Violence and Viruses: How a Poorly Armed Insurgency in the Congo Poses a Global Threat

Andrew McGregor

Terrorism Monitor

November 2, 2018

Angry locals filled the streets of the Congo’s Nord Kivu province town of Beni on October 21, torching the post office, destroying parts of the town hall and throwing stones at vehicles belonging to health workers fighting a deadly outbreak of the Ebola virus. Eventually driven off by tear gas and live ammunition fired into the air, the demonstrators were enraged by the inability of Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) troops and UN peacekeepers to prevent yet another terrorist strike in the town that saw 11 people hacked to death and 15 others (including children) abducted by militants of the Allied Democratic Front (ADF) (Radio Okapi [Kinshasa], October 21; AFP, October 22, 2018).

Nord Kivu province borders Uganda and Rwanda to the east and has absorbed defeated militant groups from both countries. Scores of armed groups are active in the region now despite the presence of large numbers of UN peacekeepers and troops of the Forces armées de la république démocratique du Congo (FARDC – Armed Forces of the DRC).

After two decades of ADF activity in the Uganda-DRC border region, ADF operations are now centered round the Nord Kivu town of Beni, a hub for regional trade routes. Beni is close to Virunga National Park, the Ituri Forest and the Rwenzori Mountains, all used at some point as bases for ADF activities. The region is rich in gold, tin, timber and diamonds.

The Allied Democratic Forces

The ADF has its roots in the Ugandan chapter of the Tabliqi Jama’at, an Islamic revival movement which began to claim political persecution in the 1990s. Many of the jama’at’s members left Kampala for the wild Rwenzori Mountains of western Uganda, where they formed the ADF by allying themselves with remnants of the Rwenzori separatist movement, fugitive Idi Amin loyalists and the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU), a group drawn from the Nande ethnic group of the Rwenzori Mountains. Today, most ADF members are locally recruited residents of Nord Kivu.

The ADF’s leader, Jamil Mukulu, was arrested in Tanzania in April 2015 and extradited to Uganda. When he was arrested, Mukulu was carrying no less than nine passports (Le Monde, May 15). Mukulu is a convert from Christianity who became involved in the Tablighi Jama’at and eventually adopted a Salafi-Jihadist stance with alleged ties to al-Qaeda (The Independent [Kampala], May 17, 2015).

The ADF was able to obtain Sudanese arms and training during the proxy war fought between Khartoum and Kampala, but this came to an end when the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement with South Sudan brought a finish to the proxy war.

The ADF has a low-profile and highly isolated leadership. Mukulu’s successor as leader of the main ADF faction is believed to be Imam Seka Musa Baluku, the subject of an Interpol red notice (Daily Monitor [Kampala], September 24, 2015). As the prospect of ever actually overthrowing the Ugandan government grows ever more distant, the movement has splintered, losing any sense of ideological cohesion in favor of extortion, illegal taxation and resource exploitation.

The ADF resents interference in it local economic operations; a 2014 statement made their approach clear:

You, the population, we are going to kill you because you have provoked us too much. The same goes for the FARDC with whom we used to live without any problems…  Don’t be surprised to see us killing children, women, elderly… In the name of Allah, we will not leave you alone.” [1]

Other ADF factions include the Feza Group (more religiously inclined than the others), the Matata Group, the Abialose Group (commanded by “Major” Efumba) and the ADF-Mwalika. [2] Factional leaders have often married the daughters of local chieftains to strengthen local ties.

The Uganda Peoples’ Defence Force (UPDF) succeeded in expelling the ADF from Uganda in 1999 and the rebels re-established themselves across the border in the DRC’s lightly governed but resource rich Nord Kivu province. The ADF has posed little threat to Uganda since suffering heavy losses in battles with the UPDF in 2007-2008.

The situation in Nord Kivu, however, is different. Some 700 civilians have been killed by the ADF since violence intensified in the region in October 2014 (Le Monde, September 9). Well over 200 civilians have been killed by armed groups in over 100 attacks in the region around Beni this year. [3] Hundreds of thousands have been displaced. The poorly-armed ADF typically relies on the use of machetes and axes in its attacks on civilian population centers and relies on raids on military bases to obtain more advanced weapons. Fighters often abduct civilians and take them to their bases in the bush for use as sex slaves or porters. Children are trained to become ADF fighters. Women and children participate in ADF attacks, looting and finishing off wounded victims, including other women and children. [4]

Jamil Mukulu used to issue cassette tapes to condemn Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni and the leaders of the West while urging violence against non-Muslims. Since his detention, the movement has drifted from jihadist rhetoric, or, indeed, any rhetoric at all, making its current aims something of a mystery.

FARDC Troops Targeting ADF Positions


The UN’s Mission de l’Organisation des Nations unies pour la stabilisation en République démocratique du Congo (MONUSCO) was founded in 1999-2000. It is now the UN’s largest peacekeeping mission, with 17,000 troops and an annual budget of $115 billion. [5] The ADF, who travel light and known the difficult terrain intimately, have proven far more mobile than MONUSCO forces.

Fifteen Tanzanian peacekeepers and five Congolese troops were killed at Semuliki in the Beni region in a December 2017 ADF attack (Reuters, January 13).  The assault followed earlier attacks on the Tanzanians in September and October2017. A UN investigation of the incident identified a number of weaknesses in MONUSCO: “The mission did not have an actionable contingency plan to reinforce and extract its peacekeepers… Issues of command-and-control, leadership and lack of essential enablers such as aviation, engineers and intelligence were also major obstacles and need to be addressed urgently” (Reuters, March 2).

The UPDF claimed to have killed over 100 ADF fighters in cross-border artillery and jet-fighter strikes (Operation Tuugo)  on ADF positions following the attack on the peacekeepers (New Vision [Kampala], December 22, 2017; Observer [Kampala], December 28, 2017). Uganda is suffering a wave of assassinations and murders mostly tied to local tensions, though Museveni (without evidence) has blamed the ADF for many of the killings, including those of seven Muslim shaykhs between 2012 and 2016. He has also blamed the DRC and the UN for harboring and supporting ADF terrorists (AfricaNews, June 6).

Insurgency and Disease

Ebola is a viral hemorrhagic fever with an extremely high fatality rate. The virus is spread through contact with the infected bodily fluids of people or primates (the latter is known as “bushmeat” by those who eat it, including ADF militants). Ebola emerged in the DRC in the 1970s and has since killed thousands across West Africa.

Nord Kivu Health Workers (AFP)

The epidemic was announced on August 1, shortly after an Ebola outbreak in the DRC’s Equateur Province. The epidemic might have been detected earlier, but local health workers were on strike after not having been paid for seven months (Actualité.cd [Kinshasa, August 2).

Though health officials have initiated a vaccination program, there are other factors besides the conflict that inhibit its implementation, including the region’s often difficult topography and a strong degree of resistance to vaccination in some communities, resulting in flight into the forest where health workers cannot reach them.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned the virus could spread to Uganda and/or Rwanda at any time. In a worrying trend, the organization notes the 19 health workers who caught the disease by October 11 had all been infected outside health facilities, pointing to Ebola’s spread in the larger community (Al-Jazeera, October 11).

In August, seven people were reported to be suffering from hemorrhagic fevers at Mboki, a village in the heavily forested southern region of the Central African Republic, close to the border with the DRC. The lightly inhabited area is frequented by a number of armed groups who often rely on bushmeat. Tests done on rebels arrested in the DRC and extradited to the CAR revealed 80 per cent of them had Ebola antibodies in their system, suggesting both contact with the disease and their potential role as transmission vectors. Emmanuel Nakoune Yandoko, head of the CAR’s Pasteur Institute, has met with leaders of some of these cross-border militant groups and believes they could be usefully integrated into a disease surveillance system as they also fear Ebola and other fatal diseases in the region (Le Monde, August 17).

A recent OXFAM report identified several challenges to combating Ebola in Nord Kivu, including:

  • The need to change culturally-entrenched burial practices to reduce infection; Attempts by health workers to take over the burial of Ebola victims provoked attacks on them, forcing security forces to accompany health workers on such missions (Al-Jazeera, October 10).
  • The need to solve the puzzle of how to provide security for health-workers in a conflict zone while using as few FARDC and UN troops as possible in order not to provoke local flight into the forest;
  • Establishing health education programs in remote communities where Ebola is often ascribed to witchcraft;
  • Given the security situation, it is important to avoid gathering civilians in large numbers for vaccinations or other distributions.

The threat to health workers is serious; two nurses were killed on October 19 and there are three to four attacks a week against medical personnel fighting the virus. Many experience being stripped by the people they are trying to help and having their clothes burned in front of them (Radio Okapi [Kinshasa], October 23).

On September 23, 18 people and four soldiers were killed in the streets of Beni. Most were the victims of machete attacks in an incident that again revealed the inability of the Congolese Army to secure even Beni’s urban center against the ADF, which looted shops until FARDC reinforcements arrived (AFP, September 24, Anadolu Agency, September 23). This attack and a second one on Oicha, a village about 12 miles north of Beni where Ebola cases have been identified, led to a 48-hour suspension in efforts to treat the spreading disease (AFP, September 25). FARDC and MONUSCO troops, who arrived well after the Oicha attack despite being based just outside the town, were met by stone-throwing civilians (AFP, October 11). In July 2016, 19 people were slaughtered only 300 meters from a Nepalese MONUSCO base at Eringeti despite an informant warning MONUSCO officers of the attack the day before (Le Monde, July 1, 2016).

FARDC Weakness and the Role of the UPDF

FARDC is far from a cohesive entity, being composed of both integrated and non-integrated former rebel factions with different languages and customs. President Kabila, who regards his army as a potential threat, relies for his own personal security on the three brigades of the Garde Républicaine. Pay problems are endemic and encourage trade and economic cooperation with the rebel movements they are intended to fight. There is little incentive to venture into the bush without remuneration.

With ADF militants wearing FARDC uniforms and operating with apparent immunity at times, there are major suspicions locally of FARDC corruption and collusion in the attacks. There is growing anger in the region at the military’s inability or unwillingness to bring armed groups under control. Locals arrested as suspected insurgents are often subject to summary executions. Many of the FARDC units operating in Kivu region are from western provinces of the DRC and tend to behave more as an occupation force than defenders of Kivu civilians.

General Marcel Mbangu

Led by General Marcel Mbangu, FARDC launched its own anti-ADF operations independent of MONUSCO in January. Though the military promised a conclusive campaign, local residents have noted lethargy and inefficiency in FARDC’s efforts, which often appear to be focused on self-preservation rather than protecting the community. [6] Belief in collaboration between the two supposed antagonists is strong enough that locals refer to “the ADF FARDC” (Le Monde, March 6, 2017). Both FARDC and MONUSCO suffer from poor intelligence work due to the suspicion and fears of the Nord Kivu community.

Military cooperation between FARDC and the UPDF is limited to a UPDF presence on the border to prevent ADF militants from escaping Congolese operations. A Ugandan presence in the DRC is unwanted in Kinshasha, as tensions between the two countries have remained high since the 1998-2003 civil war.

Brigadier General Muhindo Akili Mundos

Brigadier General Muhindo Akili Mundos, an ally of President Joseph Kabila and commander of the anti-ADF Sukola 1 (Lingala – “cleanup”) operation, was alleged by a confidential UN report to have recruited, financed and armed ADF elements and others to carry out attacks on local civilians over 2014-2015. Included in the supplies were FARDC uniforms. The Brigadier denied the allegations, pointing out killings had continued after his transfer from North Kivu (Reuters, May 14, 2016). The UN imposed sanctions on General Mundos in February on the grounds he had incited killings in Nord Kivu (Jeune Afrique, February 2).

Other FARDC officers suspected of working with the ADF have been tried by the North Kivu Military Operational Military Court. Colonel David Lusenge was tried on charges of supplying arms and ammunition to the ADF, as well as participating in the planning of attacks on Beni civilians (Radio Okapi [Kinshasa], February 15, 2017). A former senior ADF military instructor testified that Colonel Shabani Molisho and other FARDC officers supplied the ADF with ammunition in 2014 (Radio Okapi [Kinshasa], February 11, 2017). Colonel Katanzu Hangi was sentenced to 12 month in prison after being found guilty of collaborating with the ADF (Radio Okapi [Kinshasa], June 6, 2017). Though three colonels were eventually convicted, there was a marked reluctance by the court to pursue allegations against more senior officers.


Over the last decade, the ADF leadership has avoided any public proclamation of their aims or intents, expressing themselves solely through their direction of uninhibited violence. The last negotiations with the ADF came in 2008, but were even then complicated by divisions within the movement.

Growing public anger in Nord Kivu with the government and its security forces works against local cooperation with health workers or the Congolese military. President Joseph Kabila’s term expired last December, but his refusal to step down has ignited violence across the vast DRC, taxing the resources of both FARDC and the UN. With little chance of a negotiated settlement or a military victory in Nord Kivu, the international community must address the question of how to tackle epidemics of disease in failed or failing states before they spread across borders in a shrinking world.


  1. Report of the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office on International Humanitarian Law Violations Committed by Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) Combatants in the Territory of Beni, North Kivu Province, Between 1 October and 31 December, 2014,
  2. United Nations Security Council, “Letter dated 23 May 2016 from the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo addressed to the President of the Security Council, May 23, 2016,
  3. “DR Congo: Upsurge in Killings in Ebola Zone,” Human Rights Watch, October 3, 2018,
  4. Report of the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office, op cit.
  6. “DR Congo: Upsurge in Killings in Ebola Zone,” op cit.


This article first appeared in the November 2, 2018 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

Designed to Fail: The Congolese Army’s Sham Offensive against FDLR Rebels

Andrew McGregor

From Tips and Trends: The AIS African Security Report

Aberfoyle International Security, April 2015

 Despite positive reports from the Ministry of Defence, the Congolese Army’s offensive against Hutu rebels of the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is yielding little in the way of tangible results.

FDLR 1FARDC Tank on Operations in the Eastern Congo

Operation Sokolo II was launched in South Kivu province on February 24, 2015, with the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) deploying troops into the highlands of South Kivu near Uvira. Further deployments were made in North Kivu two days later. FARDC forces carrying out the offensive consist of three regiments with a total strength of approximately 7500 men. So far, the campaign has resulted in the death of only 13 FDLR insurgents, while a recent FDLR ambush in North Kivu killed ten Congolese soldiers, including two colonels (Reuters, April 8, 2015).

FARDC’s command has reported the capture of several dozen villages, but in many places in North Kivu there is no apparent movement by the Congolese army and unit commanders in the region have not received orders to engage the rebels (Reuters, March 22, 2015). Despite inflicting a small number of casualties on FDLR personnel, all indications suggest that most of the movement has melted into the region’s dense forests to outwait the offensive, knowing that FARDC is incapable of a prolonged field operation and has failed to arrange for sufficient numbers of troops to occupy those towns taken from the FDLR. Already there are reports that FARDC is forced to withdraw to larger centers at night, leaving FDLR the freedom to resupply themselves by night and remind locals of where true power lies in the region (Reuters, March 22, 2015).

Operation Sokolo II was intended to be a joint effort between FARDC and better equipped UN peacekeepers operating in the Congo, but the DRC government’s insistence that two Congolese generals suspected of various war crimes be included in the operation’s command structure led to a UN decision to withdraw from the offensive.


The FDLR was formed in September 2000 from the remains of earlier Hutu militant movements, including the Interahamwe organization responsible for the 1994 genocide of Rwandan Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus. By this point, twenty years later, few members of the FDLR outside the leadership played any role in the Rwandan genocide. As of December 2009, Major General Sylvestre Mudacumara was the FDLR’s overall military commander. Mudacumara, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes, has a rival within the leadership in Victor Byiringiro, who has a greater interest in a political resolution with Rwanda (African Arguments, March 2, 2015).

Based in North Kivu, the FDLR cannot easily be brought to battle – it typically chooses a time and place of its own, prefers guerrilla-style strikes to conventional tactics and is highly integrated with the local population. Congolese Chief of General Staff of the Army, General Didier Etumba, estimates the FDLR’s strength as consisting of a maximum of 1400 fighters (Radio Okapi [Kinshasha], January 29, 2015).  A recent report from the Enough Project summed up the strategy used by the FDLR:

The FDLR’s current strategy is consistent with its long-time pattern of responding to military pressure. In this pattern, the group promises to disarm and reiterates its political aspirations for recognition as a Rwandan opposition group. The FDLR then uses any reprieve to regroup by building military alliances and increasing economic activity and recruitment. [1]

The FDLR has been relatively inactive in the last year, though keeping a low profile might be part of an effort to avoid the fate of the rebel M-23 organization (a.k.a. the Revolutionary Army of the Congo), which was eliminated by joint FARDC-MONUSCO operation in November 2013. Under an agreement supervised by regional organizations (including the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region and the Community of States of Southern Africa), the FDLR had pledged to conduct a voluntary demobilization and disarmament by January 2, 2015, but the small number of old and sick men who surrendered and the insignificant number of weapons that came with them was judged insufficient to mark compliance, thus opening the way for offensive operations against the remainder of the movement.

FDLR 2The Kivu region is rich in gold and minerals used in consumer electronics such as wolframite, coltan and cassiterite, though the 2012 implementation of the U.S. Dodd-Frank Act has made it more difficult for rebel groups to profit from the sale of the last three minerals (gold is nearly untraceable and finds ready buyers everywhere) (Mail & Guardian [Johannesburg], November 18, 2014).  However, like al-Shabaab in Somalia, the FDLR has turned to the environmentally harmful but lucrative charcoal trade as its greatest source of financing.

In the midst of the offensive, Major Zitunga Seraphin, the FDLR’s spokesman for international affairs, told a gathering of journalists that his movement has several demands for the FDLR’s peaceful return to Rwanda. These included justice for all Rwandan citizens and a willingness by the international community to look beyond the crimes of the Hutu to recognize those crimes allegedly committed by Rwanda’s ruling party, the Front Patriotique Rwandais (FPR) (La Rédaction [Kinshasha], March 6, 2015).


On March 26, the UN Security Council voted to extend the mandate of the Mission de l’Organisation des Nations unies pour la stabilisation en République démocratique du Congo (MONUSCO – United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) to March 31, 2016. The mission began its work in the DRC in 1999.

India is the largest contributor of the 30 nations that have sent troops to the 20,000 man MONUSCO force; other leading contributors include Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Egypt, Pakistan, South Africa, Tanzania and Uruguay.  Indian troops have been accused of abuses towards the civilian population as well as conducting illicit commercial exchanges with the FDLR. MONUSCO’s most capable component is its Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), formed by 3,000 elite troops from Tanzania, Malawi and South Africa. It is likely that the FIB’s impending deployment against the FDLR prompted that group’s sham surrender prior to the January 2, 2015 deadline as a means of buying time or discouraging an offensive by UN units. MONUSCO forces in the Congo come under the military command of Brazilian General Carlos Alberto dos Santo Cruz.

UN support for a successful operation is indispensable to the logistics and transport-challenged FARDC forces, as is MONUSCO’s ability to provide surveillance from drones and tactical support from South African Rooivalk attack helicopters. Without such support, even unilateral successes by FARDC will ultimately prove unsustainable in the medium to long-term. The Congolese government has suggested that MONUSCO can run its own operation against the FDLR if it wishes.


The Congolese Army consists of 14 brigades of fighters from various pro and anti-government factions that were integrated into the regular army after undoing a process known as brassage (“mixing”).

As in many African countries, the DRC’s regular forces are ill-paid and poorly supplied, with available resources devoted mainly to the Republican Guard (personally loyal to the president) to deter efforts at mounting a military coup d’état. Indiscipline and poor maintenance of arms and equipment are among FARDC’s weaknesses. Logistics is an especially weak component of the FARDC, so the more efficient logistical services of the UN mission will be well missed as the Congolese troops move further into the contested regions of North and South Kivu.

There are many FARDC officers for whom the elimination of the FDLR would mark the end of a profitable collaboration based on poaching, ivory, timber, cannabis (chanvre) and the illegal extraction of gold and other minerals from the Kivu region. Arms and intelligence have in turn flowed from FARDC to the Hutu rebels. According to a MONUSCO report to UN headquarters in New York, the FDLR makes over $70 million annually by doing business with FARDC commanders and implementing illegal taxation. According to the report, the wives of senior FARDC officers acted as trading agents, while their husbands handled the transport of goods in and out of the region (News of Rwanda [Kigali], August 28, 2014; Mail & Guardian [Johannesburg], November 18, 2014). It should be noted that the contacts that ultimately led to such collaboration were forged when the weak Congolese Army was compelled to seek allies in the border region in the face of repeated Rwandan incursions

Collaboration with the FDLR and other rebel movements in the Kivu region goes to the highest ranks of the Congolese Army. Major General Gabriel Amisi Kumba (a.k.a. Tango-Four) recently returned to duty after serving a two-year suspension that followed charges he was selling arms to militant groups in the eastern DRC (Radio Okapi [Kinshasha], August 6, 2014). General Amisi’s rehabilitation has taken place despite further charges that he oversaw the Kinsangani massacre of 2002 and later withdrew a superior FARDC force from the eastern city of Goma in November 2012, allowing the much smaller rebel M-23 movement to take the strategic city without a fight. [2]

Much of the military’s poor performance in northeast Congo to date has been due to the failure of officials in Kinshasha to see that the troops are paid on a regular basis. In 2009, the Rwandan military cooperated with FARDC in an offensive targeting the FDLR inside the Congo. Operation Umoja Wetu (“Our Unity”) was judged a partial success, but left 900,000 people displaced and 1,000 dead. According to Zeno Mutimara, the chairman of the Rwandan Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, MONUSCO has done nothing since it arrived in the DRC. Mutimara suggested regional military cooperation (as in 2009) would produce better results than reliance on international peacekeepers: “Umoja Wetu is better than the idea that Monusco will do anything. The biggest threat of the FDLR is the spread of genocide ideology; we have to deal with that, we should take responsibility for our own issues” (New Times [Kigali], March 28, 2015).

Operation Sokolo II

Regarding the contentious participation of Congolese Generals Bruno Mandevu and Sikabwe Fall in the current operation, a UN spokesman maintained “the clear point is that in accordance with our human rights due diligence policy, we cannot extend the support if we believe that support will contribute to a course of action in which human rights will be violated” (Inner City Press, March 20, 2015). Nonetheless, despite allegations of war crimes, the two generals were given exemptions to the policy during earlier operations against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). DRC officials maintain that they are not aware of human rights violations by the two generals and have not received documentation of such violations from the UN, even though the UN insists the exemptions could not be renewed due to the failure of Congolese authorities to investigate the allegations (, February 24, 2015; Reuters, March 26, 2015). The allegations include crimes such as rape and summary executions. After the UN withdrew its support for the operation, DRC government spokesmen maintained that it had only chosen its best officers to lead the operation against the FDLR (BBC, March 11, 2015). DRC Information Minister Lambert Mende recently characterized the UN’s decision to withhold support as an “attempt to transform our country into a colony” (VOA, March 30, 2015).

Kinshasha’s attitude on the matter suggests a provocative intent; the Kabila government is seeking a cut of 6,000 troops from the 20,000 man force, effective immediately, followed by a complete withdrawal in the near future, possibly before Kabila seeks a third (and so far unconstitutional) presidential term in elections scheduled for November 2016. The UN Security Council responded on March 26 by agreeing to cut 2,000 troops from the force while renewing MONUSCO’s mandate to March 2016. Despite the lackluster performance of FARDC, the DRC’s Foreign Minister Raymond Tshibanda insists that his nation is ready to take “full responsibility for its own security” (AFP, March 26, 2015).

While the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan government appears determined to eliminate the threat from unreformed genocidaires, the presence of the FDLR and similar Hutu formations across the border justifies the ongoing political domination of Rwanda by its Tutsi minority (15% of the population) and the government’s use of anti-genocide laws to suppress dissent. Maintaining the status quo also prevents or at least postpones any power-sharing initiatives designed to re-integrate the Hutu refugee community living in the DRC. The continued existence of internal enemies like the FDLR provides Kinshasha a useful excuse for its mismanagement of the economy and the evaporation of state revenues by a deeply corrupt regime, though it also invites occasional sovereignty-threatening incursions by foreign militaries, especially that of Rwanda. In the meantime, Rwanda’s justice system has been aggressively pursuing prosecutions against dozens of individuals accused of facilitating the importation of arms into Rwanda for use by the FDLR, with sentences ranging from 10 years to life (Reuters, March 13, 2015).

FDLR rebels were spotted moving through South Kivu’s Itombwe forest on March 16, 2015 (Radio Okapi [Kinshasha], March 17, 2015). Elsewhere, FARDC has reported seizing a FDLR base in Virunga National Park (Medafricatimes, March 10), an environmentally important region of 7800 square kilometers that has suffered greatly from becoming a refuge for all manner of regional militant groups. Large swathes of the park’s forest disappear every day as militants turn wood to charcoal for sale in nearby markets.

The light resistance encountered by FARDC, its own minimal casualties, the relatively low number of civilians displaced by the current operation and FARDC’s apparent inability to draw the enemy to battle or eliminate or capture any of its command structure suggests that Operation Sokola II may be little more than a politically inspired exercise designed to demonstrate the DRC’s ability to mount a counter-insurgency operation on its own and thus encourage greater and faster drawdowns of MONUSCO personnel. The lack of resistance may indicate that the FDLR understands the operation’s sham nature, and thus merely has to wait it out before re-assuming control of the region and resuming the commercial operations that support it (likely including those carried out in cooperation with FARDC). Unfortunately, the reoccupation of villages now in the hand of FARDC will prove to be a disaster for their residents, who will inevitably be accused of cooperation with government forces regardless of their innocence.


Without UN support, there is a certain inevitability regarding the ultimate failure of FARDC’s campaign against deeply-rooted Hutu militants, though there are a number of possible scenarios:

  • The FDLR may be counted upon to do their best to avoid battle at this time. Kinshasha’s expectations of an early and complete withdrawal of UN forces works in the FDLR’s favor and would significantly reduce the military threat to the movement, which has settled somewhat comfortably in the North and South Kivu regions. Remaining in Kivu is a positive alternative to possible repercussions if members of the movement are expelled to Rwanda.
  • Despite best intentions on the part of both FARDC and the FDLR, there is always a significant danger of escalation whenever two bodies of undisciplined and heavily armed troops are operating in close proximity. Should Sokola II turn into a real battle with units of the FDLR or any of the other militant groups operating in the same region, there is the very real possibility of FARDC being embarrassed in the field through loss of ground and/or heavy casualties. If FARDC commanders conclude such losses are the result of insufficient support from the Kabila government, they might turn against Kabila, or at the very least oppose his future presidential aspirations.
  • While the UN has said it will remain in the DRC until successful operations have lowered the threat level to civilian populations, there may be those in the UN and its financial backers that will welcome the apparent snub from Kinshasha as proof there is little point in continuing to maintain the expensive peacekeeping mission in the Congo, currently the world’s largest.


  1. “How to Dismantle a Deadly Militia: Seven non-military tactics to help end the FDLR threat in the Congo,” The Enough Project, November 2014,
  2. Jean-Jacques Wondo Omanyundu: “Who’s who: Le Général Amisi ‘Tango Four,’ le boucher de l’Est du Congo,” Desc-Wondo, October 3, 2014,


New Offensive Expected against Mai-Mai Militias in Mineral-Rich Katanga

Andrew McGregor

April 3, 2014

With combined UN-Congolese Army operations meeting some success in their efforts to clear armed militant groups from the Nord-Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), it is almost certain that these forces will turn their attention next to the politically sensitive but mineral-rich southern province of Katanga, where rebel activity has destabilized the region while displacing hundreds of thousands of people. Most affected is a region in north Katanga between the towns of Manono, Mitwaba and Pweto known as “the Triangle of Death” (Radio Okapi [Kinshasa], March 28).

Martin Kobler, the head of the UN’s mission in the DRC, the Mission de l’Organisation des Nations Unies pour la stabilisation en RD du Congo (MONUSCO), described the situation in the south as “a humanitarian catastrophe”: “I feel an element of guilt when I think of Katanga because we have concentrated our military activity on the [north and south] Kivus but it is important not to neglect Katanga” (Guardian, January 30).

Kuyunga Mutanga Gédéon

Much of the insecurity experienced in Katanga can be ascribed to two bush militias with shadowy connections to regional politicians, the Mai Mai Gédéon (led by Kyungu Mutanga Gédéon) and the Kata Katanga (Kiswahili for “cut Katanga off [from the DRC]”), led by Ferdinand Tanda Imena. The two movements are often conflated in media reports. Mai Mai groups are typically named after their commander (Bakata Katanga being an exception). “Mai Mai” is a term applied to a wide variety of militias that often have little in common other than a nominal emphasis on indigenous rights. The Mai Mai gather for large operations like the occupation of Lubumbashi, but usually operate in smaller groups, terrorizing villagers, looting food, engaging in mass rapes, killing village elders and combatting FARDC patrols (IRIN, February 7). Many Mai Mai groups have ties to officers of the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) and some are known to wear FARDC uniforms that they doff during attacks, which they typically carry out naked. [1]

After terrorizing the Katangan countryside from October 2003 to May 2006, Gédéon surrendered to UN peacekeepers in May, 2006. In 2008, Gédéon claimed innocence when facing charges of war crimes, insurrection and murder before a military tribunal in Kipushi (35 kilometers southwest of Lubumbashi) (Radio Okapi [Kinshasa], February 20, 2008). Despite being sentenced to death in 2009, Gédéon was able to flee the Lubumbashi prison during a mass jail-break engineered by his followers that freed roughly 1,000 prisoners. Immediately after his escape, Gédéon formed the Mai Mai Gédéon and resumed his earlier campaign of rape, robbery and murder. Meanwhile, Bakata Katanga commander Ferdinand Tanda Imena was arrested by Zambian authorities in 2004 and transferred to Kinshasa, where he was eventually released.  Bakata Katanga is said to be responsible for two attacks on Katanga Airport in the last year (Radio Okapi [Kinshasa], January 14).

Both the Mai Mai Gédéon and the Bakata Katanga call for Katanga to secede from the DRC, but also condemn what they perceive as an unequal distribution of wealth between north Katanga and south Katanga, where the largest resource extraction operations are located. Cobalt, copper, tin and coltan (an important element in electronics) are all found in abundance in Katanga. A good part of the national budget relies on mineral exports from Katanga.

Katanga’s natural wealth led to a much earlier post-independence secession movement in 1960 that relied on Belgian military assistance and foreign mercenaries, quickly becoming part of the larger international Cold War struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union before the ultimate defeat of the secessionists in 1963. However, secessionist efforts were unpopular in parts of northern Katanga, where the local Baluba tribe was strongly divided over the issue.