End of the Apocalypse? Hunting the FDLR

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During the trial of Théoneste Bagosora, the prosecution made potent reference to the ‘apocalypse’ this former military leader was involved in planning. For good or ill this notion of utter and irredeemable destruction characterized the genocide in Rwanda. This description has been fomented through popular Western representations, journalistic cum academic-ish writing, or even contemporary memorialization by the Rwandan government and Western NGOs that facilitate particular narratives of the genocide. To be sure, the violence was horrific in its specific intensity and inter-personalization. This has resulted, though, in an enduring characterization of ex-FAR, Interahamwe, (and the other occasionally “Hutu” aligned militias in the eastern DRC- be it for strategically economic or political reasons) and now FDLR, as the Great Lakes Region’s “prime evil”. For many in the region, especially within Rwanda, “FDLR” is a call to action, intervention and justice. Inasmuch the ex-FAR and Interahamwe posed a strong security threat to Rwanda immediately following the genocide, this amalgamation, or violent franchise, has settled itself firmly into the political and economic geography of the eastern provinces in the DRC. Destabilization and foreign intervention into this region has served only to entrench the growth and transformation of this force(s) into the FDLR as something quite different than what it was in 1994.

Recent operations against the Burundian Forces Nationales de Libération (FNL) demonstrate the complexity of routing out an economically and socially embedded armed group. Likewise, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), once Ugandan rebel group unified with former Idi-Amin forces out of Uganda, this somewhat multinational armed corporation, is now 60% Congolese and funded by illicit mining and other more legitimate business activities. Despite being alluded to as another Islamic terror group (noting the past involvement of Khartoum and Islamist funding), politico-religious ideology plays little part in the continued workings of this organization. In fact, the FDLR, FNL and ADF demonstrate that the consequence of decades of conflict and a broken state that informal militarism has become a viable occupation. Among those arrested following the ADF’s Beni massacres in late 2014, some were were recognized as former M23 fighters, still disaffected, some just out of work. Joint FARDC and MONUSCO operations against the FNL were not terminal in routing out the group, and the overall impact remains similarly unclear. Operations against the FDLR may prove to be an even less productive situation, with Kinshasa dragging its feet on defining their involvement. In these cases the most persistent and serious problem remains the same: how to engage a socially, economically embedded group when civilians locally and within are most likely to bear the burden of military operations, FARDC violence, and further destabilization of the area.

It is quite likely that attempts to finally put to bed the “apocalypse” will only serve to drive further conflict, and civilian deaths and suffering as collateral damage. If a genocide against Rwandan Hutu refugees and Congolese and Banyamulenge Hutu was commenced under the auspices of border security and regional control in the “War of Liberation”, it could be added to by the continued massacre of civilians and the destabilization of the area. The latter’s outcome has been and will probably be again the muddying and disruption of local politics, increases in illicit industry and mobilization against localized representations and perceptions of the Hutu or Tutsi ‘Other’.

References:

Habibou Bangré, ‘Massacres highlight the complexity of violence in DRC’s Beni Territory,’ IRIN

Enough Project, ‘Attacks in Beni, eastern Congo. Part 1: A surge in violence fuels civilian discontent’

Odora-Obote Alex, ‘The Rwandan genocide: A reply to Herman and Peterson,’ Pambazuka News

Christoph Vogel, ‘Who is going after FDLR and why not?,’ Christophvogel.net

Rene C Mugenzi, ‘FDLR disarmament delays: Another untold story,’ Pambazuka News

Caroline Hellyer, ‘UN and DRC Forces Prepare for War,’ Al Jazeera

Lindsay Scorgie, ‘Peripheral Pariah or Regional Rebel? The Allied Democratic Forces and the Uganda/Congo Borderland,’ The Round Table 100

Judith Verweijen, ‘Understanding the recent Operations Against the FNL/Nzabampema,’ Congo Siasa

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