Why Is The East Of The DR Congo So Vulnerable To Violence?

The security situation in several territories of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has become hopelessly confused and exposed to violence: the border with the neighboring countries has been vulnerable with limited defence for two decades and has seen an upsurge in attacks within the past month. On October 18th, the Rwanda Defence Force invaded six villages in Nyiragongo territory, looted, and destroyed properties with impunity. On November 2nd, unidentified attackers launched a surprising overnight raid in Bukavu, sparking deadly clashes that killed 11 people and left the one million residents in lockdown. By the same token, the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) were attacked and driven out of their position on November 7th, in two territories near the border with Rwanda by an unknown number of suspected militia. Just this year alone, the number of attacks, violent death, destruction of property, and recurring insecurity are unbearable, highlighting the elevated threat and vulnerability of rebel attacks in the eastern provinces.

Little information has emerged on last month’s clash between the DRC and Rwanda: according to different sources, the Rwanda Defence Forces reportedly entered the locality of Kirumba, North Kivu Province, firing live ammunition and looting the area, prompting locals to flee. No official declaration from Kinshasa (capital of the DRC) or Kigali (capital of Rwanda) so far, except a surreptitious statement from the Rwanda Ambassador in the DRC.

About the Bukavu attack, according to the commander of the 33rd military region, Brigadier General Bob Ngoie Kilubi, a group of rebels attacked several city neighborhoods, including army and police positions. The commander blamed a new militia unknown to the public, CPCA-A64, which is not even on the Kivu Security Tracker’s radar. According to Théo Kasi, the South Kivu province’s governor, the armed men tried to attack the 10th military camp to seize ammunition and free their comrades held by the police. A similar attack is happening right now in Bunagana territory: the images circulating online are horrifying, and the situation is quite confusing. In a tweet this morning, November 8th, the Kivu Security Tracker confirmed the heavy gunfire last night that the FARDC were attacked and driven out of their position near the border with Rwanda by the unidentified assailants.

There is no reaction, explanation, or retort from Kinshasa regarding the frequent incursion of Rwanda’s army in the DRC’s territory or a sense of concern about the relentless increase of insecurity in the eastern provinces. Unfortunately, the DRC’s government backs up the “State of Siege” recently decreed by the President in restoring the peace, not realizing that the “State of the Siege” is a blank check given to the Congolese Armed Forces led astray by a mountebank. Undoubtedly, the east of the DRC is insecure due to the irresponsibility of the country’s leadership. In the view of the Congo Research Group, more than 120 armed groups operate freely for countless reasons in the eastern part alone, without inquietude from the Congolese authorities or the country’s Armed Forces.

The country’s security sector has been a total failure for decades. It doesn’t operate very differently from the armed groups, secretly cooperating with the militias, which explained the east of the DRC’s multitude and vulnerable attacks from the armed groups. Indeed, Oxfam America reported in 2010 that the institutional weakness within the DRC’s security sector had had a deleterious effect on the Congolese state. Oxfam’s report pointed out that the government’s failure to effectively secure Congolese territory has allowed armed groups (both foreign and domestic) to fill this vacuum, contest state authority, and prey upon civilian populations without restrictions. Additionally, for decades, the Human Rights Watch has been accusing the Congolese Armed Forces of committing atrocities along with the armed groups. Not to mention that recently, the Global Witness organization has documented the involvement of members of the Congolese Armed Forces orchestrating and profiting from the weakness of the national Armed Forces, either in kickbacks or collaborating with various armed groups in illegal mining.

For the armed groups to be attacking people year after year, carrying out these barbaric acts without facing any retort from the Congolese army, the Congolese Armed Forces are incompetent in their current state. Supporting the “State of Siege” is not an effective measure in restoring peace. Instead, restructuring the Armed Forces in the east of the country is recommended by many analysts. To enhance the country’s ability to deter all threats against its sovereignty, it must first reinforce its democratic institutions, capable of upholding the rule of law and good governance for an effective hold over its security sectors. Otherwise, the country’s eastern section will continue to be vulnerable to rebel attacks, as long as those high-rank officers profiting from the insecurity are untouchable.