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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
Moïse Katumbi’s Return Portends Shifting Alliances in Congolese Politics
Moïse Katumbi’s Return Portends Shifting Alliances in Congolese Politics
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

Democratic Republic of Congo opposition leader, former governor of Katanga Moise Katumbi waves as he arrives in Lubumbashi on 20 May 2019 after three years in self-imposed exile. AFP / Junior KANNAH
Q&A / Africa

Moïse Katumbi’s Return Portends Shifting Alliances in Congolese Politics

On 20 May prominent opposition leader and businessman Moïse Katumbi returned to the Democratic Republic of Congo from exile. In this Q&A, Crisis Group’s Deputy Project Director for Central Africa Nelleke van de Walle discusses the possible impact on Congolese politics, five months after Felix Tshisekedi’s controversial election as president.

Who is Moïse Katumbi, and why has he returned?

Moïse Katumbi is one of the richest persons in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – and a political force to be reckoned with. A self-made man, he accumulated his wealth running mining and transport companies in the southern Katanga province. He is popular in Katanga, in part because he is president of a successful football team, Tout Puissant Mazembe, based in the provincial capital Lubumbashi.

Katumbi first fled the DRC to neighbouring Zambia in the chaos of the civil war in the 1990s. In the early 2000s, President Joseph Kabila, who had succeeded his father, Laurent, after his assassination in 2001, invited Katumbi back to the country to help him fix Katanga’s mining sector. Katumbi chose to return on 11 July 2003, to coincide with the date when the state of Katanga declared its short-lived independence – a period many Katangais still recall with nostalgia.

His political career took off in 2007 when he was elected Katanga’s governor. He boosted his popularity by contributing to the province’s economic development – targeting corruption, encouraging foreign investment and improving infrastructure. For years, he was a member of Joseph Kabila’s People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy. In the summer of 2015, however, he had a falling-out with Kabila after trying and failing to dissuade the former president from seeking a third term. (The Congolese constitution bound Kabila to a maximum of two terms, but he long sought ways to overcome this limitation.) In September of that year, Katumbi resigned as governor.

Many Congolese expected him to run for president in elections initially scheduled for November 2016. But in May, after the government accused Katumbi of hiring mercenaries in a coup plot, he fled the country again, this time to Belgium. He subsequently was convicted in absentia on separate property fraud allegations and sentenced to three years in jail. Katumbi has consistently denied all charges, calling them politicised. In August 2018, he tried to re-enter the DRC in order to submit his candidacy for president in polls that Kabila, after several delays, had finally slated for that December. The government denied him entry.

The legislative balance of power could shift further were FCC deputies to defect, whether out of political opportunism or for other reasons.

Ultimately, under pressure from African and Western governments, Kabila decided not to run for a third term. Instead, he sought to handpick his successor. That proved no easy feat. His preferred candidate, Ramazani Shadary, failed to win at the polls and a parallel vote count, widely regarded as credible, suggested that Martin Fayulu, an opposition politician backed by Katumbi, had prevailed in a landslide. Yet the Electoral Commission declared Félix Tshisekedi, another opposition figure, the winner. Kabila appears to have engineered victory for Tshisekedi, whom he viewed as less dangerous to his interests than Fayulu; Kabila and Tshisekedi reportedly struck an informal deal pursuant to which the new president gave his predecessor unspecified assurances about his future.

Under Tshisekedi, the DRC’s political space is opening up. In his inaugural speech he pledged to free political prisoners, close the secret police’s detention centres and allow exiled politicians to return. He has made some progress toward fulfilling all these promises. Katumbi has been one beneficiary: in late April, the Court of Cassation, the DRC’s supreme court of appeals, overturned the property fraud conviction. In May, prosecutors also dropped the coup plot investigation, paving the way for Katumbi’s return.

In keeping with his proclivity for historically resonant dates, he chose 20 May for his return to Lubumbashi, three years to the day since his exile, and a national holiday under the DRC’s long-time president, Joseph-Desiré Mobutu (1965-1997). Dressed in white – a colour he chose to symbolise peace – Katumbi arrived in Lubumbashi, where he was welcomed by tens of thousands of supporters, also wearing white, who proceeded to rally peacefully in the city centre. National and local media covered the homecoming favourably.

What impact will his return have on the DRC’s politics?

Tshisekedi could use an ally in pursuing his ambitious political agenda, and Katumbi arguably fits the bill.

The new president is struggling in the face of resistance by Kabila, who remains an important power behind the scenes. Though Kabila’s intended successor Shadary lost the presidential election, his Common Front for Congo (FCC) coalition won a parliamentary majority in the legislative contests, the results of which were equally disputed. The FCC’s several constituent groups control almost three quarters – 346 of 500 – of the National Assembly seats and the constitution mandates that the prime minister hail from the parliamentary majority’s ranks. It took Kabila and Tshisekedi four months to settle on a candidate before finally naming Sylvestre Ilunga Ilunkamba, a member of Kabila’s party and experienced politician, on the day of Katumbi’s return, diverting some attention from events in Lubumbashi.

Although Tshisekedi cannot come close to challenging the FCC’s majority even if he forges an alliance with Katumbi, he could nonetheless strengthen his position. Katumbi’s Ensemble is the largest opposition coalition, with at least 66 seats, and Tshisekedi’s Heading for Change alliance has at least 47. (Both could gain additional seats in Beni, Butembo and Yumbi where polls were postponed due to security concerns.) Moreover, the legislative balance of power could shift further were FCC deputies to defect, whether out of political opportunism or for other reasons.

In short, a Tshisekedi-Katumbi alliance might not carry immediate benefits for the new president but it would help balance Kabila’s overwhelming influence. Yet, although it would be more natural than his tense “marriage of convenience” (as press outlets have called it) with Kabila, it would represent a break from the recent past.

Katumbi was welcomed in Lubumbashi by tens of thousands of supporters, who proceeded to a peaceful rally in the city centre. Lubumbashi, 20 May 2019. CRISISGROUP/Paul Kaboba

Indeed, in a sign of friction between the two men, Katumbi backed Tshisekedi’s rival Fayulu in the 2018 presidential race. Along with other major opposition leaders, Katumbi and Tshisekedi had formed a coalition called Lamuka (“Wake Up”, in Lingala) to contest the elections. Lamuka decided to throw its weight behind the relatively unknown Fayulu as its presidential candidate. But Tshisekedi broke ranks shortly after the coalition was formed, under pressure from his party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress, to run separately. Fayulu, convinced that he was robbed of his victory, has maintained his call for new elections and for Tshisekedi’s resignation.

In an interview with Crisis Group on 15 May, Katumbi said he saw no point in being too hard on Tshisekedi. “The enemy of the population is not the one who won the elections, but the one who organised them”, he explained. While refraining from overtly supporting Tshisekedi, he praised the new president for his work to protect freedom of expression. Referring to the Court of Cassation decision, he maintained his innocence and rejected the idea that the court’s decision to rescind his conviction was politically motivated. Importantly, he stressed the importance of separating Tshisekedi from Kabila and avoiding pushing the president into his predecessor’s arms. He sounded the same note while addressing the crowd in Lubumbashi on 20 May, when he urged Kabila to afford his successor some space, using the metaphorical phrase “un véhicule ne peut pas avoir deux chauffeurs (a car can’t have two drivers)”.

What does Katumbi’s return mean for the Congolese opposition?

With Katumbi now serving as its rotating head, Lamuka is still projecting a united front. But it is unclear how long this can hold. The coalition featured Katumbi’s return prominently on Twitter, and in interviews announcing his return he reaffirmed his commitment to the opposition coalition. He likewise has made clear that he would not join the government. Still, when he spoke to Crisis Group, Katumbi said he has advised Fayulu to forget the past and move forward, because his demand for new elections is untenable. He cited this stance as evidence that he is “un homme pragmatique (a pragmatic man)”.

Lamuka’s other major figure is Jean-Pierre Bemba, Kabila’s vice president from 2003-2006. Bemba was also barred from running in 2018 and likely continues to harbour presidential ambitions. On 13 May, with Fayulu by her side, Eve Bazaiba, secretary general of Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of the Congo, announced that Bemba would also be returning to the DRC within three weeks. His homecoming may further strain the coalition. Like Katumbi, he will tour the DRC’s 26 provinces in the coming months. Whether he will do so with Katumbi or with Fayulu has not been confirmed.

The DRC’s political landscape remains fractured, with shifting alliances and ongoing tactical manoeuvring. This presents the president with a dilemma: enjoying only a relatively weak base of support, he will need to look to the opposition to bolster his presidency’s stability; yet the main opposition figures also have their own ambitions and, if given significant space, could quickly become powerful contenders in the 2023 election.