For the Eastern Congolese, peace is clearly not anywhere around the corner. What they might have recently viewed as a liberation offensive on the FDLR by the UN and Congolese military has brought them more grief than they were beginning to settle for. The offensive, code named Operation Kimia II and launched in January 2009, is currently responsible for the displacement and fleeing of over 800,000 civilians, from areas in both the South and North Kivu.
To add insult to injury, the very army supposed to protect the civilians has used its power and arms to attack and loot them, while not protecting them from FDLR’s retaliation moves. Civilians have thus been left to endure suffering as a byproduct of an operation meant to liberate them. Additionally, there are currently no strong measures being taken rehabilitate and deport former combatants; those who are defeated and partly disarmed go off into the villages to cause more chaos.
Having been ‘strengthened’ with a quick integration of former rebels and militias from Eastern Congo, the Congolese army stood little chance of approaching Kimia II as a single unit. These rebels were thrown together overnight with minimal initiation or reconciliation. Therefore there are factions within the army; those who were commanders and majors in their former groups want to retain their positions and glory, which has made passing of commands and following of mandates very difficult. Moreover, some elements still see themselves as against the government and so will continue to terrorize the civilians as opposed to protecting them. Another reason why the soldiers are resorting to exploiting the civilians is because they are hardly paid on time, if ever, given Congo’s high level of corruption and inefficient handling of logistics. Rarely will a commander be able to tell you how many stations they have and how many soldiers are deployed at which one. There is therefore no will to fight or protect the country’s citizens; it is a warzone for everyone and everyone is trying to survive the best way they know how. This, among many more, is one of the reasons the Congo-MONUC partnership in Kimia II has fared moderately. While the MONUC mandate is to protect civilians at all costs, the Congolese army is one of the armed groups whose members antagonize civilians. Moreover, MONUC can’t effectively maneuver Congo’s rugged terrain and poor infrastructure in their efforts to fulfill the task of protection of humans.
Worse still, Kimia II is very likely to have repercussions for the civilians even after the offensive is over. In addition to FDLR retaliation, civilians have to put up with fresh violence recently launched by angry militias who refused to be disarmed and recruited into the national army. Additionally, many members of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) are divided into two camps: one is for Laurent Nkunda and the other for Bosco Ntaganda. Ntaganda, who recently replaced Nkunda as CNDP’s commander, is living in fear of arrest by the ICC and so not managing logistics efficiently; this has led to splits in the group, which is supposed to be allied with the government in Kimia II. Other members are disappointment that the CNDP is being considered as being on the national army’s side and therefore more upheaval in Eastern Congo.
And once again, eastern Congo has been thrown into chaos: just when the civilians thought they could sigh and stop running around, a new season of bullets and fleeing was beginning.
CONGO, STAND E-team