Opportunities and Constraints for the Disarmament and Repatriation of Foreign Armed Groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo
On September 13, 2007, the Africa Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the World Bank's Multi-Country Demobilization and Reintegration Program (MDRP) co-sponsored an event entitled "Opportunities and Constraints for the Disarmament and Repatriation of Foreign Armed Groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo". The purpose of the event was to present a report with the same title that had been commissioned by the MDRP. The event featured the primary author of the report, Hans Romkema, Team Leader with Conflict and Transition Consultancies (CTC), and Sean Bradley, Senior Social Development Specialist with the MDRP.
Sean Bradley began by describing the mission of the MDRP which is to support the process of demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants in the Great Lakes Region of Africa. He stressed the importance of the Program in light of foreign armed groups in eastern DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) which continue to threaten the consolidation of peace and economic development in the region.
Hans Romkema's presentation focused on the main objective of the report which is to provide recommendations to "enhance the success of the Demobilization and Repatriation (D&R) process for the foreign armed groups in the DRC": Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), Forces Nationales pour la Libération (FNL) du Burundi, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) of Uganda, and the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU). Because of the size of the FDLR and because of its impact in the DRC, Romekema's remarks were primarily focused on the role of the FDLR in the Kivu provinces (DRC).
Romkema provided an overview of the FDLR today covering its objectives, human rights abuses, parallel authority structure, control over resources and trade, internal control structures and internal conflicts and divisions. The FDLR today has over 7,000 combatants in eastern DRC concentrated in the North and South Kivu provinces. Its stated objective is to pressure the regime in Rwanda to become more democratic and open the political space for the involvement of other parties. Yet, it seems that it also has a "hidden agenda" which is more extreme and which is rooted in the belief that Hutus should control Rwanda as they represent the majority of its population. Furthermore, since many leaders of the movement were involved in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, they now use the movement as an umbrella to hide from justice in their home country and abroad. This is one of the reasons why they reject any attempt to repatriate displaced population to Rwanda.
In eastern Congo, the FDLR has also perpetrated a number of human rights abuses and has constructed a parallel authority where the local chiefs have been pushed aside. Also, the movement controls resources and trade which go beyond the territory that it controls. Internal control structures such as security services, military police, have been created to foster a hostile environment. Finally, it is important to note that the movement does have internal conflicts which weaken it, in particular the tensions between the younger and older generations.
In regards to the Demobilization and Reintegration (D&R) programs to date, although the number of FDLR combatants has decreased from 20,000 in 1999 to 7,000 in 2007, the D&R process has not been able to keep pace and has been progressing slowly since 2002. Furthermore, voluntary repatriation has reached its limits and the potential for military intervention is thus proportionately increasing. In terms of military operations to date, past operations (1998-2001) by the Congolese army (FARDC) and its allies weakened the FDLR while recent operations of the FARDC and the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) have had little effect. This is due mainly to MONUC's mandate which only allows it to protect the civilian population and not to disarm soldiers or forcibly repatriate them. On the other hand, the FARDC is not sufficiently equipped, trained or supported to have a significant effect.
Nevertheless, there are significant opportunities for D&R programs today. First, a majority of FDLR combatants are in favor of D&R. Second, although it was not fulfilled for various reasons, the March 2005 FDLR Rome Declaration stated that FDLR combatants were unconditionally ready to return to Rwanda. Third, as already mentioned, there are a number of internal divisions within the movement. Fourth, there is better cooperation among various regional organizations (the ICGLR Security Pact, the Tripartite Plus One Joint Commission). Fifth, there is now an elected government in the DRC. Finally, there is a planned FDLR leadership meeting in eastern DRC which could have positive repercussions on the process.
On the other hand, there are also some constraints for D&R programs in the DRC. First, the FDLR command structures are controlled by leaders who categorically do not want to return to Rwanda and have prevented others from doing so. Second, the government of the DRC lacks policy, strategy and institutional arrangements to systematically tackle the D&R of foreign armed groups. Third, the FARDC is militarily weak. Fourth, MONUC's mandate in regards to D&R programs has some constraints and its execution of D&R has been uneven. Fifth, there has been limited action against FDLR high command who operate largely from Europe and North America. Finally, there has also been an outbreak of fighting in North Kivu which poses a problem in regards to sustaining the process of D&R in the rest of the region.
Romkema offered a number of recommendations in regards to the D&R process. In general terms, a non-violent solution should once again be tried simply because it would be better than any other solution. In this regard, the point of entry should be the 2005 Rome declaration. Furthermore, there should be a more coordinated effort by the government of the DRC, the region and the international community to address the continual presence of foreign armed soldiers in eastern DRC and its consequences for the security of the region. Also, there should be a "last chance" meeting between the Congolese government and the FDLR where the FDLR is made aware that there will be consequences if it does not live up to the agreement; and if the FDLR then responds favorably, it should be given a limited amount of time. Finally, if some factions of the FDLR decide to cooperate, regional countries and the international community need to provide timely and effective support to the D&R process.
Further specific recommendations were also provided for the various actors in the DRC: the Congolese government, the Rwandese government, MONUC, MDRP, and the international community.
Romkema concluded his presentation by discussing the current situation in North Kivu where fighting is persistent and affects the sustainability of D&R programs. Hence, the region should not be neglected and the Congolese government as well as the international community should look for a negotiated solution for the region as well as for the rest of the DRC in general.
Drafted by Aliya Jalloh, Intern and Roseline Tekeu, Program Assistant, Africa Program.