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Les FDLR doivent desarmer
Les FDLR doivent desarmer
Moïse Katumbi’s Return Portends Shifting Alliances in Congolese Politics
Moïse Katumbi’s Return Portends Shifting Alliances in Congolese Politics
Op-Ed / Africa

Les FDLR doivent desarmer

Originally published in Le Soir

Pourchassé par les armées du Congo (RDC) et du Rwanda et isolé politiquement par la communauté internationale, le groupe rebelle Hutu rwandais des Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR) a entamé depuis janvier 2009 une campagne de représailles massives contre la population des provinces du Kivu. Après 15 années de présence armée au Congo, Ignace Murwanashyaka, le président des FDLR qui réside en Allemagne, a conduit ses combattants dans une impasse politique et stratégique totale.

Le 6 août dernier, le président rwandais Paul Kagame était à Goma, la capitale du Nord-Kivu, pour s’entretenir avec son homologue congolais Joseph Kabila de coopération économique régionale et des suites de la campagne militaire que leurs forces avaient menée conjointement contre les FDLR au début de l’année. Alors que les deux anciens adversaires discutaient dans un hôtel de la ville, l’armée congolaise conduisait l’opération Kimia II à travers le Nord et le Sud-Kivu, pour désarmer les quelque 6.000 combattants restant des FDLR. En Europe, des diplomates étudiaient de nouvelles approches juridiques pour sanctionner les dirigeants du mouvement vivant dans leur pays, complices des violations des droits de l’homme commises par leurs troupes au Congo.

La situation actuelle des FDLR offre un contraste saisissant avec celle qui prévalait en 2002, lorsque le groupe rebelle bénéficiait encore du soutien officiel du gouvernement congolais.

A cette époque, les 15.000 à 20.000 combattants des FDLR constituaient une force d’appoint essentielle pour Kinshasa, dans son bras de fer permanent avec Kigali. Les dirigeants du mouvement, dont certains avaient participé au génocide de 1994 avant de se réfugier au Congo, tentaient d’imposer par la force leur retour politique au Rwanda. Malgré leur idéologie révisionniste et leur recours à la lutte armée, ils constituaient alors toujours des interlocuteurs légitimes aux yeux de membres modérés de l’opposition rwandaise en exil. Sur le terrain, les FDLR bénéficiaient également de la collaboration de certains Congolais, reprochant au Rwanda son occupation et les crimes de guerre commis contre les populations civiles pendant les deux guerres de 1996-1997 et de 1998-2003.

Suite à l’accord de paix de Pretoria de juillet 2002 qui contraint Kabila à mettre fin à l’alliance officielle entre Kinshasa et les FDLR, les membres du groupe armé rebelle n’ont plus eu les moyens militaires de combattre véritablement le régime de Kigali, comme en témoignait déjà l’échec cuisant de l’opération Oracle du Seigneur contre le Rwanda en mai-juin 2001. La hiérarchie des FDLR a donc maintenu ses combattants mobilisés, par l’espoir que la communauté internationale soutienne le concept de « dialogue inclusif interrwandais ». L’ouverture de ce dialogue, similaire au dialogue intercongolais de 2002 ayant conduit à la participation de divers chefs rebelles à un gouvernement de transition, aurait alors contraint Kagame à partager le pouvoir avec eux.

Aujourd’hui, la réalité est très différente de la propagande élaborée par la hiérarchie des FDLR pour motiver ses combattants. L’accumulation des témoignages documentant depuis sept ans la systématisation des crimes commis contre les populations civiles démontre que le groupe n’est pas un mouvement d’opposition armé en exil, mais une organisation criminelle d’occupation. Les années de fuite au Congo ont transformé le mouvement rebelle en une organisation tout entière vouée au pillage des ressources naturelles du Kivu.

Pour imposer leur contrôle aux populations locales, les FDLR multiplient régulièrement les atrocités, dont les massacres et les viols collectifs. Lors de l’opération Umoja Wetu menée par la coalition Rwanda-Congo de janvier à février 2009, les villageois du Nord-Kivu ont spontanément collaboré avec l’armée rwandaise. Surpris et furieux de ce qu’ils ont considéré être une trahison, les responsables du mouvement ont alors ordonné une campagne de représailles contre les civils congolais. Malgré les violations des droits de l’homme imputables aux soldats congolais, ce sont les rebelles rwandais qui portent la responsabilité principale des 800.000 nouveaux déplacés congolais observés depuis le début de l’année par les Nations unies au Kivu.

In fine, en dépit des lacunes démocratiques graves du régime rwandais, aucun projet politique ne saurait justifier cet asservissement des populations congolaises. L’absence de résultats significatifs obtenus par Umoja Wetu ou Kimia II démontre moins la capacité de résistance opérationnelle des FDLR aux tentatives de désarmement forcé que l’obstination de leurs responsables politiques à refuser la réalité de leur isolement et la dégradation considérable de leur situation stratégique ces derniers mois.

Les dirigeants des FDLR ne reprendront pas le pouvoir à Kigali par la force et aucun acteur extérieur n’imposera à Kagame leur présence dans un gouvernement de transition. La seule option des combattants du groupe rebelle réside dans le désarmement et leur réintégration à la vie civile au Rwanda ou dans un pays tiers.

En refusant d’admettre l’échec irrémédiable de son projet politique, Ignace Murwanashyaka retient en otage la population des Kivu de même que l’ensemble des combattants voulant désarmer. Il lui faut désormais tirer les conséquences de son isolement et de ses échecs, mettre fin à cette guerre qui n’a pas de sens ou tôt ou tard, assumer les conséquences judiciaires de ses actes.
 

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.