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Rwandan Hutu Rebels in the Congo: a New Approach to Disarmament and Reintegration
Rwandan Hutu Rebels in the Congo: a New Approach to Disarmament and Reintegration
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Understanding the New U.S. Terrorism Designations in Africa
Understanding the New U.S. Terrorism Designations in Africa
Report 63 / Africa

Rwandan Hutu Rebels in the Congo: a New Approach to Disarmament and Reintegration

While a transition government is scheduled to be installed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in June 2003, the program of the United Nations Mission in Congo (MONUC) for voluntary disarmament and demobilisation, repatriation, rehabilitation and reintegration (DDRRR, henceforth DR) of foreign armed groups has remained a failure.

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Executive Summary

While a transition government is scheduled to be installed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in June 2003, the program of the United Nations Mission in Congo (MONUC) for voluntary disarmament and demobilisation, repatriation, rehabilitation and reintegration (DDRRR, henceforth DR)[fn]The concepts of disarmament and reintegration subsume all ideas contained in the technical term DDRRR. In the interest of simplicity and to avoid unnecessary jargon, we will henceforth use DR for DDRRR in this report and urge others to do likewise.Hide Footnote  of foreign armed groups has remained a failure. Authorised by Security Council mandate on 18 November 2001 to deploy in eastern Congo, MONUC has repatriated only a few hundred Rwandan ex-rebels and has opened only one demobilisation centre at Lubero in North Kivu. The participation of South African observers in the Third Party Verification Mechanism (TPVM) established by an accord between Rwanda and Congo in July 2002, has not changed anything. MONUC has still not deployed a serious force in eastern Congo or constructed a credible DR program.

Many factors have contributed to this failure. First, the political and security environment is quite unfavourable for the deployment of UN forces (which themselves have been disorganised and in need of a new mandate and structures) in territory controlled by the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie (RCD) and other proxies for Rwanda and Uganda. The profusion of armed groups and warlords sympathetic to the Hutu rebels (FDLR) and the open hostility of the RCD rebellion make it extremely difficult to disarm hostile forces that are at least 15,000 strong and have been hardened by more than eight years of fighting across 150,000 square kilometres. But most of all, Rwanda and DRC’s decision to keep their military options open, and the tension between Rwanda and Uganda that has led to the intensification of the conflict in the Northeastern province of Ituri have diminished any prospect for disarmament and demobilisation of the Rwandan rebels. The Kinshasa government has resumed its support of them, after having stopped between November 2002 and February 2003. The Mai Mai’s continued alliance with the Hutu armed groups has also maintained their military capacity.

Secondly, the DR concept is fundamentally flawed. To date, MONUC’s mandate and the Pretoria Accord of July 2002 have treated disarmament strictly as a security and Congolese issue. In other words, the internal Rwandan political dimension, has not received serious attention. Neither MONUC nor the TPVM has made any genuine political contacts with the FDLR, the group that is supposed to disarm. And not a single international actor has publicly made the link between the DR process of the FDLR in the Congo and the need for greater political openness and reconciliation in Rwanda.

The only alternative to voluntary disarmament is disarmament by force. This has been tried and has not succeeded. There is no military solution to the problem of the FDLR. The Rwandan Defence Forces (RDF, formerly Rwandan Patriotic Army) have not succeeded in destroying them in six years of military presence in North and South Kivu. The majority of the FDLR rejects the process of voluntary disarmament. The attack on the military camp at Kamina, where FDLR were cantoned, by Congo’s armed forces (FAC) and the forced repatriation of eight civilian members of the movement by TPVM on 1 November 2002 prompted them to threaten reprisals against South Africa and MONUC. What is needed now are stronger diplomatic efforts that address the security, political and economic concerns of the non-génocidaires FDLR rank and file, including with the government of Rwanda and between Rwanda and the DRC.

Far from disappearing, the problem of the Rwandan opposition has become more complicated. The FDLR has linked up with the Concertation permanente de l’opposition démocratique rwandaise (CPODR), which groups together almost all Rwanda’s exiled opposition parties, including Tutsi genocide survivors, and is calling for suspension of Rwanda’s transition timetable and denouncing the authoritarianism of the RPF. At the same time, its military command is reorganising troops and preparing destabilisation operations in case its political strategy fails. For its part, the Rwandan government flatly refuses to recognise, let alone negotiate with, an opposition it sees as génocidaire and terrorist and refuses to accept any international intervention in what it sees as an internal matter. It is pursuing its transition agenda by seeking to eliminate virtually all internal political opposition before July 2003 elections and by redeploying troops into the Congo under the umbrella of the RCD. This political strategy permits the exiled opposition to find more support inside the country and has only heightened tensions.

There is at present a great temptation for MONUC to rely on the inclusion of Rwanda’s ally, the RCD, in the DRC transitional government to implement the DR process and to shift its focus to supporting Kinshasa’s political transition. However, this is a faulty calculation. Despite prospects for an inclusive government, Rwanda’s allies continue to fight, and Kabila’s government continues to provide supplies to the FDLR. This is the reality that MONUC has to tackle squarely before it can ever hope that a unified government will lead to a genuine DR. In parallel with strengthened diplomacy, MONUC must assume a true peacekeeping presence in the east and in the northeast, where the fighting is taking place. As we see now in Ituri, MONUC’s impotence has become a dramatic liability to the Congo peace process. MONUC needs to urgently deploy a rapid reaction force to restore order and prevent further massacres of the civilians it is already mandated to protect. It also needs credible military force to deter the FDLR from destabilising Rwanda and to back-up its diplomatic efforts for voluntary disarmament. If the war does not stop in the east, the new Congolese government will quickly lose all its credibility, and the entire MONUC mission will become a nullity.

It is vital that the Security Council seize the opportunity of the new transition government in the DRC to give a new dynamism to DR operations that have suffered from a lack of commitment of the parties and a lack of political leadership. MONUC should, therefore, complete its deployment in the east and fulfil its obligations towards DR operations. It must enable the transition government to restore its authority across the country, while isolating and maintaining watch over the FDLR, making direct contact with it, and finally establishing a credible disarmament and reintegration program. Simultaneously the South African government and the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General (SRSG) should work together to transform the July 2002 Pretoria agreement into a durable and comprehensive peace agreement between the RDC and Rwanda. They should also be given a Security Council mandate to lead consultations with the Rwandan Hutu rebels on disarmament, as well as with the Rwandan government. The international community as a whole must convince the Rwandan government that the solution to ending the spiral of violence is a political opening, the precondition for which is a  genuine national debate.

Nairobi/Brussels, 23 May 2003

An Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) soldier takes part in a foot patrol following an alleged ADF attack in the village of Manzalaho near Beni, 18 February 2020. AFP/ Alexis Huguet
Q&A / Africa

Understanding the New U.S. Terrorism Designations in Africa

The U.S. has designated two armed groups in the DRC and in Mozambique as terrorist organisations, claiming they are affiliated with the Islamic State, and creating potential legal peril for peacemakers who may deal with them. Crisis Group analyses the implications.

Which armed groups did the U.S. designate under its terrorism authorities and what is their backstory?

Last week the U.S Department of State designated two armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Mozambique, as well as their leaders. U.S. officials allege that these two groups – the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in the DRC, and Ahlu Sunna Wal Jammah (ASWJ) in Mozambique – have become Islamic State (ISIS) franchises. It refers to them as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – Democratic Republic of the Congo (ISIS-DRC) and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – Mozambique (ISIS-Mozambique). ASWJ is also known locally as Al-Shabaab, although it is distinct from its Somali namesake.

The U.S. designations come amid expressions of increasing alarm in Washington that despite the end of ISIS’s physical caliphate in the Levant, the group could be gaining influence elsewhere, especially in Africa. Already, local groups in Nigeria and the Sahel fight under ISIS’s banner. Since 2019, ISIS has stated that its “Central Africa Province” includes parts of the DRC and Mozambique, where it says it has developed alliances with local armed groups, including the ADF and ASWJ.

The ADF and ASWJ are groups whose violence has historically been first and foremost driven by local dynamics and grievances. They recruit mainly local fighters.

Although it emerged in the 1990s as an Islamist movement fighting the Ugandan state, the ADF has since the 2000s mostly been active in the northern part of the DRC’s North Kivu province, where it has recruited Congolese fighters, including by force, and entrenched itself by manipulating disputes among local chiefs and communities in areas under its control. Having developed tactical alliances with both senior army officers and armed groups fighting security forces, it both fuels and feeds off an internecine and murky conflict on the ground.

In Mozambique, ASWJ formed when frustrated youth, including local petty traders and poor fishermen, began building their own mosques and prayer houses in Cabo Delgado province and challenging established religious leaders they saw as too close to state authorities. As the police clamped down, they eventually took up arms, launching their first attack in 2017. Some former ruby miners, expelled from mining concessions earlier that year, also joined the fight, according to Crisis Group’s research.

There is some evidence of prior contacts between the two designated groups. Local observers and officials in the DRC and Mozambique say that there are some known cases of Mozambicans, including some of the leaders of ASWJ, travelling to the DRC for training, but these movements are believed to have ended years ago. The U.S. Department of State says the two groups are “distinct”.

Women wait in line during a World Food Program distribution at a school in Matuge district in northern Mozambique, 24 February 2021. AFP/Alfredo Zuniga

How dangerous are the ADF and ASWJ?

Both the ADF and ASWJ have grown more dangerous over the years, becoming increasingly bold in their attacks against security forces while inflicting terrible violence against civilians.

The ADF, long dormant in the DRC, first began resurfacing again in 2014, mainly committing atrocities against civilians in gruesome machete attacks. From 2017, the group then began turning its attention increasingly against government security forces and UN peacekeepers. Its operations became more sophisticated and used greater firepower. According to a December 2020 report by UN investigators in the DRC, the ADF has over time also become better at building improvised explosive devices, although it has nothing like the ISIS core’s expertise.

Recent Congolese military operations between late 2019 and October 2020 have killed hundreds of fighters belonging to the ADF, which Crisis Group’s research indicates is now split into competing factions. Some elements have moved east to the foothills of the Rwenzori mountains bordering Uganda, and some north into neighbouring Ituri province, where they have been involved in reported killings.

In Mozambique, ASWJ has become significantly more dangerous and sophisticated since it first started up in 2017. In the early stages of the insurgency, attackers grouped in small packs of a few fighters to attack remote police outposts or villages, often brandishing blunt weapons. But by early 2020, the insurgents had taken significant stockpiles of weapons from government security forces and were able to mount attacks on district capitals, including the port of Mocimboa da Praia. Government forces fled the city in August and have yet to retake it. Violence against civilians also escalated over the past year, as the insurgency swept south towards the provincial capital Pemba, with numerous credible reports of atrocities committed by ASWJ fighters.

In recent months, security forces working with foreign military contractors from South Africa have caused the group some setbacks, destroying some of their camps and storage facilities in the bush. Nevertheless, insurgents continue to regroup and mount guerrilla attacks on security forces, while also plundering villages for food.

Are countries in the region concerned about these groups?

Yes, although for the time being the DRC’s and Mozambique’s neighbours in the Great Lakes region and Southern Africa are less concerned about the groups’ possible territorial ambitions than the threat they might pose to public spaces in their capitals and other locations. Some worry that they will face the kind of attacks that Kenya has seen in recent years in Nairobi, or that Uganda saw in Kampala in 2010. Somalia’s Al-Shabaab jihadist group has claimed responsibility for the Nairobi and Kampala attacks, although some Ugandan security sources believe the latter was carried out with assistance from ADF operatives. South Africa also shows signs of being worried about militant groups, including those from the Great Lakes region and Mozambique, using its territory as a base or safe haven, and about possible links between home-grown militants in South Africa and those in the DRC and Mozambique.

What is the Islamic State’s relationship with the two groups?

Crisis Group has shown in the past how ISIS was able to strengthen and shape the tactics of the Boko Haram faction that became the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) by deploying a limited amount of resources, training and instruction, although any influence ISIS possessed did not transform the movement’s overwhelmingly local aspirations. There is little to suggest that ISIS has gained anything like that level of sway over either the ADF or ASWJ, much less the ability to exert command and control over them.   

A recent study on the ADF by George Washington University, which some U.S. officials privately endorse, provides evidence that ISIS has given financial assistance to the DRC group, and that there have been communications between the two organisations. Specifically, the report details financial transactions between Waleed Ahmed Zein, an ISIS financial operative who was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of Treasury in September 2018, and his alleged ADF contacts. It additionally details cases where ISIS disseminated propaganda about ADF attacks and presents ISIS-published photos of ADF leader Seka Musa Baluku, who according to the study has pledged allegiance to the global ISIS leadership, preaching to his recruits.

The study also states, however, that it has found “no evidence of direct command and control orders” from ISIS to the ADF. The December 2020 UN report states that even if ISIS claimed 46 purported ADF attacks in 2020, compared to 29 in 2019, many of the claims inaccurately described the attacks’ locations and dates, leading the authors to conclude that ISIS had “limited knowledge and control” of these operations. In the meantime, sources close to the ADF say one ADF faction appears to have rejected ISIS and may even be turning against Baluku’s group.

Similarly, while there is evidence that ISIS has had some contact with jihadists in Mozambique, it is unclear how close or meaningful their ties are. In a report issued last year, UN investigators working on Somalia stated that Mohamed Ahmed “Qahiye”, a native of the semi-autonomous region of Puntland in northern Somalia and a member of an ISIS-linked Al-Shabaab splinter group, had travelled to Mozambique in early 2020. Regional security sources say he is a trainer and a bomb-maker. While ASWJ attacks did become more sophisticated in 2020, the group has yet to show evidence of explosive device capacities.

In addition, communication between the groups and some coordination in disseminating propaganda does not suggest especially close links. When ASWJ took control of the port of Mocimboa da Praia in August, ISIS did not broadcast this in its Al-Naba magazine for two weeks. Nor has it claimed any ASWJ attack as its own since October. U.S. officials say this is because the ISIS core’s media wing is under pressure that currently limits its output.

Are there foreign fighters in ASWJ?

Yes. The biggest cohort of foreigners fighting within the ranks of ASWJ, according to government officials, regional security sources and eyewitnesses interviewed by Crisis Group, are from Tanzania. Many of them appear to be acolytes of Aboud Rogo, a former Kenyan cleric who was linked to both al-Qaeda and Al-Shabaab in Somalia and who was assassinated in 2012. Abu Yasir Hassan, whom the U.S. has identified as ASWJ’s leader, is also Tanzanian.

What will be the effect of these designations and how might authorities in the DRC and Mozambique manage the fallout?

Among other things, the terrorism listings freeze all of the assets under U.S. jurisdiction that belong to the ADF and ASWJ or their designated leaders, and make it a U.S. criminal offense to knowingly provide material support to any of the designees.  

While the sanctions that flow from these designations in theory do not criminalise all contact with the two groups, they are extremely broad, and their implementation could create problems for both humanitarians and peacemakers. Humanitarian agencies may shrink from providing support to vulnerable populations in Mozambique and the DRC if they believe they might end up resourcing someone who could later be accused of being an ADF or ASWJ member. Government or UN officials who might want to put resources into the hands of insurgents or fighters in order to, for example, transport them to a forum for peace negotiations, could technically also fall foul of the material support restrictions that flow from the designations.

Nor is there much likelihood that the designations will lead to a quick dismantling of these armed groups, which manage much of their money in cash or via forms of money transfer that will require painstaking work to investigate and chase, and may put them beyond the reach of U.S. sanctions.

The U.S. designations meanwhile could unintentionally send a counterproductive signal to political actors in the region. Especially in the DRC and Mozambique, where these measures are not fully understood even by top policymakers, they could be used by hardliners to justify calls for addressing the challenge posed by the ADF and ASWJ through military action alone. Diplomats in the region also now wonder whether the official unveiling of a U.S. military training program for Mozambique right after the sanctions were announced will be the thin end of the wedge for more U.S. military engagement in the gas-rich country. So far, however, the Mozambican government has signalled very clearly it does not want any foreign boots touching the soil of Cabo Delgado. Military operations in the DRC and Mozambique have recently dented both groups, but tackling the threat they pose will require a broader approach, including efforts to appeal to the Congolese and Mozambican citizens who respectively make up the bulk of fighters in both groups.

Contributors

Deputy Director, Africa Program
DinoMahtani
Deputy Project Director, Central Africa
PMvandeWalle
Senior Consultant, Southern Africa
PiersPigou
Researcher, Horn of Africa
Meron_El