UN fiddles while ex-Interahamwe terrorise North Kivu

The year 2013 saw the end of the last major war in the Great Lakes region of East Africa.

The war, which broke out in the second half of 2012, saw the army of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC), with the support of UN forces, battle it out with an insurgent group, M23, over several months, during which the DRC and Rwanda, and to a limited extent Uganda, became the focus of international attention.

Rwanda and Uganda were in the news for allegedly providing practical and other support to the rebels.

For as long as the fighting lasted, the east of the DRC, specifically North Kivu, and more specifically the border town of Goma and its hinterland, became the destination of choice for journalists, especially those from well-resourced Western media outlets, as well as humanitarians of all sorts and members of other occupations with a penchant for fishing in troubled waters.

Eventually, after much suffering among civilians and many deaths on the rebel and government sides, the war ended, unexpectedly.

The reasons for the sudden turn of events are on the one hand hotly contested, and on the other, rather easily accepted as having everything to do with M23 being routed by the FARDC and allied forces.

What is not contested, however, is that large numbers of the insurgents melted away into Uganda, leaving behind a rather small body count for a group reported to have suffered a massive defeat.

The full story concerning what really happened before M23 decided to vacate the battlefield may never be known.

The end of the war, however, raised hopes of lasting peace being achieved, and of the DRC becoming a normal country once again, where armed insurgency and associated violence against civilians, as well as instability, would become history.

Adding fuel to these hopes was the much-publicised undertaking by the UN that the end of M23 would be followed by swift action to disarm or eliminate all armed groups, with the Interhamwe rump, FDLR (Forces Democratique de Liberation du Rwanda), as the priority.

Several months down the road, there are indications that the UN has been big on tough talking and not so big on confronting the other armed groups.

Apart from reported operations against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF-NALU), a group that has nursed ambitions of toppling the government of Uganda for years while spending much of their time harassing and robbing local communities in the DRC, no sustained action by the UN forces has been reported against other groups.

Meanwhile, areas vacated by M23 have reportedly become a safe haven for various militias, including the FDLR, the very group whose harassment and displacement of North Kivu’s Tutsi communities was at the root of the M23 insurgency.

Informed sources in the DRC suggest the UN has good reasons for going slow on the FDLR, one of them being that its fighters are embedded in local communities and are therefore difficult to attack without serious risk of collateral damage entailing the killing of women and children.

According to the same sources, however, the UN’s own intelligence points to the FDLR running several training camps for its fighters in different parts of North Kivu. Sources in Rwanda, whose government watches the FDLR closely, confirm these reports.

Meanwhile media and NGO reports inside the DRC itself have of late been highlighting incidents in North Kivu involving a multiplicity of rebel groups carrying out attacks on whole communities, leaving large numbers dead and forcing many others to flee for safety.

Other reports point to militias fighting each other and raiding fields and harvesting acres of crops, leaving communities vulnerable to severe food shortages, possibly famine. These incidents are happening across large areas of North Kivu.

Incidents that could potentially plunge the region into renewed upheaval are not confined to the DRC. Inside Rwanda, several trials are underway, of people accused of being FDLR operatives. Details remain scanty.

However, information already in the public domain suggests that FDLR agents have been infiltrating Rwanda to engage in acts of sabotage and, in some cases, explode grenades in public places.

Official sources say that, in parts of rural Rwanda, especially in areas of the country’s Northern Province bordering the DRC that are home to some of the top civilian and military elite of the Habyarimana period, the security forces have uncovered attempts by the group to set up local cells with a view, apparently, to establishing a political presence.

This, according to the same sources, proves the argument by the government of Rwanda, that while the UN is right to minimise the military threat the FDLR poses to the country, they disregard the dangers of its commitment to a genocidal agenda not only in Rwanda, but throughout the region.

There is a sense in which parts of this broad story contain an alarmist flavour. Were that to be the case, there would probably be no reason to fear too much. If they reflect actual goings-on, however, it would suggest the UN and the region are incubating another security and political crisis.

Frederick Golooba-Mutebi is a Kampala- and Kigali-based researcher and writer on politics and public affairs. E-mail: fgmutebi@yahoo.com

SOURCE: The East African