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Understanding the New U.S. Terrorism Designations in Africa
Understanding the New U.S. Terrorism Designations in Africa
Report 63 / Africa

Les Rebelles Hutu Rwandais Au Congo

Alors qu’un gouvernement de transition est attendu pour juin 2003 en République démocratique du Congo (RDC), le programme de désarmement volontaire et démobilisation, rapatriement, réinstallation et réintégration (DDRRR) opéré par la Mission de l’Organisation des Nations unies au Congo (MONUC), est au point mort.

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Synthèse

Alors qu’un gouvernement de transition est attendu pour juin 2003 en République Démocratique du Congo (RDC), le programme de désarmement volontaire et démobilisation, rapatriement, réinstallation et réintégration (DDRRR)[fn]Les concepts de désarmement et réintégration englobent à eux seuls les idées contenues dans le terme de DDRRR. Pour plus de simplicité, nous utiliserons donc l’abréviation DR au lieu de DDRRR dans ce rapport et conseillerons aux lectures de faire ainsi.Hide Footnote  opéré par la Mission de l’Organisation des Nations Unies au Congo (MONUC), est au point mort. Autorisée par une résolution du Conseil de sécurité le 8 novembre 2001 à se déployer à l’est de la RDC, la MONUC n’a rapatrié que quelques centaines d’ex – rebelles hutu rwandais et n’a ouvert qu’un seul centre de regroupement à Lubéro au Nord Kivu. La participation d’observateurs sud-africains au mécanisme de vérification (TPVM) établi en juillet 2002 lors de la signature de l’accord bilatéral Rwanda-RDC n’a rien changé à ce bilan. Jusqu’à présent la MONUC n’a déployé aucune force conséquente ou construit de programme de désarmement crédible à l’est du Congo.

Plusieurs facteurs expliquent cet échec. En premier lieu, le contexte sécuritaire et politique est peu propice au déploiement d’une force des Nations unies – qui sont elles-mêmes désorganisées et ont besoin d’un nouveau mandat et de nouvelles structures - dans les territoires contrôlés par le Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie (RCD) et d’autres alliés du Rwanda et de l’Ouganda. La multiplication des groupes armés et Seigneurs de guerre en contact avec les groupes hutu (FDLR) et l’hostilité ouverte de la rébellion du RCD rendent difficile le désarmement d’une force hostile d’un minimum de 15 000 hommes, aguerris par plus de huit ans de combats sur un terrain d’opération d’environ 150 000 km2. Mais surtout, le maintien d’une option militaire par le Rwanda et la RDC et les tensions actuelles entre le Rwanda et l’Ouganda qui ont mené à l’intensification des conflits en province d’Ituri réduisent les espoirs de démobilisation de la rébellion rwandaise. Le gouvernement de Kinshasa a repris son soutien aux FDLR en février 2003, après un arrêt de trois mois. La permanence des alliances entre groupes hutu et Mai Mai a permis à ceux ci de maintenir leur capacité militaire.

En second lieu, le DR souffre d’une faille conceptuelle. Jusqu’à aujourd’hui le mandat de la MONUC et l’accord de Pretoria de juillet 2002 traitent le désarmement comme un problème strictement sécuritaire et surtout strictement congolais. La dimension politique interne, rwando-rwandaise, de la question n’a jamais été sérieusement examinée. Ni la MONUC, ni la TPVM n’ont engagé de vrais contacts avec la rébellion à désarmer, les FDLR. Aucun acteur international n’a non plus officiellement fait le lien entre le DR des FDLR en RDC et une nécessaire politique d’ouverture et de réconciliation au Rwanda.

La seule alternative au désarmement volontaire est le désarmement de force. Cette option a été tentée, sans succès. Il n’y a pas de solution militaire au problème des FDLR. Les Forces Rwandaises de Défense (FRD, ex-Armée Patriotique Rwandaise) ne sont jamais parvenues à venir à bout des FDLR en six ans de présence militaire au Nord et Sud Kivu et l’Etat-Major des FDLR refuse le processus de désarmement volontaire. L’attaque du camp militaire de Kamina au Katanga par les Forces armées congolaises (FAC) et le rapatriement forcé de huit civils membres de son mouvement par le mécanisme de vérification le 1 novembre 2002 l’a conduit à menacer de représailles l’Afrique du sud et la MONUC. Il est désormais nécessaire d’engager des efforts diplomatiques plus marqués qui prennent en compte les préoccupations sécuritaires, politiques et économiques des troupes non-génocidaires FDLR, y compris avec le gouvernement du Rwanda ainsi qu’entre le Rwanda et la RDC.

Loin de se réduire, le problème de l’opposition rwandaise ne fait que se compliquer. Les FDLR sont devenus membres de la concertation permanente de l’opposition démocratique rwandaise (CPODR) regroupant la quasi-totalité des partis d’opposition rwandais en exil – dont des représentants de Tutsi rescapés du génocide-, et ils appellent à la suspension du calendrier de fin de transition, et dénoncent la dérive autoritaire du FPR. En attendant, son Etat-Major réorganise ses troupes, et prépare des opérations de déstabilisation en cas d’échec de cette stratégie politique. De son côté le gouvernement rwandais rejette catégoriquement toute reconnaissance et tout dialogue avec une opposition qu’il considère comme génocidaire et «terroriste», et toute interférence internationale dans un problème qu’il considère comme interne. Il poursuit son programme de sortie de transition, en éliminant toute opposition politique interne avant les élections de juillet 2003 et en redéployant des troupes au Congo sous la couverture du RCD. Cette politique répressive permet aux opposants en exil d’accroître leur audience à l’intérieur du pays et ne fait qu’accroître les tensions.

Aujourd’hui, la tentation est grande pour la MONUC de compter sur l’inclusion des alliés du Rwanda dans le gouvernement de transition en RDC pour mener à bien le DR au Congo et de concentrer son action sur un soutien à la transition politique à Kinshasa. Mais ce calcul est faux. D’abord, malgré les perspectives de gouvernement de coalition, les alliés du Rwanda poursuivent les combats sur le terrain et le gouvernement de Kabila continue d’aider les FDLR. C’est cette réalité que la MONUC doit affronter avant d’espérer qu’un gouvernement de coalition puisse mener un vrai DR. La MONUC doit renforcer ses efforts diplomatiques et assurer un vrai maintien de la paix à l’est et au nord est, là où les combats se sont déroulés.

Comme on le voit actuellement en Ituri, l’impuissance de la MONUC est un handicap dramatique pour le processus de paix congolais. La  MONUC doit immédiatement déployer une force de réaction rapide pour rétablir l’ordre et éviter d’autres massacres de civils qu’elle a déjà le mandat de protéger. Elle a aussi besoin d’une force militaire crédible pour empêcher les FDLR de déstabiliser le Rwanda et pour soutenir ses efforts diplomatiques en vue du désarmement volontaire. Si la guerre ne s’arrête pas à l’est, le nouveau gouvernement du Congo perdra vite toute crédibilité et toute l’entreprise de la MONUC deviendra caduque.

Il est vital que le Conseil de sécurité des Nations Unies saisisse l’opportunité de la mise en place du gouvernement de transition en RDC pour impulser une nouvelle dynamique aux opérations de DR qui ont essentiellement souffert d’un contexte défavorable et d’un manque de leadership politique. La MONUC doit terminer son déploiement à l’est et remplir ses engagements vis à vis de ce programme. Ceci devrait permettre de soutenir le gouvernement de transition dans la restauration de son autorité à travers le pays, d’isoler et surveiller les FDLR tout en prenant contact avec eux, et finalement de proposer un processus de désarmement et réintégration crédible. Le gouvernement sud-africain et le Représentant spécial du Secrétaire général doivent travailler ensemble pour transformer l’accord de Pretoria en un accord de paix durable et complet entre la RDC et le Rwanda, et recevoir un mandat du Conseil de sécurité pour mener des consultations avec la rébellion hutu rwandaise à désarmer ainsi que le gouvernement du Rwanda. La communauté internationale dans son ensemble doit convaincre le gouvernement rwandais que la solution pour stopper la spirale qui s’enclenche est une ouverture politique préalablement soumise à un véritable débat national.

Nairobi/Bruxelles, 23 mai 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