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Examining the Role of Rwanda in the DRC Insurgency
Examining the Role of Rwanda in the DRC Insurgency
DR Congo: No Grace Period for the New Government
DR Congo: No Grace Period for the New Government
Speech / Africa

Examining the Role of Rwanda in the DRC Insurgency

Testimony by Mark L. Schneider, Senior Vice President, International Crisis Group to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights on “Examining the Role of Rwanda in the DRC Insurgency”.

I want to express my appreciation to Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Bass, and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights for the opportunity to testify this morning. I want to commend the subcommittee for focusing its attention during this critical time.

Crisis Group is an independent, non-partisan, non-governmental organization that provides field-based analysis, policy advice and advocacy to governments, the United Nations, and other multilateral organizations on the prevention and resolution of deadly conflict. Crisis Group was founded in 1995 as an international non-governmental organisation by distinguished diplomats, statesmen and opinion leaders including Career Ambassador Mort Abramowitz, Nobel Prize winner and former Finland president Martti Ahtisaari, the late Congressman Stephen Solarz, and former UN and British diplomat Mark Malloch Brown who were deeply concerned at the international community’s failure to anticipate and respond effectively to mass atrocities in Rwanda and Bosnia. Senator George Mitchell was our first chairman; Ambassador Thomas Pickering is our current chairman. Louise Arbour, former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, is our current president. In 2011, Crisis Group was awarded the Eisenhower Medal for Leadership and Service.

Crisis Group publishes annually around 90 reports and briefing papers, as well as the monthly CrisisWatch bulletin. Our staff are located on the ground in ten regional offices and sixteen other locations covering between them over 60 countries focused on conflict prevention and post-conflict stabilization. We maintain advocacy and research offices in Brussels (the global headquarters), Washington and New York and liaison and research presences in London, Moscow, and Beijing.

Crisis Group’s Africa program oversees four projects covering Central, Southern, and West Africa, and the Horn of Africa, reporting on 22 different countries within these regions. We have produced 35 reports/briefings on the DRC.

A rebellion in the Eastern Congo has exploded again with new reports of lives lost, armed violence against communities and threats to regional security. The seriously flawed 2011 presidential and legislative elections constituted a major step backward on the DRC path toward stability and democracy. We collectively deplored that situation. Today conditions are even worse. The M23 violence since April, motivated by greed and power, has already produced nearly half a million displaced persons and refugees from the Eastern Congo provinces, according to UNHCR.
 

Briefly are the following steps needed to be taken immediately:

  • an immediate ceasefire to be monitored by the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Congo (MONUSCO);
  • the end of foreign support to armed groups, particularly an end to Rwandan support of M23 by expanding aid suspension if needed;
  • the arrest of Bosco Ntaganda and his appearance before the International Criminal Court;
  • implementation of the joint mechanism for border verification;
  • the disarmament and demobilization of M23;
  • assessment of the 23 March 2009 agreement between the CNDP and the government;
  • include on the UN sanctions list all individuals and entities responsible for supporting the M23;
  • request the ICC to start investigating the M23 and other armed groups, especially regarding child soldiers recruitment

These measures are part of a conflict management approach but if only these immediate stop-gap actions are taken, it will not prevent the repetition of another Kivu crisis in one or two years. The only way to prevent it is to force the Congolese government to implement the peace framework defined in 2008 and to force the Rwanda government to end its policy of control by proxies in Eastern Congo. For a long-term conflict resolution, there is already a peace framework - the problem being the non-implementation of this peace framework. Only pressure on the stakeholders will force them to implement this peace framework.

In addition, I will discuss briefly four other key issues that remain crucial to stability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: post-electoral dynamics; Security Sector Reform; conflict minerals and oil and natural resources; and the role of MONUSCO.

But first, let me return to describe Crisis Group’s assessment of the Crisis in North Kivu - it is Déjà vu all over again?

If we had a time machine, we could go back to 2008 when the CNDP (the National Congress for the Defense of the People) led a rebellion against the government in North Kivu, defeated the Congolese army and made a mockery of a force of peace keepers with the support of a close neighbor. During that Goma crisis, Laurent Nkunda was running the CNDP. But in fact, we do not need a time machine because it is happening again in 2012. The current fighting in North Kivu bears many of the ethnic, political economical and structural characteristics of the 2008 crisis.

In March 2012, Joseph Kabila ordered the arrest of General Bosco Ntaganda and wants to judge him in the Congolese justice system. The former CNDP rebel, who had been integrated into the Congolese armed forces (FARDC), defected from the army and took to the bush with several hundreds of his soldiers. The FARDC launched an offensive to capture Ntaganda. However, surprisingly, while they had surrounded him and were close to victory, President Kabila ordered his troops to halt their attack. This unexplained event allowed Bosco Ntaganda to flee and join renegade army officer colonel Sultani Makenga and reorganize in North Kivu’s volcano area. The group took the name “M23” in reference to the March 23, 2009 agreement between the government and the CNDP armed group, which they claimed was not respected by Kinshasa. According to this agreement, the rebels were supposed to integrate the FARDC and end their struggle. However, the real motivations of M23 are more complex.

The group is an offshoot of a faction of the CNDP and is mainly Tutsi-based. However, it is not fighting to protect the interest of its community as the CNDP argued it in the past. Rather, its members defected from the FARDC in order to defend the business interests and networks established under the CNDP and perpetuated even after they integrated into the Congolese army. The failure to dismantle the CNDP command structure when the troops were incorporated into the FARDC allowed them to fester within the FARDC structure and also allowed them to continue illicit control over local resources. This pattern of exploitation and control of natural resources by armed groups, including the FARDC, is recurrent in the eastern DRC and very often one of the main sources of conflict. Rwanda is once more directly involved with the recent mutiny. According to the UN experts report annex, Kigali has supported the M23 not only because of the common ethnic identity, but also because it allows the country to freely exploit the DRC’s natural riches through illegal mineral exploitation networks.

Rwanda has been more strongly condemned by the international community in 2012 than in 2008. In June, the UN group of expert issued a report accusing Rwanda of supporting the rebels on DRC’s soil. The UK, the US, Holland, Germany and Sweden then cut or delayed aid to the central African nation, even though this will not do major damage to the Rwandan economy directly since that aid represents only 3% of state budget. After those sanctions on Rwanda, there were reports that new military attacks by M23 were stopped temporarily although they continue as a dangerous military force occupying key areas and have been accused of a range of serious human rights violations as well. Even more important is that the diplomatic message is strong, especially since it includes the US, Rwanda’s strongest western ally, that continued cross-border support of illegal armed groups that threaten human life and regional security must cease.

Key sections from the addendum to the Group of Experts Interim Report (pages three and four) state:

Over the course of its investigation since late 2011, the Group has found substantial evidence attesting to support from Rwandan officials to armed groups operating in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Initially the RDF appeared to establish these alliances to facilitate a wave of targeted assassinations against key officers of the Forces démocratique pour la libération du Rwanda (FDLR) thus significantly weakening the rebel movement (see S/2012/348, paras. 37 and 38). However, these activities quickly extended to support for a series of post-electoral mutinies within the FARDC and eventually included the direct facilitation, through the use of Rwandan territory, of the creation of the M23 rebellion. The latter is comprised of ex-CNDP officers integrated into the Congolese army (FARDC) in January 2009. Since M23 established itself in strategic positions along the Rwandan border in May 2012, the Group has gathered overwhelming evidence demonstrating that senior RDF officers, in their official capacities, have been backstopping the rebels through providing weapons, military supplies, and new recruits.

In turn, M23 continues to solidify alliances with many other armed groups and mutineer movements, including those previously benefiting from RDF support. This has created enormous security challenges, extending from Ituri district in the north to Fizi territory in the south, for the already overstretched Congolese army (FARDC). Through such arms embargo violations, Rwandan officials have also been in contravention of the sanctions regime’s travel ban and assets freeze measures, by including three designated individuals among their direct allies.

In an attempt to solve the crisis which this Rwandan support to armed groups had exacerbated, the Governments of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda have held a series of high-level bilateral meetings since early in April 2012. During these discussions, Rwandan officials have insisted on impunity for their armed group and mutineer allies, including ex-CNDP General Bosco Ntaganda, and the deployment of additional RDF units to the Kivus to conduct large-scale joint operations against the FDLR.

Since the earliest stages of its inception, the Group documented a systematic pattern of military and political support provided to the M23 rebellion by Rwandan authorities. Upon taking control over the strategic position of Runyoni, along the Rwandan border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, M23 officers opened two supply routes going from Runyoni to Kinigi or Njerima in Rwanda, which RDF officers used to deliver such support as troops, recruits and weapons. The Group also found evidence that Rwandan officials mobilized ex-CNDP cadres and officers, North Kivu politicians, business leaders and youth in support of M23.  

Direct assistance in the creation of M23 through Rwandan territory

Colonel Sultani Makenga deserted the FARDC in order to create the M23 rebellion using Rwandan territory and benefiting directly from RDF facilitation (see S/2012/348, para. 104). On 4 May, Makenga crossed the border from Goma into Gisenyi, Rwanda, and waited for his soldiers to join him from Goma and Bukavu.

Another important and unfortunately repetitive element of the current crisis is the blatant military ineffectiveness of the Congolese army. Internal infighting, corruption, delinquency and the total lack of professionalism of the FARDC allowed 700 poorly armed and trained rebels to defeat for more than five months a government army of thousands of troops trained by several countries, including the US, and with a 18,000 UN force charged with backing the DRC army. Defections, human rights abuses and corruption all too often have characterized FARDC behaviour, undermining the many who want to see a professional military capable of defending the population

MONUSCO has been totally incapable of engaging the rebels or defending civilian areas where interethnic fighting has broken out. MONUSCO has clear and adequate rules of engagement and the authority under its mandate to protect civilians. It has thousands of troops in the Kivus and the Indian army component that leads it is a professional force equipped with helicopters and armed vehicles. In the DRC people cannot understand why the most capable military force in their country is unwilling to use its firepower to implement its mandate. Far more active engagement by MONUSCO is required.

  • Since April, the M23 has conquered large chunk of territory in North Kivu and is now administrating them. The fall of Bunagana on 5 July, 2012 was a serious warning. Following the Addis Ababa conference, the M23 rebellion increased its territorial control on 25 July by defeating FARDC in Rumangabo, 30 km north from Goma, the provincial capital. It has formed its own government and is now busy installing its administration in the Rutshuru area. As usual, the rebel movement is financing itself through coercive taxation of on any supply trucks going into Goma, which has sent food prices sky-rocketing. Like the CNDP in the past, the M23 wants talks with the government, which would be humiliating for Kinshasa.
  • Given the government’s weak response to the M23 challenge, FARDC officers are defecting in South Kivu but also in Province Oriental and Kasai Occidental. In the absence of a political response from DRC government, increasing its lack of legitimacy and weaken even more the institutions.
  • Deep in the rural areas, other armed groups are taking advantage of the tactical situation and are expanding their territorial control by committing abuses against the civilian population and recruiting child soldiers. According to very credible sources, the Rayia Mutomboki group has committed killings in the Walikale and Kalehe territories and launched a policy of ethnic cleansing against the Kinyarwanda-speaking people.
  • Despite calls from the EU and Belgium for dialogue and army reform, Kinshasa remains unwilling to reform the army and instead has sought to forge an alliance with some anti-Tutsi armed groups, has asked for more training and is busy recruiting youths to reinforce its troops in the Kivus. The government is already unable to manage and pay about 80,000 soldiers but it is presently recruiting new ones.
  • Rwanda is denying any allegations of involvement and is trying to divert international community attention from mineral cross border illegal trade by elevating the threat of FDLR as the principal issue.

At the regional level, the International Conference on Great Lake Region (ICGLR) initiated talks between Rwanda and DRC but this initiative is not going to provide a rapid solution to the on-going upsurge of armed groups’ activity in the Kivus. The ICGLR met several times in July, August and September (Khartoum 30 July-1 August, Kampala 6-8 August, Goma 16 August, Kampala 7-8 September) but failed to come up with innovative solution, except for a “neutral force” whose mandate would be 1) border control and 2) neutralizing the armed groups, but whose formation remains uncertain. ICGLR agreed to reactivate old mechanisms (mediation team, border verification mechanism, etc.) but failed to reach an agreement about the composition of a “neutral” force of 4,000 during the heads of state conference in Kampala.

These troops will add to 18,000 UN peacekeepers and about 30,000 Congolese soldiers. At best, this neutral ICGLR deployment is expected in December 2012 but the heads of state have not been able yet to agree on the composition and deployment of this African force. In addition to the fact that it is difficult to understand what difference 4,000 untested additional soldiers will make, the ICGLR already made clear that it does not have the implementation capacity for such a plan and will turn to the AU and UN for support. The secretary general of the ICGLR has been tasked to contact donors to fund such a force. The people of the Kivus cannot afford a diplomatic ping-pong game between international organisations in the coming months. Unless Kinshasa and Kigali change their positions, prospects for a change in the status quo are slim. One can expect the current threat to civilian safety and public security to persist unless military operations change the reality on the ground.

The fact that the international community has for once taken measures against the rebel’s foreign backer, Rwanda, is a good sign (but still not enough). However, the repetition of the Kivu crisis shows that the root causes of the conflict have not been addressed. Without significant security sector reform, public administration delivering basic services to the people, violators of human rights held accountable and serious regulation and control of natural resource exploitation, peace and stability will continue to elude the Eastern Congo. A clear framework for peace in the Kivu has existed since 2008: it is a peace package made of the Acts of engagement (January 2008), the 23 March 2009 agreement with the CNDP and the stabilization program called STAREC. This framework for peace needs to be implemented in order to move beyond conflict management to conflict resolution. It needs to be implemented.

Now let me turn briefly to other issues of governance that affect DRC stability.

Post-electoral Dynamics

The failure to see legitimate, credible governing institutions in place throughout the Eastern Congo and the country as a whole remains a core source of continued instability and lack of development. Our reports starting in 2010 documented the flaws leading up to presidential and legislative elections at the end of 2011. We cited the consequences of a hasty constitutional change in January 2011, flawed voter registration and voter roll issues, minimal outreach by Congo’s Independent National Election Commission (CENI) to the political parties, lack of transparency, a sharp increase of political tension, incidents of violence, the general inadequate preparation of the elections, and the late design of an integrated electoral security plan. And we especially pressed unsuccessfully, given all of these suspect issues, on the CENI, the government, opposition parties, MONUSCO and the larger international community, including the U.S. and the EU, to develop a consensual Plan B if, despite all good faith efforts, the outlook for decent elections on 28 November appeared grim. Otherwise, we warned that without concerted and unified action by the DRC and committed international diplomacy, the November general elections, the second since the end to the Congo conflict, could result in massive irregularities if not massive fraud with the potential for widespread violence and the undermining of the legitimacy of any pronounced elections winner. We know the results.

The lack of credibility of the results sparked opposition protests that, in turn, prompted heavy-handed repression by Congolese security forces in Kinshasa. After refusing any external assessment of the electoral process, the electoral commission blamed the international community for the errors in its post elections evaluation report.

Congo's electoral woes reflected the country's broader lack of democratic and institutional development since 2006. But they also stem from weak international and continental engagement, from MONUSCO and the AU to donors– especially the EU and the UK, who partly funded the polls, and the U.S. All have been largely ineffective in preventing Kabila's consolidation of power and stacking the decks.

Despite the record of failed elections last year, the DRC government still has been unwilling to change CENI’s members. The prospect of the provincial election is now very remote (2013 at best) and local elections remain very vague in the CENI’s planning, thus demonstrating the lack of government’s willingness to organize them.

Donors should condition support on fundamental electoral reforms, including the replacement of the CENI president and choose new members who reflect a consensus of parties and civil society.

Security Sector Reform

For five years now, several countries, including the US, have provided support to the so-called army reform in the DRC. The result of this effort is the fact that the Congolese army has once again been easily defeated by a far less important force. For instance one brigade trained by Belgium fled to Uganda when the M23 launched its offensive. The training provided to an “army” that is not paid and not disciplined and does not have a decent logistical organization is a mere waste of money. The situation of the army is so bad that the North Kivu civil society suggested that it would pay for it and there are more and more voices in the DRC raising the essential issue of corruption within the army. In itself, training cannot lead to significant change in the army. Security sector reform (SSR) is vital to stability in the DRC, but the Congolese government just paid lip-service to it for five years and a corruption network has blocked virtually every serious reform effort. If the donors really think that SSR is vital for the stability of the DRC, they should put significant pressure on the authorities or stop wasting their money in ineffective training programs.

Conflict minerals and soon conflict oil

On 22 August, the SEC voted (3-2) to adopt the rules regarding disclosure and reporting obligations required by the Dodd-Frank financial reform law (Section 1502) concerning conflict minerals. It is unfortunate that vote was delayed, even more that more specific penalties were not imposed and that companies, including the globe’s largest, were given a two-year grace period for reporting and allowed to assert an "undeterminable" origin option. As the new Kivu crisis demonstrates and unlike what opponents of this law said, the problem is not to impose new standards (origin certification) to the industry and the Congolese artisanal miners; the problem is the lawlessness of the mining sector in this part of the world.

The present crisis in the Kivu is strongly related to the minerals wealth of the Kivus. But other natural resources are being explored in the region and, if discoveries were confirmed, its impact on the Kivu conflict could be far greater. Oil companies are starting prospecting the Great Lakes region while borders are vaguely demarcated, natural resources illegal exploitation is rampant and distrust among the governments of the region is high. And as ICG has just warned in the report we issued, the rush for DRC oil and gas almost assuredly guarantees both future corruption and future violence.

On the oil issue, Crisis Group’s 11 July report warned that new oil reserves could create new centers of power and could exacerbate the conflict in Eastern Congo. Preventive action is needed to turn a real threat to stability into a genuine development opportunity. Donors should provide technical and financial assistance to the Congolese authorities for the border demarcation, the frame¬work agreement for the exploration and development of cross-border reserves and oil governance reform, and support the Congolese civil society efforts to build a monitoring capacity in the oil sector. This challenge follows on-going unhappiness with the success of the Kimberley Process and with conflict minerals.

The role of MONUSCO

In Crisis Group’s 11 June letter, we stated that the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Congo (MONUSCO) was failing in its core mandate of stabilization and protection of civilians.

MONUSCO technical and logistical support to deeply flawed elections in 2011 and the inability to successfully promote dialogue between the parties has altered perceptions about the Mission's impartiality. Neither the Security Council nor MONUSCO articulated clear red lines for the credibility of the process, and the good offices role of the Mission appeared underutilized. With the failed decentralization agenda, constitutional reforms that further expanded the power of the Presidency and little accountability for violence and massive fraud associated with the elections, the evidence continues to mount of the potential for authoritarian drift. If not corrected, international involvement in the DRC, including through MONUSCO, risks entrenching an unaccountable government and undermining its own eventual rule of law and peacebuilding efforts.

Closing

A lack of clarity about the overall military strategy and articulation of an end state to the military operations against illegal armed groups also exists. What is required is actual implementation of the comprehensive strategy that exists as I have indicated with its strong political component, to address pervasive insecurity and the threat of illegal armed groups in eastern Congo. Key governance reforms—such as the holding credible provincial and local elections decentralization and progress in the fight against corruption—by updating operative paragraph four of Security Council resolution 1991 (2011) to include their achievement as one of the core objectives is essential. Clearly there is a need to address both local drivers of conflict between communities and the interplay with regional dynamics, including relations with Rwanda, and to break the cycle of impunity in this part of the world. If the western countries, including the US, want to move from crisis management to conflict resolution in the Great Lakes region, they should speak with a single clear voice and exert direct political pressure on both Kinshasa and Kigali.

DR Congo MPs celebrate on 10 December 2020, as legislators remove the Assembly's speaker, in the latest round of a bitter dispute between the current President and supporters of his predecessor. Arsene Mpiana / AFP
Q&A / Africa

DR Congo: No Grace Period for the New Government

Après des mois de manœuvres politiques, le président Félix Tshisekedi s’est affranchi de son prédécesseur, Joseph Kabila et, à la suite de l’investiture d’un nouveau gouvernement issu de sa nouvelle majorité, il détient désormais l’effectivité du pouvoir. Dans ce Q&A, l’expert de Crisis Group Onesphore Sematumba explique que les difficultés ne semblent pourtant pas écartées.

What is the background to the new government’s formation?

The 26 April investiture of President Félix Tshisekedi’s new parliamentary majority, known as the Sacred Union, marks the end of a long period in which the president remained under the strong influence of his predecessor, Joseph Kabila. Prime Minister Sama Lukonde presented his new team on 12 April and parliament endorsed it almost unanimously (with 410 of the 412 deputies present voting in favour), despite tensions over the division of ministerial posts. The new government gives Tshisekedi the freedom to push ahead with his reform program during the remainder of his five-year term in office.

After the controversial 2018 election that ushered Tshisekedi into power amid allegations of fraud from some observers, including the National Episcopal Conference of the Congo, the new president had little choice but to accept Kabila’s continued control over politics in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Kabila’s coalition, the Front commun pour le Congo (FCC), won the legislative elections, securing 342 of 500 seats in the National Assembly. The FCC also attained overwhelming majorities in almost all provincial government and parliamentary elections. These victories emboldened Kabila to place his own allies in important institutions and state ministries at both the provincial and national levels.

From the outset, disagreements undermined the coalition set up after the 2018 elections between Kabila’s FCC and Tshisekedi’s Cap pour le Changement (CACH); their incessant deadlocks prevented institutions from functioning properly. Although the coalition gave CACH the opportunity to take part in government despite its weak legislative presence, with fewer than 50 deputies, Tshisekedi was, in effect, unable to govern. After Tshisekedi was sworn in as president, on 24 January 2019, it took five months for the two partners to agree on the appointment of Sylvestre Ilunga Ilunkamba as prime minister. Ilunga then formed a 67-member government, with the FCC securing key ministries such as defence, justice and mining.

By appointing three new judges to the Constitutional Court in October 2020, the president secured the loyalty of this institution, which was once suspected of being in Kabila’s service.

Faced with this challenge, Tshisekedi started to weaken the former president and to counter the FCC’s influence upon government bodies by pulling Kabila deputies into his own camp. Deputies who remained loyal to the former president have protested that Tshisekedi used undemocratic methods in this manoeuvring. By appointing three new judges to the Constitutional Court in October 2020, the president secured the loyalty of this institution, which was once suspected of being in Kabila’s service. In November, Tshisekedi launched political consultations, including with civil society groups, leading to the coalition’s dissolution one month later. He then looked to form a new majority. The Constitutional Court allowed parliamentarians to leave their former political groups and join new alliances. This decision gave deputies the opportunity to switch political allegiance without the risk of being let go by their original parties and consequently losing their seats. In this way, Tshisekedi persuaded numerous FCC deputies to join the new Sacred Union majority, alongside opposition heavyweights Moïse Katumbi and Jean-Pierre Bemba.

Tshisekedi then secured a series of further victories over Kabila, shifting the balance of power in his own favour. Between December 2020 and January 2021, the new government majority’s deputies toppled via successive motions the presidents of the National Assembly and of the Senate, as well as Prime Minister Ilunga and his government. On 15 February, following negotiations between different Sacred Union factions, Tshisekedi named Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde as the DRC’s new prime minister. Originally from Grand Katanga and former CEO of the country’s largest mining company, Gécamines, the 43-year-old Lukonde belongs to a small political party without a single seat in the National Assembly called Avenir du Congo. Lacking any real political clout and without ambitions for the 2023 elections, the government’s new leader is likely to work in Tshisekedi’s shadow, allowing the president to carry out his policies unhindered during the last two years of his presidency.

Forming a new government was the prime minister’s first test. Upon his appointment, Lukonde pledged to form a solid government team to address the country’s problems. After two months’ horse trading of ministerial posts within the new majority, the 57-member government is hardly less bloated than its predecessor. A full 80 per cent of its ministers are new faces, however, as opposed to the previous government where some ministers had already served under Kabila, under his father and predecessor Laurent, and even under the DRC’s long-time dictator, Joseph Mobutu.

What challenges await this new government?

Controlling the various forces within his new coalition is Tshisekedi’s immediate challenge. The thorny negotiations to form the Sacred Union government show the precariousness of a majority that rallied to displace Kabila but lacks a shared political agenda.

Controlling the various forces within his new coalition is Tshisekedi’s immediate challenge.

Cracks began to appear in the coalition almost as soon as the government was proclaimed on 12 April. Almost 200 of the deputies who had defected from Kabila’s FCC set up a “coalition of revolutionary deputies” to protest the imbalance in the new government. Some provinces had several ministries; others had none. They accused Lukonde of failing to reward their “shift of allegiance” with a government position. On 14 April, in a memorandum addressed to Tshisekedi, this group threatened to block the investiture of Lukonde’s government unless their demands for change were met. On 26 April, after the prime minister and Tshisekedi met with the deputies, the National Assembly expressed its trust in the new government and endorsed its ambitious program with a decisive majority. At the end of a chaotic plenary session in a hall taken over by militants from the president’s party, the deputies cast their vote of confidence without proper debate.

Another weakness of this team is the plethora of decision-making entities prone to causing deadlocks within the coalition government. First, the appointment of powerful opposition figures to deputy prime minister positions, particularly Eve Bazaiba, secretary general of Bemba’s Mouvement pour la libération du Congo, and Christophe Lutundula, a senior official in Katumbi’s Ensemble pour la République, will severely restrict Tshisekedi’s room for manoeuvre within a Sacred Union where he will not be the only captain aboard ship. The other leaders of political parties belonging to the Sacred Union will also use their positions to ensure that their interests are being catered to. They will constantly be coercing their allies in ministerial posts to steer the governments’ choices. Such a situation could hamper Tshisekedi’s plans to develop a single, non-partisan program of government.

Indeed, the prospect of general elections in December 2023, when the big names in Lukonde’s government are likely to stand as candidates, could soon cause tensions and generate rivalries, destabilising the government. The president should also be alert to potential manoeuvres by the two opposition luminaries, Bemba and Katumbi, as well as by other potential candidates such as Tshisekedi’s former ally and chief of staff, Vital Kamerhe, imprisoned in 2020 for corruption. Kamerhe’s party has secured four ministries, where he has placed members of his inner circle. Although Kamerhe is barred from participating in any election for the next ten years, his party will influence votes in his stronghold, the South Kivu province, where it is running against Bahati Lukwebo’s party, the Senate’s current president. Although Bemba is unelectable after he was found guilty of corruption by the International Criminal Court, a political decision by Tshisekedi could still give him a route back to the political arena. Katumbi, meanwhile, has already begun to prepare his party in the country’s 26 provinces ahead of the forthcoming elections.

Will this government be able to cope with violence in the eastern DRC?

As Tshisekedi said after receiving the deputies on 24 April, the government’s “top priority” is to put an end to violence in eastern DR Congo. Since the beginning of April, the population in the east has been protesting the ineffective presence of UN peacekeepers and the Congolese army amid massacres and other violence by armed groups. In North Kivu, where Uganda’s Allied Democratic Forces are generally believed to be responsible for atrocities, people are increasingly defiant of the central government. In Ituri, after a period of relative calm, supporters of the Cooperative for the Development of the Congo launched a new round of attacks on the civilian population. In South Kivu, local Mai-Mai militia groups and rebels from other countries such as Burundians in the Résistance pour le droit au Burundi (RED-Tabara) are targeting civilians in the high plateau around Uvira. And in Katanga, Gédéon Kyungu’s Bakata-Katanga group and other armed men continue to terrorise locals on the basis of secessionist claims.

The government’s “top priority” is to put an end to violence in eastern DR Congo.

Tshisekedi has so far responded to the security challenges in eastern DRC by using force. His announcement of a state of siege in the North Kivu and Ituri provinces on 1 May – imposing martial law – has shown this once again. Yet his army has achieved only limited success on the ground. Both in North Kivu and in Ituri, armed groups have been remarkably quick to reoccupy positions previously lost to the army.

Considering its military campaigns’ poor results, the government should now explore different approaches to deal with armed groups. To this end, it should accelerate implementation of the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) program aiming to reintegrate former fighters into the community. This initiative was agreed upon with the main donors in November 2020, but then blocked due to the political stalemate in Kinshasa. Organising a large demobilisation campaign is a major undertaking, however. The government should learn the lessons from previous DDR programs that failed mainly due to lack of political commitment from Congolese authorities and their inability to resolve underlying causes of violence. If the demobilisation campaign falls short of its aims, Tshisekedi and his government would once again have to resort to military force in order to combat militia groups.

Kinshasa’s new political situation should help Tshisekedi in his task; he has a new team in place and no longer faces the distraction of tussles with his predecessor. But he will need to accommodate a government that encompasses a range of disparate interests, as well as individual and group-based rivalries among the parties involved that could carry the seeds of future deadlocks. He must also manage the conditions set out by donors who expect him to turn the page on the Kabila era before releasing their funds.

Tshisekedi needs to tackle the issue of armed groups as a matter of urgency. “There’s no time to lose”, tweeted Katumbi on 26 April, adding that “Sama Lukonde’s new government paves the way to peace in the east”. Tshisekedi should now get to work. Some political leaders are already suspected of having reached agreements with armed actors before the 2023 elections, in order to put political pressure on Kinshasa, or possibly to trigger violence if their demands are not met. Tshisekedi, who now has the necessary institutional scope for action, must do everything in his power to cut the links between armed groups and politicians who, since the 1990s, have used them for their own political or financial ends. This is the only way for the DRC to benefit from his promised reforms.