Congo: A Comprehensive Strategy to Disarm the FDLR
Congo: A Comprehensive Strategy to Disarm the FDLR
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
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Report 151 / Africa 4 minutes

Congo: A Comprehensive Strategy to Disarm the FDLR

The joint Congo (DRC)-Rwanda military push against the Rwandan Hutu rebels has ended with scant results. Fifteen years after the Rwanda genocide and the establishment of those rebels in the eastern Congo, they have not yet been disarmed and remain a source of extreme violence against civilians.

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Executive Summary

The joint Congo (DRC)-Rwanda military push against the Rwandan Hutu rebels has ended with scant results. Fifteen years after the Rwanda genocide and the establishment of those rebels in the eastern Congo, they have not yet been disarmed and remain a source of extreme violence against civilians. While they are militarily too weak to destabilise Rwanda, their 6,000 or more combatants, including a number of génocidaires, still present a major political challenge for consolidation of peace in the Great Lakes region. They must be disarmed and demobilised if the eastern Congo is to be stabilised.

That requires a new comprehensive strategy involving national, regional and international actors, with a clear division of labour and better coordination, so as to take advantage of the recent improvement of relations between the Congo and Rwanda, put an end to the enormous civilian suffering and restore state authority in the Congo’s eastern provinces. Its prominent components include:

  • civilian protection by responsible Congolese security forces and the UN peacekeeping mission (MONUC);
  • a reformed disarmament and demobilisation program involving psychological operations and informational campaigns as well as options for return or resettlement (including in third countries);
  • Rwanda’s development of a list of FDLR génocidaires in eastern Congo and their subsequent isolation by sophisticated psychological operations, accompanied by talks with commanders not involved in the 1994 genocide;
  • in due course, limited military actions by Congolese army units specifically trained to weaken the command and control structure of the rebels in coordination with Rwandan forces;
  • legal initiatives in third countries to block propaganda and support from FDLR leaders outside the DRC;
  • consolidation of Rwanda-Congo relations; and
  • dividends to the people of the Great Lakes region through economic and social development.

Among the dozens of armed groups operating in the Kivus at the beginning of 2009, two had the highest military capabilities and caused the most civilian suffering: the Rwandan Hutus grouped under the Front démocratique pour la liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) and receiving some support from elements of the Congolese army, and Laurent Nkunda’s Tutsi-dominated Congrès national du peuple (CNDP), benefiting from Rwanda’s clandestine support. However, Nkunda’s personal ambition had alienated his Rwandan backers, while the total collapse of the Congolese army in front of the CNDP insurgency forced President Joseph Kabila to cut a deal with Paul Kagame, his counterpart in Kigali.

Their agreement was a significant shift of alliances in the region. In exchange for the removal of Nkunda by Kigali, Kinshasa agreed to a joint military operation against the FDLR on Congolese territory and to give key positions in the political and security institutions of the Kivus to CNDP representatives, while keeping MONUC out of the planning and implementation.

Operation “Umoja Wetu” (Our Unity) got under way on 20 January 2009. Three columns of the Rwandan army moved through North Kivu, seeking to root the rebel militia out of its main strongholds. Simultaneously the Congolese army deployed in the villages freed from FDLR control and set about to integrate combatants from the CNDP and other armed groups into its ranks. The FDLR avoided direct confrontations and dispersed in the Kivu forests. After 35 days, the results of the operation were much more modest than officially celebrated. The FDLR was only marginally and temporarily weakened in North Kivu and remained intact in South Kivu. Less than 500 FDLR combatants surrendered to MONUC to be demobilised in the first three months of 2009. Barely a month after the end of the operation, the rebels had regrouped and started to retaliate against civilians they believed had collaborated with “Umoja Wetu”.

Congo, Rwanda and MONUC have launched many initiatives for FDLR disarmament since 2002. On 9 November 2007, Kinshasa and Kigali started the Nairobi Communiqué Process, a framework for new bilateral collaboration backed by the international community that was to take care of the FDLR once and for all. But lack of goodwill and active collaboration as well as the resilience of the FDLR’s chain of command proved that traditional approaches to disarmament – whether forced or voluntary – and unilateral attempts by Congo to negotiate with the rebels could not succeed. Another lesson that should have been learned was that military action, psychological operations and informational campaigns aimed at drawing away the rebel rank and file are unlikely to produce good results unless the FDLR’s command and control structures can first be rendered ineffective, and all efforts are carefully coordinated and sequenced.

Since the Congolese national army and MONUC lack the capacity and political will to carry out an effective military operation to dismantle the FDLR chain of command, continuation of Congo-Rwanda military collaboration is also essential. The immediate priority is not a new military offensive, however – each military failure increases the suffering of ordinary Congolese. A new offensive – “Kimia II” – conducted by the Congolese national army and MONUC is currently underway. Far from disrupting the FDLR, it has failed to prevent FDLR retaliation against civilians and should be suspended. Containing, not overwhelming, the rebels and protecting civilians should be the priority, while additional resources are sought and coordination between willing partners is forged for a new kind of disarmament attempt.

A comprehensive strategy has to be developed, involving the Congo government, Rwanda, MONUC and the other international facilitators that joined in Nairobi declaration, including the African Union, the U.S. and the EU. Their political and operational inputs should be coordinated in a new FDLR disarmament mechanism that should plan both military measures and informational campaigns, as well as prepare the ground for judicial processes in the countries where FDLR political leaders have sought refuge and from which they spread the propaganda that is an important part of the hold they maintain over ordinary fighters. Without such additional efforts and new international momentum, the population of the Kivu will continue to bear the brunt of the FDLR’s presence and of the failed attempts to disarm them, and the fragile Congolese state will remain at risk.

Nairobi/Brussels, 9 July 2009

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