In the eastern regions of the country, strong presence of Wagner paramilitaries, arms traffickers, and former soldiers
of the Foreign Legion.
Former soldiers of the Soviet Armed Forces, veterans of the French Foreign Legion, businessmen engaged in arms trafficking and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are used as a front to finance rebel militias. It looks like the script of a spy story but instead, it is a snapshot of the situation between North Kivu and South Kivu, in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In Goma, the capital of North Kivu, Africa Intelligence reported the presence of paramilitaries from the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin’s private security company currently engaged in Donbass, in Ukraine, in support of Russian troops, as well as in several African countries.
At the city’s international airport, however, there is a local branch of Agemira, a company based in Sofia.
The Bulgarian company deals with the maintenance of fighter aircraft of the FARDC, the Armed Forces of the DR Congo.
It is led by the French Olivier Bazin, nicknamed ‘Colonel Mario’, for about thirty years a consultant in various branches – from military supplies to oil & gas – between Chad, Angola, Congo, Ivory Coast and, precisely, DR Congo. About forty technicians from his company, mostly Belarussian and Georgian, experts in the use of Soviet-made aircraft, are trying to restore two Sukhoi Su-25 fighters, purchased by former president Joseph Kabila more than ten years ago in Ukraine, and two Mi-24 attack helicopters. The last outing of these aircraft dates back to last November in a raid against the M23 rebels.
Furthermore, in recent months, Bazin managed to get two Mi-8 transport helicopters to Goma, and now he is allegedly trying to find more Mi-24s and Su-25s, which are increasingly difficult to find on the market. Meanwhile, he is in talks with another Bulgarian company, Metalika AB, to arm the fighters, a company that has already worked in Africa, in particular with the Ivory Coast in the early 2000s despite the fact that at the time the country was under a UN embargo.
Again, at the end of 2022, about a hundred military instructors from Bucharest landed at Goma airport. Their boss is Horatiu Potra, a former soldier of the French Foreign Legion who has been a consultant for various private security agencies for years. Potra has experience in Chad and in the Central African Republic, a country where he was involved, for a certain period, in the training of the presidential guard of former president Ange-Félix Patassé.
Last November, with his Kalashnikov on his shoulder, he was seen in Goma surrounded by FARDC soldiers. President Félix Tshisekedi has assigned him and his men the task of ensuring the security of the airport. Formally, however, Potra did not work for the regular armed forces but for a local company, Congo Protection, owned by Patrick Bologna, an Italian-Congolese politician and entrepreneur as well as the Honorary Consul of Ukraine in Kinshasa, and the Congolese Bijou Eliya.
In the South Kivu region, the United States is monitoring the Banyamulenge Tutsi community, whose militias, according to the FBI, have received hundreds of thousands of dollars through the Mahoro Peace Association, a US-based NGO.
Leading the armed wing of the Banyamulenge community is the warlord Michel Rukunda, known by the name of ‘Makanika’.
Rukunda has spent time in the Rwandan Patriotic Front, the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of the Congo and the Congolese Rally for Democracy. In 2019 he defected from the FARDC and approached the M23 rebels. Since then, he has lived holed up in the highlands overlooking Lake Tanganyika at the head of a militia called Twigwaneho, made up of about a thousand guerrillas, most of whom were recruited in refugee camps scattered between Burundi, Uganda, and Rwanda. The liaison between this militia and the Mahoro Peace Association is Alexis Nkurunziza, a member of the association’s executive committee and a former intelligence officer of the Rwandan Patriotic Front. Nkurunziza is suspected of having supplied military equipment to the Rukunda militia and set up a headquarters for it in the Bijabo area. These movements were also intercepted by the UN Monusco mission in the DR Congo, which in a June 2021 report confirmed the existence of ‘significant financial support for members of the Banyamulenge community living inside or outside the DR Congo’. Since 2020, almost 1.5 million dollars would have been paid into accounts belonging to members of the Banyamulenge community established in the DR Congo (Kinshasa, Goma, Bukavu, Uvira and Minembwe), Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, and South Africa.
(Open Photo: Goma and volcano Nyiragongo in background, North Kivu. CC BY-SA 2.0/Abel Kavanagh)