The United Nations peacekeeping mission stationed in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) made reports of atrocities occurring over the weekend that shocked even hardened veterans of the current central Africa news cycle. On the heels of reports in the Central African Republic (CAR) of a religious civil war brewing amid killing sprees by roving bands of ex-Seleka militias, comes reports of a gruesome discovery in the DRC.
The bodies of at least 21 people were found from what looks to have been a killing spree with guns and sharp blades. The earliest reports of these killings mentioned that among those bodies were the remains of three young women who had been raped and beheaded. There was also the body of a baby less than a year old. The massacre happened in the villages near the Beni area of North Kivu Province. The population native to that region of the DRC is very familiar with the concept of violence being brought down by the armed militias that have flocked to the mountains there.
The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) is tasked with assisting the DRC in pacifying the eastern region of the country and protecting the population from just the types of atrocities that were listed in the reports coming out today. The mission saw a high point for their mandate when they were able to subdue the M23 rebels that had been fighting against the the DRC since April of 2012. A declaration of peace between the government and the Tutsi rebels was signed this past Thursday. Those rebels were long suspected by the United Nations forces to have been supported by the Rwandan government. Despite vehement denials, the caches of weapons that were discovered to have been in the possession of the of the group when the peace was declared indicate that they had significant assistance from somebody.
According to Oxfam, more than 30 armed militias are occupying the mountains bordering Rwanda and Uganda. Challenging the ones that still remain will be a mission that no expert in the region believes will be accomplished within the time-frame currently set for the mission. The remnants of dozens of regional political movements are known to be holding different parts of the region. Despite this, Mission head Martin Kobler has promised that the perpetrators will not go unpunished. It is a bold statement in light of the challenges the undertaking faces, not the least of which is an erosion of popular support in the region.
The United Nations has come under considerable fire in the DRC after the elections which kept President Kabila and his supporters in the Parliament in power. Despite human rights violations that were clearly enumerated in reports produced by Mission observers, the Kabila government continues to be supported. That has led many to wonder whether or not the United Nations has compromised their own mandate in pursuit of stability rather than representative democracy. The efficacy of the entire initiative has been called into question. The massacre this weekend lends a measure of credence to the questions being asked. As with most politics in the region, the answers are complicated.
The eastern region of the DRC is not just a defensible haven for discarded militias. It also represents significant wealth for those that control the mineral-rich area. The ability of an established government to control and utilize the resources there could potentially mean a real improvement in conditions for the Congolese living there. It could mean the difference between self-sufficiency and perpetual dependence for that government. Encompassing election reform and military operations within the same mandate muddies the waters considerably. The glut of armed groups of murderers and rapists determined not to relinquish the real estate make them positively black.
According to Jaribu Muliwavyo, a representative from the Beni region to the Provincial Assembly of North Kivu, the group responsible for the carnage is a group called the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF.) He asserts that the group, remnants of a failed political uprising in Uganda, is in control of the entire area where the rapes and murders happened. He says that the group has been on the move more than usual lately, and that the villages attacked Friday and Saturday were merely in the way of their movements. He ascribed no more significantly political rationale other than that they were just in the way. Business as usual in the east Congo.
The Ugandan government reports that the ADF are linked to the al Shabaab movement in Somalia which has ties to al Qaeda. They were driven out of Uganda in the mid 2000s, decimated and largely defeated. While most everyone in the region already knew that they had a significant presence in the area, the events of this weekend have thrust them onto a national stage quickly. The part that concerns analysts of the situation from every nation in the region is that tomorrow there could be any one of dozens of groups ready to step forward next should this group be taken out. The history in the area points to the conclusion that the scope of the problem requires that the issue stay on that international stage for any lasting impact to be made. There are three young women and a baby, along with nearly twenty other victims today calling out for that to happen. If reports of atrocities like these in the Congo are going to stop, consensus is that the United Nations Mission is going to need to have a lot more help than is currently being allocated.
By Jim Malone