The war against FDLR already started
The war has already started
An analysis of the imminent operations against the Rwandan Hutu militia FDLR
By Simone Schlindwein, Goma, 9 January 2015.
Time is up for the Rwandan Hutu militia FDLR. The six-month deadline for voluntary disarmament expired on 2 January. The decision has been taken by UN Security Council to attack them militarily. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon called Congo’s president Joseph Kabila to inform him about the international community’s political will to use “all necessary means” to destroy the FDLR in the DRC. Now, everybody is waiting for Kabila to give his go-ahead to launch the attacks.
The military actors in the Kivus are ready to fight. A joint command operation center has been set up in Kiwanja Monusco base to coordinate the operations between FARDC, FIB and Monusco’s regular troops.
Meanwile in Goma, the humanitarian agencies are busy preparing. UNHCR is setting up temporary camps in Masisi and Rutshuru territories to register newly arriving Rwandan Hutu refugees from FDLR areas who will flee and seek refuge. Radio messages are broadcast into the bush to inform FDLR that there is now a last chance to surrender peacefully.
It’s the first time in history that literally the whole world has apparently turned against FDLR, even the Tanzanians and South Africans they considered as their loyal partners. Now, everybody is waiting for the first bomb to be dropped. Monusco General Wafy announced last Sunday that the operations can start “at any time”.
But instead of bombing FDLR positions in North Kivu, the joint operations between Monusco and FARDC turned against the Burundian rebels FNL in South Kivu. Why?
There is a simple reason: All these delaying tactics, including the FNL operations, are part of the psychological warfare to weaken the FDLR’s morale. Monusco chief Martin Kobler has called the FNL operation a “role model” of joint military action conducted by FARDC, FIB and Monusco troops. It was simply a manoeuvre to prove the FDLR that all forces are ready to fight them and to demonstrate what will happen to them in the worst case. The FDLR had six month to surrender their arms peacefully. They failed.
The Kisangani bluff
In the last months, the FDLR “surrendered” 337 combatants and 234 old rusty weapons – a total joke. This represents approximately 24% of the FDLR’s estimated total number of combatants. The FDLR has therefore to date “not complied in full with the conditions imposed by the Heads of State and Government of SADC and the ICGLR”, as the press release of South African president Jacob Zuma states clearly.
In our analysis written in July 2014 (“Endgame or bluff?”) we stated that the FDLR’s offer of volunteer disarmament was a bluff to gain time. The Monusco was well aware of that and still played along, even as the FDLR leadership complained about the toilets in the Kisangani camp and discussed those issues on the highest level they didn’t lose their temper. Why? For a simple reason: Because both sides gained some positive results from the Kisangani bluff.
- · The UN wanted to prove that the FDLR is not willing to disarm voluntarily. It showed the whole world that the FDLR played a game and this in the end undermined their credibility. The UN playing along was a tactical step to prove to the world that there are no other options to get rid of the FDLR than to attack them militarily.
- · The FDLR tried in a clever way to address their biggest enemy: the UN’s DDRRR program for voluntary repatriation to Rwanda through which they lost around 12.000 combatants in the last 13 years. As the history of the 2009 joint operations showed, while in a few months almost 1000 defected, this time they tried to make sure that DDRRR cannot “steal” many more of their effective force. How did they do that? Although it was agreed on in the technical joint committees that FDLR/FOCA would surrender unit by unit, the FDLR leadership selected the mentally and physically weakest ones of all the different units, including their dependents. These invalids and old fighters were sent to Kisangani. It seems like a military operation, just without guns. It`s crystal-clear that these guys are still under FDLR/FOCA control, even though Monusco is feeding and housing them. There are about 10 officers in their lines who keep an eagle eye on their comrades to ensure that they do not eventually surrender to DDRRR but stay and refuse to answer questions or show willingness to repatriate. It was a tactical game being played first of all to gain time – for a six month period – and secondly as a clear message to their own troops: If you want to surrender, you will end up in Kisangani and won´t get home to your loved ones and your country anyway. The exit door that was once opened by DDRRR doesn’t exist anymore! Did this tactic work out well? Statistics show a tremendous drop of repatriation via DDRRR during 2014. Around ten FDLR demobilized in average every month – compared to 100 on average during 2012. Quite a significant decrease. But DDRRR continue to offer voluntary repatriation and are trying to reach out to the FDLR combatants in Kanyabayonga and Kisangani camps. In the end, the war has already started – it is psychological warfare, conducted on a totally different level.
- So, what will be the result of the Kisangani camp situation? Will FDLR stay there until the DRC and Rwanda find a way to deal with them? We should not forget that Kisangani camp is in the end controlled by the Congolese Government, specifically bythe intelligence agency ANR. Looking at the region, Kisangani means that the DRC Government has a counterpart to the camps in Uganda and Ruanda where M23 combatants are hosted by the respective governments. It’s maybe too early to speculate, but could there be in the end an exchange? I give you Omega if you give me Makenga?
The FDLR conglomerate today
To simply talk of FDLR is a very imprecise way of understanding the conglomerate of different factions that will be targeted by military operations. To come up with any successful strategy there must be a deeper understanding of what we mean when we use the term FDLR.
- · RUD-Urunana is a splinter group of FDLR that separated with their political leadership in the US and their own military command structure from the main organisation in 2004. RUD consists maybe of 200-300 combatants mostly based in northern Rutshuru and Lubero territories. They operate in small groups. Their main goal is to survive and to do business, exploiting taxes along the trading axis of Nyamilima road. Most of those Rwandan Hutu fighters have already left their positions in the Binza Groupement and have fled to Uganda or the forests in Lubero.
- · FDLR-SOKI is another small faction that split away under the command of Sangano Musohoke aka Soki. However, Musohoke was killed by M23 commandos in 2013.
- · FDLR/FOCA in North and South Kivu is the most coherent FDLR group with a total estimated number of 200-1300 effective fighters, mostly in North Kivu whereas the South Kivu Sector is a very small group of maybe 200.
The FDLR/FOCA is an “Organization politico-militaire”. That means it consists of a political and a military wing in which both wings elect a common leadership platform on an equal basis that decides about the overall strategy of the whole organization.
Recent elections took place after many delays in December 2014 confirmed Ignace Murwanashyaka (in jail since 2009 in Germany, trial still ongoing) as president, Callixte Mbarushimana as Executive Secretary, Victor Byiringiro (Rumuli) being elected as 1st vice-president (previously he was 2nd vice-president and acted in interim for Ignace Murwanashyaka as president, but former 1st vice-president Straton Musoni is on trial in Germany too) and Colonel Wilson Irategeka as 2nd vice-president.
General Mudacumura still holds the chief of high command position as military leader of FOCA but has lost his interim post as vice-president. His political influence has decreased drastically.
The FDLR leadership is deeply divided in fractions. The cleavage lines are multidimensional and complex but let’s mention at least a few:
- · Division between South Rwandan and North Rwandan origin in terms of clans, family relations and background in the pre-1994 regime. The northerners are considered to be close to Juvenal Habyarimana’s clan and the “Akazu” and are defined as more radical and extremist in their Hutu power ideology. The southerners are defined as more moderate and willing to negotiate themselves into the political system of current Rwanda. This faction is creating internal disagreements and rivalry within the leadership since the beginning of the FDLR 2001 when the former ALIR East and West groups in DRC united to form one single organization. Prominent representatives of these groups are General Sylvestre Mudacumura from the North, originated from Gisenyi and Mayor General Victor Byiringiro, current interim president, who originates from the South. They hate each other deeply and since the arrest of Ignace Murwanshyaka, who tried to mediate between them on the ground, the two have been in open opposition to each other.
- · Division between people with a genocide history, or who are accused by Rwanda to have taken part in the killings of 1994, and those who don’t have a Genocide-label. The first group is a tiny minority, mostly all of them military commanders as they were officers of the former Rwandan army FAR. The most prominent figure is General Sylvestre Mudacumura and most of his high command members, as well as influential commanders like General Omega/Israel. The overall majority of the FDLR foot soldiers and low ranking commanders,as well as the cadres of the FDLR political and administrative wing, are younger and therefore not suspect of personal involvement in the genocide. For them, repatriation is an option – on whatever conditions they insist on, but at least there is an option they would go home in the end. For the alleged Genocidaires repatriation to Rwanda is and will never be an option. They know very well they will end up in prison for the rest of their lives – they would rather die in the bush in Congo.
- · We have to underline clearly: the majority of individuals in the FDLR want to go home. But there are the few dozens in the high ranking FOCA-leadership who can’t, due to their genocide history, and who need the others to stay with them in the jungle for their own survival purposes. The FOCA set up a very tidy control system to make sure that defection is a very risky thing to try. It can end in execution or brutal punishment. In the FOCA internal military penal code defection and treason is the highest possible crime. The combatants are mostly now of a middle age where they have a wife and a few children they want to take care of and provide with a living and schooling. They would repatriate if thd have the chance to defect from their troops and make sure their loved ones will be safe with them. Only the very young generation of fighters who were born in the Congo in the Rwandan Hutu refugee community and are mostly children of FDLR are so brainwashed and don’t have active memory of their home country that it’s not easy to lure them out with nostalgic messages about their hills in Rwanda. That’s dangerous because if we talk about recruitment of fresh FOCA fighters, these are the young men who will serve the high ranking commanders as escorts to stay loyal with them in the bush until the end.
- · There are political and administrative cadres who would go home but only under certain conditions. To reach their goals they need the Rwandan Hutu refugee community in Congo to play their political game. These cadres are the ones pushing for an “inter-Rwandan dialogue” and “opening of political space in Rwanda” to achieve the final goals of 20 years of struggle against the Rwandan regime and as a principal legacy of the FDLR as an organization, drafted in the FDLR manifesto where they call themselves “freedom fighters”. To reach these goals, they would leave behind FOCA as a military wing, as long they have a guarantee of fulfilling their political goals. They have set up a shadow government that is “democratically elected” and pretends to be a state within a state that, with an effective armed force, guarantees the security and ethnic survival of their population as well as their whole Hutu ethnicity that is in their eyes threaten by extinction. But a government is not a government and a state not a state without citizens. And that’s why the refugee population plays a crucial role in their strategy of political manoeuvre. The FDLR claims to represent all 200.000 Rwandan Hutu refugees still left in DRC but is effectively only administrating their wives, children, elderly, invalids, pensioned soldiers and officers (yes, the FOCA has a pension system!) and other direct dependents. According to FDLR internal figures by mid-2012 they in fact administrated only 12.500 refugees in North Kivu and around 6.000 in South Kivu. These numbers decreased further in the last two years due to high repatriation numbers. None of the higher ranking commanders or cadres still have family in DRC. Their relatives all left a long time ago to go to Rwanda or live in exile. The “citizens” they govern are just simple refugees who would go home if there is a safe way home and a chance to start a new life in their Rwandan villages. These thousands of people had been misled by FDLR propaganda and taken hostage by FOCA and could be used as human shields.
Who is who in the FDLR?
In the political game being played there are a handful of military and political cadres playing an important role and representing different fractions. All the following “big elephants” are currently located in different positions at least a few hours walking distance to each other. They are all surrounded by their respective loyal forces.
- Interim president and 1st vice-president Victor Byiringiro originates from southern Rwanda. He is an ex-FAR and major-general but presents himself as a civilian figure. His power base is the “citizens”, the Hutu refugees. He needs them to maintain his position and to reach his goal of a political dialogue with the Kigali regime. A lot of middle ranking officers and combatants from the south are loyal to him. He is deeply religious and is preaching faith in God`s good will to lead them home into their “promised land”.
- 2nd Vicepresident Wilson Irategeka is a close ally of the influential mastermind in exile, Callixte Mbarushimana. He was until recently his deputy executive secretary, following a common strategy. Irategeka was actively working on a political umbrella for the Rwandan opposition in exile and on staking an explicit political claim in Rwanda itself. Immediately after the „Peace Offer Declaration“ of 30 December 2013, on 12 January 2014 the FDLR announced the „official start“ of activities of its new alliance FCLR-Ubumwe (Common Front for the Liberation of Rwanda) with the Rwandan opposition party PS-Imberakuri (Socialist Party). Irategeka became the FDLR-„Ambassador“ to Tanzania and linked up with former Rwandan prime minister Faustin Twagiramungu in exile in Belgium, who declared that his new party RDI (Rwanda Dream Initiative), not registered in Rwanda, had gone into alliance with the FDLR 2014. Later on, FDLR, PS, RDI und four other groups announced the formation in Brussels of the umbrella group CPC (Coalition of Rwandan Political Parties for Change), with Twagiramungu as president and a FDLR representative – interim president Byiringiro, as it turned out – as 1st vice-president. Irategeka travelled to Tanzania recently on a regular basis. But eventually Byiringiro declared these coalitions null and vois and warned in a recent FDLR communiqué written only in Kinyarwanda that only he himself should be accepted as a leader. Irategeka was sidelined by Byiringiro.
- FDLR spokesman Laforge fils Bazaye represents the political cadres in the FDLR administration. They portray themselves as the elite speaking in the name of the refugees. Laforge openly stated several times that he would return home if the refugees can return in dignity and there is a chance for political dialogue with Rwanda. Between Laforge, Byiringiro and Irategeka there is a lot of tension and rivalry on who defines political tactics.
- Angelo Muhire Habumuremyi is the representative of the Rwandan Hutu refugees within the FDLR. He was once close to Laforge but has tried to distance himself recently as he sees the military operations against FDLR approaching. His interest is to find a safe way out of the hostage situation, not playing any political games, and he is trying to communicate with UNHCR to establish humanitarian corridors. He is maybe the only quasi-FDLR who thinks positively about military operations against them because it will give the refugees a window of opportunity to escape.
- FOCA chief Sylvestre Mudacumura has recently become more and more isolated. His power is currently more based on fear than on respect. He is a very strong alcoholic and highly diabetic. He has grown fat and weak, not able to run anymore. Under the influence of alcohol he loses his temper a lot. Recently, he tried to escape from his own troops to surrender to ICC in The Hague, an operation that failed. Lots of high commanders have lost trust in him.
- General Omega aka Israel, commander of the FOCA 1st Sector, is perhaps the currently most influential military commander, with his troops still very able and capable of operating. He might be the only one really defending them and being able to survive with his CRAP and commando units or even launch a counterattack. As he proved during the 2012 attacks on Rwanda (during the days when M23 occupied Goma), he is willing to send his troops into Kamikaze missions to die as heroes and martyrs for their cause and never surrender. He is deeply religious, carries the name “Isreal” and has named his units “Sinai” and “Canaan” like the promised land of God.
What can be a strategy to dismantle the FDLR?
The Monusco has declared as the overall target of their military operation the removal od Mudacumura and Omega. Surrender of the political leadership is not enough. But how?
As far as Mudacumura is concerned, it`s likely that sooner or later he will find his way out under conditions and be transferred to ICC where he will retire in a luxury prison awaiting his trial – like General Bosco Ntaganda who fled his M23 comrades 2013.
Omega is more difficult to get hold of, taking into consideration that he actually has a well-equipped commando force under his command that has enough CRAP units to survive in difficult circumstances. The same applies to other commanders like Andre Kalume, the chief of the reserve brigade, or Col. Gakwerere aka Stany who commands the HQ protection battalion.
It is likely that FOCA is now issuing orders to go into a position of total defence. The troops have already organized civilian clothes to dress with and vanish into the population and try to use their refugees and dependents as human shields. Under these conditions, for FIB to attack with South African helicopters is clearly the wrong approach. As the 2009 operations against FDLR showed, there is a positive effect when FOCA is pushed and forced to run and disperse in chaos. In these chaotic moments simple combatants ordered their families to run into different directions to get away from the FDLR control.
The risk remains that FDLR/FOCA command will issue orders to create a “humanitarian catastrophe” like they did during the operations 2009. The FDLR trial in Germany aims to reach a verdict naming the leadership responsible for these orders which intended to create such an enormous humanitarian disaster that political pressure on the international community to stop the operations would rise. FDLR launched attacks on the local Congolese population, burnt villages, and looted health centers as punishment. The attack on the village of Busurungi in Walikale territory on 9 May 2009 stands as an example where almost 100 Congolese civilians were brutally slaughtered and had their houses burnt. But, according to testimonies in the German court and interviews with the officers who conducted these operations: 1) the attack on Busurungi was a revenge attack provoked by ex-CNDP-soldiers within FARDC killing FDLR dependents in Shario forest nearby in previous weeks; the Shario killings were commanded by Tutsi Colonels like Zimurinda and Baudouin who are known to show no mercy towards FDLR civilians. 2) the ex-CNDP soldiers set up their defence positions in Busurungi just outside the doorsteps of the houses where the local population slept, thus there was no way for FOCA to differentiate between military and civilian positions during the night attack. 3) it took FOCA almost two weeks to plan and launch these retaliation attacks conducted by more than 400 troops; to prepare such a major operation the FOCA command needs a safe setting and environment and a clear chain of command.
The upcoming military operations have to ensure that such provocations are not repeated and that the FDLR command chain collapses so that no major operations can be conducted.
At the same time, the most important strategy is to address the refugee population in order to dismantle the political leadership (because a government is not a government if there are no citizens to administrate). If they flee from FDLR and return to Rwanda, the entire foundation of FDLR legitimacy will collapse. The political leadership will lose their power base and trump cards in their political game. Since they are not close to the FOCA command any more their won´t be any other options for the politicians than surrender. In this moment, the radical FOCA wing will be left isolated and can be adressed by proper military means.
But initially there is a clear need to directly address these civilians to give them humanitarian corridors out of the mess and chaos so they can escape.
It is already starting to happen. Women have been abandoned as their husbands left their positions on the hills to follow orders by their command. The women found their way to UNHCR. The more that get out before the first attack is actually launched, the better. That is why there has not been an immediate attack following 2 January and that is what the delaying strategy is all about right now. It is a tactical step to let the whole world and especially the FDLR leadership wair what will happen. The weapon of fear is already launched.