias to emerge and larger armed groups such as RCD, CNDP, or M23 to set up with support from Rwanda (at this point it is futile to debate on whether this includes official government or not – the key point is that numerous communities live across the border and maintain obvious kinship ties, reason for which there is a historical trajectory of both peaceful and conflictive interaction).
Despite various military operations (both Rwando-Congolese ones and FARDC/MONUSCO joint operations) that weakened FDLR considerably over the past five years, the group still persists.
Upon its inception, MONUSCO’s Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) was explicitly tasked to push FDLR to demobilisation – either by diplomatic or military means, and accompanied by the ongoing DDRRR process.
As of now to no avail, but why? The situation is highly complex (and this analysis is not going to provide silver bullets or exhaustive explanation).
A couple of reasons have prevented military action against FDLR, and will probably continue to do so in the near future even if US and other diplomats sharpen their warnings against the Rwandan militia.
MONUSCO’s FIB, first of all is little prepared to wage a counterinsurgency war against FDLR.
The latter have all too often proven they have become veritable experts in not losing wars by simply not partaking but retreating under eastern Congo’s vast forest panoplies. The FIB would be required to become the ‘highly mobile and versatile’ force its mandate foresaw but lacking the logistics to actually do so.
Secondly, FIB sources have confirmed a relative lack of willingness among Tanzanian and South African contingents to fight FDLR – relating to diplomatic quibble between these countries and Rwanda – leaving only the Malawian troops highly motivated in this regard.
Further on, MONUSCO will – for two key reasons – not militarily engage an armed group in the region without FARDC. It seeks the consent of DRC’s government around President Kabila both for sovereignty concerns and contingency planning (MONUSCO itself lacks the capacities to alone fill security voids pursuant to military offensives).
In Kinshasa, silence reigns on the FDLR matter but there is a few grand tendencies in DRC politics.
One faction is all in for attacking and disarming FDLR, while a second faction believes Rwanda needs to deal with ‘their rebels’ as DRC deals with its own. A third faction acknowledges the FDLR’s past help in fighting groups like RCD or CNDP and does want FARDC to attack them at all.
Within the army, these tendencies also broadly exist. While general FARDC cohabitation or collaboration with FDLR is strongly exaggerated, low-level and ad-hoc collaboration remains vibrant.
The FDLR on their side, continue to push for political negotiation.
After having handed over a total of about 200 combatants (plus dependents and arms, though mostly rotten and old rifles) in North and South Kivu a few months ago, FDLR leaders confirm to have other groups of combatants ready but claim they will not move until guarantees are given.
Obviously, the Rwandan government refuses political dialogue with the remnants of the génocidaires.
Even if today any FDLR combatant under 30 is mathematically not a génocidaire (and the latter gradually decreasing), the senior leadership still includes various individuals accused of genocide crimes and of transporting the concomitant ideology into the ranks of new recruits.
Coming back to the mid-term review on the FDLR demobilisation ultimatum, there has been a lot of political activism over the past week but this does not necessarily mean action will follow.
Ever since he deadline began, no significant advances have been made and little is known about how FDLR prepares itself to escape any type of meaningful military action.
While virulent at a certain stage, the political momentum stimulated by strong ICGLR and SADC involvement may already have passed, leaving other stakeholders in a weaker position. In case of no major shift, it becomes less likely that before mid-January there will be significant developments on the ground.