On 3rd May 2021, Democratic Republic of Congo’s President Felix Tshisekedi allowed government armed forces and national police control over North Kivu and Ituri’s provincial governments. The decision is in response to the two eastern provinces previously declared under a state of siege on April 30th, a constitutional authority the government of DR Congo exercises if worsening circumstances quickly threaten the independence of the province, or if they interrupt the regular functions of its governance.
Sparking these decisions is the recent violence pervading eastern Congolese regions, caused by more than 130 armed groups. These include certain groups such as the Lendu association of militia Cooperative for the Development of Congo (CODECO); the Ugandan Allied Democratic Forces (ADF); and the Nduma Defense of Congo-Renové (NDC-R).
Government spokesman Patrick Muyaya has stated, “the objective is to swiftly end the insecurity which is killing our fellow citizens in that part of the country daily.” President Tshisekedi initially stated before his decision on May 3rd that “I am simply drawing up effective solutions that will allow us to reduce this crisis in the east once and for all.”
Governors from each province are seemingly welcome these changes, specifically North-Kivu’s governor Carly Kasivita that said the decisions encourage national mobilization to address the armed militias and it “responds to our expectations.” However, not everyone agrees with these decisions. “Hearing this state of siege taking place, it may bring confidence to the population as this is a path in the right direction, but the question that must be asked is how is this military action different from previous military actions,” said Kambale Musavali, an analyst for the Centre for Research on the Congo-Kinshasa.
Increased military intervention arguably poses more risk than reward in destabilizing the rampant violence in eastern regions of DR Congo. Wariness of the new decisions by President Tshisekedi is expressed by another organization named the Congolese Association for Access to Justice. According to the organization, these changes are overdue, but the national government should pass legislation to prevent potential abuses that can stem from the state of siege. In essence, more military action sanctioned by the national government may be a timely response in light of rising bloodshed, but will it decrease the ongoing and past human rights violations committed by non-state and state armed forces?
The evidence suggests that this will likely persist. The humanitarian crisis has worsened with 5.5 million people being internally displaced and nearly 930,000 Congolese people registered as refugees and asylum seekers in at least 20 countries as of November 2020. The situation has become dire were nearly 175 violations have happened in Ituri alone since January 2021, such as recruiting children into armed groups and attacking schools and hospitals.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that non-state and state armed groups have killed a minimum of 1,300 civilians in different conflicts between October 2019 and June 2020. Due to the actions of the state and non-state groups, civilian protests have emerged against the presence of these local militias, UN peacekeeping soldiers as part of the MONUSCO mission, the Congolese army, and the police in the cities of Goma, Beni, and Butembo in eastern DR Congo.
Based on past evidence, the response pursued by President Tshisekedi is likely a temporary solution in addressing the persistent violence in Eastern Congolese regions. Historically, violence by armed militias and state forces has plagued the region since the early 1990s under the rule of the Joseph Kabila administration.
Kambale Musavali may be right insofar as with further military operations in the regions, the greater population may be more confident with the national government, but with the increased protests by younger demonstrators displeased with the presence of state and non-state forces, it’s uncertain as to whether the population will remain confident President Tshisekedi’s actions in the long-term. Permanent solutions to the destabilized regions may need to rely more on non-military approaches, such as disarming and reintegrating former members of armed militias back into civilian life, which includes the prevention of recruitment of children or establishing peace agreements with local militias that seek to reduce their presence in these eastern regions.