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The art of Mai-Mai negotiating

If you can’t beat ’em…give em a ton of cash and see what happens. That seems to be the status of the negotiations with the various armed groups who have not joined the Congolese army. We always talk about the CNDP and forget that there were some twenty other groups who participated in the peace process – some have integrated most of their troops, such as the PARECO-Mugabo wing, while others are still holding out.

Some examples:

  • 400 Mai-Mai Kifuafua made their way this past week to assembly sites in Walikale territory (mostly south of Walikale town), from where they are supposed to integrate the national army. This is not the first time we’ve seen this kind of movement by the Kifuafua (“those who go into battle chest first) boys. The population is happy they are leaving, but worried that the FDLR will take their place.
  • General Kakule Lafontaine, former PARECO commander based in Lubero territory, has once again said this week that he is ready to talk with MONUC. He usually follows Mao’s dictum of “talk/fight, talk/fight” as the best strategy.
  • Another PARECO commander has written to protest the non-integration of 2051 PARECO policemen – why have the CNDP and other group integrated their police, but not PARECO, he asked. I must say, I’ve been to PARECO territory numerous times and have never seen many “policemen.” 2051? Hmmm….
  • General James Matabishi, the leader of the Mai-Mai Ruwenzori, also protested this past week that his police force had not been integrated. I remember once seeing a census of Ruwenzori soldiers that barely reached 50 – he has apparently recruited a bunch of new soldiers on the promise that they would benefit from the demobilization program.
  • Finally, a Hutu militia that did not take part in the peace process, PANADEF, has also written to the Congolese army to say they want to integrate their troops. They operate in Rutshuru territory, but nobody knows how many they are, although they are allegedly collaborating with Tutsi commander Ngabo Gadi, who is close to former CNDP officers.

And that’s just for North Kivu.

Academics interested in inter-state bargaining have suggested that the main problem with such negotiations are (1) commitment problems, i.e. how can we be sure that you will do what you promised, that after we demobilize our boys you don’t just arrest us? and (2) information asymmetries, i.e. we don’t really know enough about the other side, so let’s hold out.

For once, such academic arguments can actually be applied to the Congo. Given that your promotion through the ranks in the Congolese army depends on your support network, ethnic affiliations and ability to work the system, it is very difficult for the often illiterate militia leaders to obtain good positions in the army – often they are promised high posts and are soon afterward demoted. Plus, once you demobilize your troops, you have no leverage to resort to if you are sidelined. As for information asymmetries, militia leaders often have no idea what awaits them in the Congolese army – many operate in areas close to their ancestral home, where they know the terrain and language. What can a Nande Mai-Mai commander do in Equateur with no formal training, no French and basic knowledge of military etiquette?

A few examples of this: the most successful RCD officer to have integrated the Congolese army is General Gabriel Amisi, better known as “Tango Four,” and even better known for his role in several large massacres, including of 160 people in Kisangani in May 2002. Amisi joined the army along with the rest of the RCD in July 2003, was named regional commander in Goma, where he excelled by currying favor with Kabila while protecting Nkunda’s fledgling military organization. In order to get him out, Kabila promoted him to become commander of the land forces in Kinshasa in 2004. Amisi is from the Bangubangu ethnic community from Maniema, just like Kabila’s mother Mama Sifa Mahanya, and he was able to position himself in Kinshasa as reliable and a good business partner – he provided protection to the 83rd brigade that controlled the lucrative Bisie mine in Walikale for many years, and in return he and his associates got rich off kickbacks from that and from his airplane company, Maniema Aviation. He also sponsored a very successful soccer team in Kindu (a great way to political success, as Governors Moise Katumbi and Andre Kimbuta have found out in Katanga and Kinshasa, respectively). Now that’s success.

In contrast to Amisi, who was an educated former Mobutu officer, the Mai-Mai have fared terribly. Aside from General Padiri Bulenda, the biggest Mai-Mai leader (although not in size) who is now regional commander in Lubumbashi, it’s hard to find a single high-profile militia leader from the East in the army hierarchy, outside the few who have top positions in the Kimia II/Amani Leo operations.

Faced with a weak state that cannot enforce law and order, institutions that cannot keep their promises (how many ministerial shuffles have there been in the past 3 years?) and plenty of local resources, the option of continued insurgency with sporadic peace talks at the fine hotels in Goma is probably the best bet.

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