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This photo, taken at Place de L'Indentite in Lubumbashi, shows the Katanguien Identity monument, 22 May 2016. AFP/Junior Kannah
Report 239 / Africa

Katanga: Tensions in DRC's Mineral Heartland

​As the regime keeps delaying an encounter with the electorate, growing tensions and state repression in Congo’s resource-rich Katanga may be the precursor of a violent escalation. Without a credible national dialogue and better working relations between the central government and new provinces, the country could descend into a crisis reminiscent of the late 1990s.​

Executive Summary

Katanga is at the heart of growing political tension in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Intentionally stalled preparations for elections scheduled for November and rushed, politicised implementation of decentralisation and break-up of some provinces (découpage), including Katanga, have fuelled tensions between the region and centre and between the opposition and President Joseph Kabila’s ruling majority. This assumed an overtly political dimension after the former Katanga governor, Moïse Katumbi, declared his candidacy for president, provoking Kabila to initiate investigations and issue a warrant for his arrest for undermining national security. The Congo’s fragile institutions are under great strain. A credible national dialogue to discuss how to manage a transition, a commitment not to change the constitution for political purposes or prolong the transition to preserve the status quo, and measurable progress toward elections are urgently needed. To avoid prolonged crisis and likely violence, the UN and international partners should help facilitate and build on African Union attempts to support a dialogue.

Katanga has been at the centre of the DRC’s tumultuous political history, as the seat of a failed secessionist movement at independence and as a key battleground in the second Congo war (1997-2003). Under Kabila père, then son Joseph, who succeeded him on his death in 2001, Katangans have held many critical positions in government and the security forces. Dissatisfaction with Joseph Kabila has been growing since the 2011 elections, in Katanga as elsewhere. One factor, failure to finance provincial administrations properly, has been compounded in Katanga by a sense of entitlement based on the huge contribution its mineral exports make to the national budget. This took a political turn in 2014, when Katumbi and other important local elites, mostly ex-Kabila allies, came out against the president’s apparent plans to keep power after his second – and according to the constitution final – term expires in December 2016. The central government has increased repression and augmented the already heavy military presence in the region.

In early 2015, partly in reaction to the growing opposition, the government decided to implement découpage, as foreseen in the 2010 constitution, increasing the number of provinces from eleven to 26. Katanga was split into four new provinces. While some local elites welcome the opportunity to run their own administrations, many in Katanga are unhappy at what they see as a divide and rule strategy. The découpage was rushed, ill planned, under-resourced and coincided with a budget crisis, due mostly to the drop in demand for Katanga’s minerals.

Katumbi’s emergence as a prominent Kabila opponent coincided with a split in the ruling majority, of which he was part. The opposition is strengthened but also fractured. On 4 May 2016, Katumbi declared his candidacy in the presidential elections that are still some way off, further heightening tensions. The announcement that he was being investigated prompted widespread demonstrations in Lubumbashi, Katanga’s major city, and the would-be candidate left the country for medical checks.

The looming national crisis is already damaging weak political trust and may manifest itself through an upsurge in armed violence, protest, increased state repression and even security force fractures. All these may occur, and some have already, in Katanga, which is likely to be a major arena for violent political struggle and a symbol of wider problems. Serious tensions exist there between communities, especially local ethnic groups, migrants and the internally displaced (IDPs), who increased from 50,000 to 500,000 between 2011 and 2014. The economic downturn will also increase resentments and make problems harder to solve.

A crisis that could pose a serious challenge to stability in the region, and to international peacekeeping efforts, needs to be headed off. While national politics is increasingly zero-sum as the electoral deadline nears, some actors, including at local level, still have a strong interest in cooling the temperature to prevent conflict emerging. Early measures against unaccountable armed groups, and especially against those who encourage them, could avoid a greater problem later on. Politicians should desist from using armed groups to pressure their opponents, and national authorities should act, with support from the UN Stabilisation Mission (MONUSCO) to discourage them from doing so. MONUSCO should use its leverage to encourage this and deploy more assets to Katanga, especially human rights monitors and police. But this leverage is diminishing, and confronted with a gathering storm, other more radical options, such as downsizing the mission, may eventually have to be considered.

To address distrust between the centre and provinces, financial flows need to be more regular, transparent and in line with statutes. National auditors and civil society must be better empowered to monitor these flows and their use. Resolving the DRC’s national and provincial problems ultimately requires trust and dialogue, as well as electoral progress. The stalled dialogue initiative, mediated by Edem Kodjo of the African Union (AU), should be pursued and other channels of communication kept open to allow elite-level talks on national and provincial interests. Congo’s internation­al partners should support dialogue, as the AU is doing, and ensure that the critical question of centre-province relations is kept on the table.

I. Introduction: The National Context

Map of Katanga CRISIS GROUP

This report examines links between long-term tensions in the Katanga region and the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) linked to the constitutional and electoral deadline at the end of 2016.[fn]In this report, Katanga refers to the area that was Katanga province until July 2015.Hide Footnote  President Joseph Kabila, in power since his father’s January 2001 assassination, has been elected in 2006 and 2011. The latter vote was controversial, marred by fraud and manipulation. A constitutional amendment early that year, favoured him, as it allowed a candidate with a plurality but less than 50 per cent of the vote to avoid a run-off in which the opposition could have united behind a single candidate. Constitutional amendments also increased the power of the central government over the provinces. However, the constitution still unequivocally limits the president to two terms.[fn]President Kabila was declared the winner, with 48.95 per cent of the vote. Etienne Tshisekedi was runner-up with 32.33 per cent. Article 70 establishes a five-year term, renewable once. Article 220 prohibits the revision of Article 70.Hide Footnote

Kabila’s mandate, therefore, should end in December 2016, but there is neither the financial resources nor political will to hold elections in November, and the electoral timetable is in disarray. The ruling majority (henceforth “the majority” in this report), an alliance of parties built around the president’s People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD, the largest in parliament), appears unwilling to relinquish power or face the electorate.

After failing in 2014 to amend the constitution to allow Kabila to stand for a third term, it turned to delaying elections, first by insisting on a prior national census. When this failed, due to sustained popular outcry in early 2015, the majority concentrated on delaying preparation and funding of elections. Updating the voter register, the most time-consuming requirement, has made almost no progress. Kabila’s government, a seasoned observer has noted, seems determined to “boycott its own election”.[fn]Kris Berwouts, “La République démocratique du Congo: de la fin de règne au règne sans fin?”, IFRI Notes, July 2016, p. 5. The last census was in 1984. The parliament’s allocation of seats depends on the number of registered voters. Berwouts, “DR Congo’s electoral process is at an impasse. Here are 3 scenarios for what comes next”, AfricanArguments.org, 22 May 2016.Hide Footnote  With only months to the end of the president’s legal mandate, the polls’ slippage (glissement) has become inevitable. The calculations of the Electoral Commission (CENI) suggest a delay of up to several years. The regime’s plans to stay in power were given legal cover by the Constitutional Court’s May ruling that the president could remain until an elected successor was installed.[fn]Crisis Group interview, CENI president and vice president, diplomats, Kinshasa, March 2016. “RDC: Joseph Kabila autorisé à s’accrocher au pouvoir”, Afrikarabia.com, 12 May 2016.Hide Footnote

As discontent grew in early 2015, the government suddenly prioritised implementation of long-planned decentralisation. This started with creation of 21 new provinces carved out of six of the existing eleven, a process known as découpage. Fully implemented by July, it was poorly planned and chaotically administered, adding to delays in both national and local elections. In March 2016, existing provincial assemblies indirectly elected governors for the new provinces, a process that took place under tight regime control and firmly established Kabila’s dominance of the new provinces.[fn]Découpage is discussed in more detail in Chapter III below.Hide Footnote  For new provinces, existing provincial assembly members formed assemblies according to their constituencies, then elected governors.

In the course of 2015, the government announced a national dialogue on the electoral process. Most of the opposition has refused to take part, arguing it would legitimise delays or demanding broad international engagement and guarantees. The dialogue has, however, become an integral part of the international attempt to avoid a deepening of the political crisis. The African Union (AU) announced support in January 2016 and in April appointed former Togolese Prime Minister Edem Kodjo as facilitator. The need for a dialogue was also included in UN Security Council Res­olution 2277 (March 2016). In June, an international support group was created for the facilitation.[fn]“Inaugural Meeting of the Support Group for the Facilitation of the National Dialogue in the Democratic Republic of Congo”, AU press release, 4 July 2016. The Group includes: the AU, UN, European Union (EU), the International Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).Hide Footnote  Other international reactions to the current blocked situation have been more forthright, including the imposition on 26 June of bilateral sanctions by the U.S. on the chief of police of Kinshasa, Celestin Kanyama.

Kabila’s attempts to keep power have been resisted by both the “old” opposition around Etienne Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) and former allies, such as Vital Kamerhe. In 2015, the opposition received a boost with the defection of Moïse Katumbi, the former Katanga governor, and several important parties from the majority bloc, which formed the “G7” coalition.

Opposition and civil society organisations have sought greater unity. The former continues to struggle over whether to present a single candidate in an eventual election and whether to participate in the national dialogue.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, politicians, diplomats and civil society members, Brussels, Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, Bukavu, Goma, February-March 2016.Hide Footnote  The “Citizen Front 2016”, established in December 2015, was the first attempt to create a platform bringing political and social actors together, but it faltered because of strategic differences and distrust.[fn]The “Front citoyen 2016”, grouping parties, civil society organisations and individuals, formed in Senegal in December 2015. Floribert Anzuluni, also coordinator of the Filimbi youth organisation, coordinates it. Tweet by @SalomonKalonda (political adviser to Katumbi), 4 January 2016; “RDC: Moïse Katumbi annonce son appartenance à l’opposition”, Radio Okapi, 3 January 2016. Katumbi did not participate in this gathering. Crisis Group interviews, Congolese political analyst, Brussels, February 2016; civil society representative, Goma, March 2016.Hide Footnote  In June 2016, a meeting of several opposition leaders in Genval, near Brussels, led to creation of the “Rassemblement” under the leadership of Etienne Tshiskedi. The platform brings in Katumbi allies, including the G7, thus forming a potentially potent new alliance.[fn]In full: “Rassemblement des forces politiques et sociales de la RDC Acquises au Changement”. “La ‘déclaration de Genval’ unifie l’opposition congolaise”, L’Echo, 11 June 2016. “RDC: Katumbi dans les valises de Tshisekedi”, Afrikarabia.com, 8 July 2016.Hide Footnote  It does not include Kamerhe, however, the leader of the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC).

The biggest blow to the opposition has been the Catholic Church’s decision to pursue a less confrontational line. Divided over its political strategy, it had taken a very strong position that the elections be held as scheduled by the constitution in November 2016, but, reportedly after intervention of the Vatican, cancelled a “March of the Christians” protest on 16 February for fear it could turn violent.[fn]Earlier, in December 2015, it recalled its representative from the opposition meeting in Senegal. The Church is also divided over its political strategy. Crisis Group, interviews, diplomats, civil society members and Catholic Church official, Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, March 2016.Hide Footnote  This frustrat­ed opposition politicians, because the Church has strong moral stature, national presence and mobilisation capacity. Katumbi in particular has been identified to a large degree with it, for instance appealing for a daily two-minute prayer at noon in support of the “democratic struggle”. The Church reappeared on the political scene after the June episcopal conference, speaking out against manipulation of the constitution, but it is unclear whether this heralds more activism.[fn]“Le front de l’opposition congolaise ne désarme pas”, La Libre Belgique, 4 February 2016. Crisis Group interview, Congolese Episcopal Conference (CENCO) representative, Kinshasa, July 2016.Hide Footnote

Katumbi took a bold step on 4 May, when he announced his intention to stand for president.[fn]He is backed by the G7 and the Alternation for the Republic (AR), a new alliance of several smaller parties.Hide Footnote  That day, Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe announced he was being investigated for “recruitment of mercenaries”. Facing hearings, growing pressure and intimidation, he was hospitalised on 13 May. On 19 May, the national prosecutor issued an arrest warrant, but Katumbi was later granted highly unusual permission to travel abroad for medical care. Since Katumbi and the G7 left the majority, tensions have increased, particularly in Lubumbashi, capital of the former province. Protests turned violent on 24 April.[fn]“RDC: l’opposant Moïse Katumbi dénonce l’enquête ouverte contre ses ‘mercenaires’”, Le Monde Afrique, 4 May 2016. Crisis Group interview, Congolese analyst, Kinshasa, July 2016. “Opposition en RDC: manifestations à Kinshasa, répression à Lubumbashi”, Jeune Afrique, 25 April 2016.Hide Footnote  There are also more security forces, with armoured vehicles, in and around the city.

These national problems will almost certainly continue to worsen when the presi­dent’s mandate ends in December. They may take several forms: breakdown of already low political trust, explosions of popular anger, state repression and even fractures in the security forces. This report analyses a region, Katanga, that will be a major player in the coming crisis and is representative of the country’s wider troubles. After examining its place in Kabila’s Congo, it looks at perceptions of découpage, political tensions between members of the Katangan elite in the region and Kinshasa, the risk of political violence linked to armed groups in Katanga and the overall impact on national politics. Based on fieldwork in Lubumbashi, Kolwezi and Kinshasa, it is part of a series on the DRC’s broader electoral process.[fn]See also, Crisis Group Africa Report N°225, Congo: Is Democratic Change Possible?, 5 May 2015; and Richard Moncrieff, “The reluctance of Joseph Kabila to cede power could push Congo to the brink”, The Guardian Global Development, 2 May 2016.Hide Footnote

II. Katanga: The Centre of Gravity in Kabila’s Congo

In this podcast, Crisis Group's Richard Moncrieff discusses the links between long-term tensions in the Katanga region and the crisis in DRC linked to the constitutional and electoral deadline at the end of 2016. CRISIS GROUP

Katanga has always been central to Congo’s political dramas. Katangans’ desire for autonomy and sense of exceptionalism are fuelled by the region’s extraordinary mineral wealth, currently the source of well over half the DRC’s fiscal revenue.[fn]For more on Katangan history, see Crisis Group Africa Report N°103, Katanga: The Congo’s Forgotten Crisis, 9 January 2006; and Crawford Young, Politics in the Congo (New Jersey, 1965). The population of the former province was estimated at 9.2 million in 2010, 13 per cent of the national estimate of 69 million. Katanga had 4.7 million of the 32 million registered voters for the 2011 elections (14.6 per cent) and 72 of 500 seats in parliament. It had the most registered voters, and its population was surpassed only by Kinshasa.Hide Footnote  Only weeks after independence in 1960, Moïse Tshombe’s National Confederation of Katanga (CONAKAT), supported by Belgian and U.S. interests, declared secession. The ensuing crisis prompted the first UN deployment of peacekeepers to DRC and was a defining moment in the country’s early turmoil. The UN force and the national army ended the attempt in 1963 and briefly forced Tshombe into exile. Other CONAKAT supporters fled to Angola, where in 1968 they founded the armed National Liberation Front of Congo (FNLC), the “Katangan tigers”, and with support from the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) launched failed invasions of Katanga in 1977 and 1978 (the “Shaba wars”).

Under Mobutu Sese Seko’s rule (1965-1997), the province’s mineral wealth was mismanaged, contributing to the decline of the huge state-run mining company Gécamines (Général des Carrières et des Mines) in the late 1980s.[fn]Gécamines was created in 1967 as successor of the colonial Union Minière du Haut Katanga (UMHK).Hide Footnote  When he was forced to allow some political competition in the early 1990s, Mobutu stirred tensions between Luba immigrants from Kasaï and native Katangans to weaken his strongest opponent, Tshisekedi (who is from Kasai). He also appointed Gabriel Kyungu as Katanga’s governor, who created a new political party, the Union of Federalists and Independent Republicans (UFERI). In 1992, Kyungu blamed Katanga’s economic woes on Luba migrants and adopted an explicit policy of cleansing ethnic Luba from its major mining cities, which led to purges that killed more than 5,000 people. In September 2000, Kyungu formed the Union of Congolese Nationalists and Federalists (UNAFEC).[fn]The Luba are DRC’s largest ethnic group. The name applies to a variety of peoples who speak closely related languages and share culture and political history, derived from the Luba kingdom of the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries. Subdivisions include Luba-Shankaji of Katanga, Luba-Bambo of Kasai and Luba-Hemba of northern Katanga and southern Kivu. Kyungu, a Lubakat from Ankoro in current Tanganyika province and long-time spokesperson for the region’s frustrations, was Katanga provincial assembly speaker from 2007 until its dissolution in 2015. Crisis Group Report, Katanga, op. cit.Hide Footnote

Katanga had a significant role in the 1997-1998 war, in which Laurent Desiré Kabi­la, a Lubakat (Luba from Katanga), overthrew Mobutu. Supported by Angola, many ex-“tigers” joined his Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (AFDL), which developed an important base in Katanga. Many Katangans also joined the central government. However, resentment quickly surfaced, as predominantly northern Katangan politicians staffed the new administration and its security forces, while the province’s south was deprived of the greater share of power and representation it felt entitled to as the main source of mineral wealth.

During the second Congo war (1998-2003), northern Katanga was heavily militarised by the regime, blocking the Rwanda-supported Rally for Congolese Democracy-Goma (RCD-Goma) from capturing Lubumbashi and the strategically important Kamina military base. During that period, Kyungu, Joseph Kabila John Numbi (a key security adviser) were all involved in channelling support to local armed militia groups (Mai-Mai) set-up to fight Rwanda and its proxies. After his father was assassinated in 2001, and as he turned from winning a war to winning elections, Katanga was an important base for Joseph Kabila. He could count on northern and southern elites, including the popular Kyungu and businessman and political newcomer Moïse Katumbi, a key early ally.

A. The Political Networks

Joseph Kabila is a Lubakat from Tanganyika province. From 2007 until the latest reshuffle in September 2015, all his defence ministers were from northern Katanga, as were the interior and justice ministers from 2012 to 2014. Katangans currently hold eight of 37 ministerial posts, including the strategic and lucrative infrastructure, mines and finance ministries.[fn]“Ordonnance N°15/075 du 25 Septembre 2015, portant réaménagement technique du gouvernement”, Présidence de la République, Kinshasa, 25 September 2015. It appointed the following ministers of Katangan origin: Fridolin Kasweshi Musoka (infrastructure); Henri Yav Muland (finance); Martin Kabwelulu (mines); Aimé Ngoy Mukena (hydrocarbons); Félix Kabange Numbi (health); Baudouin Banza Mukalay (culture, died 14 May 2016); Emile Mota Ndongo Khang (agriculture); and Simplice Ilunga Monga (transport, deputy).Hide Footnote  Powerful Katangans have included Guillaume Samba Kaputo and Augustin Katumba Mwanké (both now deceased), John Numbi and, increasingly, Kalev Mutond.[fn]Katumba Mwanké and Samba Maputo between them ran Kabila’s money, political networks and relations with Rwanda: Gauthier de Villers, Histoire du Politique au Congo-Kinshasa (Louvain-la-Neuve, 2016); “La fin mystérieuse du Richelieu congolais”, Le Soir, 7 August 2007; “Katumba Mwanké, key presidential advisor dies”, Congo Siasa (www.congosiasa.blogspot.com), 12 February 2012; and Crisis Group interview, UN official, Kinshasa, June 2015.Hide Footnote

Numbi, another Lubakat and the head of the Congolese police (PNC) from 2007 to 2010, was forced into a background role in 2010, following allegations that he was involved in the killing of respected human rights activist Floribert Chebeya. Previously in the military, he maintains strong links within the army and the Republican Guard (GR), and a return to a more prominent role is possible.[fn]Numbi was provisionally suspended as head of the PNC in June 2010, shortly after Chebeya was found dead after allegedly having been summoned to meet him. The reason for the suspension was to allow calm organisation of the investigation. Numbi appeared as a witness at the trial that was organised from June 2011. In his statement, he denied having met Chebeya the day of his disappearance. Eight policemen were indicted and five convicted. Numbi was replaced as head of the police on 28 December 2013. See “L’affaire Chebeya, un crime d’état?”, film by Thierry Michel, 2012, which includes footage showing Numbi denying allegations of involvement. Following suspension, he remained involved in military matters in the east and relations with Rwanda. He is reportedly linked to the Bakata Katanga armed group. “Affaire Chebeya: l’ombre du général John Numbi plane sur le procès”, Radio France Internationale (RFI), 27 July 2015. According to multiple sources, Numbi also received several Katanga provincial authority contracts when Katumbi was governor. “John Numbi et Joseph Kabila: le désamour après la lune de miel?”, desc-wondo.org, 3 July 2015; Crisis Group interviews, civil society members, Lubumbashi, May 2015.Hide Footnote  Kalev Mutond, a Ruund from Lualaba, is increasingly prominent as director of the National Intelligence Agency (ANR). His role as the president’s personal envoy in the 2015 national consultations advanced his political profile. His agency is deeply involved in repression of civil society groups, raising the possibility that Katangans in the national government will be increasingly involved in repressing political activity at home, further heightening resentments.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Kinshasa-based diplomats, March 2016. Mutond was the agency’s domestic intelligence wing director from 2007-2011. “RDC: Filimbi, la nouvelle génération de citoyens qui ébranle le pouvoir”, GRIP, 17 August 2015.Hide Footnote  Mutond’s brother, Guibert Paul Yav Tshibal, was Katanga’s deputy governor and briefly acting governor in 2015 after Katumbi’s resignation.[fn]During this short period, Tshibal remained in regular contact with Katumbi. Crisis Group email correspondence, Kinshasa-based diplomat, October 2015. Before becoming deputy governor, Tshibal was a leader of the Ruund (Lualaba) cultural association.Hide Footnote

Katangans dominate the security services, in particular the GR, PNC and ANR.[fn]Kabila’s cousin, General Jean-Claude Kifwa, commander of the third military zone, including former Katanga and Philémon Yav, the Katanga military region commander, are very influential.Hide Footnote  This is also the case for other important state functions, such as the national prosecutor, Flory Kabange Numbi (Lubakat), and the Central Bank governor, Déogracias Mutombo Mwana Nyembo (Luba-Hemba). Kabila’s longstanding cabinet director, Gustave Beya Siku, was replaced in a reshuffle in May 2015 but subsequently appointed ambassador to Angola.[fn]“RDC: un cabinet présidentiel renouvelé pour le président Joseph Kabila”, RFI, 28 May 2015; “Gustave Beya Siku handling oil relations again”, Africa Energy Intelligence, no. 754, 29 September 2015.Hide Footnote  Katangans remain prominent in the presidential cabinet, including Théodore Mugalu, the influential chief of staff at the presidency. Two other prominent actors are Kabila’s twin sister Jaynet and younger brother Zoë. In 2011, both were elected legislators in what is now Tanganyika province, Jaynet as an independent in Kalemie and Zoë on a PPRD ticket in Manono.[fn]“RD Congo: Les gardiens du temple”, Jeune Afrique, 1 February 2015. Mugalu was ambassador to Tanzania and a PPRD MP. “Honorables Kabila, députés à l’Assemblée nationale congolaise”, Jeune Afrique, 14 February 2012.Hide Footnote  Jaynet is also president of the influential “Fondation Laurent Désiré Kabilaand has extensive business interests.[fn]She co-owns the Digital Congo media group and reportedly owns 50 per cent of Keratsu Holding Ltd., a stakeholder with 19.6 per cent of Congo Wireless Network Sprl., which in turn owns 49 per cent of Vodacom Congo. “Congo President’s Twin Has Indirect Stake in Vodacom Unit”, Bloomberg.com, 5 April 2016.Hide Footnote

Though many Katangans hold senior public office, some of the elite are increasingly frustrated with Kabila, blaming him as well as former Governor Katumbi for lack of development in Lubakat-dominated Tanganyika and Haut-Lomami provinces (formerly districts). In previous elections, Kabila obtained massive support from these areas and rewarded elites with key political and administration posts, including in the security services. However, he left out some prominent leaders, such as Jean-Claude Masangu (who aspired to be prime minister). Elites are also aggrieved that he is reaching out to other constituencies to broaden his base, which may threaten the region’s power. Kabila is reportedly aloof in dealing with Katangan elites, which is taken badly in his home province. Paradoxically, while most of the country sees power as concentrated in Katangan hands, Katangan elites, those close to Kabila and those now opposing him, are worried it is slipping from their grasp, especially since the 2011 election and the death of Katumba Mwanké.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Katangan elites, Lubumbashi, May-June 2015, March 2016; Katangan political analyst, Lubumbashi, June 2015.Hide Footnote

B. Economic Troubles

Copper and cobalt production in Haut-Katanga are the bedrock of DRC’s formal economy. In 2014, Katanga accounted for 71 per cent of revenue generated by the extractive sector, which is responsible for 95 per cent of total exports and a very large portion of central government revenues.[fn]“Rapport Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), RDC 2014”, December 2015. Copper alone is 30 per cent of export receipts. “Democratic Republic of Congo; country mining guide”, KPMG Global Mining Institute, 2014. For a comprehensive analysis of Katanga’s economy, see Donation Dibwe Dia Mwembu, Delphin Kaimbi Mpyana and Didier Kilondo Nguya, “Le Katanga: entre croissance économique portée par le secteur minier et un développement en demi-teinte”, Observatoire des Grands Lacs en Afrique, July 2014.Hide Footnote  Copper production grew from 30,000 tons in 2006 to a record one million tons in 2014.[fn]“Statistiques Minières de 2003 à 2012”, Ministère des Mines, DRC, September 2013; “Mining industry annual report 2014”, The Chamber of Business of the DRC (FEC), 2014; “DRC now Africa’s biggest copper producer”, African Business Magazine, 30 May 2014. Copper production, 470,000 tons in 1988, dropped precipitously in the mid-1990s but recovered in the mid-2000s. At these levels, known reserves would last twenty to 30 years. Stefaan Marysse, Claudine Tshimanga, “La Renaissance spectaculaire du secteur minier en RDC, Où va la rente minière?”, in Marysse, Jean Omasombo (eds.), Conjonctures Congolaises 2012 (Tervuren, 2013), p. 40.Hide Footnote  Katanga, which exported 68,069 tons in 2014, also accounts for approximately 55 per cent of the world’s cobalt production.[fn]It has 45 per cent of known reserves. “Mining industry annual report 2014”, op. cit., p. 8.Hide Footnote

However, the drop in commodity prices has affected this spectacular growth. In mid-2015, Glencore’s Kamoto Copper Company (KCC), producing 15 per cent of the country’s copper, suspended operations, causing a $200 million government revenue loss (approximately 4.7 per cent of total revenue).[fn]Total revenue, including grants, was $4.2 billion in 2015.Hide Footnote  In May 2016, the Congolese Chamber of Mines projected a drop in the year’s copper production of 5.9 per cent. Cobalt production is projected to fall by 21.3 per cent, and production of all other minerals is also expected to decline. This seriously affects foreign currency reserves and is puting pressure on the Congolese Franc in a politically tense period.[fn]“DRC Mining Industry, First Quarter 2016”, Federation of Congolese Enterprises (FEC), May 2016, p. 4. Crisis Group interviews, diplomats and civil society, Kinshasa and Lubumbashi, March 2016; Kinshasa, July 2016; “Cost of Glencore unit’s suspension will complicate Congo’s elections”, Reuters, 26 October 2015; “Allocution de son Excellence Monsieur le Premier Ministre à l’occasion de la présentation du projet de loi de finances pour l’exercice 2016 devant l’Assemblée Nationale”, Primature, October 2015. Reflecting the drop in revenue, Prime Minister Matata Ponyo announced on 16 May a 22 per cent budget cut for 2016. The government also reached out to the World Bank and IMF for support. Crisis Group interview, Kinshasa-based diplomat, Kinshasa, March 2016.Hide Footnote  Aside from lower demand, unreliable energy supply and the challenging business climate have further stunted growth.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Lubumbashi-based civil society representative, May 2015; “Interview with Michael Kavanagh on the Congolese economy”, Congo Siasa podcast, 15 May 2015; “Wing and a prayer economics”, Africa Confidential, 23 October 2015; “Congo-K Miners no longer want to deal with SNEL”, Africa Energy Intelligence, 28 July 2015.Hide Footnote

The parastatal Gécamines is central to the Katangan economy. In 1988, it was responsible for 42.9 per cent of government revenue, but Mobutu’s kleptocracy bankrupted it in the mid-1990’s. Restructured, it now has only limited production, partly due to prohibitive costs, but is a minority partner in joint ventures such as the copper and cobalt mine Tenke Fungurumé (TFM). This huge mining investment is reportedly on the brink of being sold to Chinese investors, a sign of China’s ongoing interest in Congo’s minerals, despite the global economic slowdown, which is likely to have geopolitical ramifications.[fn]Marysse, Omasombo, op. cit., pp. 23-29. TFM holds some of the world’s biggest reserves. Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. is the operating partner, holding a 56 per cent interest. Gécamines holds a 20 per cent carried interest (taking a share of profit not proportional to investment level). In June 2016, Freeport outlined plans to sell its share in TFM. “Lundin gets bid extension on Freeport Congo mine stake”, Reuters, 19 July 2016.Hide Footnote

The Africa Progress Panel and Global Witness reported under-valued, secretive Gécamines sales of mining assets to foreign investors around the 2011 election. The former estimated the government should have earned $1.36 billion more from five deals between 2010 and 2015. Global Witness and other sources allege such secretive deals have continued since 2014, including with Chinese investors. Proceeds allegedly function as a parallel source of central government funding, bypassing the scrutiny of parliament and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The government has denied allegations of underselling, insisting that it has published all relevant material, and vigorously defending the deals.[fn]“Equity in Extractives”, Africa Progress Report 2013, Africa Progress Panel, pp. 55-58; “Out of Africa, British offshore secrecy and Congo’s missing $1.5 billion”, Global Witness, May 2016. Crisis Group telephone interview, businessperson, November 2015; interview, diplomat, March 2016. Stefaan Marysse, Claudine Tshimanga, op. cit., pp. 25-29; Mining Minister Martin Kabewelulu stated that “assets were ceded in total transparency”; see “Congo loses out on $1.4 bln as mine assets sold cheap – Annan panel”, Reuters, 10 May 2013. Other parties implicated also fervently deny any wrongdoing.Hide Footnote

Of particular concern has been the $6.2 billion Sicomines deal. Up to mid-2015, the contract funded an estimated $800 million in nationwide infrastructure projects. Another part of the deal is the development of a 240MW hydropower station in Busanga, north of Kolwezi.[fn]La société anonyme Sino-Congolaise des Mines (Sicomines) is a joint venture, set up in 2007, between Gécamines (32 per cent) and three Chinese companies (68 per cent). Gécamines owns the sites. See Johanna Jansson, “The Sicomines agreement revisited: prudent Chinese banks and risk-taking companies”, Review of African Political Economy, vol. 40, no. 135, pp. 152-162, 2013; “Sicomines project to start producing copper before end-2015”, The Economist Intelligence Unit, 22 May 2015; “China’s ‘infrastructure for minerals’ deal gets reality check in Congo”, Reuters, 9 July 2015. “Congo, China partners near deal for $600 million power plant”, Bloomberg, 15 October 2015; “Power shortages threaten launch of Chinese-run copper mine”, Reuters, 28 August 2015.Hide Footnote  Sicomines finally started copper production in November 2015 and in this short period has become the country’s third largest producer. Under the deal, investors are protected from falling copper values, and production is tax exempt.[fn]“DRC Mining Industry, First Quarter 2016”, op. cit., p. 4. This production appears in the statistics but does not represent new revenue for the government. Crisis Group interviews, diplomats and analysts, Kinshasa and Lubumbashi, March 2016. More broadly, Chinese companies own 80 per cent of Katanga’s mineral processing plants, and China buys 90 per cent of its minerals. “Country Report: DRC, 3rd Quarter 2013”, Economist Intelligence Unit, 1 September 2013, p. 14.Hide Footnote  Lack of transparency in allocation and spending of the money adds to the concern, including in Katanga, about the central government’s use of mining sector revenue.[fn]“Congo-K: les mines au cœur des réseaux ethniques”, Africa Mining Intelligence, 26 July 2013; “Ivanhoe rides into the elections”, Africa Confidential, 10 July 2015; “Défis de transparence, de la qualité et du respect des droits humains dans la réalisation des infrastructures du projet Sicomines à Kinshasa”, African Association for the Defence of Human Rights (ASADHO), November 2014. There is no evidence that Sicomines itself was complicit in the misuse of funds that went to public authorities. Gécamines management was not available for comment either on the Sicomines deal or on the alleged under-selling of assets when approached by Crisis Group in Lubumbashi in May 2015.Hide Footnote

As the province’s economy grew after the civil war, its budget exploded, from $21 million in 2006 to $973 million in 2014 and a projected $1 billion-plus for 2015.[fn]“Le projet de budget de la province du Katanga pour 2015 déclaré recevable à l’Assemblée provinciale”, Agence Congolaise de Presse (ACP), 18 December 2014; “Katanga de tous les superlatifs”, Publi-Information, Jeune Afrique, 28 June 2015.Hide Footnote  This is double the budget of Kinshasa, and almost five times that of Congo-Central (the former Bas-Congo), the second wealthiest province. Provinces currently have two sources of funding: provincial taxes and a 40 per cent share of national taxes raised in their territory, which the central government should return to them. The latter should be the largest revenue source; however, the central government has only partially kept its obligation. Nationally, it returned only approximately 14 per cent to provinces in 2014.[fn]“Avec la rétrocession, le Katanga serait plus développé, affirme son ministre des Finances”, Radio Okapi, 15 January 2015. Accurate national and provincial tax revenue figures are difficult to obtain. Katanga’s was estimated at $300 million in 2013. Pierre Englebert and Emmanuel Kasongo Mungongo, “Misguided and Misdiagnosed: the Failure of Decentralisation Reforms in the DR Congo”, African Studies Review, vol. 59, no. 1 (2016), p. 30.Hide Footnote  The failure to return a perceived fair share underlies current tensions. However, with the deepening economic crisis, Kabila has few options, so uses state resources, largely generated in Katanga, to sustain central government patronage.

Despite its riches, large infrastructural and developmental inequality persists in Katanga. The major mining areas in Haut-Katanga and Lualaba (in particular Kolwezi) have relatively good infrastructure, while the northern provinces, in particular isolated Haut-Lomami, are among DRC’s poorest. The poverty rate is above the national average.[fn]In Lualaba, there are also huge disparities between Kolwezi, its main mining district, and other areas. “Rapport des vacances parlementaires du district du Lualaba”, Lubumbashi, 28 May 2014. Crisis Group interviews, local politicians, humanitarians and diplomats, February-July 2015. According to a 2010 study on the découpage, Katanga had the highest tax revenue but Tanganyika and Haut-Lomami would be the least prosperous new provinces. “DRC: The Impact of the ‘Découpage’”, joint study, the European Commission, Belgian Development Cooperation and UN Development Programme (UNDP), March 2010. “Resilience of an African giant”, World Bank, 2012, p. 30; “Plan Quinquennal de développement 2011-2015”, Province du Katanga (undated). According to the latter report (p. 29), the percentage of poor in Katanga is 87.8, against a national average of 71.3 per cent.Hide Footnote  Local elites often use central government failure to transfer revenue to justify lack of investment in northern Katangan development.

Even in the mining belt, large investments and growth have not translated into significant formal employment. Most Katangan miners are artisanal, selling their production to trading posts (comptoirs) in Lubumbashi, Likasi and Kolwezi, mainly owned by Chinese businesses.[fn]Gregory Mtembu-Salter, “Goodwill and Hard Bargains: the DRC, China and India”, South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), March 2012.Hide Footnote  Many live in dire circumstances and are potential recruits for political thuggery, or even insurgency, and involvement in clashes between local and migrant labour.[fn]They often live in a squalor outside urban centres that contrasts with the continuous stream of trucks carrying valuable minerals. There is also concern about the mining industry’s environmental and health impact. Crisis Group interviews, local officials and civil society representatives, Lubumbashi, Kolwezi, May-June 2015. See also “L’Enfer des mines en RDC”, Amnesty International Switzerland, March 2012; and “Artisanal mining in the middle of a city: The Kasulo story in the DRC”, Southern African Resource Watch, 21 October 2015.Hide Footnote  Tensions are likely to rise as the slump in industrial production drives laid-off workers to dig illegally on company-owned concessions. According to the Chamber of Mines, the drop in mineral production has already cost at least 13.000 jobs nationwide.[fn]Often with the collusion of soldiers and policemen. Crisis Group email correspondence, Lubumbashi-based civil society representative, Nairobi, October 2015. “DRC Mining Industry, First Quarter 2016”, op. cit., p. 13.Hide Footnote

This can take on ethnic overtones. The mining economy has for decades drawn in large numbers of migrant labourers, especially from Kasai province. Different communities, migrant and local, have fought for control of land, jobs and political office. Découpage has created new provincial structures that could further inflame these underlying tensions and disrupt investment plans, as examined below.[fn]Crisis Group interview, FEC representative, Lubumbashi, March 2016; “Kolwezi: la suspension des activités de Glencore préjudiciera l’économie”, Radio Okapi, 11 September 2015; “Le Katanga se serre la ceinture … de cuivre”, Jeune Afrique, 20 September 2015.Hide Footnote

Overall, Katanga owes its particular place in Congolese politics to two factors: the Katangan origin of the president and his predecessor and its economic weight. Together these have created distinct political expectations. While many Katangan elites are happy to see one of their own in power in Kinshasa (and would like it to stay that way), they are aggrieved at the perceived failure to return to the region a fair share of the wealth it generates. In addition, within the former province, poorer areas feel disenfranchised by both the central and provincial governments.

III. The Politics of Découpage: The End of “Katanga”

A. Découpage: From Delay to Control

The DRC’s territorial organisation and the relationship between the centre and the decentralised entities has been a major political issue since the early days of independence. The 2006 constitution mandated division of the then eleven provinces into 26 in the découpage process. The intention, which remains popular in many parts of the country, was to bring government structures closer to the people. Part of this deal was to reinforce provinces’ financial autonomy.[fn]Gauthier de Villers, Histoire du politique au Congo-Kinshasa, Les concepts à l’épreuve (Louvain-la-Neuve, 2016); Crisis Group Report, Congo, op. cit.; Jean-Claude Bruneau, “Les nouvelles provinces de la République Démocratique du Congo: construction territorial et ethnicités”, L’Espace Politique, no. 1, 2009. On decentralisation’s financial aspects, see Evariste Mabi Mulumba and Clément Muya, “Décentralisation, gestion des finances publiques et problématique de la fiscalité”, in Jean Omasombo and Paule Bouvier (eds.), Décentralisation et Espaces de Pouvoir (Tervuren, 2014); and “DRC: The Impact”, op. cit. The provinces are expected to financially support local government structures (decentralised territorial entities, ETDs).Hide Footnote  As noted, the constitution permits provinces to levy taxes, and its Article 175 provides, in a process called “retrocession”, that they should receive 40 per cent of locally raised national revenues. It also envisages a “national equalisation fund”, to distribute 10 per cent of national tax revenues to provinces with weak local tax collection.[fn]Congo-Central, Haut-Katanga, Kinshasa and Lualaba provinces are the only provinces that would not receive equalisation fund transfers. Crisis Group interview, government official, Kinshasa, June 2015.Hide Footnote

The reality has not matched the constitutional aspirations. Decentralisation remains more theoretical than real. The national assembly only adopted the equalisation fund bill in November 2015, and the president still has to promulgate it. Retrocession has “hovered between 6 and 10 per cent from 2007 to 2013”,[fn]Pierre Englebert and Emmanuel Kasongo Mungongo, op. cit., p. 12.Hide Footnote  not anywhere near the 40 per cent level. This has been excused by reference to low absorption capacity and concerns about transparency and corruption at provincial level, which while partly justified are also partly due to central government unwillingness to invest in provincial capacity. Additionally, the government has not transferred civil servants and policy control to the provinces. The failure to fully implement retrocession has generated much bitterness, not least in Katanga which is well aware of the amount of resources it generates for the centre.[fn]“Discours de clôture de la Session Ordinaire de Septembre 2015 par l’Honorable Aubin Minaku Ndjalandjoko, Président de l’Assemblée nationale”, Kinshasa, 15 December 2015. Englebert and Mungongo, “Misguided and Misdiagnosed” op. cit., p. 10. Crisis Group interviews, provincial administrators and politicians, Lubumbashi, May, June 2015. Between 2010 and 2014, Katanga reportedly received $44 million of an expected $155 million. “Suivi et évaluation de l’exécution des obligations légales par l’état en RDC: Cas de la rétrocession des recettes minières à la province du Katanga et à ses entités territoriales décentralisées”, Action Against Impunity for Human Rights (ACIDH), Lubumbashi, April 2015.Hide Footnote

During Kabila’s first elected term (2006-2011), the government made incremental progress adopting laws needed to implement découpage and decentralisation. However, it rolled back provincial political autonomy in the 2011 constitutional reform. Decentralisation and découpage reappeared more prominently with adoption of the “Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework Agreement” (PSCF), in February 2013 and during the national consultations organised in September-October that year.[fn]Revision of Articles 197 and 198 allows the central government to intervene directly in the provinces’ political functioning, including to dissolve an assembly and dismiss a governor. The PSCF is an agreement by DRC and its neighbours to implement better national and regional policies, stimulated by the crisis over the Rwandan backed M23 insurgency. Crisis Group commentary, “Lubumbashi Takeover: Governance by Substitution”, 15 April 2013.Hide Footnote  Following a significant reshuffle in December 2014, the government pushed through legislation needed to implement découpage, which became a legal reality in July 2015.[fn]“Discours sur l’état de la nation”, Cabinet du Président de la République, 15 December 2015. Laws 015/004 (28 February 2015) and 015/006 (25 March 2015) fixed the 26 provinces’ borders.Hide Footnote  Six provinces were broken up (Bandundu, Equateur, Kasai-Occidental, Kasai-Oriental, Katanga and Orientale), one renamed (Bas Congo, now Congo-Cen­tral) and four left untouched, producing a total of 26. Katanga was split into Haut-Katanga, Haut-Lomami, Lualaba and Tanganyika provinces. Some new provinces had previously been territorial entities of the colonial state; others were former districts created after independence.

There are widespread concerns about implementation, particularly the lack of financial and material resources for both the transfer of responsibilities and the financial viability of the new provinces, as well as the short timeframe to deal with the issues ahead of the elections and the overall financial viability of many of the entities. There are also border issues and disputed areas, which could catalyse conflict, in particular if long delayed local and provincial elections are finally organised.[fn]“La tribune de Muzito: la RDC, un Etat sans budget”, Le Phare, 6 April 2015. For an overview, see “DRC: The Impact”, op. cit.Hide Footnote

Following the July 2015 change, existing executive authorities (governors and their ministers) initially remained to manage affairs, though with severely weakened authority and unclear legal status, which led to near paralysis in some provincial administrations.[fn]Crisis Group analyst interviews in a former capacity, governor, provincial assembly members and electoral commission staff, Kisangani, October 2015.Hide Footnote  Some provincial assemblies tried to flex muscles; several attempted to seize control of revenue generated in the new provinces, but the national government pushed back.[fn]Crisis Group email correspondence, Kinshasa-based official, August 2015; “RDC: les bureaux provisoires des assemblées provinciales installés dans l’ex-Katanga”, Radio Okapi, 30 July 2015; “Evariste Boshab met en garde contre tout blocage au découpage territorial”, Forum des As, 26 August 2015.Hide Footnote  On 29 September 2015, the interior minister suspended all plenary meetings of the new provincial assemblies created by découpage, leaving the administrations in legal limbo.[fn]“Elections en RDC: les retards s’accumulent”, RFI, 26 August 2015; “Les parlements provinciaux suspendus par Kinshasa”, La Libre Belgique, 3 October 2015. Provincial deputies were elected in 2006. In preparation for the découpage to happen during their first mandate, the future provinces were already used as electoral districts.Hide Footnote

Delays in electing the new governors in the second half of 2015 led the central government to ask the Constitutional Court in September for permission to appoint special commissioners to administer the new provinces, in effect suspending the authority of the governors and assemblies.[fn]“Elections en RDC: les retards s’accumulent”, RFI, 26 August 2015. Crisis Group interview, parliamentary official, Lubumbashi, March 2016; “La Cour Constitutionnelle tranche”, L’Avenir, 9 September 2015; “L’arrêt de la Cour Constitutionnelle en exclusivité et en intégralité”, Le Soft, 14 September 2015; Marcel Wetch’okonda, “Quelques commentaires sur l’arrêt de la Cour Constitutionnelle sur les élections des gouverneurs et vice-gouverneurs”, Congo Siasa, 19 September 2015.Hide Footnote  The president appointed the new commissioners and their deputies on 29 October – all his political allies.[fn]“RDC: Joseph Kabila nomme les commissaires spéciaux de nouvelles provinces démembrées”, Radio Okapi, 29 October 2015. In Katanga, the commissioners were Félicien Katanga Lokunda (Haut-Katanga); Raymond Mande Mutombo (Haut-Lomami); Richard Muyej (Lualaba); and Richard Ngoyi Kitangalaa (Tanganyika).Hide Footnote

Critics suspected that the government always intended this, using a compliant CENI and Constitutional Court to impose commissioners, partly in order to establish initial control over the process and exert greater influence over the deputies responsible for electing the governors. It reportedly also tasked the ANR to follow the dynam­ics in the provincial assemblies. An opposition coalition unsuccessfully challenged the special commissioners’ nomination at the constitutional court, arguing their function had no basis in law and calling on the public to disobey them.[fn]Crisis Group email correspondence, Kinshasa-based official and diplomats, July 2015; Kyungu Wa Kumwanza, head of the Katangan provincial assembly, denounced this: “Kyungu Wa Kumwanza furieux dénonce les intimidations de l’ANR sur les députés”, YouTube, 23 July 2015. Dynamique de l’Opposition Congolaise, Déclaration, 1 November 2015.

The announcement in February 2016 that gubernatorial elections for the 21 new provinces would be held on 26 March came as a surprise.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Kinshasa-based official, March 2016.Hide Footnote  These are indirect, by the existing provincial assembly members elected in 2006. 97 individuals registered as candidates, but 21 were barred for a variety of legal reasons, including many who posed the greatest threat to the majority.[fn]CENI and later the courts accepted the majority’s request to revoke the candidacy of several of its members who had registered as independents, as well as those of several opposition candidates. The request is in a 23 February letter by Aubin Minaku, the majority’s secretary general, to the CENI, on file with Crisis Group. Crisis Group interviews, UN official and diplomats, Lubumbashi, March 2016. For the initial list of candidates, see Annexe à la decision N°006/CENI/BUR/16 du 28/02/2016, 28 February 2016; and for the final list, Communiqué de presse N°008/CENI-RDC/16, 11 March 2016.Hide Footnote  In former Katanga, candidates for the ruling majority, Richard Muyej and Richard Ngoy Kitangala, had only recently been appointed commissioners. The only major candidate linked to the opposition allowed to stand in Katanga was Christian Mwando Nsimba in Tanganyika.[fn]A member of the G7 and very close to Moïse Katumbi.Hide Footnote  Still, the majority remained nervous, and Aubin Minaku, its secretary general, was sent to Lubumbashi two weeks before the vote, to drum up provincial deputies’ support for pro-government candidates. The majority won all four governorships in Katanga.[fn]Crisis Group interview, political leader G7, Lubumbashi, March 2016; “Retour à Kinshasa du Président de l’Assemblé nationale M. Aubin Minaku Djala Djoku”, ACP, 13 March 2016. The new governors are Jean Claude Kazembe in Haut-Katanga (22 of 30 provincial deputy votes), Richard Muyej in Lualaba (22 of 24), Richard Ngoy Kitangala in Tanganyika (sixteen of 24) and Célestin Mbuyu in Haut-Lomami (seventeen of 24).Hide Footnote

In total, the majority succeeded in getting fifteen of its 21 candidates elected in the new provinces. In the former Orientale and Equateur provinces, several independent (often disguised opposition) candidates were elected. One of these, José Makila, Sud-Ubangui governor and Labour Alliance for Development (ATD) party leader, then co-founded the AR coalition supporting Moïse Katumbi in May 2016. Overall the majority achieved its goal but was widely criticised for manipulation. A Catholic Church report was particularly critical of the CENI.[fn]The ATD is an offshoot from the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC). “Election des gouverneurs et vice-gouverneurs: La CENCO dénonce la violation de la liberté et du secret de vote”, La Tempête des Tropiques, 29 April 2016.Hide Footnote

B. Katanga: A Particular Case

In a brief provincial assembly session on 16 July 2015, Katanga province officially ended, though its administration remained to manage affairs until appointment of the special commissioners. Just before the break-up, the central government re-organised several state and parastatal structures, including the security forces, to reflect the new territorial organisation. Other parts of the administration, such as taxation, remain unchanged.[fn]“Ce que Kyungu et Katumbi ont dit le dernier jour du Katanga”, YouTube, 16 July 2015, www.
youtube.com/watch?v=UPt775jOAfE&feature=youtu.be. On 14 July 2015, the president signed decrees adapting the national police and immigration command structures to reflect the new provinces. Crisis Group interview, FEC representative, Lubumbashi, March 2016.Hide Footnote

1. The debate

While the principle of bringing government closer to the people, popular across the country, also has support in Katanga, several of its politicians, mostly in the (new) opposition, and citizens alike have been particularly critical of découpage and fearful of its outcome. The former province has a strong sense of identity derived from its wealth, history (including brief independence) and powerful, ethnic-based “cultural associations” that permeate its political, cultural and economic life.[fn]“Arguments pour le découpage, Honorable Kansabala”, Le Rassembleur Magazine, no. 12 (undated), Lubumbashi. Erik Gobbers, “Ethnic associations in Katanga province, the Democratic Republic of Congo: multi-tier system, shifting identities and the relativity of autochthony”, The Journal of Modern African Studies, vol. 54, no. 2 (2016), pp. 211-236.Hide Footnote  Many worry découpage is intended to break its demographic, economic and political weight and weaken Katangan identity.[fn]This was the opinion of traditional chiefs who met in Lubumbashi, 2-16 December 2006. “Le découpage territorial … oui mais …”, and “Arguments contre le découpage, Monseigneur Fulgence Muteba”, Le Rassembleur Magazine, no. 12, (undated), Lubumbashi. 150,000, including several “notables”, signed a petition to parliament opposing découpage.Hide Footnote  Several prominent people, including then Governor Katumbi and Provincial Assembly Speaker Kyungu, spoke against découpage, threatened to organise petitions to reunify the province and argued for keeping “Katanga” in the names of the new provinces.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, UNAFEC politicians, Lubumbashi May-June 2015; Moïse Katumbi, Brussels, October 2015; “Katanga: Gabriel Kyungu lance une pétition contre le découpage territorial”, Radio Okapi, 12 January 2015; “Présidentielle en RDC, redécoupage: entretien exclusif avec Moïse Katumbi”, RFI, 16 March 2015. In a highly symbolic act, two weeks before the province’s division, the two leaders inaugurated a monument symbolising Katangan identity. “Identité katangaise ou nostalgie du Katanga finissant”, Tout Lubumbashi, 6 July 2015. This echoed earlier acts, such as when Katumbi erected a statue of secessionist leader Moïse Tshombé in Lubumbashi’s main square, also renamed in his honour. “Inauguration à Lubumbashi d’une fontaine à la place Moïse Tshombe”, ACP, 6 June 2010. “Interview with Moïse Katumbi”, Le Rassembleur Magazine, no. 12, (undated), Lubumbashi, pp. 38-39.Hide Footnote

Critics suggested découpage was designed to provoke secessionist sentiment, possibly to provide a pretext for crackdowns or further electoral delays; that it was part of the government’s glissement strategy; and that it was designed to cut the ground under Katumbi’s feet as he emerged as a serious challenger to Kabila. Several noted it considerably increased executive positions, thus scope for patronage, which the central government is determined to control.[fn]For the perceptions of découpage, Crisis Group interviews, Congolese politician, Brussels, October 2015; Katangan elite and Lubumbashi based-analyst, Lubumbashi, May-June 2015; former community leader, Lubumbashi, March 2016. See also the September 2015 G7 letter and Katumbi’s declaration.Hide Footnote  Despite the criticism and fear, the process was implemented without major problems.

2. Kolwezi and Lualaba province

There is considerable support for the current process among elites in the poorer of the new Katangan provinces: Tanganyika, Haut-Lomami and Lualaba, where découpage is seen as important for development. Despite having voted massively for Kabila in 2011, these areas have long been neglected by the central government.[fn]Critics point to the contrast between the extensive farms and imposing villa owned by the president just outside Lubumbashi and the dilapidated state of his home region of Manono, in north Katanga, which was devastated during the 1998-2003 war. Crisis Group interviews Lubumbashi, June-May 2015 and March 2016. An often-heard criticism is “we have been forgotten”. Crisis Group interviews, Katangan elite, Lubumbashi, May-June 2015 and Lubumbashi residents, March 2016. See also Kris Berwouts, “Bateau sans boussole. Le régime Kabila en perte de cohésion”, Observatoire des Grands Lacs en Afrique, November 2014.Hide Footnote  Especially in Lualaba, which now includes the mineral-rich former Kolwezi district, and Tanganyika provinces, many see découpage as an opportunity to assert rights and regain control of “their resources”. In Tanganyika, the civil society platform SOCITANG pushed provincial legislators in 2012 to have their then district become a découpage pilot project, pointing to the supposed gains made by previously created new Congolese provinces.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, civil society representatives, academics, and diplomat, Lubumbashi and Kolwezi, May-June 2015. Société Civile du Tanganika (SOCITANG), memorandum, 17 November 2012; Crisis Group interviews, political party and civil society representatives, Lubumbashi, May-June 2015.Hide Footnote

Kolwezi, the country’s richest mining area, is one of only five districts (of 26 before the 2006 constitution) not to have become a province. As a major mining centre, its place in the new order is very sensitive. Locally, there is tension between those of Katangan origin and immigrant populations (particularly from Kasaï), and between the “indigenous” Sanga and groups from the former Lualaba district, the “Tshota” or “G5” (regrouping the Tshokwe, Rund, Minungu, Ndembo and Luvale communities). A major Sanga frustration is that members of these other communities hold most of the important provincial positions and have better employment opportunities in mining companies.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Lubumbashi, Kolwezi, May-June 2015; Lubumbashi-based analyst, October 2015; “La population de Kolwezi appelée à la paix et à la tolérance”, ACP, 4 June 2013.Hide Footnote

In 2009, the Kolwezi-based Lwanzo Lwa Mikuba cultural association, representing the Sanga, submitted a petition to parliament with 100,000 signatures, requesting a constitutional amendment allowing the district to become a province.[fn]This repeated a call in October 2013: “Kolwezi réclame son statut de province”, La Croisette, 29 October 2013.Hide Footnote  On 8 December 2014, the association organised a protest in Kolwezi in which one person was reportedly killed. A last attempt in parliament, during the discussions on the January 2015 law fixing the future provinces’ borders, also failed. As a second option, instead of being integrated in Lualaba, Lwanzo would have preferred to integrate Kolwezi in Haut-Katanga. This reflects the close ties between this community and the Bemba, which together form the “Espace Sempya-Lwanzo”.[fn]“Treated like criminals, DRC’s race to silence dissent in the run up to elections”, Amnesty International, 2015, p. 15. “Des députés du Katanga désapprouvent le rattachement de Kolwezi à la province de Lualaba”, Radio Okapi, 13 January 2015. Erik Gobbers, op. cit., pp. 229-230.Hide Footnote

The central government has clamped down on these calls for a new province and other elements of dissent. It arrested the Lwanzo leader and former legislator Vano Kalembe Kiboko in Kinshasa in December 2014 and sentenced him to three years in prison for inciting racial hatred and tribalism, after he railed against the Kolwezi’s planned incorporation in Lualaba province at a Lubumbashi press conference.[fn]Kiboko also clearly opposed any change in the constitution allowing a third presidential term. Copy of speech on file with Crisis Group. Crisis Group interview, Congolese opposition legislator, Kinshasa, June 2015; “Kinshasa: l’ex député Vano Kiboko condamné à 3 ans de prison”, Radio Okapi, 16 September 2015. Kiboko was released from prison on 5 May 2016.Hide Footnote

During April-May 2015, several meetings to prepare for creation of the new Lualaba province were organised, including one initiated by the ex-interior minister, later special commissioner and Lualaba governor, Richard Muyej. At a May 2015 forum in Kolwezi community, representatives tried to reach a consensus on maintaining stability in the new province, including by carefully balancing community interests in its government.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, academics and participants in “Forum sur le développement de la Province de Lualaba”, University of Kolwezi, June 2015, www.unikol.ac.cd/?p=454.Hide Footnote

According to several members of the new province’s elite, the priority should be development of infrastructure linking the mining areas in and around Kolwezi more directly to export routes, thus avoiding Lubumbashi. A particular need is to refurbish railways linked to the recently rehabilitated Benguela corridor in Angola.[fn]The “Lobito Corridor” project is included in the “Investments opportunities brief (IOB) Consultative Process: Key findings and recommendations”, ICGLR, Office of the UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, 2015, p. 32. The Congolese side of the railroad is not operational. The recently rehabilitated Angolan section is partially operational. Zambia has started work to connect to the Lobito corridor. Crisis Group interview, businessperson, Brussels, September 2015.Hide Footnote  A second would be to repair the Kolwezi to Solwezi, Zambia road. Plans have come up against regional rivalries within the former province, however, with business elites in Kolwesi and Lubumbashi backing rival road corridors. Simmering disputes over transport links, vitally important given the money to be made from mineral transport, reflect the high stakes involved in delimiting new provinces and hurt the business climate, adding further insecurities to the economic challenges.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, civil society representatives Kolwezi, June 2015; former Governor Katumbi, Accra, November 2015; businessperson, Brussels, September 2015 and FEC official, Lubumbashi, March 2016. For an overview of the first Kolwezi-Solwezi road initiatives, see Jeroen Cuvelier, “The impact of the global financial crisis on mining in Katanga”, op. cit., pp. 17-19; and “Une question d’hégémonie: Du contentieux au sujet de la route Kolwezi-Solwezi”, Fragment 1, September 2009.Hide Footnote

IV. The Region’s Rising Tensions

A. Frustration

There is a growing political dimension to the economic frustrations felt by Katangan elites and population that feeds into tensions with the centre. It is based on the strong belief among elites that, despite their many internal divisions, national power should remain in their hands following November’s electoral deadline. Local elites, especially Lubakat, grumble about receiving too little attention.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Katangan elites, Lubumbashi, May-June 2015. See also “Memo à l’attention des Notables Luba du Katanga”, Lubumbashi, 25 January 2014.Hide Footnote  They say control in Kinshasa would quell or harness dormant but real Katangan separatism.[fn]Crisis Group interview, political leader, Lubumbashi, May 2015.Hide Footnote  With Kabila’s term ending and his popular support declining, fewer of the region’s elites believe that sticking with him and the majority as currently configured will allow them to keep power – though this has not yet reached a point of no return. In past months, the majority has invested considerable attention on the four new provinces.[fn]In the run-up to celebrations of national independence day in Kindu (Maniema) in 2016, Kabila spent several weeks in the ex-province, attending the conference of provincial governors in Lubumbashi and inaugurating several infrastructure projects in his home province, Tanganyika.Hide Footnote  Meanwhile, other provinces want to rebalance politics by transferring power to another region – the east-west cleavage is particularly potent – reflecting the principle of “la géopolitique”, wherein regional quotas and ethnic identity form a crucial part of Congolese politics.

The regime has reached out to provinces and elites beyond Katanga, both to reward them for having voted for Kabila in 2011 and to achieve better geographical balance. Most prominent among these provinces is Maniema, just north of the new Tanganyika province and home to Kabila’s mother, Sifa Mahanya, which twice voted heavily for the president.[fn]Aside from Kabila’s mother, key Maniema actors are Denis Kalume Numbi, General François Olenga, Kabila’s military staff chief, Emmanuel Shadari, PPRD parliamentary group chair, and Pierre Lumbi, Movement for Social Renewal (MSR) party leader and ex-national security adviser.Hide Footnote  It is also Prime Minister Matata Ponyo’s base.

Ponyo is one of three PPRD politicians competing to lead the majority and possibly succeed the president. The other two are Aubin Minaku (Kwilu), the parliament’s speaker and majority’s secretary general, and Evariste Boshab (Kasai-Occidental), deputy prime minister and interior minister. Katangans note that none are from their province but may take some solace from the installation of Henri Mova Sakanyi as PPRD secretary general.[fn]Crisis Group interview, diplomat, Kinshasa, June 2015. Mova Sakanyi was ambassador in Brussels, 2009-2015.Hide Footnote  Though he has a small political base, he has quickly gained prominence and concentrated on refurbishing the PPRD’s machine.

These disputes between Katanga and the centre have played into schisms in the majority over the last year. The G7 group of parties split from the majority after publi­shing letters between February and September 2015 criticising the functioning of the majority and underlining damage done by the ill-prepared, under-resourced découpage. The final letter, sealing the split, called for respect of constitutional deadlines, essentially a demand that Kabila step down in December.[fn]Letters of 22 February, 5 March and 14 September 2015 on file with Crisis Group. Crisis Group interview Congolese politician, Kinshasa, March 2016; “RDC: le G7 se positionne dans l’opposi­tion”, Radio Okapi, 10 October 2015.Hide Footnote  The G7 includes the important Katangan parties UNAFEC, the National Union of Democrats and Federalists (UNADEF) and Avenir du Congo (ACO).[fn]The other parties in the G7 are the MSR, previously the second largest party in the majority; the Alliance for the Renewal of Congo (ARC) (Olivier Kamitatu), the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) (José Endundu) and the Solidarity Movement for Democracy and Development (MSDD) (Christophe Lutundula).Hide Footnote  Except for the weakened PPRD, only a few remaining parties in the majority have a significant following in Katanga, including Union for the Development of Congo (UDCO), now led by Jean-Claude Masangu, and Health Minister Félix Kabange Numbi’s Awakening of Consciousness for Work (ECT).[fn]Six of seven UDCO national legislators are from the old province and eight of the ECT’s ten.Hide Footnote

Hans Hoebeke Interview on CCTV Africa

Crisis Group's Hans Hoebeke talks to CCTV Africa's Fahmida on the situation in DRC, 25 January 2015 CCTV AFRICA

Some of these political frustrations have spilled onto the street. Lubumbashi saw protests in January 2015, and some incidents took place at Katumbi’s court case. These street protests have not reached Kinshasa levels, but they may become a more important factor as the electoral/constitutional crisis unfolds.[fn]A future Crisis Group paper will discuss street protests in DRC and government reactions.Hide Footnote

B. Armed Groups and Possible Violence

Armed groups have recently been active in Katanga, though they do not have overt political platforms, and their generally low-profile operations are not as extensive as those in the Kivus. In some cases, their activities are probably linked to the elite frustrations outlined above and the secessionist sentiments they feed. Many are remnants from the civil war, when the region’s north was partly occupied by RCD-Goma and Rwandan troops, and local self-defence groups were mobilised in reaction.[fn]For more, see Crisis Group Report, Katanga, op. cit.Hide Footnote  Tanganyika province, areas of Haut-Katanga and Haut-Lomami continue to suffer from the activities of some Forces démocratiques pour la libération du Rwanda (FDLR) and Mai Mai Yakutumba, both principally based in the Kivus.[fn]For a comprehensive analysis of Katangan armed groups and conflicts, see Georges Berghezan, “Groupes armés au Katanga, épicentre de multiples conflits”, GRIP, 9 June 2015; Michelle Brown and Michael Boyce, “DR Congo: Katanga in crisis”, Refugees International, 26 June 2014.Hide Footnote  There is also a conflict between the pygmy (Twa) and Bantu (Luba).[fn]For more, see “Nord-Katanga: Crise identitaire sur fond d’émancipation: conflit Bantous-Pygmées”, Le Rassembleur Magazine, no. 10, (undated), Lubumbashi, pp. 35-37; “DRC Congo: Ethnic Militias Attack Civilians in Katanga”, Human Rights Watch, 11 August 2015.Hide Footnote

One network of armed groups with overt links to Katangan identity issues is the Bakata Katanga (“Cut off Katanga” in Swahili), led by Kyungu Mutanga, better known as Gédéon. It claims to defend the region against exploitation by Kinshasa and reportedly has ties with small secessionist organisations.[fn]Gédéon, then leader of Mai Mai Gédéon, surrendered to MONUSCO in 2006 and was arrested. He was sentenced to death in 2009 (the DRC has a moratorium on the death penalty). He escaped in an outbreak of 1,000 prisoners in Lubumbashi in 2011. Crisis Group interview, MONUSCO official, Lubumbashi, June 2015. Groups calling for Katanga’s independence include Coordination pour l’organisation du référendum d’autodétermination du Katanga (CORAK), Congrès des Peuples du Katanga (CPK) and Conseil National de Transition du Katanga (CNTK).Hide Footnote  It is held responsible for most violence in what is known in Katanga as the “death triangle”.[fn]An informally named area that straddles Pweto, Haut-Katanga and Tanganyika provinces, as well as part of Malemba Nkulu in Haut-Lomami province, which suffered particularly badly in the second Congo war (1998-2003).Hide Footnote  It was particularly active in 2013, when, in March, many of its fighters marched into Lubumbashi. It is mainly present in Katanga’s centre but was also reported near Sakania, on the Zambian border.[fn]“Lubumbashi Takeover”, op. cit. Crisis Group interview, MONUSCO official, Lubumbashi, June 2015.Hide Footnote

The Bakata Katanga were allegedly connected to politicians with national prominence, such as oil minister, former defence minister and now Katanga Governor Aimé Ngoy Mukena;[fn]“Rapport sur le procès des crimes graves commis au Nord-Katanga par l’ex-chef milicien Gédéon Kyungu Mutanga”, Association Africaine de Défense des Droits de l’Homme, August 2008; “RDC: une vidéo refait surface et met le ministre des Hydrocarbures dans l’embarras vis-à-vis de Kabila”, Jeune Afrique, 7 December 2015.Hide Footnote  Gabriel Kyungu; ex-CENI head Pasteur Ngoy Mulunda; former Central Bank Governor Jean-Claude Masangu; and, in particular, John Numbi.[fn]UN Group of Experts Report, S/2014/42, 23 January 2014, pp. 15-17; “Katanga: qui se cache derrière les Kata Katanga”, Jeune Afrique, 14 May 2013; on Mulunda’s alleged links, “RDC: les ‘Bakata Katanga’, un nouveau parti politique?”, Afrikarabia.com, 20 August 2015; and “Groupes armés au Katanga, épicentre de multiples conflits”, op. cit., for links of those named to Bakata Katanga.Hide Footnote  Its reported links suggest a continued pattern of politicians using armed groups for leverage; local leaders believe, an observer said, “that Joseph Kabila only understands the language of rebellion”.[fn]Crisis Group email correspondence, civil society actor, Lubumbashi, October 2015.Hide Footnote  The UN group of experts concluded in 2014 that “the tolerance of Numbi’s support [to Bakata Katanga] indicates acquiescence at the highest levels of government”.[fn]“The Kata Katanga movement became active just before the 2011 elections. Several well-placed sources and local leaders in Katanga believe the group serves the interests of political and economic elites at the national and provincial levels. These elites may use Kata Katanga to create instability or, conversely, stability, depending on their needs”. UN Experts, op. cit., p. 16.Hide Footnote

Violence could flare up unexpectedly and exacerbate humanitarian problems. From 2011 to 2014, IDP’s in Katanga rose 900 per cent, to 500,000. This was due to the central government’s lack of attention to security; neglect of the army (FARDC; most resources went to the GR and other elite units); and the political connections of armed groups that delayed decisive action. It was also exacerbated by poor harvests, partly caused by farmers’ displacement and crop failures caused by the El Niño. MONUSCO, with 450 troops in mid-2014 in a province the size of Spain, was also particularly weak. The security challenges were compounded by difficult logistics, due to the lack of infrastructure, the fallout of the economic crisis affecting numerous workers and the dire humanitarian situation.[fn]“DR Congo: Katanga in crisis”, field note, Refugees International, 26 June 2014. Crisis Group commentary, “Lubumbashi Takeover”, op. cit. “Après la guerre, la faim dans le Katanga congolais”, www.irinnews.org, 1 April 2016.Hide Footnote

In mid-2014, MONUSCO and FARDC scaled-up operations against the Bakata Katanga, bringing some security improvement. IDP’s decreased, particularly in Pweto. Kabila also reshuffled command positions within FARDC and the military regions, notably appointing his cousin, Jean-Claude Kifwa, to head the wider south-eastern military zone and Philémon Yav, a former “Katangan Tiger”, as Katanga military region commander.[fn]“Rapport mensuel Protection Monitoring Katanga”, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), January 2015; “RDC: Katanga Rapport hebdomadaire du 29 juillet 2015”, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 29 July 2015. “Reshuffle in the Congolese army – qui bono?”, Christophvogel.net, 28 September 2014. “RDC: Philémon Yav, le Tigre de Kabila”, Jeune Afrique, 7 May 2015. Crisis Group Report, Katanga, op. cit., p. 6.Hide Footnote  Dozens of Bakata Katanga have surrendered, giving up weapons. However, few in Lubumbashi believe the group has been defeated; there is fear some politicians keep it in readiness for possible future need.[fn]Georges Berghezan, “Katanga: le calme avant la tempête?”, GRIP, 15 March 2016. Crisis Group email correspondence, Lubumbashi-based analyst, October 2015.Hide Footnote

These are not the only armed groups that should be a concern. On 30 December 2013, followers of the self-proclaimed prophet Mukungubila (from the same area as Kabila and an unsuccessful candidate in the 2006 election) attacked the state TV station (RTNC), the defence ministry and the national airport, all in Kinshasa.[fn]Around the same time, a group also attacked the airport of Kindu, Maniema province.Hide Footnote  A few hours later, government troops surrounded the group’s compound in a Lubumbashi residential area and attacked after followers were said to have opened fire. Reportedly several hundred followers were killed, most in Lubumbashi.[fn]“Carnage des adeptes du prophète Joseph Mukungubila Mutombo”, Rapport d’enquête, Action Citoyenne pour la Bonne Gouvernance, Centre pour la Justice et la Réconciliation, Humanisme et Droits Humains, Observatoire Congolais pour la Radioactivité, Justicia ASBL, Lubumbashi, 21 January 2014.Hide Footnote

Though the motivation of the attacks is still not entirely clear, they illustrate the potential consequences of unaddressed tensions between Katanga and the centre and between Katangan elites. Many observers believe they were an attempt by Lubakat elite to pressure the president and secure their positions in the government and security forces.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, UN officials, diplomats, Kinshasa, March 2014; Kinshasa, Lubumbashi May, June 2015. Mukungubila published a letter to Kabila on 5 December 2013 attacking his decision to name General Charles Bisengimana Rukira to head the PNC, denouncing Rukira for his supposed Rwandan origins and calling on security services to remove the president. Katumbi expressed support for the president.Hide Footnote  The failure to address the Bakata Katanga, the opaque nature of the Mukungubila affair and recent accusations against politicians of recruiting or harbouring a militia all point to the continued role of unaccountable armed elements in uncertain political times.[fn]“RDC: l’opposant Moïse Katumbi accusé d’avoir recours à des ‘mercenaires’”, RFI, 4 May 2016; “Intégralité de l’entretien du Président Joseph Kabila avec les notables Katangais”, YouTube,
6 January 2015.Hide Footnote

C. Moïse Katumbi’s Collision with the President

Former Katanga Governor Moïse Katumbi makes remarks during a meeting with U.S. government officials in Lubumbashi on 14 July 2015. USAID/Kaukab Jhumra Smith

Moïse Katumbi Chapwe is a Bemba from Kashobwe in Haut-Katanga province. When Mobutu was overthrown in 1997, he went into exile in Zambia, where he was close to the then President Frederick Chiluba and successful in business, especially transport. Joseph Kabila’s adviser, Katumba Mwanké, then Katanga’s governor, facilitated his return and remained a close ally and important intermediary with the president until his death in 2011. Katumbi became a Kabila supporter on his return and was elected Katanga governor in 2007 by the votes of 94 of the 102 members in the new provincial assembly.[fn]“Katanga’s new governor: man with a bold plan”, U.S. embassy Kinshasa cable, as published by wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/07KINSHASA330_a.html. For a comprehensive profile, see Jean Omasombo, Biographie des acteurs de la Troisième République, CEP, Kinshasa, CERDAP, Lubumbashi, and Africa Museum Tervuren (Brussels, 2009). Katumba Mwanké, governor of Katanga, 1998–2001, was from the same region as Katumbi, whom he described as “certainly one of the better hopes our country has today” in his Ma Vérité (Nice, 2013, posthumous), pp. 127-129. Katumbi’s only opponent for the governorship was Pasteur Ngoy Mulunda (Lubakat), later CENI president (2011-2013) who ran the 2011 elections.Hide Footnote  He is an atypical Congolese politician, whose private business fortune, from fisheries, mining and transport, gives him an exceptional degree of independence from the central government.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Kinshasa-based diplomat, June 2015; Lubumbashi, May-June 2015. Companies linked to Katumbi include the trucking firms Hakuna Matata, Muzuri Sana and Habari Kani, the latter a collaboration between Hakuna Matata and TFM. “Millionaire governor gears up for 2016 Congo election bid”, Reuters, 11 August 2015.Hide Footnote

Katumbi is a charismatic populist and generally credited with a good record as governor. He is also chairperson of Lubumbashi’s football team, “Tout Puissant Mazembe”, which is an Africa-wide success, and, like many politicians, has close connections to the media, including two TV stations.[fn]The football club gives him a national profile and puts him at the centre of a web of business interests. He took over from his Belgium-based brother, Raphaël Katebe Katoto, also a businessperson, who was close to the rebel group cum political party the RCD-Goma, which participated in the peace negotiations in the early 2000s before joining the transitional government, and to the UDPS. Omasombo, Biographie, op. cit., pp. 113-115. The team’s vice president is David Malta Forrest, CEO of the Group Forrest International, a major economic actor in Katanga. Nyota TV and TV Mapendo, linked to Katumbi, had their broadcasting licences revoked in January 2016. Close media connections are relatively common for politicians. The presidential family has interests in Digitalcongo, and several other Katangan political leaders own or are close to a TV station. Crisis Group interviews Lubumbashi, May-June 2015 and March 2016.Hide Footnote  These, along with a hands-on style, have made him well-known and popular, in Katanga and beyond. Because the government delayed provincial elections, he was governor for eight years instead of the mandated five. He gained strong support from the province’s elite in this period, including the provincial assembly and particularly its speaker, Gabriel Kyungu.[fn]Crisis Group interview, UNAFEC politician, Lubumbashi, June 2015.Hide Footnote

Some have raised conflict of interest questions regarding his business and political roles, but this has generally failed to tarnish his image, in part because of the perception that “since he is already rich, he won’t steal any more”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Katangan elite, Lubumbashi, May-June 2015. “Ma part c’est combien?: la formule magique du Katanga …”, Le Carnet de Colette Braeckman (blog.lesoir.be), 26 November 2015.Hide Footnote  His tenure coincided with and benefited from the commodity boom, which led to significant infrastructure development in southern Katanga that contrasted, however, with the lack of development elsewhere in the province (see above).

Over the years, the relationship between the charismatic Katumbi and the more introverted Kabila became increasingly difficult. In the run-up to the 2011 elections, a seemingly disillusioned Katumbi announced he would leave politics. His position had come under pressure, as rumours that Zoë Kabila had eyes on the governorship increased and resonated favourably with several prominent northern Katanga Lubakat. But civil society organisations collected a million signatures on a petition imploring Katumbi to stay. A supporting rally a few weeks before the elections also highlighted the strong Katumbi-Kyungu alliance.[fn]“RDC: Moïse Katumbi arrête la politique”, Afrikarabia.com, 17 May 2011. “Les Kabila: de père en fils et de fils en frères? Un Kabila peut-il en cacher deux autres”, Wakati Yetu Wordpress, 21 November 2011. Later Zoë Kabila’s name appeared in particular as possible governor of the new Tanganyika province. “Moise Katumbi Chapwe bat campagne pour le Président Joseph Kabila Kabange”, ACP, 1 November 2011. MONUSCO document, dated 5 November 2011, in possession of Crisis Group.Hide Footnote

Tensions between Katangan leaders and the president escalated dramatically in late 2014 when Katumbi, Kyungu and Jean-Claude Muyambo separately took strong public positions against any constitutional amendment that would allow Kabila to stand for a third term. Muyambo was subsequently imprisoned, officially for an unrelated matter. The strongest political signal came from a Katumbi speech on 23 December 2014 in Lubumbashi in which he asked, “will we accept a third penalty?” – a clear message to Kabila, who was visiting Katanga at the time.[fn]“Fronde commune”, Jeune Afrique, 28 June 2015. Muyambo, formerly a Katumbi foe, was president of the Bemba association Sempya (2003-2005), humanitarian affairs minister (2007-2008) and president of the Lubumbashi Bar Association. In September 2007, he founded the Congolese Solidarity for Democracy and Development party (SCODE). For more, see Crisis Group Report, Congo, op. cit.; “DR Congo: Deadly Crackdown on Protests Halt Unlawful Shootings, Arrests”, Human Rights Watch, 24 January 2015. Muyambo was imprisoned in January 2015 and is still in jail. “Discours complet de Kyungu, Moise Katumbi et l’arrivée de Muyambo ce matin”, YouTube, 23 December 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=RazvlD9TFv8; “Le grand retour de Moïse Katumbi à Lubumbashi”, Le Carnet de Colette Braeckman, 23 December 2014.Hide Footnote

Kabila reacted during a meeting with the Katangan elite in January 2015, from which Katumbi, Kyungu and Muyambo were absent. Concerning découpage, he argued that opponents had not used all available legal avenues and that the provincial assembly Kyungu headed had not taken a position. He also criticised Kyungu and Katumbi for the province’s lack of social development. Days later, RG units raided the office of JUNAFEC, the youth wing of Kyungu’s party. Kabila also replaced leading customs and tax administration officials in the province to break Katumbi’s network. Muyambo responded, “… it is too late: Katanga is no longer with him [Kabila]”.[fn]“Joseph Kabila réussit son grand oral”, Le Rassembleur Magazine, January 2015, pp. 6-7; “Intégralité de l’entretien du Président Joseph Kabila avec les notables Katangais”, YouTube, 6 January 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHAPBLFk8EA. “La garde présidentielle au siège de l’UNAFEC à la Kenya”, www.katanganews.net, 9 January 2015. In that period, some 40 JUNAFEC members were arrested. “RDC: ce que Joseph Kabila a dit aux Katangais”, Jeune Afrique, 5 January 2015 (Crisis Group translation).Hide Footnote  Katumbi remained with the PPRD, but his distance from Kabila was now obvious.[fn]“Fin de la visite de travail du Premier ministre au Katanga”, ACP, 15 January 2015; “Le gouvernement ordonne le remplacement des responsables de la DGDA au Katanga”, Radio Okapi, 13 January 2015. “Présidentielle en RDC, redécoupage: entretien exclusive avec Moïse Katumbi”, RFI, 16 March 2015; “Congrès du PPRD à la FIKIN: Katumbi son absence a été très remarquée du début à la fin”, C-News, 19 May 2015.Hide Footnote

Further signs of deteriorating relations came in summer 2015. In June, the government reportedly transferred a general file on corruption to the national prosecutor with suggestions that it implicated Katumbi. This was later denied by the prosecutor, and the president appears to have backed away from levelling corruption allegations for now.[fn]“Kabila clouts Katumbi”, Africa Confidential, 7 August 2015; “Jean Kenge: En rire ou en pleurer?”, Congoresearchgroup.org, 16 July 2015; “RDC: le parquet a reçu une dénonciation, pas une plainte de Joseph Kabila contre des individus”, Radio Okapi, 3 July 2015. “Corruption Moise Katumbi amené devant la justice par Luzolo Bambi”, YouTube, 25 June 2015, https://www.youtube.com/
watch?v=bI5hQ9l6w28.Hide Footnote
 In August 2015, Huit Mulongo, his former chief of cabinet, announced creation of a new platform, the Neo-Conakat, to preserve and promote Katumbi’s ideas.[fn]“Création à Lubumbashi d’une plate-forme dénommée Neo-CONAKAT”, ACP, 16 August 2015. Huit Mulongo, leader of the “Conscience républicaine pour la démocratie et le développement”, spoke out against a constitutional amendment on 28 October 2014. “Huit Mulongo: ‘La révision de la constitution n’est pas opportune’”, Radio Okapi, 28 October 2014.Hide Footnote  Its reference to Moïse Tshombe’s CONAKAT, which fought for Katangan independence, was remarkable.

Preparing for his new position as a Kabila opponent and with one eye on future elections, Katumbi reached out to international actors and other opposition politicians, including Kamerhe and Tshisekedi.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Congolese politician, Brussels, October 2015. Katumbi reportedly hired a U.S. law firm to facilitate discussions with U.S. policymakers about the 2016 DRC elections. “Millionaire governor gears up”, op. cit.Hide Footnote  Later, he joined the opposition platform “Citizen Front 2016” and took centre stage when he suggested opposition-wide primaries to choose a single opposition candidate. The idea was resisted by other opposition parties, fearful of his wealth and influence. They focused more on guaranteeing credible elections than who would contest them.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, civil society leader and opposition politician, Brussels, February 2016. “Elections – RD Congo – Vital Kamerhe: ‘Nous allons bousculer le pouvoir de Kabila’”, Le Point Afrique, 8 April 2016; “RDC: Katumbi face au défi de la candidature unique”, Afrikarabia.com, 31 March 2016.Hide Footnote  Since he left the majority, Katumbi has been close to the G7, and several other groups and parties have rallied to him. In May 2016, a new group, the AR, emerged, consisting of a dozen smaller parties, including Mayombo’s SCODE and several affiliated to people close to Katumbi.[fn]Including the National Party for Democracy and Development (PND), for which Katumbi’s brother, Abraham Kitanika Soriano, is a candidate for future provincial elections and the Conservateurs de la nature et démocrates (CONADE), a new party led by the brother of Katumbi’s political adviser, Salomon Idi Kalonda Della.Hide Footnote  He has also been underlining his links to the Catholic Church and received public support from Monseigneur Fulgence Muteba, bishop of Kilwa-Kasenga, his north Haut-Katanga birthplace.[fn]“Mgr. Fulgence Muteba commente la démission de Moïse Katumbi”, Radio Okapi, 7 October 2015. See also “Loi de programmation: des réactions de rejet”, Forum des As, 5 March 2015.Hide Footnote

On 30 March 2016, the G7 formally asked Katumbi to be a presidential candidate.[fn]Tweet by @G7_RDC, 30 March 2016.Hide Footnote  Realising that his attempt to inspire broader opposition unity had not worked, Katumbi declared his desire to stand on 4 May. On the same day, Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba announced an investigation into Katumbi for allegedly employing mercenaries.

On 8-9 June, some 100 Congolese opposition politicians and civil society representatives met in Genval, Belgium. Katumbi was absent, but several close advisers and his brother, Katebe Katoto, attended. The meeting, convened by Tshisekedi, led to creation of the “Rassemblement”, led by Tshisekedi, in close partnership with Katebe Katoto. It allows Katumbi to operate in close association to the historic opposition leader.[fn]Crisis Group email correspondence with diplomatic sources, Nairobi, June 2016; Crisis Group interviews, Congolese analyst, Kinshasa July 2016.Hide Footnote

The defections of Katumbi and the G7 have considerably weakened the majority in Katanga and especially Lubumbashi, where it has never had to contend with serious opposition. The government’s reaction has included suppressing public events by opposition groups, closing public space and shutting down media. In early April, the army paraded tanks and armoured vehicles in Lubumbashi.[fn]“RDC: l’opposition harcelée et muselée au Katanga”, Afrikarabia.com, 1 February 2016. “Troops and heavy weaponry deployment highlights increased civil unrest, war risk in DRC’s Katanga region”, IHS Jane’s Country Risk Daily Report, 15 April 2016.Hide Footnote  The government reportedly blocked Katumbi’s plane from using the city’s airport, pushed members of the G7 and officials close to Katumbi out of administrative positions and intimidated others.[fn]Such as the mayor of Likasi, a Scode member. “Communiqué N°012/JUS/2015 by Justicia Asbl”, 28 October 2015. Another interesting example was a 12 October 2015 letter by the ANR’s Haut-Katanga provincial director to the acting governor requesting he no longer invite UNAFEC and other G7 members to provincial security council meetings, on file with Crisis Group.Hide Footnote  The central government and PPRD have also reinvigorated attempts to retain support in Katanga, including by encouraging new parties, or factions within existing parties. This included an attempt by the government in early 2016 to hijack the UNAFEC party. However Kyungu was able to produce court documents on 5 February that confirmed his leadership of the party.[fn]Tweets by @AmbHenriMova, PPRD secretary general, 18-20 October 2015. This campaign included issuing new membership cards to PPRD ministers and deputies. “UNAFEC: la destitution de Gabriel Kyungu qualifiée de non statutaire”, Radio Okapi, 25 September 2015; another example of interference in the internal affairs of parties was when the interior minister recognised Patrick Bologna, a legislator close to the government, as national president of the ACO, whose leader is Danny Banza. Legal document, dated 5 February 2016, referring to court proceedings dated 10 July 2015, confirming Kyungu as the president of the UNAFEC party, on file with Crisis Group.Hide Footnote  The risk of escalation with UNAFEC remains high.

Both Kabila and Katumbi are mobilising and broadening their support. Kabila’s Katanga base seems concentrated with the Lunda-Ruund (Lualaba) and the Lubakat elite, in particular those from Malemba Nkulu. Katumbi is best established in Haut-Katanga and Kolwezi, but also has important allies in Tanganyika (Mwando Nsimba and the UNADEF), as well as some Lubakat allies, in particular Kyungu. His outreach to other Lubakat leaders seems not to have worked so far, and it remains to be seen how much découpage will reconfigure the political allegiances and dynamics between elites and the general population.[fn]Lualaba leaders from Lunda-Ruund include Diemu Chikez, Richard Mujey and Kalev Mutond. Crisis Group email correspondence, Katangan analyst, August 2015.Hide Footnote

Demonstrations and violence escalated in April and May 2016, when the government accused Katumbi of endangering national security. He was injured in a protest outside the Lubumbashi courthouse and eventually flew abroad for medical treatment, an avoidance of all-out confrontation that may have suited both sides. He was subsequently convicted in a civil dispute over ownership of property, but the ruling and three-year prison sentence can be challenged, because he was convicted in absentia.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Congolese lawyer, Kinshasa, July 2016. “RDC: l’opposant Katumbi condamné à 3 ans de prison pour un conflit immobilier”, Radio Okapi, 22 June 2016. The presiding judge later said she came under political pressure to deliver this verdict; “RD Congo: une juge de Lubumbashi affirme avoir subi des pressions pour faire condamner Katumbi”, Le Congolais, 27 July 2016.Hide Footnote  Nevertheless, the government has strong cards to play and is likely to continue to bring legal cases to keep him on the defensive.

The population of Katanga and other opposition parties have stayed quiet through this round of confrontation, but no one thinks the problems have been resolved. Katumbi does not have old links to armed groups, so the high level of political tension is not linked to the outbreaks of armed violence described above, though some of his allies, in particular UNAFEC, could be involved in street clashes. But relations between government and opposition are vital indicators of the health of the political system and thus of the country’s fragile stability.

V. The Way Ahead: Repairing Kinshasa-Katanga Relations

The fundamental breakdown of trust between Kinshasa and many Katangan elite and ordinary citizens reflects countrywide discontent with the regime as it tries to delay elections in ever more inventive ways. It also reveals very Katangan concerns about identity, power and entitlement. The confusion around découpage and electoral delays appears intentional. Necessary legislation for the effective functioning and budgetary survival of the new provinces has stalled. In October 2015, the government froze transfer of national tax revenue to the provinces and other decentralised entities and announced an audit of all provincial budgets, which may take a long time and create further crises. All this adds to a growing feeling that decentralisation gains and Katangan identity more widely are under attack.

The breakdown in trust and rising tensions risk triggering violent escalation. The concerns are at local, provincial and national levels. The most significant danger arises when the various tensions feed off each other, as appears to have happened with the 2013 Mukungubila incident that triggered violence in both Kinshasa and Katanga. An indication that the government is worried about such dynamics is the increased military presence in Haut-Katanga and Lualaba provinces. Particularly telling are the deployment of armoured vehicles near Lubumbashi and reinforcements in Kolwezi.

As the electoral deadline looms, government and opposition are increasingly focused on their fight to take or retain power and adopting a zero-sum approach. Real dialogue and government commitment not to manipulate the constitution for political purposes would contribute to de-escalating tensions across the country.

This situation is hardly promising for solving problems at local level, but it makes finding a way forward ever more important. Officials and elites at the local level have an interest in sustainable, credible structures to deal with the many community tensions that will arise from découpage, including disputes over “non-native” rights and political and economic arguments between new provinces. These are most likely when local and provincial elections are organised. Responsible leadership is needed from cultural and community leaders and authorities. At the least, national authorities must allow space for local reconciliation initiatives and not take actions that might exacerbate problems. Politicians on all sides must desist from politicising identity to shore up support bases.

The approaching elections necessitate further local action to deal with armed groups. Use of such groups to further political ambitions continues, in Katanga as well as the worse affected Kivus, despite fourteen years of official peace. However, while there has been some serious violence in Katanga over the last five years, and there is reason to believe the armed groups remain a threat, the frequency and intensity of incidents do not yet indicate an explosive situation. Where possible, disarmament and demobilisation should be carried out, though this needs to be carefully considered and done case by case, so as to not inflame tensions or create perceptions that some communities are being unfairly treated. Ultimately, dealing with armed groups in Katanga, as elsewhere in the country, is a political issue, and steps should be taken to discourage politicians from manipulating them for their purposes, includ­ing through monitoring and exposing their activities.

The UN, through MONUSCO, has an important role. Its presence in Katanga, though limited, is being beefed-up to deal with a possible upsurge in violence if political tensions continue to rise. While there are limits to what it can do when national forces confront their own citizens, MONUSCO should continue reinforcing its police component in urban centres, to help with monitoring Congolese police and military in case of urban unrest and to provide security for political officers and human rights monitors.[fn]Planning is underway at MONUSCO to boost early-warning capacity for election-related violence by creating mobile teams to monitor human rights and political issues in Lubumbashi (in addition to Kinshasa and Goma). The Mission is reviewing its military and police deployments in areas at high risk of election-related violence and enhancing its ability to protect UN personnel in urban centres, including Lubumbashi, by developing evacuation plans and deploying helicopters and armoured personnel carriers. “Report of the Secretary-General on [MONUSCO]”, UNSC S/
2016/579, 28 June 2016.Hide Footnote
 Operations by the FARDC against armed groups should be supported in line with experiences elsewhere in the country.

Rising political tensions in Katanga and the country at large coincide with a slump in the mineral export dependent economy. Major export prices are not expected to increase in the near future, leaving little margin to raise revenue other than by tackling corruption and increasing efficiency, but as political competition is patronage based, there is an ever more desperate fight over a shrinking cake.

The resulting drop in the budget, cut 22 per cent in 2016 to little over $7 billion, will considerably affect the national government’s capacity to maintain the previously inadequate levels of funding to the provinces. It also dispels hope of quickly operationalising the equalisation fund, so the disparities between provinces will remain. Nowhere are the problems as stark as in former Katanga, whose new landlocked provinces of Tanganyika and Haut-Lamami are among DRC’s poorest, while Haut Katanga and Lualaba are among the richest.[fn]Government expenditure in 2015 was $4.5 billion, including a $300 million deficit. Crisis Group interview, development official, Kinshasa, March 2016. “DRC: The Impact”, op. cit.Hide Footnote  The details are beyond this report’s scope, but initiatives on agriculture, energy supply, infrastructure and diversification to alleviate the immediate impact and remedy structural economic and developmental problems are vitally important to lower political resentment and prevent or slow armed groups’ recruitment.

After ten years of tentative decentralisation, which at least shifted some power to provincial assemblies and administrations, recent moves by Kinshasa have reversed the trend. Foreshadowing its probable approach in national elections, the majority has deployed all means at its disposal to ensure that nearly all provincial authorities are subject to its command. This adds to Kinshasa’s dominant position when handing out largesse in the provinces, which, even when done through Katangan politicians and officials, can fuel local resentments.

It is vital that the government makes the province-centre financial relationship far more transparent. While provincial administrations’ absorption capacity may prevent the full immediate application of constitutional and legal decentralisation provisions, progress is important so that provinces are eventually able to receive entitled resources. This should be in conjunction with a financial monitoring mechanism, so that decentralisation does not simply equate to decentralisation of corruption. The national audit office (Cour des Comptes) is mandated to take this role but is largely neutered by the president’s office. A more empowered audit office, with better civil society monitoring of financial flows, could help defuse province-centre tensions. Again, the national political climate does not currently lend itself to such progress, but these issues should not be ignored if a better balance is to be found.

It is no exaggeration that electoral preparations and the government’s actions to stay in power are fundamental threats to national cohesion and stability. Katanga, because of regime ties and its disproportionate economic weight, is one of the key battlegrounds, along with major urban centres such as Kinshasa, Goma and Kisangani. The lack of effective development, in particular in its north, and competing individual ambitions have pushed the Katangan elite into a dangerously polarised position. With resources distributed along patronage networks, it is determined to either keep a grip on central power (a determination potentially at odds with national democracy) or keep more resources at the provincial level. There is a danger that politicians will increasingly play the separatist card, expressed initially by desire to “reunify” in order to pressure the centre. Support for Katangan identity is not inherently illegitimate, and prospect of a strong separatist movement is currently remote, but the risk is that politicians will mobilise armed groups and networks to manipulate separatist sentiment for their political ends.

Katumbi’s declared presidential candidacy further escalated tensions from the provincial to national level. Several provincial political leaders have rallied to his camp, but Kabila retains strong Lubakat support, as well as a base in the new Lualaba province. Whether Katumbi and Kabila will ever contest an election head to head depends on future turns in the unfolding political drama, but if events since Katumbi announced his candidacy are an indication, the battle would be hard fought. Even now, the confrontation is likely to raise tensions, not just between province and centre, which are connected by multiple overlapping networks, but also by shifting elite alliances.

VI. Conclusion

To move the electoral, financial and political issues forward constructively and put in place transitional arrangements for the now inevitable delay of the November 2016 polls requires a minimum of trust between the main parties, a more coherent opposition and a step away from winner takes all politics.[fn]Moncrieff, “The reluctance of Joseph Kabila to cede power”, op. cit.Hide Footnote  Genuine, credible dialogue is needed, which should include but not be limited to a formal national dialogue. As elsewhere in the vast country, the risks of unpredictable deterioration and renewed violence are real in Katanga. Now is the time to head them off.

The UN and Congo’s other regional and wider international partners need to take the risks more seriously and use their shrinking leverage more effectively. MONU­SCO should reinforce its police and human rights monitoring in Katanga; donors should consider more support for local bodies that monitor activities of both state security forces and armed groups. Though the government will try hard to keep the international community out of its relations with the new provinces, mediation efforts to bring the main parties in political disputes together should keep the subject on the table. The stakes are high, as the progress achieved in DRC since 2006 could quickly evaporate, and the country, still hosting the UN’s largest peacekeeping mission, could descend into a new, deep crisis reminiscent of the late 1990’s.

Nairobi/Brussels, 3 August 2016[fn]Crisis Group receives financial support from a wide range of governments, foundations and private sources. For more information, please see Our Supporters. For a full print version of this report with a list of supporters, please apply to brussels@crisisgroup.org.Hide Footnote

Burundi's minister of public security, Alain Guillaume Bunyoni (C) visits with other officials a village in north-west Burundi, in the Cibitoke province, where 26 people were killed by attackers coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo in May 2018. AFP/STR
Briefing 150 / Africa

Averting Proxy Wars in the Eastern DR Congo and Great Lakes

Three Great Lakes states – Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda – are trading charges of subversion, each accusing another of sponsoring rebels based in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. Outside powers should help the Congolese president resolve these tensions, lest a lethal multi-sided melee ensue.

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What’s new? Tensions are mounting in Africa’s Great Lakes region among Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, all of which allegedly back insurgents based in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). At the same time, Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi is considering inviting these countries into the DRC to fight groups they respectively oppose.

Why does it matter? Given their growing animosity, these three countries, if invited into the DRC, could escalate support to allied militias while targeting enemies. The DRC’s neighbours have historically used militias operating there against one another. A new proxy struggle could further destabilise the DRC and even provoke a full-blown regional security crisis.

What should be done? Instead of involving neighbours in military operations, Tshisekedi should redouble his diplomatic efforts to ease regional frictions, building on a recent joint DRC-Angolan initiative and drawing on the UN, U.S., UK and France for support.

I. Overview

Intensifying hostility among states in the Great Lakes threatens a return to the regional wars that tore that region apart in previous decades. Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, accuses Burundi and Uganda of backing Rwandan rebels active in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) North and South Kivu provinces and threatens to retaliate for those groups’ attacks on his country. In turn, Burundi and Uganda assert that Rwanda supports Burundian and Ugandan rebels in the DRC. At the same time, the DRC’s new president, Félix Tshisekedi, has floated plans to invite Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda to conduct joint military operations with DRC troops against insurgents sheltering in his country, a risky policy that could fuel proxy conflicts. Instead, Tshisekedi should prioritise the diplomatic track he has also launched, together with Angolan President João Lourenço, to calm tensions among his neighbours. The UN and Western governments, particularly those of the U.S., UK and France should throw their weight behind his efforts.

Tensions between Rwanda and its two neighbours, Burundi and Uganda, have escalated over the past two years.

Tensions between Rwanda and its two neighbours, Burundi and Uganda, have escalated over the past two years. In November 2019, Kagame openly threatened to retaliate against his neighbours after an October 2019 raid in Rwanda by a North Kivu-based militia that he alleges is supported by Burundi and Uganda. For its part, Burundi claims that Rwanda backs Burundian rebels, based in South Kivu, that it asserts are behind recent attacks in Burundi. The Burundian and Rwandan governments have deployed troops to their mutual border. Kagame’s longstanding rivalry with his Ugandan counterpart, Yoweri Museveni, has also taken a turn for the worse, with the latter accusing the former of backing DRC-based insurgents against Kampala. Both leaders have purged their security forces of officials perceived as too closely tied to the other, Rwanda has closed the main Rwanda-Uganda border crossing and Uganda has deployed troops to the DRC border. Mounting distrust among the DRC’s neighbours carries grave risks for the DRC, given how their rivalries have historically played out in that country.

Tshisekedi, in office for barely a year, has put a welcome premium on diplomacy to ease tensions. Together with Lourenço, he facilitated discussions in July 2019 between the Rwandan and Ugandan presidents in Luanda. Tshisekedi has also worked to improve DRC’s relations with Rwanda. At the same time, however, he has pursued a plan under which Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda would conduct military operations, under the DRC army’s authority, against insurgencies sheltering in his country. This policy risks fuelling proxy conflicts in the DRC. Instead, the Congolese president should reinvigorate his diplomatic track, bringing in Burundi as well as Rwanda and Uganda. He should invite the UN’s special envoy for the Great Lakes to oversee tripartite talks aimed at easing hostilities. The UN envoy should encourage Burundian, Rwandan and Ugandan officials to share evidence of their rivals’ support for insurgents in the DRC as a first step toward a roadmap for the withdrawal of that backing. The U.S., UK and France should use their long-time influence in the Great Lakes to press for de-escalation.

Our interactive timeline provides a chronology of major conflicts in the Great Lakes region between 1998 and 2020.

II. President Kagame Rattles the Sabre as Regional Tensions Mount

On 14 November 2019, Rwandan President Paul Kagame gave a blistering speech in Kigali, insinuating that Rwanda’s neighbours were sponsoring cross-border attacks. Speaking at a swearing-in ceremony for ministers and military officials, and visibly agitated, Kagame addressed Rwandan members of parliament in both English and his native Kinyarwanda. The country has been stable, he said, since his military takeover ended the 1994 genocide, but its security is once again in peril, this time from outside its borders. The president did not name those at fault, but his message was clear: Rwanda’s neighbours were undermining the country’s security and he was prepared to retaliate if need be. “The noises being made, from neighbouring countries … there is not much that I can do about it”, he said. “But anything crossing our border and coming here to destabilise us … we have proven that we can deal with it. We will put you back where you belong. There is no question about it”.[fn]Swearing in of new government officials and RDF leaders”, video, YouTube, 14 November 2019.Hide Footnote

Kagame’s speech came shortly after an attack on Rwanda launched from the eastern DRC. On 4 October, DRC-based fighters killed fourteen people in Kinigi village, a hub for mountain gorilla tourism in Rwanda’s Musanze district. Rwandan officials and regional intelligence sources attribute the strike to the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR), a remnant of the Rwandan Hutu militia that massacred much of the Tutsi minority and many moderate Hutu during the genocide.[fn]Crisis Group interview, intelligence source from the Great Lakes, October 2019. See also “Assailants: FDLR was behind Musanze attack”, The New Times, 7 October 2019. According to this report in The New Times, a publication widely seen as close to the government, a group of assailants arrested for alleged involvement in the attack confessed to having joined the FDLR.Hide Footnote  Mounting evidence points to an alliance between the FDLR and the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) rebels.[fn]“Final Report of the Group of Experts on the DRC”, S/2019/479, 7 June 2019; Crisis Group researcher’s interview in a previous capacity, senior captured FDLR officers, Kinshasa, January 2019.Hide Footnote  The RNC, also based in the DRC, is led by Tutsi defectors from Kagame’s government, allegedly including Kayumba Nyamwasa, who once was one of Kagame’s most trusted generals but now is exiled in South Africa.[fn]Nyamwasa denied links to any armed activity. RNC cadres, however, refer to him as their leader. Crisis Group researcher’s interviews in a previous capacity, Nyamwasa and South Africa-based RNC source, July 2018. See also “Rwanda charges 25 men tied to rebel outfit with treason, other crimes”, Reuters, 2 October 2019.Hide Footnote

Kagame’s speech was a reaction to the Kinigi attack and escalating tensions between Rwanda and two neighbours, Burundi and Uganda. Kigali suspects both of sponsoring Rwandan rebels, including the FDLR and RNC, in the eastern DRC. Rwandan officials say they have evidence of recent Ugandan support to the FDLR, whose fighters are concentrated in the DRC’s North Kivu province.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Rwandan official, Kigali, June 2019; Nairobi, September 2019.Hide Footnote  They accuse Uganda and Burundi of backing the RNC. Since 2017, RNC fighters have been based in strongholds on the remote plateau of South Kivu province, where they have allied with Congolese Banyamulenge Tutsi militiamen hostile to the Congolese army and Rwanda. Rwandan and DRC officials, as well as local sources, say some RNC fighters have moved from those areas to join up with FDLR units in Rutshuru territory in North Kivu, an area close to the Rwandan and Ugandan borders from which the attacks on Kinigi appear to have emanated.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Rwandan and DRC intelligence sources, October 2019. In the same month, Crisis Group received corroborating information from sources in the eastern DRC.Hide Footnote Rwandan authorities believe that Burundian intelligence officials and the Imbonerakure, the Burundian ruling-party youth militia, are embedded with RNC forces.[fn]Crisis Group researcher’s interview in another capacity, senior Rwandan intelligence officer, Gisenyi, August 2018.Hide Footnote

As Rwanda faces a mounting threat on its western flank, it is also concerned by recent attacks on its southern border with Burundi.

As Rwanda faces a mounting threat on its western flank, it is also concerned by recent attacks on its southern border with Burundi. Rwandan and DRC intelligence officials report that Burundi hosts FDLR splinter elements from South Kivu, which it has deployed to its border with Rwanda.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Rwandan official, September 2019; DRC intelligence source, October 2019.Hide Footnote  In December 2018, assailants coming from Burundi launched an attack in the Nyungwe forest in south-western Rwanda, another tourist attraction and a popular weekend destination for Kigali residents. The attackers killed two Rwandan civilians and injured another eight.[fn]See, for instance, “Kagame blames neighbours as two are killed in attack”, The East African, 16 December 2018.Hide Footnote  The Rwandan army has since saturated Nyungwe, aiming to reinforce its positions and reassure Rwandans and foreign diplomats alike that the forest is safe to visit.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, diplomat and intelligence source from a European country, Kigali, June 2019.Hide Footnote  Following the attacks, Kagame resurrected an internal security ministry that he disbanded two years ago, appointing a former chief of defence as its head.[fn]“Gen Kazura replaces Gen Nyamvumba as Kagame shakes up top military brass”, The New Times, 5 November 2019; “Police placed under Ministry of Internal Security”, Taarifa Rwanda, 18 November 2019.Hide Footnote

Authorities in Kigali point to the April 2019 arrest of Rwandan rebel Callixte Nsabimana to bolster their accusations of outside interference. Nsabimana, arrested by the Rwanda Investigation Bureau, a crime-fighting body, is a former RNC member who later became spokesperson of the National Liberation Forces, the armed wing of another Rwandan opposition group, the Mouvement rwandais pour le Changement démocratique (MRCD), which partly comprises FDLR splinter elements. During his trial, he pleaded guilty to ordering the Nyungwe attack and admitted receiving support from Burundi and Uganda.[fn]“Proces-Verbal d’interrogatoire Nsabimana Callixte alias Sankara (traduction du kinyarwanda au français)”, Office rwandais d’Investigation, 10 May 2019. According to the record, Sankara was vice president of the RNC Youth in South Africa, information and communication commissioner and journalist for the RNC radio. He left the RNC in October 2017.Hide Footnote  The MRCD, however, suggested in a press release that Rwandan intelligence obtained Nsabimana’s confession through coercion.[fn]“The appearance of Major Callixte Nsabimana”, MRCD, press release, 23 May 2019.Hide Footnote

UN reports partially support Kigali’s claims of Burundian and Ugandan ties to Kagame’s armed rivals.

UN reports partially support Kigali’s claims of Burundian and Ugandan ties to Kagame’s armed rivals. In December 2018, the UN Group of Experts on the DRC, which reports to the Security Council, concluded that the P5, a group of Rwandan opposition factions including the RNC, were working with rebels in the DRC with the aim of toppling Kagame’s government. The experts reported that the P5 received weapons and other support from Bujumbura, a claim Burundian authorities denied.[fn]“Midterm Report of the Group of Experts on the DRC”, S/2018/1133, 18 December 2018.Hide Footnote  In the same month, two prominent FDLR members, the group’s spokesperson Ignace Nkaka, known as La Forge, and its deputy intelligence officer Jean-Pierre Nsekanabo, were arrested at Bunangana, North Kivu, on the DRC-Uganda border. Both men were extradited to Kigali via Kinshasa. Interviewed by officials of the UN mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) in the Congolese capital before their extradition, they said they had met RNC members and a Ugandan minister in Kampala.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, former UN officials involved in interviewing Laforge and Nsekanabo, December 2019.Hide Footnote  A Ugandan official admitted to Crisis Group that the minister may have met La Forge and Nsekanabo, but in a private capacity.[fn]Crisis Group interview, senior Ugandan official, Doha, December 2019. La Forge and Nsekanabo allegedly met with Philemon Mateke, the Ugandan minister of state for foreign affairs and regional cooperation.Hide Footnote

For their part, Burundian officials accuse Kigali of supporting the South Kivu-based Burundian rebel group, RED-Tabara, a claim that Rwanda rejects.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Burundian official, November 2019; Burundian official, January 2020.Hide Footnote  Founded in 2011, RED-Tabara is reportedly led by Alexis Sinduhije, a Tutsi opponent of the Hutu-dominated Burundian government whom the U.S. has sanctioned since 2015 for instigating “armed rebellion”.[fn]“Treasury sanctions four Burundian individuals”, U.S. Department of the Treasury, 18 December 2015. Alexis Sinduhije has never officially claimed to be head of RED-Tabara or any other rebel group, but Burundian rebel testimonies suggest that he is in fact the movement’s political leader. A UN Group of Experts report states that combatants, while disagreeing about the group’s exact name, “all agreed that they were fighting for Sinduhije”. “Final Report of UN Group of Experts on the DRC”, S/2016/466, 23 May 2016. On 27 September 2019, an arrested RED-Tabara fighter, Dismas Ndayisaba, identified Sinduhije as RED-Tabara’s leader at a press conference. “La justice burundaise se serait-elle réveillé d’une profond sommeil?”, Radio Publique Africaine, 28 September 2018.Hide Footnote  On 22 October – two and a half weeks after the Kinigi attacks – RED-Tabara clashed with security forces in Musigati, Burundi, leaving at least a dozen dead on each side of the border; RED-Tabara acknowledged that it attacked first.[fn]Tweet by RED-Tabara, @Red_Tabara, resistance movement, 5:53pm, 22 October 2019. On 24 October, RED-Tabara tweeted that it would only communicate via its official Twitter account, stating that “facts attributed to RED that are not confirmed by its official channel concern only its authors”.Hide Footnote  On 16 November, assailants launched another assault on a Burundian military position. At least eight Burundian soldiers died in the firefight ten kilometres from the Rwandan border in the Burundian commune of Mabayi, Cibitoke province, and dozens more are missing.[fn]Burundi is divided into eighteen provinces, the largest local administrative unit, which are subdivided into communes, each of which is composed of several collines. From 3-10 December, the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) deployed a verification mission to investigate the Mabayi attack, conducting fieldwork in Goma in the DRC; Gisenyi and Kigali in Rwanda; and Bugarama, Bujumbura, Cibitoke, Marura and Nemba in Burundi.Hide Footnote  RED-Tabara has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility. On 6 December, Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza accused Rwanda of staging the “cowardly” attack, a claim repudiated by Rwandan officials.[fn]On 6 December 2019, President Nkurunziza stated: “Burundi has repeatedly been the victim of armed aggression since 2015. Attacks have come mainly from Rwanda and the DRC. The attackers have been sponsored, trained and militarily equipped by Rwanda, which unfortunately has disrupted the security of some countries in the sub-region in the recent past”. “Discours du Président Pierre Nkurunziza à l’ouverture de la 10ème Session de l’Assemblée de la CIRGL”, Mashariki TV, 6 December 2019.Hide Footnote

These attacks come as political tensions heat up in Burundi ahead of elections scheduled for May 2020.

These attacks come as political tensions heat up in Burundi ahead of elections scheduled for May 2020. As Nkurunziza increasingly depends on the Imbonerakure to repress political opponents, Rwanda points to the youth militia’s growing presence in the eastern DRC, including within RNC ranks.[fn]“Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi”, UN Human Rights Council, 6 August 2019.Hide Footnote  One Burundian official stated that if indeed Imbonerakure units have been deployed in South Kivu, then that would be a defensive move, given Rwanda’s alleged backing of the attempted coup against Nkurunziza in 2015 and the subsequent flight of some putschists into South Kivu.[fn]Crisis Group interview, senior Burundian official, January 2020. In the wake of the May 2015 coup attempt in Burundi, the country’s foreign minister, Alain Nyamitwe, accused Rwanda of backing the insurrection. See “Burundi’s Nyamitwe accuses Rwanda of training rebels”, BBC, 1 October 2015.Hide Footnote  The official noted that Nkurunziza is determined to forestall any attempt by Burundian rebels to draw on Rwandan support and attack the country in the run-up to elections.[fn]Crisis Group interview, senior Burundian official, January 2020.Hide Footnote  Burundi has also reinforced military deployments in Cibitoke following the November attack.[fn]Crisis Group interview, senior Burundian official, January 2019. See also “Cibitoke : mutation des militaires affectés aux postes frontaliers avec le Rwanda”, SOS Médias Burundi, 13 November 2019. The report details deployments prior to the attack, though Crisis Group has received information that more deployments took place afterward.Hide Footnote

III. Rwanda’s Dangerous Rivalry with Uganda

The rivalry between Kagame and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has long been among the gravest contributors to instability in the Great Lakes region. Animosity between the two men has sharpened dramatically in the last two years.[fn]Nicholas Norbrook, Parselelo Kantai and Patrick Smith, “How Kagame and Museveni became the best of frenemies”, The Africa Report, 4 October 2019.Hide Footnote

Competition between Rwanda and Uganda traditionally has played out mostly in the DRC, where both have sought to win influence and control turf.

Competition between Rwanda and Uganda traditionally has played out mostly in the DRC, where both have sought to win influence and control turf. During the 1998-2003 inter-Congolese war, the two countries backed competing rebel factions in the eastern DRC and deployed their own forces into the country, with Rwandan and Ugandan troops battling for the city of Kisangani in 2000. After the war, rebel leaders supported by Kigali or Kampala won positions in Joseph Kabila’s transitional government, as their respective fighters were formally integrated into the national army.[fn]“The National Army and Armed Groups in the Eastern Congo: Untangling the Gordian Knot of Insecurity”, Rift Valley Institute – Usalama Project, 2013.Hide Footnote  Informally, however, rebel leaders retained some foreign ties and their command of former fighters within and outside the army.

Rwanda and Uganda have both backed rebellions in the DRC in the past twelve years. The first, in 2008, was led by the Congrès national pour la défense du peuple (CNDP), whose leader, Laurent Nkunda, was a Congolese Tutsi warlord who had been integrated into the Congolese army. UN investigators subsequently revealed Kigali’s backing for Nkunda’s forces, prompting Rwanda to withdraw its support and arrest Nkunda, who had retreated into Rwandan territory when his rebellion ended, largely due to the withdrawal of Rwanda’s support in the face of international pressure.[fn]“Final Report of the Group of Experts on the DRC”, S/2008/773, 12 December 2008; “Interim Report of the Group of Experts on the DRC”, S/2012/348, 21 June 2012; and “Addendum to the Interim Report”, S/2012/348/Add.1, 27 June 2012.Hide Footnote  Kabila, then the Congolese president, again integrated many rebels into the army; elite army units that Kabila subsequently deployed to the hardest-hit conflict zones in the country often comprised former CNDP fighters.[fn]See “Final Report of the UN Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of Congo”, S/2009/603, 9 November 2009, which details the CNDP units’ integration into the national army and their deployment in the Kivu provinces.Hide Footnote  In 2012, some ex-CNDP units that had integrated into the army broke away, forming the M23 rebel group. This time, Rwanda and Uganda both backed the rebels.[fn]“Final Report of the UN Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of Congo”, S/2012/843, 15 November 2012.Hide Footnote  When Congolese and UN forces defeated the M23 in 2013, followers of one M23 leader, Bosco Ntaganda, fled to and surrendered in Rwanda, while many of those still loyal in spirit to the arrested Nkunda surrendered to Uganda.

Over the past two years, former M23 fighters from both factions have returned to the DRC, fuelling animosity between Rwanda and Uganda.

Over the past two years, former M23 fighters from both factions have returned to the DRC, fuelling animosity between Rwanda and Uganda. In the run-up to the DRC’s 2018 elections, fighters began infiltrating back and embedding themselves in local conflicts in the eastern DRC.[fn]République Démocratique du Congo, Province de l’Ituri, Comité provincial de sécurité, “Compte rendu de l’interrogatoire des 4 éléments M23 et 1 civil, arrêtés à Kadilo/territoire Mahagi en date du 1 Avr 2018”; Crisis Group interviews, armed group member and MONUSCO official, August and October 2019.Hide Footnote  Those hosted by Uganda accused their former comrades who had been in Rwanda of being Kigali’s puppets – and vice versa.[fn]Crisis Group researcher’s interviews in a previous capacity, ex-M23 cadres, June-September 2018.Hide Footnote  UN officials point out that Uganda has allowed the majority of the cohort of more than 1,300 former Congolese M23 rebels who had surrendered to Kampala to leave a military camp near the Ugandan town of Bihanga where they were housed.[fn]In a previous capacity, a Crisis Group researcher visited the Bihanga camp during the course of 2018 and documented that hundreds of ex-M23 fighters were no longer present.Hide Footnote  Some have turned up in hotspots in eastern Congo over the last two years. Although Kigali was once the M23’s main backer, because this faction surrendered to Uganda, Rwandan intelligence officials believe that Kampala is now dispatching them on its own errands.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Rwandan intelligence source, September 2019. Crisis Group researcher’s interviews in a previous capacity, several ex-M23 fighters in both Uganda and Rwanda, June 2018.Hide Footnote

Moreover, representatives of Congolese insurgent groups, including ex-M23 cadres, operate freely in Kampala and meet regularly with Ugandan military officials, even as Uganda categorically denies supporting rebels in the DRC or plotting to destabilise either that country or Rwanda.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, members of Congolese armed group, August 2019; diplomats, Kampala, July 2019.Hide Footnote  These representatives travel back and forth to North Kivu and the troubled Ituri province in the eastern DRC.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Kampala.Hide Footnote  Ugandan officials say they are aware of the presence of armed group representatives and ex-M23 fighters in Uganda, but can only take action against those for whom they have evidence of involvement in plots to destabilise the region.[fn]Crisis Group interview, senior Ugandan official, December 2019.Hide Footnote  Rwandan officials argue that Ugandan officials simply turn a blind eye to armed groups’ activities and that the RNC itself recruits freely in Uganda.[fn]Crisis Group researcher’s interview in a previous capacity, Rwandan official, Gisenyi, August 2018.Hide Footnote

For their part, Ugandan officials accuse Rwanda of supporting the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan rebel movement active in the eastern DRC.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Ugandan official, December 2019.Hide Footnote  No independent body has verified the charge, but the accusations in themselves add to tensions. Uganda has beefed up border patrols and deployed the Mountain Brigade, a special army unit, to the Rwenzori mountains at the DRC-Uganda border, looking out over DRC territory that has been at the epicentre of ADF activity over the last few years.[fn]Crisis Group interview, senior Ugandan official, December 2019.Hide Footnote

Kigali and Kampala have both taken other steps that have contributed to escalating friction. Presidents Kagame and Museveni have purged their security services of officials seen as too closely linked to the other country.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, diplomats, Kampala, July and August 2019. See also “Sibling rivalry turns ugly”, Africa Confidential, 22 March 2019.Hide Footnote  Ugandan authorities even arrested the country’s former chief of police, Kale Kayihura, in June 2018, accusing him of working with other police officers and Rwandan agents between 2012 and 2016 to kidnap Rwandan dissidents in Uganda and deport them to Rwanda.[fn]“Uganda/Rwanda: Forcible Return Raises Grave Concerns”, Human Rights Watch, 4 November 2013; “Ugandan officials charged with abducting Rwanda refugees”, The East African, 9 January 2019. Hide Footnote  Acrimony between the two countries reached a high in February 2019, when Kigali closed a commercially important border crossing amid mutual accusations of spying.[fn]“Why a closed border has Uganda, Rwanda at loggerheads”, Bloomberg, 8 March 2019.Hide Footnote  In May and November, Rwandan security forces killed a small number of Ugandans and Rwandans accused of smuggling, drawing the ire of Ugandan officials who believe that the shootings were hostile acts between nations.[fn]“Uganda, Rwanda in row over border killings”, The East African, 26 May 2019; “Two Ugandan businessmen shot dead in Rwanda”, Daily Monitor, 10 November 2019. Crisis Group telephone interview, Ugandan official, December 2019.Hide Footnote  Uganda has rounded up Rwandan nationals for detention.[fn]“Uganda arrests close to 200 Rwandans”, The New Times, 26 November 2019.Hide Footnote

Uganda’s role in Burundi has become a point of contention.

Lastly, Uganda’s role in Burundi has become a point of contention. Rwandan officials criticise Museveni for his failure as East African Community mediator of the inter-Burundian dialogue.[fn]For background, see Crisis Group Africa Report N°278, Running Out of Options in Burundi, 20 June 2019.Hide Footnote  They believe that Museveni has preferred to avoid stepping in forcefully to help resolve the crisis in the interest of preserving his relations with President Nkurunziza, whom he needs as an ally against Rwanda.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Rwandan official, September 2019.Hide Footnote

IV. Improving Rwandan-DRC Relations

If Rwanda’s relations with Burundi and Uganda are ever more strained, its ties to the DRC, which in the past have alternated between discord and détente, have warmed, particularly since President Tshisekedi took office. But improved Rwanda-DRC relations could carry risks for the DRC’s new president, potentially creating bad blood between him and Kampala.

Since the M23 rebellion ended in 2013, Kinshasa and Kigali have attempted to maintain cordial relations. During his tenure, former president Kabila made sure that his security services cooperated and shared intelligence with Kigali.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, DRC intelligence sources, October 2019.Hide Footnote  Rwandan officials sought to reciprocate, stating in private that they would collaborate with DRC authorities to neutralise armed groups by covert means.[fn]Crisis Group researcher’s interview in a previous capacity, Rwandan official, August 2018.Hide Footnote  The UN investigators’ unearthing in 2008 and 2012 of evidence showing Kigali’s support for the CNDP and M23 provided further incentive for Rwanda to demonstrate that it is cooperating. Rwandan officials still smart from the international outcry that ensued and want to avoid further accusations of backing rebellions in eastern DRC.[fn]Crisis Group researcher’s interview in another capacity, senior Rwandan intelligence official, December 2017.Hide Footnote

Under President Tshisekedi, Kinshasa has if anything tightened its embrace of Rwanda.

Under President Tshisekedi, Kinshasa has if anything tightened its embrace of Rwanda. Kinshasa has shown a newfound appetite to take on the FDLR and some of its splinter groups, which in the past the DRC’s army has often supported as proxies against Kigali. For example, DRC military officials say that increased intelligence sharing has resulted in successful operations against an FDLR splinter group in South Kivu in late 2019, with hundreds of its fighters and dependents surrendering and repatriating peacefully to Rwanda in December.[fn]Crisis Group telephone interview, DRC military source, January 2020. See also “400 more anti-Rwanda militia fighters captured in DR Congo”, The New Times, 19 December 2019.Hide Footnote

Kinshasa’s closer ties to Kigali have reportedly even entailed the DRC suppressing intelligence that suggests Kigali’s continued involvement in that country.[fn]Crisis Group telephone interviews, DRC intelligence officers, October 2019.Hide Footnote  In private, some DRC officials say Rwandan security forces were involved in the killings of the FDLR’s commander, Sylvestre Mudacumura, in September, and a prominent FDLR splinter leader, Juvenal Musabimana, in November.[fn]Ibid. Regional diplomats and observers say it is likely that the Rwandan intelligence service acquired crucial information about Muducumura’s whereabouts by interrogating La Forge. Muducumura allegedly wore a USB stick containing encrypted FDLR files around his neck. If Rwanda obtained that information, that could explain why it was able to target other rebel leaders after killing Muducumura. Musabimana was killed on 10 November. On 3 December, the Congolese army reported the arrest in Goma of FDLR leader Nshimiyimana Asifiwe Manudi; and on 4 December, an FDLR colonel, Gaspard Africa, was killed in Rutshuru territory.Hide Footnote  Both died in murky surprise attacks in Rutshuru territory of North Kivu. But the DRC’s military authorities, when announcing the deaths, asserted that Rwanda had played no role.[fn]Tweets by Forces Armées RDC, @FARDC_, 2:55pm, 18 September 2019 and 10:06am, 10 November 2019.Hide Footnote

The DRC authorities’ recent withdrawal of arrest warrants for the former M23 faction exiled in Rwanda further illustrates Tshisekedi’s closer relations with Kagame. In a letter to the DRC’s military prosecutor, the coordinator of the DRC government’s national oversight mechanism of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework (PSCF), a 2013 regional peace agreement signed by the DRC and other African governments, stated that ex-M23 combatants should be allowed to return to the DRC, amnestied and reintegrated into the Congolese army and bureaucracy, although the order has yet to take effect.[fn]Letter from Claude Ibalanky Ekolomba to the DRC’s military prosecutor, “Retrait des mandats d’arrêt contre les ex-combattants du Mouvement du 23 mars (ex-M23)”, 20 November 2019. See also “Angry reactions as DRC president rescinds arrest warrants against M23 rebel leaders”, The Chronicles, 23 November 2019.Hide Footnote  This M23 cohort’s leader, Bosco Ntaganda, was tried and convicted of war crimes at the International Criminal Court in early November.[fn]“Bosco Ntaganda sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment”, International Criminal Court, press release, 7 November 2019.Hide Footnote  The faction includes perpetrators of some of the worst atrocities that occurred during the 2012-2013 rebellion. (The status of the larger M23 cohort that surrendered to Uganda and now moves freely in and out of the military camp in that country remains unclear, though some also reportedly hope to receive amnesty and join the army.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, ex-M23 cadre, November and December 2019.Hide Footnote )

Absent steps to de-escalate tensions between Rwanda and Uganda, the DRC’s cooperation with Rwanda could backfire.

The DRC-Rwanda cooperation is welcome but could provoke Kampala and Bujumbura to step up support for proxies in the DRC if they perceive Kinshasa’s alliance with Kigali as threatening their own security. Absent steps to de-escalate tensions between Rwanda and Uganda, the DRC’s cooperation with Rwanda could backfire, most likely in the form of violent competition between Rwanda and Uganda on Congolese turf. That, in turn, could provoke a popular backlash whipped up by Congolese politicians who often stir anti-Rwandan and anti-Tutsi sentiment during periods where Rwanda has supported armed insurgencies in the country’s east.[fn]See “Congolese riot over UN ‘failure’”, BBC, 3 June 2004. Thousands of Congolese attacked UN bases in 2004 after Laurent Nkunda captured the eastern town of Bukavu. Kabila was cited as saying that “it is clearly an attack on our country by Rwandan troops”. Rioting also took place in 2008 during the CNDP rebellion. See “DR Congo: More fighting in North Kivu, violence during demonstration in Katanga”, Reliefweb, 16 October 2008. See also “Fighting in Congo rekindles ethnic hatreds”, The New York Times, 10 January 2008.Hide Footnote  Defections could also increase from within the DRC’s army with some commanders or factions persuaded by Rwanda’s rivals to take up arms against the government.[fn]On 9 January 2020, the Congolese army confirmed the defection of Colonel Michel Rukunda, alias Makanika, second in command in the Walikale sector. Before his integration into the army in 2011, Makanika was part of the Republican Federalist Forces, a Banyamulenge rebel group hostile to Kinshasa and Kigali. Tweet by Forces Armées RDC, @FARDC_, 12:04am, 9 January 2020.Hide Footnote

V. Prioritising Dialogue over Military Operations

President Tshisekedi initially sought to use his improved relations with Rwanda to calm regional tensions. Recognising the danger posed by the Rwanda-Uganda rivalry, he invited Presidents Kagame and Museveni together to Luanda for meetings in July 2019 co-hosted by his Angolan counterpart. The meetings resulted in a memorandum of understanding, signed on 21 August in Luanda, in which both parties promised to refrain from “actions conducive to destabilisation or subversion in the territory of the other party and neighbouring countries”.[fn]“Memorandum of Understanding of Luanda between the Republic of Uganda and the Republic of Rwanda”, 21 August 2019. This document was signed by Presidents Kagame and Museveni, as well as the facilitators, Presidents Lourenço and Tshisekedi.Hide Footnote  In December, however, Rwandan and Ugandan officials failed to reach agreement on how to implement the Luanda memorandum and talks collapsed in acrimony. The disagreement partly owes to Rwandan accusations of continued Ugandan support to proxies, but another challenge is that the parties cannot reach agreement on any given mechanism by which to substantiate allegations of links to armed groups.[fn]Crisis Group interview, senior Ugandan official, December 2019. The official stated that the talks collapsed due to Kigali’s resistance to create a verification mechanism to substantiate or debunk allegations. Rwanda’s state media reported the talks deadlocked due to Rwanda’s insistence that Uganda continued to support proxy armed groups and conduct arbitrary arrests and illegal detention of Rwandan citizens. See “Rwanda, Uganda talks deadlocked”, The New Times, 14 December 2019.Hide Footnote

President Tshisekedi’s push for the three neighbours to send troops to root out rebels from the DRC is a high-stakes gambit.

Meanwhile, Tshisekedi had begun exploring military options. Reportedly, the Congolese president’s emphasis on such options came mostly at the behest of President Kagame, who is increasingly impatient with threats emanating from DRC.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, diplomat, Kinshasa, October 2019; European diplomat, New York, October 2019.Hide Footnote  In June, the intelligence chiefs of the DRC, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania (an ally of Burundi) met in Kinshasa to discuss the neutralisation of insurgents in the DRC’s east. In the following months, military commanders from these countries, joined by officials from the UN’s mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and the U.S. army, attempted to develop battle plans.[fn]Representatives of the U.S. Africa Command attended the meeting.Hide Footnote  In October, DRC army commanders outlined an arrangement by which neighbouring countries’ forces would launch offensives, overseen by the DRC army, against militias on Congolese territory.[fn]“Document État-Major Intégré”, signed by Célestin Mbala Munsense, Army General, EMG Chief of the FARDC, October 2019.Hide Footnote  But Congolese, Burundian, Rwandan and Ugandan commanders failed to advance the proposal at their last meeting, in October 2019, mostly due to Uganda’s reluctance to allow Rwanda to track the FDLR near the Ugandan border. More talks are expected in early 2020.[fn]“Foreign Troops Enter DRC: Why the Goma Meeting Failed”, Kivu Security Tracker, 18 November 2019.Hide Footnote

President Tshisekedi’s push for the three neighbours to send troops to root out rebels from the DRC is a high-stakes gambit. It opens the door to military operations without concurrent political de-escalation, heightening risks that neighbours use armed intervention in the DRC to reinforce their own proxies at the expense of their rivals’. It could even erode the Congolese army’s internal cohesion, particularly given the delicate potential reintegration plans for former M23 rebels, who are susceptible to Rwandan or Ugandan manipulation.

Rather than pursuing military operations, President Tshisekedi should push for further talks aimed at reducing tensions among his eastern neighbours. He should build on the Angola forum to host, with President Lourenço, fresh talks between Rwanda and Uganda, while seeking similar talks between Rwanda and Burundi.

Separately, the UN and the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), an intergovernmental body comprising states in the region which is one of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework’s guarantors, should collect and investigate evidence of support to armed groups in the DRC. Xia Huang, the UN special envoy to the Great Lakes, who has been instrumental in convening the Burundian, Rwandan and Ugandan intelligence chiefs, should push the DRC’s neighbours to give evidence they have of such support by other governments. Xia should request that they share that evidence with the UN Group of Experts on the DRC, which is mandated by the Security Council to investigate allegations and publish verified evidence, and with the Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism (EJVM) of the ICGLR. The EJVM is mandated under the PSCF’s terms to investigate allegations brought by any regional state.

Amassing evidence of support to proxies in the region and ideally establishing a shared understanding of that support would provide a stronger basis for the PSCF’s guarantors – comprising the UN, African Union and the regional bloc, the Southern African Development Community, in addition to the ICGLR – to push Great Lakes governments to stop fuelling conflict in the DRC. Admittedly, the challenges of verifying regional governments’ support to rebels in that country are great. The UN expert group is minimally staffed and would struggle to explore each and every allegation. The EJVM, which includes security personnel from Great Lakes and other countries on the continent, is also hamstrung by limited personnel and the internal politics of its membership. Burundian, Rwandan and Ugandan representatives on the body all likely would face pressure from their respective governments to dilute findings that would reflect badly on their capitals. The UN Security Council would need to maintain pressure on all parties to cooperate with both the expert group’s and the EJVM’s investigations.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, senior UN officials and EJVM staff member, January 2020. Officials reiterate that both the UN’s expert group and the EJVM have mandates for such investigations and would be ready to take on such a role.Hide Footnote

The U.S., UK and France can help.

The U.S., UK and France can help. All three are UN Security Council permanent members that historically have been invested in the Great Lakes region. While they all have appointed envoys for the Great Lakes, they could use them to greater effect by tasking them to work together to support regional dialogue.[fn]J. Peter Pham is U.S. special envoy to the Great Lakes, though also works as Director for the Africa Centre at the Atlantic Council. The UK’s envoy to the Great Lakes Sophia Willitts-King is dual-hatted, also working as the Head of the Central and Southern Africa Department at the UK Foreign Office. France’s envoy is currently Sophie Makame, former Ambassador to Uganda.Hide Footnote  The envoys should also ensure that investigations and verifications remain on track and that political pressure is applied on Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda to roll back any support to armed groups they are found to be backing. A collective effort at regional diplomacy based around dialogue and appropriate verification of allegations would also relieve pressure on MONUSCO, which has struggled for years to find a military solution to the problem of rebels from the Great Lakes states sheltering in the eastern DRC.[fn]See Crisis Group Africa Briefing N°148, A New Approach for the UN to Stabilise the DR Congo, 4 December 2019.Hide Footnote

VI. Conclusion

The Great Lakes region is increasingly on edge. Distrust is rife among Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, all of which have connections to insurgents in the eastern DRC. President Tshisekedi’s emphasis on regional peacemaking deserves applause and his cooperation with Rwanda has delivered dividends in tackling Rwandan rebels. But these efforts should proceed alongside diplomacy aimed at stemming the Kigali-Kampala rivalry. More broadly, Tshisekedi should rethink his idea of inviting the three neighbours to participate in military operations in the DRC. Instead, he should seek an agreement that entails, first, the DRC’s eastern neighbours pledging not to back armed groups in the DRC and, secondly, a verification mechanism for investigating allegations of such involvement. This political track should build on the Luanda initiative. Special Envoy Xia’s recent diplomacy means that the UN is well placed to back all this, in line with Secretary-General António Guterres’s pledges to emphasise preventive diplomacy. By upping their diplomatic involvement, the U.S., UK and France can also play useful roles.

Without such efforts, there is a real risk that growing tension will fuel a wider regional security crisis. Were Burundian, Rwandan and Ugandan forces given a green light for operations in the DRC, the danger would be all the graver, raising the spectre of an interlocking proxy war wherein each Great Lakes country is backing its rivals’ enemies.

 Nairobi/Brussels, 23 January 2020

Appendix A: Map of the Great Lakes Region