By William Church

Regional Director, Great Lakes Conflict Early Alert Report

                  

 

Brig. General Vainqueur Mayala, commander of the Ituri military region in the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), has been assigned the post of military commander of the 8th Military Region (North Kivu). This change signals a movement in the Kinshasa government that could either bring North Kivu to rebellion or the final disarmament of the  Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), who are associated with the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. 

 

General Mayala brings significant experience to North Kivu as a military commander. In Ituri, his forces utilized credible force, with the very active support of the United Nations Mission in the DRC (MONUC), against three, long-entrenched militias of Ituri: FNI, MRC, and FRPI.

During 2005-2006, Ituri was the scene of some of the most intense combat in the DRC, and this brought Peter Karim (FNI), Mathieu Ngujolo (MRC), and currently Cobra Matata (FRPI) to the negotiation table. Therefore, on the positive side, General Mayala sends a message that he knows how to use force and he also knows how to provoke voluntary disarmament. However, on the political side, there may be another message being delivered.

 

 The 54-year-old general, who was loyal to the Kabila government during the 1998-2003 war, replaces General Ngyzo Stiyalo, who was a RCD-Goma commander during the war and fought against the Kabila regime. This may be significant considering the current statements by ex-General Laurent Nkunda, also a RCD commander during the war, that the mixing process has failed and his troops may be used in another way.

 

In essence, President Kabila has placed a proven military commander in North Kivu who is loyal to Kinshasa in the event of a rebellion by Nkunda. This sets the stage for a potential showdown with either the forces loyal to Laurent Nkunda or the FDLR or both.

 

The mixing process has allowed Nkunda the opportunity to establish his troops in strategic locations in North Kivu. They currently hold positions in Rutshuru, which is a strategic access point on the east side of Virunga National Park, and on the Masisi to Goma route. In addition, the number of forces loyal to Nkunda has dramatically grown during the mixing process and could now number between 3,500 to 4,500 soldiers.

 

Beyond the loss of civilian life, the most significant danger will be political and will surface in the perceived role of the FDLR if Kinshasa moves towards a military conflict with Nkunda’s forces. Prior to 2006, the DRC Armed Forces (FARDC), in many cases, openly cohabitated with the FDLR, and prior to 2005, there was perceived support of the FDLR by the Kinshasa government.

 

 If the FDLR, traditional enemies of Nkunda’s forces, are openly utilized and allied with the FARDC against Nkunda’s forces, this could potentially undo the current cooperation agreement between Rwanda and the DRC.

 

CEAR discounts the possibility that this scenario will immediately drag the region back into regional warfare. However, any activity that derails the disarmament of the FDLR and weakens regional security cooperation agreements could not only hinder regional security but also regional economic integration like the restart of the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries (CEPGL) for Rwanda, Burundi, and the DRC. The real danger will be a loss of regional confidence that has been steadily developed over the last three years.

 

CEAR Regional Director, William Church, may be reached at wchurch@glcss.org.
 
 

 By William Church

Regional Director, Great Lakes Conflict Early Alert Report

Hosted by Great Lakes Centre for Strategic Studies

                  

 
 

 

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