Tensions high as fighting heats up in east DRC
Tensions are running high in the eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) as more groups join the fight against the Islamist backed Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), writes Leon Louw, founder and editor of WhyAfrica.
The North Kivu and Ituri provinces in the DRC have traditionally served as a launching pad for a range of militants, insurgency groups and terrorist organisations.
The deep rainforest and undulating hills bordering on Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda, have protected rebels, gangsters and government forces operating in the region for many years.
Some places in these parts of the country are almost impenetrable, which makes it easy to launch attacks into neighbouring countries and villages, before retreating and disappearing into the thick bush.
To complicate matters, there are extremely rich minerals to be found in this part of the world. This has contributed to the incessant incursions and conflict in once of the most beautiful regions of Africa. The so-called conflict minerals namely tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold are all found in abundance in the eastern DRC, and the Bisie hill, close to Walikale in North Kivu, hosts one of the greatest tin mines in the world.
Forest a refuge for dissident groups
The ADF is one of the many groups that have found refuge in the thick forest of the DRC. Ugandan authorities accused the ADF of carrying out the deadly suicide bombings in the country’s capital Kampala last month. The movement has further been accused of carrying out dozens of attacks in the eastern parts of the DRC, the latest being on Saturday 11 December 2021, when 16 villagers were reportedly killed in North Kivu.
The ADF was formed in 1995 through a coalition of rebel forces, including the Uganda Muslim Liberation Army and the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU). They first set up base in western Uganda before moving into the DRC. Their aim is to overthrow the administration of long serving president of Uganda Yoweri Museveni. According to reports the group has backing from the Sudanese government, but those accusations could not be proved.
The presence and activities of the ADF, nevertheless, has thrown the region back into turmoil after a short-lived period of peace and prosperity. In August 2022, DRC president Felix Tshisekedi authorised the deployment of US special forces to help the DRC in flushing out the ADF. Last month, Ugandan forces carried out air raids in the area in retaliation of the attacks in Kampala.
Monusco joins the fight
It has become increasingly risky to operate in the region and on 7 December 2022 the armed forces of the DRC (FARDC) signed an agreement with the United Nations Mission de l’Organisation des Nations Unies pour la stabilisation en République démocratique du Congo (Monusco) to undertake joint military operations against armed groups in the east of the DRC.
Celestin Mbala Munsense, the general chief of staff of the FARDC, said last week that the Blue Helmets are committed to the “strict application of force” against these groups in terms of the agreement.
According to Francois Conradie, Lead Political Economist at Oxford Economics Africa, this is a change from the previous rules of engagements, which reserved the use of force to the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), a smaller unit within the larger contingent, while the rest of the force was limited to observation only.
“In the press conference at which the announcement was made, spokespeople underlined that the agreement did not mean that the Blue Helmets would be part of the joint operations by the FARDC and Ugandan troops that started on November 30, but that the three forces will share intelligence.
The signature of the agreement followed a statement on Monday, December 6, by Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the UN, “exhorting” the FARDC and Ugandan forces to cooperate with Monusco in the fight against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).
Conradie says that the involvement of Monusco in the DRC is welcome, although the Blue Helmets are not known for bravery on behalf of civilians and have been accused of committing crimes themselves.
“Our baseline expectation continues to be that the conflict in North Kivu and Ituri will keep getting worse as the many armed groups, informal and formal, battle it out and other foreign-based groups get involved,” says Conradie.
Leon Louw is the founder and editor of WhyAfrica. He specialises in natural resources and African affairs.
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