Forgotten conflicts in the eastern half of the country are posing a serious threat for the stability of the country and especially for the preparation of the presidential and parliament elections at the end of year.
In their late December report to the UN Security Council, a UN experts warn that the overall security has not improved in the eastern half of the country. Other UN sources warn that in many provinces, voters registration is being disrupted by insecurity. This may pose a threat to the implementation of the elections roadmap which should be completed by year’s end and of the transition agreement sealed by the main political forces at the end of 2016, under the aegis of the roman catholic bishops conference.
One of the hotspots in North-Eastern Congo, is the Garamba National Park, which is the main source of trafficking of ivory which finances the Lord Resistance Army Ugandan rebels. Poachers also include Mbororo pastoralists from the Central African Republic and Ouda nomads from Sudan who ignore international border, like other groups which take advantage that in neighbouring South Sudan, the Lantoto National Park is not patrolled by the army of this country. The situation is also very volatile in the Ituri province, close to the Ugandan border. On the 2 January, militias from the FRPI attacked the Baraka, Matete and Gbado villages, at 80 km from the provincial capital, Bunia, killing several civilians. Voters registration operations in the Walendu Bindi territory, launched at the beginning of the year, was not possible because of the insecurity created by the FRPI rebels who are looting the area on a chronic base, complained a local authority, one weak later.
Kivu, on the verge of a civil war
Foreign armed groups remain active in North Kivu where the FDLR Rwandan rebels continue to pose a threat to security, despite a weakening of the group owing to an internal split that led to the loss of one third of its troops to the newly created Conseil National pour le Renouveau et la Démocratie-Ubwiyunge, say the UN Experts. The province is on the verge of a civil war between the two main ethnic groups, the Nandes and the Hutus, partly because of conflicts over land properties, which already have provoked the displacement of 100, 000 people.
On the 28 November, 30 people were killed near Lubero by a Nande militia called “Mazembe”, bringing to 75 the number of civilians killed in this territory last year. In the territory of Rutshuru, voters’ registration operations which should have started on the last 2 January were cancelled after the flight of the inhabitants of Bwito during December 2016, following an attack of the Nyatura Maï Maï Hutu militias, led by Muhawenimana Bunombe aka John Love. According to the UN-sponsored Radio Okapi, at least 20 people were killed during this attack.
In the Beni area, the National Electoral Commission (CENI) decided on the last 10 January to move the voters’ registration centres of certain villages towards the city of Oicha. The security was so critical at that time that only 12 centres out of a total of 112 were operational in the Beni territory. The area has been seriously affected since last July by attacks from the Ugandan rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).
The Nyatura militias are also present in South Kivu as showed an attack launched against Numbi on the 8 January and fighting between the Congolese army and the Raia Mutomboki armed group on the 11 January. In this province as well, the voters’ registration process has been seriously disrupted. On the 3 January, a group of armed men, wearing military fatigues attacked the Kagabi registration centre in the Kabare territory, apparently, with the purpose of stealing the equipments.
Katanga, secessionist movements
In the former Katanga province, which was split into four smaller ones in 2015, sympathies for secessionist movements are rising again. There is widespread feeling in the region that the Kinshasa authorities are deliberately targeting Katangese political leaders. In June 2016, the popular and charismatic president of the TP Mazembe football club, the former governor of Katanga, Moise Katumbi Chapwe was given a three year sentence by a Lubumbashi court after he was found guilty in a case of real estate dispossession. But the judge who went later into exile, confessed that she had been under pressure from the presidency to render this verdict.
The consequences are still being felt today. This condemnation makes it legally impossible for Katumbi to participate to the presidential race, which causes much frustration in Katanga. Another local political figure, Vano Kiboko from the Sanga tribal association, « Lwanzo Lwa Mikuba », was arrested in December 2014 and kept in jail until May 2016, for alleged incitement to tribal hate, because he opposed Kabila’s plans to amend the constitution in order to be allowed to run for a third term. Jean-Claude Muyambo, the chairman of the Solidarité congolaise pour la démocratie et le développement, opposition party is detained since January 2015 for similar reasons.
The Kinshasa government is targeting another prominent leader, the former speaker of the Katangese parliament, Gabriel Kyungu wa Kumwanza, leader of the Union des fédéralistes et nationalistes du Congo (UNAFEC). On the last 27 December, Kyungu who now sits in the parliament of the Upper-Katanga Assembly lost his MP’s immunity. The pretext was an alleged insult against President Kabila who was described in a video-broadcasted interview as “someone worthless”. But Kyungu is challenging the authenticity of the tape brought as evidence by the prosecution while the human rights NGO Voix des Sans Voix, accuses the government to settle political disputers through the judiciary.
All these persecutions are potentially dangerous for the stability of the province. Kyungu is an influential figure and retains the capacity to mobilise his own militia, the UNAFEC youth, which is in the past two years was involved in clashes against the army in Likasi, which caused several deaths. Meanwhile, Katangese secessionists are making threats. On the last 29 December, in a communiqué, the Coordination pour l’organisation d’un référendum pour l’autonomie du Katanga (Corak), a pro-independence group which attacke the Lubumbashi prison and the Luano airport in 2011 and another movement called the Forces of Liberation of Katanga (FLK) warned that if Kyungu was arrested, they would trigger the “liberation of Katanga”.
The region which was still Kabila’s stronghold during the 2011 elections has now become hostile. On the last 19 and 20 December, the capital, Lubumbashi was one of the main focus of protests against Kabila’s plans to stay in office after the expiration of his mandate. At least, 300 people were arrested. Another reason for the Katangese anger is that even in Kabila’s tribe, the Balubakat, there is a widespread feeling that the head of state did not do anything for the people. Kabila’s inability to implement a provision of the constitution to allow the provinces to cash 40 percent of the tax receipts is another bone of contention.
Meanwhile, in the North-East of Katanga, in the new province of Tanganyika, the conflict between Luba and Twa pygmies militias which broke out in 2012, has resumed with increased violence. By the end of November, 152 schools and several churches were destroyed in the Kabalo territory. Between, the 13 and the 19 December, new clashes caused a toll of 14 deaths and 89 injured in the Manono territory. And in early January, 12 people died and 41 were injured in a series of attacks launched by Twa militias against Mpyana, 95 km to the South of Manono, reported Radio Okapi. As a result, pre-electoral operations are completely disrupted. Nyumba-Isha and 7/7 Twa militias, stole electoral kits on the last 6 January in the Nyunzu territory and say they will only give them back if the army walks out of the area, reported the Electoral Commission.
Further North, in Kasai, since August, a “liberation movement” is spreading and claims to get rid the province from systematic extorsions by the military and police. The situation worsened after the assassination of the rebel chief, Kamwina Nsapu, and the mutilation of his body. Since then, police stations are being systematically targeted. In early December, the army prevented an incursion of the militia in the town of Tshikapa, 31 people died during the fights. Railway traffic has been also partially disrupted by these incidents. On the 30 December, the SNCC railway company stopped operations on the line between Lubumbashi and the capital of Kasai Central, Kananga, after a train was attacked near the Lubi river by a group of rebels. Whoever rules in the next coming months in Kinshasa, will have lots of security challenges all over the DRC’s vast territory.