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Democratic Republic of Congo: The Democratization of Militarized Politics



More than ten years after the official conclusion of the peace process, more armed groups are operating in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo than during the two Congo Wars (1996–1997, 1998–2003), their numbers showing a steady increase over the past few years. However, the nature of armed mobilization is changing. Currently emerging groups (which exist alongside longer-standing insurgencies) are no longer large-scale, foreign-supported rebel movements or broad coalitions of rural-based nationalist self-defense groups, even if their commanders often started their military career in these predecessor armed movements. Rather, they represent a multitude of locally rooted and small-scale armed groups, some of which count no more than ten to twenty fighters. The strong local rootedness of these smaller- scale armed groups, and the ongoing conflicts and competition between the civilian networks of which they are a part, have created both the incentives and the possibilities for local authorities and other local elites to draw upon armed actors to reinforce their power position. Consequently, as we argue in this chapter, militarized politics has become accessible to a broadening range of actors. Hence, it has become “democratized” in the sense of drawing in more, but lower-level politico-military entrepreneurs, reflecting how violence as a strategy has become more accessible.
Democratic Republic of Congo: The Democratization
of Militarized Politics
Koen Vlassenroot and Judith Verweijen
Chapter 6 of Morten Bøås and Kevin Dunn (eds.) Africa’s Insurgents. Navigating an
Evolving Landscape (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner), pp. 99–118
More than ten years after the official conclusion of the peace process, more armed groups are
operating in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo than during the two Congo Wars (19961997,
19982003), their numbers showing a steady increase over the past few years. However, the
nature of armed mobilization is changing. Currently emerging groups (which exist alongside
longer-standing insurgencies) are no longer large-scale, foreign-supported rebel movements or
broad coalitions of rural-based nationalist self-defense groups, even if their commanders often
started their military career in these predecessor armed movements. Rather, they represent a
multitude of locally rooted and small-scale armed groups, some of which count no more than ten
to twenty fighters. The extreme variety of these groups in terms of incentives, social
embeddedness, political connectedness, and conduct has produced a particularly fragmented
military landscape (Stearns and Vogel 2015). What explains this persistent fragmentation of
armed groups after the conclusion of a peace agreement in 2003 and the huge diversity in
expressions of military resistance and armed mobilization?
Present-day armed mobilization in eastern Congo is the result of many different factors. In this
chapter, we argue that these can be divided into three broad, overlapping categories. The first is
local dynamics of conflict and insecurity. A multitude of unresolved conflicts exist around (access
to) resources (including land), citizenship, and local authority and identity, which are heavily
shaped by the specific features of the Congolese state apparatus and related governance
frameworks (Autesserre 2010). Resulting claims are often centered on discourses of
“autochthony,” communal rights, self-defense, and protection (Bøås and Dunn 2013). Local
conflicts are aggravated by rampant insecurity resulting from foreign or Congolese armed group
presence, and the activities of abusive government forces that are deeply distrusted (Vogel 2014;
Verweijen 2016a). The second category of factors are militarized power games between elite
networks that link local to provincial, national, and regional political actors, and which are
influenced by broader political, military, and economic processes, such as electoral dynamics or
army restructuring (Stearns 2012a; Stearns, Verweijen, and Eriksson Baaz 2013). A final category
of factors contributing to armed mobilization relates to the effects of national and international
policies aimed at bringing peace. Certain badly designed strategies to deal with armed groups,
including negotiations providing pay-offs, rebel-military integration and ill-coordinated military
operations, and the lack of response to drivers of local conflict, have set in motion new claims to
power and new protection strategies. These claims and strategies have given a new impetus to
armed mobilization or have been an additional incentive to revive or reinforce existing armed
structures (Vlassenroot and Raeymaekers 2009; Eriksson Baaz and Verweijen 2013a).
While a ceasefire for armed groups in the provinces of North and South Kivu presented in March
2009 was signed by around 20 armed groups, encompassing the vast majority of then-active
factions (Stearns, Verweijen, and Eriksson Baaz 2013), a count held at the end of 2015 identified
more than 70 groups in the Kivu provinces alone (Stearns and Vogel 2015), hence excluding the
groups operating in other provinces such as Ituri, Haut-Uélé, and Tanganyika. The presence of
such a multitude of armed factions has led to a very fragmented politico-military landscape
characterized by constantly shifting alliances and cleavages. Yet, the rising number of armed
groups seems not to have been accompanied by an increase in the overall number of combatants,
although it is difficult to draw conclusions on this due to the lack of reliable estimates. In addition,
the success of armed groups seems related not as much to their military capacity or ability to
control territory as to their skills in developing ties to local, national, and regional elites and
The strong local rootedness of these smaller- scale armed groups, and the ongoing conflicts and
competition between the civilian networks of which they are a part, have created both the
incentives and the possibilities for local authorities and other local elites to draw upon armed
actors to reinforce their power position. Consequently, as we argue in this chapter, militarized
politics has become accessible to a broadening range of actors. Hence, it has become
“democratized” in the sense of drawing in more, but lower-level politico-military entrepreneurs,
reflecting how violence as a strategy has become more accessible. This does not mean that armed
mobilization is only driven by local dynamics. While there has indeed been a decrease in the
involvement of national governments and elites from neighboring countries since 2013, a trend
that might well be reversed in the future, national-level politicians continue to play a role in armed
mobilization, including via liaising with the lower-level political actors that are currently
important allies of armed groups. Furthermore, the practices of these local actors are strongly
shaped by national-level policies and events, such as military integration and electoral processes.
Therefore, the national domain continues to be a crucial level of analysis for understanding armed
Offering an overview of the history of armed mobilization from the precolonial period to the
present, this contribution provides the background to an understanding of the post-settlement
process of military fragmentation in eastern Congo. The chapter specifically illustrates how after
the adoption of a peace accord in 2003, armed groups have continued to proliferate, and how the
politico-military landscape has been fragmenting to an extreme degree in recent years. The
analysis draws on long-term ethnographic fieldwork, including semi-structured individual and
group interviews, focus group discussions, and observations carried out between 1997 and 2016.
Interviews were conducted with different categories of informants, including political authorities,
civil society organizations, customary chiefs, international observers, representatives of security
services, and armed group leaderships and combatants.
Historical Roots: Armed Rebellion from Precolonial Times to the 1960s
Armed rebellion has a long trajectory in eastern Congo. Most armed groups currently operating in
the area have their direct origins in the two Congo Wars and the turbulent period leading up to
them, or can be considered as a consequence of the failures of the peace process that followed.
Present-day armed mobilization, however, also continues to be inspired or shaped by historical
imaginaries of armed mobilization, deeply rooted (often ethnically framed) antagonisms, and
long-standing conflict dynamics. For instance, during an interview with the vice president of the
political branch of the Mayi-Mayi Yakotumba, a Bembe armed group operating in Fizi (South
Kivu), he emphasized that the group places itself in a long tradition of (Bembe) resistance against
imperialism, colonialism, and government oppression dating back to the nineteenth century
uprising against the Arab slave trade near Baraka (interview, Baraka, March 2011).
Indeed, the emergence of armed rebellion in the region goes back to the period when Arab Swahili
traders instituted militias as part of their slave raids, provoking the first forms of armed local
resistance. More important, however, were the different forms of resistance against brutal and
extractive colonial policies, including forced labor and heavy taxation. Customary chiefs, who had
a rather ambiguous position toward the colonial rulers, played an important role in this resistance.
While chiefs’ integration into the territorial and bureaucratic organization of the colony confirmed
their political power, some resisted colonial domination. One of these was the mwami (chief)
Rutaganda in Kabare (South Kivu), who tried to obstruct the growing impact of the colonial
administration. This triggered an outbreak of armed resistance in 1902, which would locally
become known as the oku lwa Bene Mwa Koke (the war against the sons of Mwa Koke). The
conflict erupted after a Belgian colonial administrator was killed, which was followed by two
years of reprisals. The mwami was forced into hiding until a pact was signed, but new tensions
erupted soon after (Njangu Canda 1985; Vlassenroot 2013).
Other instances of rural resistance against the colonial order include the Nyabingi revolts in
Rutshuru between 1910 and 1930 (Packard 1982), the Kitawala revolt led by Bushiri Lungundu in
Walikale in 1944 (Lovens1974), and the Binji-Binji revolt in Bushi in 1931 (Njangu Canda 1976).
Many of these uprisings had a millenarian and strong anticolonial character. For instance, the
Binji-Binji insurrection derived its strength from the mobilization of rites, initiations, and the cult
of invulnerability, all used to reinforce the promise of liberation from foreign occupation. It was
sparked by the colonial authorities’ punishment of a local plantation worker, who as a
consequence fled the area. When he returned, he was speaking the language of Lyangombe, a
magician who had lived in the region in the sixteenth century and taught a religiously inspired
ideology centered on equity between people. Once possessed by Lyangombe’s spirit, he was
called Binji-Binji and announced the invasion of a huge swarm of grasshoppers. He also promised
the arrival of new herds of cattle, which would be distributed equally among the peasant
population (Njangu Canda 1976).
In the early 1960s, the rather tumultuous conditions of decolonization would eventually trigger
large-scale rebellion in several parts of the country, as rival ideologies and clashing political
aspirations caused intensified political competition and divisions. In the east, these rebellions
would be a turning point in local politics, as they reinforced ethnic affiliation as a key ingredient
of political mobilization and armed recruitment. In North Kivu, ethnic antagonisms focused both
on political representation and access to land, and eventually led to what would be known as the
Kinyarwanda War (19621965) (Mathieu and Tsongo 1998; Stearns 2012b). At the origins of this
war was the refusal by self-styled “autochthonous” communities to grant immigrant communities
of Rwandan origin (Banyarwanda) access to customary power (and thus the right to distribute
land). At the same time, it was feared that the demographic majority these immigrants formed
together with Kinyarwanda-speaking groups having arrived in precolonial times would easily lead
to political power once elections were held. These tensions have their roots in the colonial era,
when the chefferie (customary chiefdom) of Gishari was created to host Banyarwanda
communities and respond to their territorial claims. Yet, in 1957, control over this territory was
given back to the Hunde community, who considered themselves indigenous to the area. After
independence, exclusion campaigns targeting the Banyarwanda eventually sparked several peaks
of overt violence. In 1962, armed Banyarwanda attacked Hunde police stations in Masisi. One
year later, all Banyarwanda occupying political positions were replaced by Hunde politicians
(Mathieu and Tsongo 1998). The results of the 1965 legislative and provincial elections, which
under dubious circumstances had favored Hunde politicians over Banyarwanda candidates,
heralded a new episode of violence. Strikingly, the provincial authorities of North Kivu saw this
violence as stemming from the leftist rebellions that had started in the west of the country but
eventually also gained ground in the east, and accused the Banyarwanda of supporting this
revolutionary movement. This assumed link explains why the provincial assembly of North Kivu
voted for a resolution in October 1965 that called for the expulsion of all Banyarwanda (Mathieu
and Tsongo 1998). Even if the situation would soon calm down, these events further deepened
ethnic antagonism and consolidated ethnically defined access to land and political representation
as the crucial factors of local political struggle and future armed mobilization.
In the same period, radical nationalist and anti-imperialist insurgent movements that had spread
throughout the country eventually also took root in the Kivus, where they instigated the Simba
rebellion. The rebellion’s success in the east, however, was mostly conditioned by local and
regional agendas (Vlassenroot 2013). Prior to the start of the Simba insurgency, local Fuliiru
leaders in Uvira (South Kivu) had organized a number of protests against customary chiefs and the
provincial government, and called for the modernization of the administration. When they got in
touch with nationalist rebel leaderships that had gone into exile, they started training local recruits
and initiated a military campaign (Verhaegen 1966). The resulting Simba movement quickly took
control over large parts of the Kivus, Maniema, northern Katanga, and Orientale province.
References to spiritual beliefs and practices had to compensate for limited military capacity and
organization, and to reinforce combatants’ discipline and courage. The success of the Simba
would be short-lived though, due to both internal fragmentation and effective counterinsurgency
by a coalition of the Congolese army and mercenaries that was heavily propped up with foreign
military assistance (Gérard-Libois and Verhaegen 1966). In 1966, the movement was decisively
defeated, even if pockets of resistance remained active around Fizi, with Laurent-Désiré Kabila as
the key rebel leader, and in the Ruwenzori Mountains (North Kivu).
In the Fizi/Uvira region of South Kivu, the rebellion was riven by interethnic rivalries between its
two core communities, the Fuliiru and the Bembe, which undermined its internal cohesion. The
Bembe saw the Fuliiru as guided only by their own local agendas, unconcerned with revolutionary
ideology; the Fuliiru, on the other hand, considered the Bembe arrogant and expansionist
(Vlassenroot 2013). The rebellion also sparked tensions between the Banyamulenge (Congolese
Tutsi from Rwandan descent living in South Kivu) and other communities. The military offensive
by the government forces, the Armée Nationale Congolaise (ANC), pushed the Simba rebellion
into the Hauts Plateaux mountains, where it started raiding cattle and gradually transformed into
an ethnomilitary campaign against the Banyamulenge, a cattle-herding community. The
Banyamulenge had never felt attracted by the revolutionary discourse of the Simba and saw no
other option than to support the ANC (Muzuri 1983). This positioning further complicated local
ethnic relations and caused violence to become framed in ethnic terms. In South Kivu, memories
of this violence became crucial points of reference in future political competition, as ethnic
antagonisms easily translated into political claims (Vlassenroot 2002).
Ethnic Agendas and Political Turmoil in the 1990s
It was not until the announcement of a democratization process by President Mobutu Sese Seko in
1990, however, that armed mobilization would return to the Kivus. This process sparked intense
competition between Mobutu’s ruling elite and a new class of claimants to political power. In the
provinces of Katanga and the Kivus, ethnic antagonisms were skillfully exploited by Mobutu and
his allies to weaken local political opponents and compromise the mobilizing capacity of local
civil society movements, which had gained high levels of popularity. In North Kivu, contention
again centered on the citizenship status of Banyarwanda communities.Since 1981, these
communities had formally been excluded from citizenship, yet they continued to claim their
rights. In an attempt to bar the Banyarwanda from political power, customary chiefs and political
elites mobilized autochthonous populations against them, drawing on existing disputes around
land and customary power. In response, the Banyarwanda started to organize themselves in self
defense groups (Mamdani 1998). In 1993, hate speeches by local politicians finally triggered
large-scale violence by armed groups in Walikale and Masisi (North Kivu), killing and displacing
thousands of people. This conflict was but a prelude to further violence, of which Masisi would
become one of the epicenters (Mathieu and Tsongo 1999).
Several of the rural self-defense groups that emerged in the early 1990s also started to challenge
Mobutu’s political order. Examples include the Batiri (Masisi), the Katuku (Walikale-Kalehe), the
Ngilima (Beni-Lubero), and the Kasindiens (Rwenzori, in Beni). Most of these groups had direct
links with local politicians, authorities, and businesspeople, who mobilized them to support their
attempts to reinforce political, customary, or economic power. But they were also a clear symptom
of a political system that was near a total collapse. Increasing political fragmentation, economic
crisis, and the breakdown of the educational system all explain the popularity of these groups
among local youth, who saw them as an opportunity to escape marginalization and exclusion. At
the same time, these groups expressed the need to end state extortion and exploitation and could
be considered as alternative structures of protection and political and social control based on
ethnic affiliation (Vlassenroot and Van Acker 2001). Some of these groups would transform into
key military forces during the two Congo Wars, and several of their commanders would also take
up a leading role in the post-settlement military and political landscape.
The Two Congo Wars, 19962003
The violence in North Kivu in 1993 was soon followed by the arrival of hundreds of thousands of
Burundian refugees in South Kivu, and more than one million Rwandan refugees in both Kivu
provinces the following year. These refugees were intermingled with thousands of Interahamwe
members (a youth militia that had actively participated in the genocide in 1994) and soldiers from
the defeated Rwandan government forces. Their presence in the Kivus further intensified local
ethnic polarization and militarization. Based in refugee camps, they regrouped militarily and
started to launch cross-border attacks on Rwanda. This was the direct cause for the creation of a
regionally supported insurgency, the Alliance des Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du
Congo-Zaïre (AFDL), which officially launched its first operations, aimed at dismantling the
refugee camps, in October 1996 (Lanottte 2003). Led by the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA), the
armed forces of the new Tutsi-led Rwandan regime that had taken over after the genocide, the
AFDL ousted Mobutu from power in less than eight months. Subsequently, old-time Congolese
rebel Laurent-Désiré Kabila, who had gradually strengthened his position within the rebel
movement, took over the country’s presidency. Aside from attracting recruits itself, the AFDL
campaign also provoked other armed mobilizations in the Kivus. Particularly, the presence of
large numbers of Banyamulenge and Banyarwanda in the AFDL, as well as the military
dominance of the Tutsi-led Rwandan government, caused fears among self-styled autochthonous
populations. This explains why some rural-based armed groups, which were increasingly called
“Mayi-Mayi” groups, had a rather ambiguous position toward the AFDL. One example is the
group led by Padiri Bulenda, which operated in the Bunyakiri area (South Kivu). While providing
support to the struggle against Mobutu, part of the group’s combatants remained in their area of
origin, refusing to follow the AFDL campaign toward Kinshasa. Driven by a patriotic sentiment to
fight against the presence of Rwandan forces on Congolese territory, these combatants would
eventually turn against Kabila’s force. Being deeply embedded into local histories, networks, and
conflicts, however, they were not able to transcend local agendas or build up strong military
capacity (Hoffmann 2015).
This would drastically change after the start of the Second Congo War in August 1998. A military
campaign launched by the Rwanda and Uganda-backed Rassemblement Congolais pour la
Démocratie (RCD) against President Laurent-Désiré Kabila was the trigger for the creation of new
armed groups and the further expansion of existing ones. The RCD was very successful in
establishing control over strategic areas such as urban centers and mining sites, yet would quickly
be prone to internal divisions and fragmentation. Out of patriotic sentiment and in reaction to a
number of massacres committed by the RCD, rural armed groups started challenging RCD
positions. Some of these groups were rather successful and eventually started to receive various
forms of support from the Kinshasa government and foreign armed groups. An example is the
group led by Padiri, which was the backbone of an umbrella force of different Mayi-Mayi groups
and became one of the key military actors in South Kivu. Like many other groups, it joined forces
with a Rwandan Hutu rebel group consisting of the former Rwandan government forces and allied
Interahamwe militias that had arrived in 1994, which was the forerunner of the current Forces
Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR). Other Mayi-Mayi groups also started to
develop ties to local strongmen, business elites, and political leaders, who tried to incorporate
them into their own networks, causing these groups to become deeply entrenched in local and
regional war economies (Stearns, Verweijen, and Eriksson Baaz 2013).
These commercial and supra-local linkages explain why certain armed groups, like that of Padiri
and to a lesser extent Dunia (based in Fizi, South Kivu), gradually evolved into better-structured
armed movements. Moreover, these ties explain why these groups got increasingly detached from
their original popular support bases, which were no longer crucial to their survival. To consolidate
their local power, certain armed group commanders established parallel administrations de
brousse (bush administrations) aimed at reinforcing their control over territories and populations
(Hoffmann and Vlassenroot 2014). Perhaps the most successful in this respect was again Padiri’s
group, which had clear ambitions to govern and referred to symbols of statehood to claim local
legitimacy (Hoffmann 2015). The group mixed demands for local self-rule with a discourse of the
defense of the nation-state against foreign aggression. The governance structure it imposed upon
local society echoed the administrative model of the Congolese state and heavily relied on
customary authorities, who were charged with the collection of effort de guerre (war effort)
contributions and the provision of civilian justice (Hoffmann 2015). As it proved difficult to
gather the necessary resources and effectively control administrative structures, Padiri’s members
were increasingly forced to fend for themselves, leading to acts of coercion, extortion, and abuses
against citizens that undermined the group’s legitimacy. As was the case for many other armed
groups, these dynamics explain why Padiri’s Mayi-Mayi increasingly turned against the
population they claimed to protect (Hoffmann and Vlassenroot 2014). The same dynamics also
illustrate how during the Second Congo War, eastern Congo gradually evolved into a patchwork
of rebel fiefdoms that experimented with notions of statehood and got deeply entrenched in local
and regional power struggles and war economies. These features would hamper the internationally
promoted peace process that gained speed at the start of the 2000s, and which would culminate in
the adoption of the Global and All-Inclusive Agreement in 2003.
From Conflict to Peace? A Volatile Transition, 20032006
The adoption of the final peace accord introduced a three-year-long transition process that had to
enable the successful demobilization of armed groups, the reunification of the country, the
creation of a new national army (called Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo,
FARDC) based on a merger of the ex-belligerent forces, and the institution of a new and
democratic governance framework. This transition process, however, had limited effect on
existing conditions in rural areas and even fostered new armed mobilization, as it opened space for
local dynamics of competition and contestation that became linked to larger political and military
processes. This would lead to a self-enforcing cycle of mobilization and military fragmentation.
Three factors explain the paradoxical effects of the peace process; first, its reliance on political
and military power-sharing as a strategy to accommodate former belligerents and the ways power-
sharing was managed; second, the introduction of electoral democracy; and third, misguided
policies by the international community, which failed to address the drivers of local conflicts and
armed mobilization. The emphasis on power-sharing as a strategy to accommodate (former)
belligerents led to constant negotiations aimed at integrating factions into the armed forces and the
politico-administrative apparatus. As the factions with the biggest capacity to inflict
violence obtained the most important positions, incentives were created for groups to retain or
rebuild military capacity (Tull and Mehler 2005). Furthermore, since army integration was an
open-ended process, commanders who were disappointed with the first wave of integration
sometimes returned to the bush in the hope of negotiating better ranks and positions in subsequent
rounds. This applied especially to Mayi-Mayi groups, who lacked the bargaining power, internal
cohesion, and access to Kinshasa-based patronage networks necessary to obtain influential and
lucrative positions in the newly created security services. Consequently, many integrated Mayi-
Mayi combatants ended up in a marginal position, without much prospect to enter a successful
military career (Eriksson Baaz and Verweijen 2013a). The few Mayi-Mayi commanders who did
get access to influential positions, such as General Padiri, were increasingly driven by self-interest
and ignored the demands of their former comrades, who often saw no better option than to return
to the bush. Other Mayi-Mayi commanders, such as Zabuloni in Uvira, preferred not to leave their
constituencies and kept their military structures in place. Not only did they believe that integration
into the national army would cut them off from their local economic and social networks, they
also feared for the security of their communities due to unresolved local grievances, deepened
ethnic cleavages, ongoing power struggles, and security vacuums as a result of the weak
performance of the new security services (Hoffmann and Vlassenroot 2014; Verweijen 2015b).
Another factor that caused the transitional process to have detrimental side effects was the
prospect of elections, which triggered new political competition at the local and national level.
Some politicians relied on ethnic discourse to mobilize voters and strengthened links with armed
groups, many of which were equally mobilized along ethnic lines. Others anticipated the loss of
power after the elections and believed that resorting to armed force was a viable alternative means
to cling to power. For the RCD, which was very unpopular in the areas it controlled, elections
only announced its future political marginalization. Particularly Tutsi communities, which had
been key supporters of the RCD, feared a total loss of power and increasingly worried about their
own security, having little trust that the Congolese security services would protect them. The
ongoing presence of the Rwandan Hutu force FDLR, although having no explicit agenda to attack
Congolese Tutsi, as well as that of nationalistic Mayi-Mayi groups, who continued to reject the
Tutsi’s citizenship claims, only strengthened these security fears (Stearns 2012a).
While international actors, including the UN peacekeeping mission in the DR Congo, played an
important role in keeping the transition process on track, they mainly contributed to maintaining
the momentum of formal policy and political processes unfolding in Kinshasa, in particular the
organization of the general elections, which eventually took place in 2006. International actors had
much less grip on informal political dynamics and military developments in the east, and could
not pressure armed factions refusing army integration to revise their strategies (Willame 2007).
Furthermore, international policies were strongly oriented toward national and regional diplomatic
and political developments. Only limited attention was paid to local conflict dynamics, leaving
many drivers of armed mobilization largely unaddressed (Autesserre 2010). For the same reason,
efforts to demobilize former combatants and reintegrate them into civilian society were not very
successful. Faced with marginalization and social exclusion, demobilized combatants became an
easy target of future mobilization efforts (Willems and Rouw 2010).
Post-transitional Trouble, 20062008
The 2006 general elections, culminating in the electoral victory of incumbent president Joseph
Kabila, heralded a formal end to the transition period and entrenched the hold of a now
democratically elected president and his patronage network over the national institutions. As this
confirmation of Kabila’s power limited the prospects for substantial changes in the national level
balance of powers, several of the factions that had already been discontent with the transitional
process continued to refuse to integrate their troops into the national army. Some even saw reason
to formally constitute themselves as antigovernment armed groups. A clear example was the
Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple (CNDP) created by a dissident Tutsi-led faction of
the RCD that had withdrawn itself in its stronghold in North Kivu during the transition. Under the
leadership of Laurent Nkunda, who had refused to take up his position as a general in the newly
created armed forces (FARDC), the CNDP rapidly grew to be one of the most powerful and
militarily capable insurgent forces in eastern Congo. Attracting support from regional networks
that encompassed Rwandan government actors, the group soon turned into a serious security
threat to Kinshasa (Stearns 2012a). Yet, the CNDP was by no means a mere puppet of Rwanda. It
had a broad support base among Tutsi and to a lesser extent Hutu elites who had risen to
prominence during the Congo Wars, and who feared losing their privileges in the post-settlement
political order.
In other parts of the Kivus, it was mostly former Mayi-Mayi officers who created new armed
groups. For instance, in January 2007, Williame Amuri Yakotumba, a former battalion
commander in Dunia’s Mayi-Mayi forces, officially withdrew from the army integration process
and established himself on the Ubwari peninsula, where he created the Bembe-dominated Mai-
Mai Reformé (Reformed Mayi-Mayi). As he explains:
I believed that going into the integration would constitute betrayal. I had already seen how we were
forced to accept the constitutional referendum [organized in 2005] without any explanation given
to the population.This kingdom [i.e., Kabila regime] is founded upon lies, so it will end up
collapsing (Voilà ce royaume, c’est fondé sur des mensonges, alors ça finit par s’écouler).
(interview, December 2011)
Aside from discontent with the Kabila government, long-standing tensions between the Bembe
and the Banyamulenge, which had already triggered violence during the Simba rebellion in the
1960s, also played a role in this remobilization effort. Additionally, remobilization was promoted
by more self-interested motives among Bembe political, military, and economic elites, including
General Dunia Lengwama, who strongly supported the creation of the Mai-Mai Reformé
(Verweijen 2015b).
But even the ex-belligerents who did agree to dismantle their military structures and integrate their
troops into the FARDC did not always entirely give up militarized power politics. Many of them
tried to maintain spheres of influence within the armed forces, causing some of the integrated
rebel networks to become parallel power structures in the FARDC. A good example are the
Banyamulenge troops of General Pacifique Masunzu, who remained in his stronghold on the
Hauts Plateaux as a separate brigade of the FARDC, but remained de facto under his exclusive
command. The result was the emergence of a “semi-integrated” or “halfbrewed” military, in
which several unintegrated units and separate spheres of influence coexisted with the integrated
command and brigades. These convoluted power structures weakened central command and
control and unleashed profound centrifugal tendencies in the military (Verweijen 2014).
Such tendencies were further reinforced by the close embedding of these parallel power factions
in wider political-economic networks. Many of the former belligerents that had integrated into the
FARDC were not redeployed to other areas of Congo, but stayed in or close to their former zones
of influence. This allowed them to maintain contacts with politicians, administrators, and
businesspeople from their own networks, which were often formed along the lines of ex-rebel
groups and/or ethno-regional affiliations. In many cases, these networks also encompassed
nonintegrated remnants of the ex-belligerents’ former military structures, which had sometimes
formed new armed groups, thus blurring the boundaries between the military and armed groups
(Verweijen 2014).
Close ties to extra-military networks, which were underpinned by military actors’ involvement in
revenue generation, weakened the FARDC’s operational capacities, which in turn reduced military
pressure on armed groups. Moreover, discovering that the divided and ill resourced armed forces
were unreliable in battle, Kinshasa authorized the use of armed groups as proxies and allies in the
fight against other armed groups (Stearns, Verweijen, and Eriksson Baaz 2013). The existence of
parallel networks also fueled strong internal power competition in the military, which was
sometimes framed in ethnic terms. Such competition, and resulting divided loyalties, undermined
the population’s trust in the neutrality of the armed forces. Politico-military entrepreneurs handily
exploited this distrust by presenting it as evidence for the ongoing need for communal self-
defense, in this way garnering support for locally embedded armed groups (Eriksson Baaz and
Verweijen 2013a).
The operational weaknesses of the FARDC pushed the government toward a path of continuing
negotiations, including with its strongest opponent, the CNDP. After months of heavy fighting, in
the course of which the government forces sustained severe losses, Kinshasa decided to convene a
large peace conference in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, in January 2008. In an
attempt to dilute the CNDP’s influence, the government tried to artificially inflate the presence of
other armed groups. To that end, it encouraged existing armed groups to attend what was called
the Amani Conference and supported the creation of new groups or the revival of dormant ones
(Stearns, Verweijen, and Eriksson Baaz 2013). Consequently, numerous among the nearly two
dozen signatories of the presented cease-fire agreement were defunct or phantom armed groups.
One of these was the Mayi-Mayi Mahoro. As its commander, Mahoro Kitay Ngombarufu testifies:
“During the war, I served as T3 [operations officer] in the brigade of Nyakiliba, based in Kasika
[Mwenga territory]. After the war I went to brassage [army integration] in Luberizi, but I never
obtained a function and was only granted the rank of major” (interview, Bijombo, September
2011). So when he heard of the Amani Conference, he decided to launch a new movement called
the Mayi-Mayi Mahoro, based near Lwindi. He went to Goma and signed the agreements in 2009.
He then “brought 900 elements to Luberizi [for integration], so they said I would become a
colonel, but this was never confirmed and I never got a function and remained dispo [without
function] in Bukavu.” In 2012, when he heard about the creation of a new Fuliiru armed group,
the Mayi-Mayi Mushombe, he deserted the army to join this group, stating his only motivation
was “to have my rank as colonel full officially recognized and get a good function” (interview,
Bijombo, September 2011).
The case of Mahoro clearly illustrates the detrimental effects of the Amani Conference. By
receiving cash, national and international attention, and the promises of ranks and positions in the
military and the politico-administrative apparatus, armed groups were given the impression that
“rebel enterprising” pays. This set an example for others aspiring to social mobility, status, and
political-economic influence (Vlassenroot and Raeymaekers 2009). For this reason, the Amani
Conference and associated peace process can be considered a milestone in the post-settlement
process of armed group proliferation.
Shaking Up the Political-Military Landscape, 20092010
Aside from stimulating, rather than stemming, armed group proliferation, the Amani Conference
failed to achieve its primary goal: pacifying the CNDP. In the course of 2008, fighting resumed,
and toward the end of the year, Nkunda threated to capture the strategic city of Goma. Once again,
Kinshasa opted for negotiations, this time opening a direct channel with Kigali, the CNDP’s major
backer. In a rather surprising turn of events, a secret deal was negotiated that stipulated the
integration of the CNDP into the Congolese armed forces. At the same time, Kivus-wide military
operations were launched against primarily the FDLR, named Kimia II. The deal was eventually
sealed by a peace accord signed on March 23, 2009. To manage the military operations, a parallel
military structure was created in the Kivus, where the former CNDP held crucial command
positions. This allowed the group to reconstitute itself as a parallel power network from within the
FARDC. Through the operations against the FDLR, the ex-CNDP also managed to take control
over numerous economically strategic areas, including mining sites in Walikale and Nyabibwe
(Stearns 2012a).
Not surprisingly, this power shift created major tensions within the army, which reinforced the ties
between discontent army factions and nonstate armed forces. It also enkindled wider conflict
dynamics in the Kivus. Not only did populations often distrust FARDC units with a majority of
Banyarwanda troops, ill conduct of these units produced increased levels of insecurity.
Furthermore, these units often threatened the power position of local elites, especially where the
latter were linked to armed groups targeted by the military operations (International Crisis Group
2010). Due to the Banyarwanda domination of the newly deployed units, the resulting power
struggles and tensions were often framed in discourses of autochthony, thereby reactivating deeply
rooted conflict narratives (Eriksson Baaz and Verweijen 2013a).
The Kimia II operations were indicative of a shift in government policy toward armed groups,
which now became more strongly focused on military operations. The effects of these operations
on armed mobilization, however, were ambivalent. On the one hand, they contributed to
weakening the FDLR and other groups, by dislodging them from their main revenue bases and
forcing them to withdraw into isolated zones. On the other hand, they led to rampant insecurity,
and created new space of movement for smaller armed groups, in part as the FARDC did not
manage to effectively occupy and secure the zones formerly controlled by the targeted groups.
Having sustained limited losses, the FDLR continued to operate from the fringes of its former
strongholds, launching attacks to punish alleged defectors and compensate for lost sources of
income. To stem this insecurity and compensate for the weaknesses of the FARDC, numerous
self-defense groups sprang up or were reinforced. In this way, the Kimia II operations provided a
major new impetus to the process of armed group proliferation (Verweijen 2016b).
Regimentation and Elections: Ongoing Fragmentation, 20112012
In 2011, the attention of both international actors and the government shifted largely from the
ongoing conflicts and violence in the east to the upcoming presidential and parliamentary
elections. At the start of the year, a major military restructuring effort was launched that was in
part designed to weaken the CNDP’s grip over the FARDC in the Kivus. Furthermore, it had to
undo some of the administrative and organizational mess created by the rapid military integration
process of 2009. As the restructuring exercise entailed the mixing and training of all combatants,
existing FARDC units were withdrawn from the field, leaving vast zones of the Kivus unprotected
(UN Security Council 2011). Armed groups, including the FDLR, benefited from these security
vacuums, which allowed them to extend their areas of operation and control.
One of the areas where the effects of the army restructuring process were particularly visible was
Shabunda territory in South Kivu. Here, growing insecurity fostered the transformation and spread
of an armed movement named Raia Mutomboki (“the population is angry” in Swahili). Exposed to
growing insecurity due to the FARDC’s failure to protect the population against the FDLR,
citizens in Shabunda started to organize themselves in self-defense groups. The resulting armed
movement was very successful in dispelling the FDLR, sometimes with gruesome atrocities, and
forced it to largely withdraw into the impenetrable Itombwe Forest or further north.
The Raia Mutomboki’s initial successes caused the movement to rapidly spread to other parts of
Shabunda and South Kivu, where it was equally successful in dislodging the FDLR and received
massive popular support. As the movement gradually connected to local power structures and
dynamics, it turned into an attractive alternative for demobilized ex-combatants and deserted army
elements. As a consequence, the Raia Mutomboki became increasingly heterogeneous and
eventually fell apart into a multitude of quasi-autonomous subgroups that each controlled separate
territories. These subgroups often became deeply entrenched in local political struggles and started
to get involved in a wide range of governmental practices including dispute processing, policing,
and taxation. This led to the further militarization of local governance and increased levels of
abuse against those civilians the group pretended to protect (Hoffmann and Vlassenroot 2014).
While strongly locally rooted, armed groups like the Raia Mutomboki were also attractive to
political actors operating at the national level. This became very clear during the 2011 electoral
period. In order to reinforce their popularity, be able to campaign in areas controlled by armed
groups, and manipulate the voter registration or voting process, numerous candidates made
donations to and instrumentalized armed groups (UN Security Council 2011). Others held
inflammatory speeches to fuel intercommunity tensions as a means to draw votes, thereby
reinforcing the armed groups that employed similar discourses to justify their violent actions.
Furthermore, in the wake of the elections, certain candidats malheureux (unsuccessful candidates)
tried to still gain political influence by liaising with armed groups (Stearns, Verweijen, and
Eriksson Baaz 2013). Few of these efforts were successful, indicating that armed group
mobilization as a means to directly access positions within the state apparatus at the national level
had become decreasingly effective. Even if national leaderships remain key sources of support,
armed groups no longer have the capacity needed to realize national aspirations.
The M23 Crisis and Its Aftermath:The Democratization of Militarized Politics
The decreasing effectiveness of armed rebellion as a means to obtain national-level political and
military positions is well illustrated by the M23 episode in 20122013. While the M23 rebellion
shifted the center of gravity of the drivers of armed mobilization once more to the national and
regional levels, this turned out to be only a temporary development. The M23 crisis was sparked
by efforts by Kinshasa to dilute the power of ex-CNDP networks in the FARDC, in particular by
having them redeploy out of the Kivus. In response, a part of the group mutinied, deserted, and
eventually formed a new rebellion, the M23, referring to the accords signed between the
Congolese government and the CNDP on March 23, 2009, which the group claimed had been
violated. With substantial Rwandan support, the M23 rapidly transformed into a serious military
threat (Stearns 2012a). In November 2012, the group managed to capture the city of Goma, a
major humiliation both for the Congolese government and the UN peacekeeping mission, at the
time the single largest of such missions with the strength of around 20,000 uniformed personnel.
But the tables would soon turn. In November 2013, the M23 was militarily defeated, due to a
combination of withering Rwandan support (partly as a consequence of international pressure), a
new peace-enforcement integrated brigade deployed under the UN flag, and reinvigorated
FARDC action (Stearns 2013). Strikingly, the defeat of the M23 would not significantly reduce
armed group mobilization in the east. By contrast, in the course of 2014, the number of armed
groups further increased, a trend also observed in 2015 and 2016. These developments evoke the
question whether this is a decisive shift in the nature of armed mobilization in eastern Congo or a
more temporary phenomenon.
A change in strategy toward armed groups of the Kinshasa government from 2013 onward has
caused a shift in the incentive structures underlying armed mobilization. The end of a long
preferred policy of the wholesale integration of rebel forces into the army and its replacement
by more firm military operations has drastically reduced the chances of getting access to high-
level military and political positions through the manipulation of armed rebellion. In addition,
initiatives for negotiations by Kinshasa have diminished, which reduces the possibilities
for those harboring political ambitions to catapult themselves on the political scene by means of
harnessing rebellion. Yet, manipulating armed structures has become a strategy increasingly
mobilized by lower-level and second-tier political actors, such as customary chiefs, medium-size
businesses, and mid-level commanders. Consequently, a broadening range of actors is reaping
thealbeit overall smallerfruits of militarized politics, amounting to a type of
“democratization” of this political logic and practice (Verweijen 2016b).
This development has reinforced the involvement of armed groups in local conflicts of various
kinds, including succession conflicts between customary chiefs, and disputes around land, plots,
unpaid debts, and access to natural resources. On the one hand, local political figures often solicit
such involvement themselves, in the hope of reinforcing their position vis-à-vis their competitors.
On the other hand, armed groups impose themselves on conflicts and further inflate them in order
to exercise authority and mobilize support. This double-faced nature of armed group involvement
reflects the ambiguous insertion of these groups in local sociopolitical orders, hovering between
coercion and persuasion (Verweijen 2016a).
While armed groups are strongly shaped by and shape these local orders, this does not imply we
should consider them as purely local phenomena. First, national- and provincial-level political
actors continue to support and manipulate armed groups. This is for instance illustrated by the
Force de Résistance Patriotique de l’Ituri (FRPI) in Ituri, the Alliance des Patriotes pour un
Congo Libre et Souverain (APCLS) in Masisi, and some Raia Mutomboki factions in Kalehe,
which continue to receive support from members of national or provincial parliament in order to
safeguard their interests both at a local and national level (Vlassenroot, Mudinga, and Hoffmann
2016). Second, the national security forces, clearly shaped by national-level policies, remain a
crucial factor in the dynamics of conflict and violence. For instance, the presence of a
Banyamulenge-dominated army regiment in the Ruzizi Plain was a key factor in the escalation of
tensions and the formation of new Fuliiru armed groups (Verweijen 2016a). Third, many armed
groups remain inscribed in wider regional networks and economies. Especially armed groups
located in border regions continue to derive important income from transborder commercial
networks, sometimes also having networks of supporters among diaspora and refugee populations.
A good example is the Mayi-Mayi Yakotumba, which have important networks in Tanzania and
Burundi and is engaged in crossborder traffic over Lake Tanganyika (UN Security Council 2011).
Fourth, no matter how small, many armed groups and their combatants continue to be inspired by
discontent with the current sociopolitical order and government. For instance, in a declaration
made in June 2016, the recently created tiny armed group Conseil National pour la Libération
Force d’Autodéfense Populaire (CNL-FAP), states: “The constitution is the backbone,
the brain of the state . . . but remains ignored and rejected by [our] rulers. Far from democracy,
dictatorship reigns meaning bad governance.” The declaration ends with a list of
recommendations, including “to respect the constitution of the country, to allow for the holding
and organization of presidential elections at the foreseen time” (CNL-FAP 2016). The reference to
the current paralyzed electoral process is clear, indicating that present- day armed groups continue
to comment on, and be influenced by, national political developments (Verweijen 2016b).
To many observers, armed mobilization in eastern DR Congo constitutes a conundrum. It is driven
by and drives multidimensional and multi-scalar dynamics of conflict and violence that not only
differ per geographical subarea, but also fluctuate over time. This chapter has attempted to unravel
some of this complexity, tracing trends in the evolution of armed mobilization over time. It has
described three overlapping and interacting categories of factors driving armed mobilization in
eastern Congo: local dynamics of conflict and insecurity, militarized power competition at various
levels, and counterproductive policies aimed at addressing armed groups. Furthermore, we have
shown how in the shifting interplay of local, national, and regional dynamics, the local level
seems to dominate in the current phase of hyper-fragmentation, yet without being disconnected
from supra-local levels. Mimicking elites operating at the national and regional level, second-tier
political and military actors now also draw upon armed groups to consolidate their power position,
albeit predominantly in local sociopolitical orders. This contributes to a dynamic that can best be
labeled a “democratization of militarized politics.”
The democratization of militarized politics has a profound impact on local governance and the
dynamics of conflict and security. It promotes the militarization of economic regulation and
dispute processing, which aggravates conflicts and renders them more easily violent. Additionally,
conditions of insecurity reinforce the position of politico-military entrepreneurs, as people
increasingly solicit these entrepreneurs to provide protection. The democratization of militarized
politics thus seems to have set in motion a self-enforcing dynamic of militarization. Not only does
a rising number of local conflicts feed into the mobilization of smaller armed groups, the presence
of these groups in turn leads to a further militarization of local politics and conflicts, thereby
blocking the peaceful transformation of conflict dynamics (Verweijen 2016b).
Militarization is likely to continue to imprint Congo’s future political-military landscape.
Crucially, in the absence of new hegemonic insurgencies or strengthened security services, it will
continue to foster ongoing military fragmentation. Hence, it appears that the current process of
military fragmentation has introduced a certain path-dependency that entrenches the interplay
between local conflicts and the proliferation of smaller-scale armed groups. However, it is by no
means a foregone conclusion that local dynamics will remain key drivers of armed mobilization
in the coming years. The configuration of factors at the origins of armed mobilization in eastern
Congo seems to appear in a cyclical fashion, reflecting conjunctures in regional geopolitics, the
stability of neighboring countries, and national-level political processes. These factors shape
whether neighboring countries support rebel groups in Congo, to what extent Kinshasa invests in
operationally effective and well-behaving national armed forces, and what the national political
stakes of rebellion may be. Because the cycles in which these configurations reappear are erratic,
crystal-balling the evolution of the armed group landscape in eastern Congo appears a futile
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... A constant cycle of mobilization-demobilization-remobilization as observed in eastern Congo, both point at the persistence of drivers of mobilization and the failures of demobilization and reintegration efforts. This cycle has been documented at large, and several reasons explaining it have been discerned (Utas 2005;Theidon 2007;Nussio 2011;Wiegink 2013), including the perseverance of unresolved conflict dynamics; the proliferation of a rising number of small armed groups, contributing to a fragmentation of the military landscape; the growing involvement of low-level political actors in armed mobilization leading to a democratization of militarized politics; failures of demobilization and reintegration efforts; and disruptive military responses (Vlassenroot and Verweijen 2017). ...
... Patterns of mobilization have also shifted over time. Foreign-supported large-scale rebel movements and Kinshasabacked coalitions of rural-based nationalist self-defence groups, which characterized the Congo Wars (1996)(1997)(1998)(1999)(2000)(2001)(2002)(2003), today have been replaced by over 120 largely locally rooted and small-scale armed actors (Stearns and Vogel 2015;Vlassenroot and Verweijen 2017). ...
... Different dynamics explain the persistence of armed resistance and mobilization in eastern Congo (Vlassenroot and Verweijen 2017). A first factor is the continued presence of localized and unresolved dynamics of conflict and insecurity, mainly centred around land access and other resources, citizenship, local power, identity politics, and the presence of foreign rebel groups. ...
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This article discusses the social mobility of combatants and introduces the notion of circular return to explain their pendular state of movement between civilian and combatant life. This phenomenon is widely observed in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where Congolese youth have been going in and out of armed groups for several decades now. While the notion of circular return has its origins in migration and refugee studies, we show that it also serves as a useful lens to understand the navigation capacity between different social spaces of combatants and to describe and understand processes of incessant armed mobilization and demobilization. In conceptualizing these processes as forms of circular return, we want to move beyond the remobilization discourse, which is too often connected to an assumed failure of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration processes. We argue that this discourse tends to ignore combatants’ agency and larger processes of socialization and social rupture as part of armed mobilization.
... To grasp how industrial mining in protected areas exacerbates violent conflict, it is necessary to understand the drivers of armed conflict in eastern DRC. As previous research has shown (Stearns et al., 2013;Verweijen, 2016;Vlassenroot & Verweijen, 2017), armed conflict is the product of a number of complex, interacting dynamics, including 1) competition between power networks operating at different scales (local, provincial, national, Great Lakes region), which bring together armed and non-armed, state and non-state actors, including politicians, businesspeople, and army and rebel officers; 2) intense conflicts that manifest at the local scale, in particular, conflicts around land, local authority, local governance and identity 3) grievances related to these conflicts and the erratic nature of the Congolese state and economy, which cause multifaceted insecurity and legitimize soliciting protection from armed groups and powerful elites. In this briefing, we show how semi-industrial mining in protected areas feeds into each of these three drivers of armed conflict. ...
... Civilian authority has eroded after decades of violent conflict, causing both the army and armed groups to play an important role in local governance, but not without contestations. The overall weakening of authority and lack of robust conflict regulation mechanisms has in turn legitimized resorting to violence as a means of settling disputes (Eriksson Baaz & Verweijen, 2014;Verweijen, 2019;Vlassenroot & Verweijen, 2017). These dynamics are also at play in relation to semi-industrial mining operations, which generate and exacerbate conflicts that are difficult to resolve. ...
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... As a result of the continuous population influx, the Zambian government decided, in early 2018, to establish the "Mantapala settlement" for relocation. The DRC and Zambia share a long history, including mine worker migration from Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) to Katanga (DRC) in the early 20th century [59] and Congolese seeking refuge in Zambia because of the Congo wars [60], but also as a result of ongoing conflicts [61]. Finally, some Zambians even have their family roots in Congo [62]. ...
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... Africa is termed as the cradle of humanity, the land of enormous ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity, the continent that is rich in numerous natural resources and different climates and ecosystems, but it is also known for the continuous stage for misery, underdevelopment, extreme poverty, civil and political unrest, instability, wars and undemocratic government structures. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which lies in the heart of Africa is one of the largest and richest (i.e. in mineral resources) countries of the continent and has strategic importance for the stability of the Great Lakes region (Vlassenroot & Verweijen, 2017). ...
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The main purpose of this study is to assess the main challenges of democratization in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In order to enrich the basic information and achieve the intended specific objectives, the study relied upon secondary data sources. Democracy matters for human security in DRC because well-designed and inclusive political institutions and processes are the key to both preventing violence and managing conflict constructively. It is believed that acting for democracy is acting for peace and security. The DRC, which lies in the heart of Africa, is one of the largest and richest mineral resources countries of the continent and has strategic importance for the stability of the Great Lakes region. This study shows that challenges related to a long period of dictatorship, internal conflicts, communal violence, corruption, weak monitoring of weapons, poor leadership, and globalization have affected the democratization processes and indicators of good governance in the DRC. This study recommends that the government of DRC should consolidate democratization and enhance good governance so as to reduce the crises of democracy in the country and thereby collaborative governance with all the local, national, regional and international stakeholders should be established to avoid the long-suffering of the Congolese people.
... More armed groups are currently operating in Congo than were during the great wars, as longer standing large-scale, foreign-supported rebellions and rural self-defense coalitions have mixed. A count held at the end of 2017 identified more than 120 groups in Congo's two Kivu provinces alone (Vogel andStearns, 2018, Vlassenroot andVerweijen, 2017). ...
Soziale, politische und geografische Prozesse der Stadtentwicklung in Konflikt- und Grenzregionen werden in dieser Dissertation durch eine Kombination von Satellitenbildern und Feldforschung analysiert. Das Untersuchungsgebiet ist die Grenzregion zwischen der Demokratischen Republik Kongo (DRK) und Ruanda, die seit Anfang der 1990er Jahre von zwischen- und innerstaatlichen bewaffneten Konflikten betroffen ist. Im Fokus der Analyse liegt Goma, die Provinzhauptstadt von Nord-Kivu im Osten der DRK. Zusätzlich wird ein Vergleich mit Gomas Zwillingsstadt Gisenyi in Ruandas Westprovinz gezogen. Die Literatur zu urbanen Räumen im Kongo und in gesamt Subsahara-Afrika bezieht sich häufig auf Primärstädte. Über die Entwicklung von Sekundärstädten in Konfliktzonen, für die es kaum räumlich explizite Studien gibt, ist wenig bekannt. Diese Arbeit bietet zwei sich ergänzende Perspektiven durch die Kombination von Satellitenbildanalyse mit semi-strukturierten Interviews und Beobachtungen aus mehreren Forschungsaufenthalten. Das zweite Kapitel verwendet eine Zeitreihe hochaufgelöster Landsat-Szenen, um die Expansion von Goma zwischen 1986 und 2015 zu analysieren. Dieser Zeitrahmen umfasst internen Konflikt in Ruanda (1990-1994), die Kongo-Kriege (1996-2003) und deren von Gewalt geprägte Folgezeit. Das dritte Kapitel basiert auf der Analyse sehr hochauflösender Satellitenbilder. Eine feinskalige Kartierung von Urbanisierungsmustern zwischen 2005 und 2014 wird mit verantwortlichen Akteursgruppen verbunden. Das vierte Kapitel erweitert die Analyse auf Gomas ruandische Nachbarstadt Gisenyi. Es untersucht und vergleicht, wie sich zwischen- und innerstaatliche Konflikte und die jüngste Phase von Stabilität in Ruanda auf die räumliche Stadtentwicklung über die nationale Grenze hinweg auswirken. Die Arbeit schließt mit einer kritischen Reflexion über Nutzen und Grenzen des angewendeten Methodenmix und zeigt mögliche Bereiche für weitere Forschung auf.
Technical Report
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This paper reviews the existing DDR literature on the DRC in search for lessons. It aims, on the one hand, to infuse context and specificity into current discussions about DDR programming and the implementation of community reintegration and, on the other, to suggest potential ingredients of a winning formula for DDR in the DRC.
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After more than two decades of ongoing violent conflict, armed groups—however fleeting their existence—have become an integral feature of the eastern Congo’s social-political order. They are not a temporary aberration in what is otherwise a normal society. They are at the heart of the way power is exercised and experienced. Moreover, armed groups do not stand apart from either society or the state apparatus. They are deeply embedded in social networks that regroup state and non-state actors and that stretch from the very local to the national and sometimes the sub-regional (Great Lakes area) and international levels. This report analyses the stability, inclusivity and levels of violence of both the political settlement of the Congo as a whole and of political settlements in the conflict-ridden east. It shows that in each of these political arenas, armed groups and violence play a different role, and examines how these arenas mutually influence each other. The relative importance of armed groups as either resources or threats to the power of the presidential patronage network shapes its policies towards the east, such as initiatives for military operations or negotiations. These policies influence the role that armed groups play locally. This role, in turn, shapes to what extent and how national politicians engage with armed groups; for instance, whether they support their mobilization or demobilization.
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This Usalama Report analyses militarization in Uvira and how it shapes the interplay between local conflicts, governance and armed mobilization. Focussing on the Bafuliiru Chiefdom and the Ruzizi Plain Chiefdom, the report examines how armed forces influence and are influenced by conflicts related to customary power, security governance and local economic regulation. The presence of so many armed groups in Uvira affects local governance profoundly, in particular because of their links with local authorities. The report argues that in order to sustainably demilitarize Uvira, it is necessary to defuse conflicts related to customary authority, weaken armed groups and their civilian support networks, and improve security management and regulation of local defence forces.
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The closely intertwined notions of territory, identity, and authority are at the heart of conflict dynamics in the eastern DR Congo. Focusing on the territorial aspirations of the Banyamulenge community in South Kivu, this article looks at the ways in which the nexus of territory, identity, and authority shapes and is shaped by armed mobilisation. Excluded from a customary chiefdom in the colonial era, the Banyamulenge, a community framed as ‘migrants’, have been striving for a territory of their own for decades. These aspirations have fed into armed activity by both Banyamulenge and Mai-Mai groups linked to opposing communities, providing deeply resonating mobilising narratives that are employed to justify violent action. Yet, as this article demonstrates, the links between armed mobilisation and the nexus of territory, identity, and authority are both contingent and reciprocal, as violent conflict also impacts the meanings and boundaries of identities, authority structures and territory.
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In early 2012, Congolese army deserters formed the M23 rebel movement. This article analyses the insurgency and other armed group activity in the eastern DRC in the light of the politics of rebel-military integration. It argues that military integration processes have fuelled militarization in three main ways. First, by creating incentive structures promoting army desertion and insurgent violence; second, by fuelling inter- and intra-community conflicts; and third, by the further unmaking of an already unmade army. We argue that this is not merely the product of a ‘lack of political will’ on behalf of the DRC government, but must be understood in the light of the intricacies of Big Man politics and Kinshasa's weak grip over both the fragmented political-military landscape in the east and its own coercive arm. Demonstrating the link between military integration and militarization, the article concludes that these problems arise from the context and implementation of integration, rather than from the principle of military power sharing itself. It thus highlights the crucial agency of political-military entrepreneurs, as shaped by national-level policies, in the production of ‘local violence’.
Nineteen years after the beginning of the Congo wars, armed conflict still affects millions in the east of the country. This essay by CRG director Jason Stearns and our senior fellow Christoph Vogel accompanies a map of armed groups, compiled by researchers across North and South Kivu, in which we catalogue over seventy groups. This is far from a static picture, and we highlight key shifts that have emerged over the past two years: a decline of regional involvement, a fragmentation of armed groups, and a modest drop in the political manipulation of armed groups.
Rebels may set myths into motion when they govern civilians. Rebels who want to overturn the socio-political order often incorporate its values, beliefs, representations, and practices into their governance of civilians. In doing so they govern through some of the myths underpinning that order. Many of these operate on an unreflective level among both rebels and local residents. Deploying these enables rebels to cultivate legitimacy among civilians whose support they solicit. But the novelty of rule by rebels is that it recasts existing values and beliefs into new political narratives that shape rebel governance profoundly. Drawing on a mixture of nationalist, pre-colonial, and Christian values and beliefs, General Padiri's Mai Mai militia group from South Kivu in eastern Congo produced a mythical narrative, forged around divine authority and the bipolar relation between autochthony and foreignness. This syncretic mythical narrative resonated deeply within the local society. It endowed Padiri with charismatic authority and enabled a highly centralized, authoritarian, and coercive form of rebel governance.
This article explores the links between autochthony discourses and physical violence through a case study of a Mai-Mai group in the eastern DR Congo. While this group garners support by employing such discourses and related tropes of autodéfense (self-defense), there are clear limits to the capacity of these narratives to mobilize for and legitimize violent action. Furthermore, much of the violence committed by the Mai-Mai is not informed directly by notions of autochthony, but is rather geared toward the consolidation of power. This observation should act as a caution against the a priori coding of violence according to the ways it is discursively framed by its protagonists.
En ciblant principalement les rebelles des FDLR, mais aussi des soldats gouvernementaux, les Raïa Mutomboki (« citoyens fâchés ») ont déclenché une nouvelle dynamique de contestation d’État et de militarisation et violence à l’est de la RDC. Cet article propose que les Raïa Mutomboki en tant qu’une milice genre « franchise » a émergé comme conséquence du succès limité des programmes de désarmement, démobilisation et réinsertion (DDR), de la négligence du gouvernement, et de dilemmes de sécurité locales. Elle s’appuie sur la mobilisation populaire, à la fois grâce à une ingénierie sociale à base populaire mais basée sur les intérêts des élites locales. Le cas des Raïa Mutomboki suggère jusqu’ici une dynamique plus axée sur des aspects sociaux qu’une économie de guerre. Même s’ils s’engagent dans des activités économiques, le recrutement reste dominé par des récits d’identité, d’autochtonie, de sécurité communautaire et défense locale. Non seulement les chefs militaires, mais aussi des autorités coutumières, des prêtres, et l’entourage familial jouent un rôle crucial dans la mobilisation des jeunes combattants. Cet article vise à illuminer les raisons de l’émergence et de la transformation des Raïa Mutomboki dans les parties nord et ouest de la province du Sud-Kivu, dans l’est de la RDC, ainsi que la fluidité des arrangements sociales et territoriales centrés sur l’État dans cette même zone. Il montre également comment la mobilisation armée est devenu un élément clé de l’organisation sociale et de la formation de l’identité, en dépit de son intrication constante dans les modes civils d’interaction.
The state of the Congolese state has been subject to a heated debate, with some arguing that it remains mostly irrelevant outside its capital or even that there is no such thing as Congo. Others contend that there is no lack of state order in Congo, but that this order is characterised by predatory rule and (privatised) extortion. This paper wants to put both claims into perspective and to assess how different actors re-deploy various rationalities and practices of statehood. Based on fieldwork in South Kivu, this paper looks into the making of public authority in the territory of Kalehe (eastern DRC), where since the start of the Congo wars in 1996 a growing number of armed and other actors have claimed and exercised power. The paper stresses that these actors' competing claims to public authority are intimately linked to struggles of territory and populations and tend to resemble and reproduce previous state practices and norms. The idea of the state seems to be one of the principal objects of reference deployed by these actors to legitimate their claims, mainly because it still resonates with the social imaginaries of public order.