The networks of Eastern Congo's two most powerful armed actors

By Timo Mueller and Fidel Bafilemba for The Enough Project (August 2013)

The complexity of the war in eastern Congo with its entangled web of actors pursuing a multiplicity of agendas can be overwhelming and confusing. Once known as “Africa’s World War”, the conflict in the Congo once embroiled nine countries and a myriad of local and foreign rebel groups. Over the years, relationships have shifted. Friends have become foes, foes have become friends, and political circumstances have changed, frequently altering the power equation in Africa’s Great Lakes Region.

Because the Congolese state does not have a monopoly over the means of violence in eastern Congo, and elements of its armed forces often engage in abuses similar to those of militias, the region is a fertile environment for the development and growth of armed groups and warlordism. As a result, violence is frequently traded for money, political power, and control of natural resources. This situation has left Congo’s North and South Kivu provinces in a protracted crisis.

One of the latest outgrowths of the insecurity is the M23 rebel group, which defected from and is now fighting against the Congolese national army. Each of these parties pursues its interests through a set of relationships with other armed groups.

The infographic sets out the strength and nature of the relationship between the Congolese army, or FARDC (Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo) and its allies, and the M23 rebels and their allies.

Elements of the Congolese army often team up with the enemies of their enemy such as Nyatura, APCLS, as well as elements of FDLR/FOCA, the largest subset of the group led by some of the former Rwandan genocide participants, to repel its adversaries. These relationships are fragile and in most cases short-lived. The divorce rate among the groups is high, and most groups maintain a high degree of independence.

As the table shows, many of the armed groups are led by disgruntled officers who defected from the Congolese army, such as “Brigadier General” Sultani Makenga (M23 troops), “General” Janvier Karayiri (ACPLS troops), or “General” Kakule Sikuli Lafontaine (UPCP/FPC troops).Neighboring countries, powerful businessmen, high and low-level politicians, community and church leaders – among others – often covertly support these groups for economic and political interests. The majority of rank-and-file rebels are ordinary men and children joining for a host of different reasons, including for the protection of their communities, perceived injustice, or economic opportunities. Others are conscripted by force.

The different groups have a wide range of objectives. The stated goals of some include a struggle for their land and/or the protection for their communities against internal or outside adversaries. While some seem to have initially had the best interests of their communities at heart, many have become corrupted over time and sought personal gains. The groups often exercise little caution for civilian life and employ vicious methods. Large-scale human suffering is the consequence.

M23 it is not officially operative after being defeated, but take a look here to have an idea of the complexity of relations between armed groups.

Except for the M23, the majority of the armed groups are loosely structured. Raïa Mutomboki and the Nyatura groups are particular cases in point. This is why, for instance, different elements of the Nyatura group can collaborate with M23 and the Congolese army at same time.

Ideologically opposed groups might temporarily cooperate, such as the M23 and the NDC and UPCP, respectively. It is not always clear whether an alliance is based on relationships among leaders or the group at large.

For instance, former M23 leader Bosco Ntaganda was largely responsible for interactions with the NDC, FDC, and FRPI. After his surrender and transfer to the International Criminal Court, it remains to be seen to what extent the M23 has maintained these alliances.