Although formally the Democratic Republic of Congo is no longer at war, the East remains at the mercy of hundreds of armed groups, many of which are local gangs linked to the control of an area and its resources. However, there are also more structured militias, often supported by foreign interests, which destabilize some areas.
After the security crisis in the central Kasai region, caused by the Kamwina Nsapu (which had seen a sharp worsening in 2017), insecurity is now condensed in the three eastern provinces of South Kivu, North Kivu and Ituri. By far the worst situation is in the Butembo-Beni area, in North Kivu, where since 2014 the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) have carried out massacres of civilians with unprecedented brutality.
The group, officially born in Uganda in 1995, had been dormant for some years. Then, suddenly, there was a resurgence that has nothing to do with the original fight against Ugandan President Museveni. In fact, the ADFs do not act in Uganda, but exclusively in Congo, around Beni: they attack villages, assault civilians, brutally kill them with sidearms, sowing terror and causing the population to flee.
After the capture of chief Jamil Mukulu in 2015, the movement passed under the leadership of Musa Seka Baluku. On December 7, 2017, the assault on the MONUSCO base (the UN mission in the DRC) in Semuliki caused 15 deaths, 53 wounded and 3 disappearances among the Tanzanian blue helmets: the worst attack on UN forces since 1993. Two months earlier, in October 2017, the ADF had formalized their affiliation with the Islamic State, changing their name to ADF-MTM (Madinat Tawhid wa-l-Muwahidin). The first ISIS claim, however, is dated April 2019. This and other discrepancies have produced different analyses and classifications of this dangerous movement: if in March 2021 the US State Department added the ADF-MTM to the black list of Islamist terrorist groups (a classification that allows the freezing of any assets in the US and targeted sanctions on the people involved), the United Nations Group of Experts on the DRC, in its latest report of December 2020, highlights several inconsistencies between ISIS’ claims and the facts on the ground. ISIS’ claims, is said, would show “a limited knowledge of the operations conducted in the RDC” and “limited control, or communication difficulties between ISIS and ADF,, always assuming that such communications exist”. In short, the claims “could be opportunistic”.
What is being fought for
DR Congo is one of the richest countries in natural resources in the world: this is why it is the battlefield and land of conquest for the wildest appetites. Yet this is not enough to explain the conflict that has been dragging on for the past twenty-five years. A perverse intertwining of greed, corruption, illegality, bad politics and mixed ethnicities creates an explosive mix that is difficult to solve. The fulcrum always remains the dispute for the control of the rich territory, in particular of the East, on the border with Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, but this goes beyond the mere exploitation of the resources of the subsoil: it is really a ruthless geopolitical battle. In the foreground, DR Congo and its uncomfortable neighbours; but the great powers move in the background: the United States and France on one side, China on the other.
At the beginning of 2021, the European regulation that governs the purchase of “3TG” (tantalum, tin, tungsten, gold, or coltan, cassiterite to obtain tin, and wolframite) came into force with effects across the world. The EU established that companies are bound by due diligence, ie, the duty to ascertain the origin of minerals. If the place of origin should be at risk, such as the DRC, the importer is required to indicate mine, place of processing and taxes paid on the product.The extraction and marketing of cobalt, the blue gold, essential among other things for the electric mobility of the green revolution, remains unregulated.
When Tshisekedi came to power, after the elections of December 30, 2018, his party did not have the numbers in Parliament to govern and he had to sign an alliance with his predecessor Joseph Kabila. A deadly alliance, which has long blocked any possibility of change. This was the situation until the last months of 2020, when the balance was broken, blowing up the majority and leading to a long government crisis, the solution of which required months of negotiations. On December 6, 2020, Tshisekedi announced the dissolution of Parliament, which was followed a month later by the resignation of the government of Prime Minister Sylvestre Ilunga Ilunkamba, disheartened by the National Assembly. Excluding Kabila, the new majority coalition, called “Union sacrée de la Nation”, includes the parties of Jean-Pierre Bemba and Moïse Katumbi, both of which were previously in opposition.
On February 15, Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde was appointed Prime Minister. Until then, he had been general manager of Gécamines, the public mining company, having been appointed as head of the company in 2019 by Félix Tshisekedi himself. Originally from the province of Haut-Katanga, 43, he had already been Minister of Sports with Kabila for a short period, after which he had resigned and moved to the opposition in the Moïse Katumbi group, in the coalition called G7.
But not even the appointment of a Premier was able to unblock the political crisis: the intricate balance that needed to be drawn blocked the creation of the executive. It was not until April 12 that the new government was finally nominated, four months after the beginning of the crisis.
The new executive is made up of 56 ministers (including 15 women, 11 ministers and 4 deputy ministers). Several of the key posts went to people close to former opponents Moïse Katumbi and Jean-Pierre Bemba: Eve Bazaïba, general secretary of Mouvement de libération du Congo (MLC), Bemba’s party, is now Minister of the Environment and Vice-Premier; from the party of Moïse Katumbi, Christophe Lutundula is now Minister of Foreign Affairs. 80% of the new ministers are new to government posts, but not to political life: most of them come from Parliament.
Finally, under the radar, the president managed to déboulonner (as his slogan said), or to “unscrew” Kabila’s party, leading several deputies to abandon him and gradually eroding the curtain that Kabila himself had built as protection. On his head hangs the sword of Damocles of the possibility, in the near or further future, of being indicted with charges for the crimes committed during the years of power. At the same time, in fact, several of Kabila’s trusted men have also “fallen from grace”, even ending up as defendants in sensational trials.
Having freed himself of the Kabilist ballast, on the night between 30 April and 1 May, at the end of the first Council of Ministers of the new government, Tshisekedi announced an unprecedented decision, proclaiming a state of siege for the two provinces most affected by insecurity, Ituri and North Kivu. According to the Baromètre Sécuritaire Du Kivu (BsK), the number of civilians killed in this region has increased sharply since the end of 2019. The armed groups reviewed by the BsK active in this area are as many as 122. Long-standing problems, which Tshisekedi now signals will be faced head-on with this innovative measure: applying for the first time Article 85 of the Constitution, allowing for a state of siege when “serious circumstances threaten the independence or integrity of the national territory”, the civil authorities have been replaced temporarily by military authorities with extraordinary powers aimed at freeing North Kivu and Ituri once and for all from the armed gangs that infest the forests and torment the villages. In addition, the government is also negotiating for the arrival of foreign troops in reinforcement.
It is difficult to say how long the state of siege will last and whether the statements of principle will produce concrete results in the desired direction. What seems evident is that Monusco will not be involved: their lack of incisiveness, already criticized for a long time, is in recent months even more in the bullseye of a disappointed and exasperated population. In April 2021, several street demonstrations in North Kivu asked with insistence (and with some sporadic episodes of violence) that the UN troops withdraw and that MONUSCO’s mandate is no longer renewed.
Key figure or organization “General” Nyiragongo
Nineteen years after the previous eruption that submerged half the city of Goma, the Nyiragongo volcano suddenly awoke on the evening of May 22, 2021. Considered one of the most dangerous in the world, one of the few with a lava lake in the crater, it is only 20 km from the capital of North Kivu, with over a million inhabitants.
The eruption caused a mass escape, in total chaos. The lava flow stopped at the gates of the city, but in the following days hundreds of earthquakes led the authorities to evacuate the regional capital again. Without an evacuation plan, the result was disastrous: hundreds of thousands of people ended up crowded and without assistance.
FOCUS 1 – Luca Attanasio, killed on the job
An ambush on Route Nationale 2, while travelling with a WFP (World Food Program) convoy to visit a project in Rutshuru, outside Goma: this is how the Italian ambassador in DR Congo died, together with the carabiniere Vittorio Iacovacci and their driver Mustapha Milambo. Three investigations have been opened to identify perpetrators, instigators, and motives.
The memory of a “man of the State” of the highest professionalism, and at the same time of a person with deep and empathic humanity, remains unanimous: he was a man who was able to be at ease among the Heads of State as well as between missionaries and cooperators or among the “shegues”, the street children he supported with his wife’s association. He represents a new, different model of playing the role of diplomat as a “service” to one’s own country and to the host country. An innovative model that we hope can be carried on and not abandoned after his tragic death.
FOCUS 2 – Justice en marche
Some sensational judicial proceedings have marked the country. First of all was the “hundred-day trial”, which uncovered a huge corruption case: it led, on June 20, 2020 to a sentence of twenty years in prison for Vital Kamerhe, head of Cabinet of President Tshisekedi and experienced politician. It appeared to be the start of a relentless fight against corruption and familism. Instead, it remained a case in itself, which kept citizens glued to live TV for months, but did not produce any systemic phenomenon. Rather, he left some doubts as to whether he wanted to eliminate a bulky character.
Another trial, from the beginning of 2021, concerns Kalev Mutond, former head of the ANR (the secret services), trusted by Joseph Kabila. In February 2021, an investigation was opened accusing him of torture, arbitrary arrests and attempted murders: a month later, his home was searched and an arrest warrant was issued.
Finally, the proceedings for the murder of Floribert Chebeya, one of the best-known defenders of human rights, assassinated in 2010, was reopened: General John Numbi had been prosecuted in absentia, who allegedly ordered his execution on the orders of Joseph Kabila.