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« Ils sont rentrés chez eux »: the political dimensions of displacement and 'spontaneous return' in Faradje, northeast DRC

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Abstract

This paper is one of the outputs of the WOTRO funded project "Returning to Stability" and aims to contribute to the emerging debate on the political dimensions of return by focusing on the sudden ‘spontaneous’ return of 11,6001 Congolese refugees who were forced back from exile in South Sudan to their home areas in Faradje, in northeast DRC. This is the 4th issue of the Congo research briefs, a joint publication of the Conflict Research Group (CRG) at Ghent University, the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) and its Understanding Violent Conflict programme, the Study Group on Conflicts and Human Security (GEC-SH) at the University of Kivu Research Center (CERUKI), the University of Kinshasa (UNIKIN) and the Governance-in-Conflict Network (GiC).
SPONTANEOUS RETURN | APRIL 2020
«Ils sont rentrés chez eux»: the political
dimensions of displacement and ‘spontaneous
return’ in Faradje, northeast DRC
Congo Research Briefs | Issue 4
Jolien Tegenbos, Thijs Van Laer, Jean Claude Malitano,
Bruce Ndenga Lotsna, Tasile Ruako
4
Photo from John Emerson of Backspace, https://backspace.com/is/in/the/house/work/
1‘SPONTANEOUS RETURN’ IN FARADJE, NORTHEAST DRC
INTRODUCTION
Scholars have only recently started to address repatriation and
population return as an inherently political process. Inuenced by
growing criticism on socio-economic and aid-centric approaches,
researchers have contributed to mostly top-down but also
increasingly bottom-up analyses of ‘the politics of return’ (Tegenbos
& Vlassenroot 2018: 19-21). To this day, we continue to have little
understanding of the political impacts of population return in
contexts of conict and displacement, both from the perspective of
countries of origin and (former) exile. This paper aims to contribute
to this emerging debate on the political dimensions of return by
focusing on the sudden ‘spontaneous’ return of 11,6001 Congolese
refugees who were forced back from exile in South Sudan to their
home areas in Faradje, in northeast DRC.
Clashes between government and opposition forces in
the vicinity of Nyori Refugee Camp compromised the safety of
many Congolese residents, forcing many of them to return home.2
In 2009, approximately 12,000 Congolese from Faradje territory
had taken ight from the DRC to Nyori, in South Sudan’s Central
Equatoria region, following violent attacks and atrocities committed
by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).3 This paper argues for
the need to better understand the politics of return in contexts of
continued displacement in light of changing (geographical) political
congurations of power and authority that are embedded into
broader realities of increased humanitarian presence and cross-border
movements. In this way, the paper also demonstrates how people,
institutions, and authorities impacted by and operating within
contexts of displacement and return contest and negotiate authority
as well as their positions on the ground.
The territory of Faradje lies in DRC’s Haut-Uélé province,
formerly known as Province Orientale until 2015. The LRA crossed
over from South(ern) Sudan and northern Uganda, where the origins
of the movement lie, to northeast DRC in 2005.4 The LRA initially
settled in Garamba National Park5 in 2005 but didn’t start carrying
out attacks until December 2007 and, more severely, sparked o a
series of violent attacks from Christmas eve 2008 onwards, notably
in the territories of Dungu, Niangara, Faradje and Watsa (Durba),
in the current Haut-Uélé province (then Province Orientale). Faradje
was hit most severely in 2008-2009, most acutely following reprisal
attacks conducted against civilians following “Operation Lightning
Thunder,” a joint military operation between Uganda, southern
Sudan, DRC, and CAR, and backed by the United States (HRW
2009; Titeca & Costeur 2014).6 Abductions and violent attacks
resulted in massive displacement across the region, emptying entire
villages. In the years after mid-2010, this violence started decreasing
as the LRA went into “survival mode” and gradually moved their
activities to the Central African Republic and Sudan (Titeca 2019:
219). Respondents for this research criticized the inability of local
authorities to protect civilians. Others noted instances in which
the Congolese army arrived late and committed abuses against
populations already under attack by the LRA.7
This paper focuses on the situation of returnees in
the town of Aba, close to the South Sudanese border, and its
surrounding cheeries (Logo Ogambi, Logo Lolia, Mondo Missa,
Kakwa, Logo Bagela), complemented with insights from Faradje
town and Kurukwata, all situated in the territory of Faradje. Most
of the returnees in these areas had ed in 2009 to Nyori Refugee
Camp in southern Sudan. Others had sought safety internally in
DRC, in neighbouring Ituri province, or closer to home, in camps
for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Aba, Djabir, Kurukwata,
and Faradje, where many still reside today. Most of the internally
displaced from Ituri province returned to larger towns in Faradje
territory in 2010 when there was a perception of better security.
This paper focuses specically on refugee return, its political impact
in Faradje and its profound embeddedness within a broader reality
of (protracted) displacement and return of various populations,
as well as in broader forms of cross-border and internal migration
characterizing the borderlands between South Sudan and DRC.8
In the following sections, we will discuss the political
impact of return in Aba and the broader territory of Faradje through
three main, connecting themes: the politics of return; the politics
of assistance; and changing political constellations. The rst section
will focus on the political failure of organizing ocial repatriation
for Congolese before 2016 and its impact on returnees and political
realities after return. The second section addresses the impact of
the increased humanitarian presence and humanitarian structures
of displacement on political dynamics in Faradje. The third and
last section concentrates on how newly established political,
humanitarian entities and spaces infringe on already existing forms
of authority and legitimacy. Based on these three themes, we argue
that the establishment of political/humanitarian structures during
displacement have a continuous impact on the political situation
in Faradje, and contribute to transforming issues of authority and
legitimacy and changing political constellations.
This research brief is one of the outputs of a research
project that focused on the political dimensions of refugee return
in three key areas: Faradje (DRC’s Haut-Uélé Province), Kalehe
(DRC’s South Kivu Province) and Burundi. The project “Returning
to Stability” was funded by NWO-WOTRO and resulted in a report
and interactive map based on two months of eldwork in each of
2‘SPONTANEOUS RETURN’ IN FARADJE, NORTHEAST DRC
the research settings in 2019 by research teams based in the focus
areas.9 For Faradje, we carried out a total of 57 interviews in addition
to a number of eld observations and documents gathered from
humanitarian agencies, and the Congolese returnee and South
Sudanese refugee committees. This paper is, therefore, a slightly
adapted version of the Faradje case study in the report. All authors
have participated to a greater or lesser extent in the eldwork.
THE POLITICS OF RETURN
Discussions around a potential organized repatriation of Congolese
refugees from Nyori preceded the eventual return of refugees to DRC
in 2016. These discussions ocially started in 2015 and involved
local Congolese authorities, the DRC’s National Commission for
Refugees (CNR), the South Sudanese Commission for Refugees
(CRA) and UNHCR. In addition to sending a delegation in 2015 to
visit the refugees in Nyori and gather information, potential sites were
examined to settle landless returnees in Faradje.10 The preparations
were put on hold in 2016 due to increased insecurity in South Sudan
as the conict between the government of South Sudan and the South
Sudanese armed opposition escalated and spread to these Equatoria
regions. This increased insecurity rendered repatriation logistically
dicult. Insecurity in South Sudan in the form of violent attacks and
increased penetration of armed actors in the camp directly reduced
the safety of the refugees in Nyori. When the refugees eventually
ed en masse back to DRC, Congolese authorities found themselves
unprepared to receive, assist, and register them. Furthermore, they
were accompanied by some 34,000 South Sudanese refugees who had
also ed the upsurge in violence in the zone where Nyori camp was
situated.11
The absence of an ocial tripartite agreement (and of
accompanying humanitarian assistance) was an issue much debated
during interviews. Interviewees said they would have preferred to
return in the framework of an agreement between UNHCR, the
country of refugee origin (DRC), and the host country (South
Sudan), because of its legal framework, but also for its links to
assistance and an ocial transfer of responsibilities for the refugee
returnees from the country of refuge to the country of origin.
An ocial of the CNR explained the relative disregard
for returnees by saying that the legal vocabulary for displacement
clearly distinguishes “repatriates who return to their country of
origin through an ocial framework,” from “spontaneous repatriates
who return on their own without any ocial measures.” The latter
ocially have no right to reintegration assistance.12 During eld
research, Congolese authorities and humanitarian actors recurrently
used the phrase “ils sont rentrés chez eux” (they have returned home)
to legitimate and justify their detachment towards the spontaneous
repatriates under study.13 In Aba, the administrative, legal distinction
between returnees whose repatriation is organized and those who
repatriate spontaneously, translated itself into daily conversations
(with returnees, Congolese authorities, humanitarians, CNR) as a
distinction between “repatriates” (organized, right to assistance) and
“returnees” (spontaneous, no right to assistance). The labeling of
the population under study as “returnees” instead of “repatriates,”
was in turn contested by the returnees themselves, who preferred to
identify themselves as either forced returnees” or “repatriates,” as a
way of emphasizing what they claimed was their right to assistance
and other forms of support from CNR and the humanitarian
agencies.14 Frustration among returnees over the political failure in
assisting the Congolese to repatriate was moreover aggravated by
the fact that funding and humanitarian resources had been made
available to accommodate South Sudanese refugees in Faradje’s newly
established refugee site, Meri, as opposed to the Congolese returnees,
many of whom had ed the same violence. The assistance received by
returnees was very limited and depended much on returnees’ own
lobbying at CNR and humanitarian agencies. Moreover, in 2017 the
small number of food rations available for after the return were cut.15
The organization of repatriation was, not only challenged
by the 2016 violence in South Sudan but also by the process through
which refugees and authorities from the country of refuge and
origin negotiated population return. Interviews with returnees and
customary chiefs revealed that the context in which these negotiations
took place as well as political dynamics and power struggles between
the refugee leadership and South Sudanese camp authorities in Nyori
complicated the return process.
Before the start of the more ocial discussions around
organized return in 2015, Congolese state and customary authorities
had visited Nyori on multiple occasions and were met with a welcome
that was lukewarm at best, and often even hostile. Already in 2009,
when the LRA was still carrying out violent attacks in the region, a
customary chief of one of the cheeries around Aba traveled to South
Sudan and requested that his constituencies return home. Current
returnees who had met him at the time testied that the chief had
lamented that he could not preside over an empty cheerie.16 His
visit was met with outright rejection, and refugees chased him away.
Current returnees interpreted the chief’s request as a way for him to
further his political interests while downplaying the gravity of ongoing
insecurity in the country.17 The chief himself thought he had taken a
considerable risk in traveling to South Sudan, for which refugees had
been ‘ungrateful.’18 As such, while all returnees lamented the lack of a
3‘SPONTANEOUS RETURN’ IN FARADJE, NORTHEAST DRC
tripartite agreement for repatriation, this example demonstrates that
refugee participation and agency in deciding the “when” and “how”
of return is equally important.
According to returnees, political dynamics and power
struggles in Nyori between the refugee leadership and South Sudanese
camp authorities also complicated the return process. Ocial visits to
the refugees in 2012, by the governor of the then-Orientale Province
(now Haut-Uélé, which includes Faradje), and the 2015 delegation (cf.
supra) were used as illustrations of these political tensions. In the years
preceding 2012 and in the course of the following years, the refugee
leadership in Nyori wrote letters to Congolese authorities in DRC to
request repatriation. However, according to former members of these
successive refugee camp committees19 and a former CNR ocial, the
camp authorities (i.e. CRA and UNHCR) wanted to keep refugees
in South Sudan, “because of their economic interests linked with
the refugee presence and incoming humanitarian resources.”20 To
achieve that goal, the South Sudanese camp authorities had created a
rift between Congolese refugees who preferred to remain in the camp
and those who wanted to repatriate to DRC.21 In the course of this
power struggle, the camp management suspended the elected refugee
committee, who had supported repatriation, and replaced it with a
committee that followed the management’s interests and advocated
for a continuous stay in South Sudan. The committee appointed by
the camp authorities eventually met with the governor of Orientale
Province in 2012, and with the delegation of Congolese authorities
and humanitarian ocials in 2015.22 In their communications with
the Congolese authorities during both events, the committee denied
that refugees supported the idea of repatriation.23 UNHCR and
Terre Sans Frontières (TSF) appeared to have no knowledge of the
political dynamics that had inuenced the reception of the Congolese
authorities in Nyori.24
These dynamics related to the politics of return continued
to have an inuence, despite the ‘spontaneous’ return of most
Congolese refugees. Interviewees said that the remaining refugee
committee in South Sudan, which had resisted return and is
supported by the CRA, continues to attempt to exert inuence over
the returnees (cf. section politics of assistance). Several returnees said
that South Sudan still claims responsibility for returnees to host them
as refugees, provide assistance, etc. – a claim which was even accepted
as legitimate by a CNR ocial, who explained that the Congolese
never formally repatriated.25
THE POLITICS OF ASSISTANCE
The growing presence of a humanitarian apparatus in Faradje
has had a profound impact on political realities. In response to
large-scale internal displacement following the LRA incursions,
humanitarian agencies arrived in large numbers and established
themselves in domains such as education, health, protection, SGBV,
livelihoods, food provision, construction, etc. Local NGOs such as
the Association Pour la Promotion Rurale (APRu) and international
ones like Invisible Children, Danish Refugee Council (DRC),
Lutheran World Federation (LWF), and UNHCR settled themselves
in Aba and its surroundings, and in and around IDP camps which
were rapidly being created. The humanitarian presence decreased
somewhat in later years and became less diverse with the departure
of certain NGOs. However, from 2016 onwards, it received a new
impetus with the arrival of South Sudanese refugees and Congolese
returnees and the creation of the Meri Refugee Site. CNR enlarged
its oce and sta deployment in Aba, and NGOs multiplied. While
some organizations have left Faradje over the years, a good number
of them still remain. Historical cycles of violence and insecurity both
in DRC and in South(ern) Sudan have resulted in internal and cross-
border displacement before. Nevertheless, the arrival of the LRA and
consequent large population movements (both ight and return)
brought a signicant humanitarian presence that had never existed
before in Faradje. While this presence of humanitarian actors has
uctuated over time (decreasing, increasing, changing in diversity), it
has gradually become embedded in the political arena as a set of actors
involved in the acquirement, management (including establishing
socio-political entities such as returnee/refugee committees),
decision-making, and distribution of humanitarian resources and
public services.
This humanitarian apparatus occupies a new space of
authority next to existing forms of state and customary authority.
UNHCR and NGOs established themselves in domains of public
service provision, of which some are traditionally the responsibility
of state and customary authorities. In the aftermath of the LRA
and during the return of displaced communities, (re)construction
of private and public infrastructure as well as rebuilding people’s
livelihoods proved dicult. While Haut-Uélé, including Faradje,
already suered from “a history of gradual economic, political and
physical marginalization and degradation,” the LRA conict further
entrenched this process (Titeca 2019: 219, 230).
In Faradje, local inhabitants (including returnees) stated that
they had limited condence in local state and customary authorities to
provide the necessary resources to respond to the challenges brought
about by (the impact of) displacement (including the forced return
of Congolese refugees). The presence of humanitarian organizations
and their resources were therefore deemed very valuable by both local
4‘SPONTANEOUS RETURN’ IN FARADJE, NORTHEAST DRC
and displaced communities, as well as local Congolese authorities.
This wide variety of socio-political entities soliciting for humanitarian
resources produced a very dynamic political landscape in Faradje.
There are many modes of interaction between these dierent forms
of authority, humanitarian actors, and dierent communities, which
at times proved complicated and fraught with conicts and distrust.
Two issues particularly complicated this relationship: participation
in humanitarian decision-making and the uneven division of
resources distributed to dierent categories of people impacted by
displacement and return.
Local authorities, civil society actors, and committees
representing returnees, refugees, and IDPs complained about
their lack of participation in decisions that would impact their
communities. A local authority in Aba, for example, explained how he
had been invited by UNHCR and one of its implementing partners to
the opening ceremony of a school established for returnees and other
populations, without ever having been substantially included in the
development of the project.26 Also, the aforementioned committees
were frequently in conict with humanitarian agencies and the CNR
about their role in the management and implementation of assistance
and resources (see below).
Further, the available resources that UNHCR and its
implementing and operating partners were able to provide were not
nearly sucient to answer the needs of dierent communities. The
unequal division of these resources to dierent categories of refugees,
the “host population,” IDPs, and returnees, moreover, added
to these tensions. While South Sudanese refugees were receiving
food rations and NFI’s in the newly established Meri refugee site,
Congolese returnees who had accompanied them during their ight
from South Sudan were neglected due to their ‘spontaneous return’.
While the category of “host population” in areas of refugee presence
was entitled to 20% of the refugee response budget, local inhabitants
and customary authorities said that they received very little of it.
Humanitarian aid in the remaining IDP camps existed, though it was
also limited.
The case of the establishment of Meri can be used here to
illustrate the complex and fraught nature of political interactions
between the dierent actors, authorities, and communities involved
in the managing and soliciting of humanitarian resources.
The customary chief who had successfully solicited the
established of the camp (and its humanitarian resources) in his
cheerie quickly entered in conict with locals and IDPs already
living in the area. The settlement of South Sudanese refugees thus
coincided with the displacement of the local (IDP) population who
was simply told to move their homesteads and agricultural activities
elsewhere. In response, the local communities later challenged the
chief’s authority by reporting problems related to the refugee site,
including about land and natural resources, to UNHCR instead of
to him, despite his authority over such matters.27 The eagerness of
the chief to solicit the refugee site’s presence in his cheerie without
taking his population into account thus also resulted in decreasing
the legitimacy of his authority in the eyes of his constituencies.
Meri also merits attention as an illustration of the
entanglement between the politics of the South Sudanese refugee
and Congolese returnee committees in their dealings with the
CNR and humanitarian agencies. Several returnees interviewed for
this project complained that they received little to no assistance,
while refugees living in nearby Meri refugee site did receive such
assistance. A returnee said: “We were not welcomed upon return.
They only cared about the South Sudanese refugees and abandoned
us.”28 Humanitarian actors conrmed such frustration, and said
their attempts to explain it by pointing at the dierent legal status
of returnees, compared to refugees or ocial repatriates, did not
change the frustration.29 As such, many returnees explained to have
limited condence in their authorities to improve their situation:
“they cannot do anything for us.”30 Interlocutors often said that the
returnees understudy “sont rentrés chez eux” (have returned home),
which would justify the Congolese authorities’ negligence towards
them.31 As Congolese returnees felt ignored and disadvantaged
compared to refugees, they tried to benet from the assistance
provided to refugees. An unconrmed number of 1000 Congolese
returnees were said to be secretly registered in the refugee settlement
in order to secure a means of survival.32 Additionally, several hundred
Congolese wives of South Sudanese refugees were registered on arrival
as beneciaries, but were later deactivated for cash distribution in
October 2018.33 Open protest and clashes between South Sudanese
(with silent backing from Congolese) and humanitarian actors
ensued, resulting in injuries and intervention by security services and
in a decision to cut cash support for the entire camp for four months.
Previous existing frictions between the South Sudanese refugee
committee and the camp authorities (CNR and humanitarian
partners) over insucient assistance were further compounded by
these events. Following the clashes, the CNR replaced the elected
refugee committee with a temporary one, and later commanded
the imprisonment of the former committee members, banning
them as well from upcoming committee elections. The Congolese
returnee committee and local civil society supported the former
South Sudanese refugee committee in their conict with the camp
authorities, as all of them had experienced their own frustrations
with the interventions and working methods of the CNR and
5‘SPONTANEOUS RETURN’ IN FARADJE, NORTHEAST DRC
humanitarians. Civil society in Aba even demanded the removal of
humanitarian sta and threatened to impose roadblocks.34
Meanwhile, the suspended refugee committee members
(and the civil society) returned the favor by backing the Congolese
returnee committee whose conict with TSF over a project providing
cash assistance to a part of the returnee population escalated. When
humanitarian assistance or livelihood projects for returnees were
carried out, the limited number of beneciaries and allegations of
corruption further fueled frustration among returnees and friction
with humanitarian and state authorities. The program providing
cash assistance resulted in disagreements about the nature and
beneciaries of the project, and in tensions between the NGO
involved and the committee of returnees. Both accused the other of
not being open to dialogue and requested the removal of the other
party. Only after mediation from the territory administrator was a
temporary settlement found.35 A member of the returnee committee
said that such problems impacted on their relations with authorities
and their constituencies: “Unfortunately, our committee is not well
perceived by humanitarians and state authorities, because every time
we intervene in meetings with humanitarians, our recommendations
and proposals are not taken into considerations. As a consequence,
even our brothers, the spontaneous returnees, think that it is us, the
committee, who block assistance.”36
Finally, the lack of humanitarian assistance for returnees
also drew in the involvement of the camp authorities in Nyori. The
returnees’ desperate need for resources prompted some of them to
answer calls from the remaining refugee committee in Nyori camp
to collect humanitarian assistance by traveling back to South Sudan.
Some returnees went back to collect food and non-food (NFI) items
on specially organized distributions of assistance for Congolese;
others continued their schooling in Nyori while living in DRC or
answered the recruitment calls for nurses in Nyori by preparing
their departure. After one specially organized distribution of NFI’s
in March 2018, South Sudanese combatants kidnapped a group
of former refugees on their return to DRC. Military guarding the
border closed it to prevent other incidents and refused to heed the
request by the South Sudanese camp authorities and the president of
the aforementioned refugee committee to reopen the border.37 This
example equally illustrates how the South Sudanese camp authorities
continue to exert their inuence over the Congolese returnees who
were never formally repatriated and who nd themselves in desperate
need of resources for survival.
CHANGING POLITICAL CONSTELLATIONS
The various forms of displacement in Faradje territory and the
ensuing humanitarian presence also transformed existing political
geographies and created new socio-political entities that encompass
new forms of power and authority.
The establishment of new polities in the form of refugee and
IDP camps has created new political geographies encompassing new
forms of power and authority. In a context of displacement, camps
bring about new population concentrations, forms of organization,
leadership positions, and a mixture of opportunities and challenges
for the communities already living in the area. In Faradje, the
presence of IDPs or returned refugees in certain areas has increased
while simultaneously leaving many villages empty as large groups of
displaced people have not (yet) returned to their original homes. Due
to their protracted nature, some of the IDP camps that continue to
exist have managed to de facto elevate their rank to that of a locality
with their leaders taking up responsibilities similar to that of a
customary chief. In his chapter on justice and security provision in
Haut-Uélé, Titeca explains how this often creates political tensions
over authority both in the areas that people ed to (between the (new)
chief of the displaced and the customary leader of the “host” area)
and that they ed from (between the displaced chief and emerging
forms of power in his area of origin) (Titeca 2019: 299).
Further, in the context of displacement, these new population
concentrations also attracted humanitarian resources, including new
infrastructure and assistance. Health centers, schools, and shelters
were constructed where they had been destroyed in the areas from
which people had come. This increased humanitarian presence also
impacted the political landscape in Faradje. In the groupement of
Djabir, for example, the majority of the population of approximately
11 villages had ed the LRA atrocities to another locality where many
of them still reside today. Following their arrival, the chief of this
locality then moved his residence closer to the NGO oces coming
in to assist the displaced and struck deals with the chiefs of those
communities to receive a percentage of the fees generally paid to the
latter by their populations to mediate in conicts. He oversaw the
construction of schools and medical infrastructure by humanitarian
agencies in his locality and received their nancial support.38 Another
customary chief managed to use the establishment of an IDP camp
in his locality (and thus the increase of population, responsibilities,
and humanitarian resources) to now present himself as the chief
of a groupement, a more important political entity. In other sites,
representatives of the displaced community have assumed roles
similar to those of a customary chief.
Apart from enabling new political geographies, “conict and
displacement continuously create new combinations of power and
authority” (Titeca 2019: 229). The humanitarian system operates
6‘SPONTANEOUS RETURN’ IN FARADJE, NORTHEAST DRC
through a dierent set of socio-political entities than state and
customary authorities. Humanitarian structures of displacement gave
way to a range of committees representing returnees, South Sudanese
refugees, and IDPs. UNHCR and CNR facilitate the election of such
representative structures of refugees and IDPs to ensure ‘beneciary’
participation in refugee and IDP camp management issues. The
returnee committee, however, was created by returnees in 2016 and
consisted of former members of the successive refugee committees
that had existed during exile in Nyori. Interestingly, the returnee
committee was specically created in order to secure representation
towards the incoming NGOs and make claims to assistance. They
wrote letters and had meetings with CNR and TSF, were involved in
the registration process of returnees, and attempted to inuence the
distribution of humanitarian resources.
Such committees are well placed to employ their categorical
statuses (of refugee, returnee, IDP) to claim assistance, rights, and
recognition as ‘vulnerable parties in need of help.’ Yet, while such
committees are important political actors to be reckoned with, their
relatively low hierarchical status in the humanitarian structures also
increases their vulnerability. The refugee committees for Congolese
in Nyori and South Sudanese in Meri had both been suspended and
replaced, respectively, after interests about repatriation and protests
against the deactivation of assistance for Congolese wives of South
Sudanese refugees. Also, the legitimacy and role of the returnee
committee were called into question by TSF and UNHCR after
tensions arose with humanitarian partners around a project for cash
distribution to a group of returnees (cf. supra).
Further, such committees, at times, enter into competition
with already existing authorities. Both want to be involved in
negotiations over the distribution of assistance and other resources
and claim representation of overlapping communities (e.g., residents
of a locality of which many are also returnees). Such competition
over authority also exists between customary and state authorities on
the one hand and leadership positions that are remnants of refugee
life in South Sudan, such as former camp and block leaders. Some
Congolese had never been in leadership positions before they were
elected as Nyori’s camp president, refugee committee members,
or refugee block leaders. Displacement in this way also carried the
potential of reconguring people’s place in society upon return from
exile. Further, on the basis of their identication as a distinct category
of ‘returnees,’ current representative committees and former refugee
leaders exercise a form of (ocially) apolitical agency in their
relationship with the humanitarian system, which is dierent from
the existing political roles exercised by customary and other local
leaders. In practice, of course, both political and apolitical spaces
infringe on each other and are signicantly entangled.
CONCLUSION
This research brief has argued that the political/humanitarian
structures that were established during displacement have a
continuous impact on the political situation in Faradje, and contribute
to transforming issues of authority and legitimacy and changing
political constellations. Since the advent of the LRA atrocities,
displacement has resulted in an increased humanitarian presence
unprecedented in the history of Faradje. Although the humanitarian
apparatus is ocially apolitical, this paper demonstrated that it has a
distinct impact on the political landscape.
The humanitarian apparatus produced new political
geographies and socio-political entities that infringe on already
existing political structures, at times resulting in conict and
friction between the two. Being able to claim, direct, distribute, and
manage humanitarian resources has become a source of legitimacy
and authority. As local authorities proved unable to support and
integrate returnees and contribute to reconstruction, returnees
and other population groups attempt to nd a place into the same
humanitarian structures that governed them during exile or that
were established during displacement. Furthermore, the continuous
inuence exerted by South Sudanese camp authorities encourages
returnees in desperate need of resources to nd help and assistance in
Nyori, which recurrently proved to be a dangerous enterprise.
Dynamics concerning the lack of organization and assistance
in the repatriation process continue to impact relationships between
Congolese authorities, humanitarian actors, and returnees. Although
the time-span of the research does not allow the authors to make
conclusive arguments on how profoundly the negative experiences
of these actors before, during and after the return process have
impacted enduring processes of legitimacy and authority, it is clear
that they still play a role in how these parties perceive each other(‘s
actions). Certainly, the political impact of return in Faradje is as
much connected to histories of exile and displacement as to the actual
return and reintegration process that followed.
7‘SPONTANEOUS RETURN’ IN FARADJE, NORTHEAST DRC
ENDNOTES
1 The ocial statistics of registered returnees from South Sudan in
December 2018 stands at 11,572. Interview with CNR ocial, Aba,
25 February 2019.
2 For more information on the 2016 renewed upsurge in conict,
see among others: ACLED, 2016, ‘Country Report: South Sudan
Conict Update July 2016’; Réseau pour la réforme du secteur de
sécurité et de justice, 2016, ‘Haut-Uélé: les réfugiés du Sudan du
Sud d’Aba manquent de nourriture’.
3 Interview with 3 members of the returnee committee, Aba, 20
March 2019.
4 For discussions on why and in which political context the LRA
relocated to northeast DRC, see for example Schomerus, The
Lord’s Resistance Army in Sudan; Le Sage, “Countering the Lord’s
Resistance Army in Central Africa”.
5 Garamba National Park borders with South Sudan in the north
and partly overlaps with the territories of Faradje in the east and
with Dungu in the west.
6 HRW, 2009, The Christmas massacres. LRA attacks on civilians
in northern Congo; Kristof Titeca & Theophile Costeur, 2014, ‘An
LRA for everyone: how dierent actors frame the Lord’s Resistance
Army’, African Aairs, 114/454, 92-114.
7 For a more profound analysis of the reaction of Congolese
security forces towards the LRA and local populations, see: Titeca
& Costeur, ‘An LRA for everyone’.
8 For discussions on the broader histories of trade, (forced)
migration and cultural linkages in the regional borderlands of
northeast DRC, northwest Uganda and the Equatoria region in
current South Sudan, see for example: Leopold, Inside West Nile;
Omasombo, Haut-Uélé; Meagher, “The hidden economy”.
9 See International Refugee Rights Initiative, Conict Research
Group, Actions Pour la Promotion Rurale, Groupe d’Etudes sur
les Conicts et la Sécurité (2019). Returning to Stability? Refugee
Returns in the Great Lakes Region.
10 Interview with Congolese informant, Aba 25 February and
25 March 2019. Ocials who were involved in these pre-return
discussions and who were contacted by the research team were
generally hesitant to provide much information about the details
and particularities of the process. Despite multiple requests, also
UNHCR also did not share its version of this process. The apparent
sensitivity of the topic was, due to time constraints, unfortunately
not explored during eld research. For this reason, also the extent
to which South Sudanese authorities were involved in these
discussions, is not clear.
11 Interview with CNR ocial, Aba, 25 & 26 January 2019.
12 Interview with CNR ocial, Aba, 28 March 2019; interview
with head of CNR, Kinshasa, 15 August 2019.
13 Interview with military ocial, Aba; Interview with returnees,
Aba, 22 & 24 February 2019.
14 Interview with 3 members of the returnee committee, Aba, 20
March 2019; interview with civil society, Aba, 20 March 2019.
15 Important: returnees were provided with food assistance for
the rst time since it was cut in 2017 just after the eldwork was
concluded in May 2019.
16 FGD with returnees, locality of Banga, 26 March 2019.
17 Interview with returnees, Aba, 27 February 2019 and 26 March
2019, with NGO representative, Aru, 23 March 2019, and with
customary leader, Kakwa-Ima, 25 March 2019.
18 Interview with the chief of Kakwa-Ima, 3 March 2019;
Interview with Terre Sans Frontières (TSF), Aru, 23 March 2019;
Focus Group Discussion with returnees from the cheerie Kakwa-
Ima, 26 March 2019.
19 i.e. the refugee leadership, re-elected by camp inhabitants every
few years under supervision of the CRA and UNHCR.
20 Interviews with former CNR ocial, 25 February 2019; and
with returnees, Aba, 22 & 23 February, 20 March 2019. Quote
from 20 March. Actors in South Sudan were not contacted for this
research however to verify these claims.
21 According to several returnees, the main reason why many
refugees had requested repatriation was the ever declining
humanitarian assistance in the camp and thus aggravating
living conditions. The increasing security in DRC was a factor
too, though of a lesser extent. Refugees who had succeeded in
establishing successful income-generating activities or those with
criminal records back in DRC were said to prefer their stay in South
Sudan.
22 Authorities even briey detained former committee members
who were in support of repatriation when the governor of the then
Province Orientale wanted to visit the camp in 2012. Interviews
with returnees, Aba, 23 & 25 February 2019.
23 Interview with 3 members of the returnee committee, Aba,
20 March 2019; Interview with Terre Sans Frontières (TSF), Aru,
23 March 2019; Interview with the chief of Kakwa-Ima, Aba,
25 March 2019; Interview with CNR ocial, 25 March 2019;
Interview with returnees and customary chief, Banga, 26 March
2019.
24 Meeting with UNHCR and TSF, Aru, 21 June 2019.
8‘SPONTANEOUS RETURN’ IN FARADJE, NORTHEAST DRC
25 Interview with CNR ocial, Aba, 28 March 2019; Interview
with returnees, Aba, 26 March 2019.
26 Conversation with local authority, Aba, 20 March 2019.
27 Interview with local leader, Meri, 25 March 2019.
28 Interview with returnee, Aba, 23 February 2019.
29 Interviews with humanitarian actors, Aru, 23 March 2019 &
Aba, 28 March 2019.
30 Interview with returnees, 26 March 2019.
31 Interview with military ocial, Aba; Interview with
returnees, Aba, 22 & 24 February 2019.
32 Reference to discourse governor province, 8 December 2018.
33 The rest of the Congolese did not face suspension of their
status as they had ocially registered themselves as South
Sudanese.
34 Interview with CNR, Aba, 22 March 2019; Interviews with
members of the former South Sudanese refugee committee
on 24 February, 27 & 28 March; information from Congolese
informants between 14-25 May, 10 June, July 2019.
35 Interviews with civil society, Aba, 20 March 2019 and
Kurukwata, 4 March 2019; with CNR, Aba, 21 March 2019;
with NGO, Aru, 22 March 2019; and with returnees, Aba, 17
April 2019.
36 Interview with returnee committee, Aba, 17 April 2019.
37 Interviews with military and with returnees present during
the incident, 26 March 2019.
38 Conversations with Congolese informant, Arua, 18-20 June
2019.
REFERENCES
Human Rights Watch. 2009. The Christmas massacres. LRA
attacks on civilians in northern Congo.
International Refugee Rights Initiative, Conict Research
Group, Actions Pour la Promotion Rurale, Groupe d’Etudes sur
les Conicts et la Sécurité (2019). Returning to Stability? Refugee
Returns in the Great Lakes Region
Leopold, Mark. 2005. Inside West Nile: violence, history &
representation on an African frontier. London: James Currey.
Le Sage, Andre. 2011. “Countering the Lord’s Resistance Army in
Central Africa”, INSS Strategic Forum, 270.
Meagher, Kate. 1990. “The hidden economy: informal and parallel
trade in Northwestern Uganda”, Review of African Political
Economy, 17/47, 64-83.
Schomerus, Mareike. 2007. The Lord’s Resistance Army in Sudan:
a history and overview. Geneva: Small Arms Survey
Tshonda, Jean Omasombo (ed.). 2011. Haut-Uélé: trésor
touristique. Brussels: Le Cri.
Titeca, Kristof & Theophile Costeur. 2014. “An LRA for
everyone: how dierent actors frame the Lord’s Resistance Army,”
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Titeca, Kristof. 2019. “Public services at the edge of the state:
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ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
The Congo research briefs are a joint publication of the Conflict Research Group (CRG) at Ghent University, the
Social Science Research Council (SSRC) and its Understanding Violent Conflict programme, the Study Group on
Conflicts and Human Security (GEC-SH) at the University of Kivu Research Center (CERUKI), the University of
Kinshasa (UNIKIN) and the Governance-in-Conflict Network (GiC). These provide concise and timely summaries of
ongoing research on the Congo that is being undertaken by CRG, SSRC, GEC-SH, UNIKIN, GiC, and their partners.
Many thanks to professor Dr. Kristof Titeca and Dr. Naomi Pendle for their elaborate comments on the paper. This
research brief is one of the outputs of the research project “Returning to Stability,” funded by NWO-WOTRO Science
for Global Development. In this respect, the authors owe special thanks to the researchers and administrative staff
of the organizations and research groups that provided crucial analytical input, logistical support, and orientation
throughout the research process: Actions Pour la Promotion Rurale (APRu), International Refugee Rights Initiative
(IRRI), Conflict Research Group (CRG), and Groupe d’Etudes sur les Conflits et la Sécurité Humaine (GEC-SH). Final
credits to Sara Weschler for terrific language editing, as always.
This work was supported by the Partnership for Conflict, Crime & Security Research, a Global Challenges Research
Fund collaboration of the Economic and Social Research Council; and the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
[AH/P005454/1]
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LRA attacks on civilians in northern Congo. International Refugee Rights Initiative
Human Rights Watch. 2009. The Christmas massacres. LRA attacks on civilians in northern Congo. International Refugee Rights Initiative, Conflict Research Group, Actions Pour la Promotion Rurale, Groupe d'Etudes sur les Conflicts et la Sécurité (2019). Returning to Stability? Refugee Returns in the Great Lakes Region
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