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The love triangle: Rwanda-Uganda-DRC

A new militia reared its head this year in North Kivu called the FPLC, led by a Congolese Tutsi called Gad Ngabo. I have pasted below extracts from an assessment of the FPLC that I got from diplomatic sources in the region.

The Front Patriotique pour la Liberation du Congo makes its first appearance in January 2010, in an interview with Voice of America, in which General Gadi Ngabo stated that he would liberate the DRC and continue the struggle of Nkunda. Rumors about the presence of Gad first surfaced a couple of months earlier, in September when a number of looting incidents along the Rutshuru-Ishasha road were attributed to his group.

Gad’s group, working closely with the FDLR and with Nkundist elements of CNDP, was first thought to be connected to General Bosco Ntaganda. Gad is a Tutsi from Ngungu and thus Mugogwe [clan affiliation], as it Bosco. He had also broken away from the RCD-Goma to join the RCD-KML in Kisangani in 1999 and later joined, as did Bosco, the Ugandan backed UPC of Thomas Lubanga. After Lubanga’s arrest in 2003, he fled to Uganda, where he was often spotted with senior army intelligence officers. The reason for his “exile”, as former RCD-sources suggest, is that he had stolen a vehicle of WFP in South Kivu, and ran off with it to Uganda. Although political and military supporters of Nkunda’s wing of CNDP deny any links with Gad, it is more and more obvious that the latter receives support and recruits from their side of the house, rather than Bosco’s. In addition to this, Rwandan intelligence sources are convinced, that Gad’s movement is a creation of Kampala, where Nkunda-supporters have fled and are being prepared to form a new front in eastern DRC but also in Rwanda. They also attribute the recent grenade attacks in Kigali to this group.

This begs the question as to why Uganda would be supporting such a group that consists of FLDR and CNDP elements.

Kampala and Kigali have, following their withdrawal in 2002 and 2003, kept their options open in DRC, through varying degrees of support to the militia in Ituri and the armed groups in the Kivus. The UPC of Lubanga started as a Ugandan backed group but in late 2002, Lubanga, Bosco and a number of others were approached by an official of the Rwandan Embassy in Kampala and traveled to Goma and Kigali. A couple of weeks later, in January 2003, the UPC switched sides and publically announced a new alliance with the RCD-Goma. Soon thereafter, the UPDF and the UPC were fighting an open war in Bunia. These wars by proxy between Uganda and Rwanda have continued in the DRC, be it with periodic intervals of escalation and de-escalation.

n 2001, Kampala accused Kigali of financial support to President Museveni’s main opponent, Kizza Besigiye and Rwanda was also said to be supporting the People’s Redemption Army, a Ugandan dissident group (of little or no consequence) in the DRC. In 2005 and 2006 Kigali accused Kampala of harboring and facilitating the passage of senior officers of the FDLR, who were given Ugandan passports to travel back and forth between Europe and the FDLR-FOCA command in Masisi. So, one might expect that at a time of realignments in relations between Rwanda and the DRC, MONUC drawdown, and in a period of domestic electoral tension, the rivalry between Kigali and Kampala increases.

When Nkunda overplayed his hand and Kigali took him out of the equation, some of his supporters turned to Kampala. Having held an area in Rutshuru for a decade, the CNDP had established business links with Ugandan businessmen along the border posts, from Ishasha to Bunagana, where timber, other merchandise and the proceeds from looting campaigns are traded. Furthermore, many ex-ANC officers started their rebel career as part of Museveni’s NRA and had received training in Uganda in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Gad’s FPLC seems to be a new attempt of Kampala to sow the seeds of a new rebellion in the DRC, to disrupt the rapprochement between Kinshasa and Kigali.

Kigali has had to intervene several times when internal CNDP-rivalry risked derailing. While Kinshasa is trying to ease tension with the typical envelopes of money, the real guarantor behind CNDP’s integration in the FARDC remains Rwanda. But even Kigali doesn’t control all the parameters and while internal opposition against Kagame may have been simmering for years, the arrest of Nkunda was obviously a move that didn’t go down well with some players amongst the Tutsi establishment on both sides of the border.

Indeed, those who were sidelined during the recent reshuffle of the army top brass in Kigali were all inner-circle, many of whom were involved in the subsequent Rwandan invasions in the DRC and no doubt, in the Rwandan support and supply lines to the ANC and the CNDP. Bosco, whose political and military wing of CNDP continues to receive backing from Kigali, is not at all appreciated by these officers, who haven’t forgotten the Kisangani wars when Bosco was standing on the wrong (Ugandan) side of the fence.

Many of them also have relatives and commercial interests in DRC, cattle ranches, interest in the petrol trade, land, etc … and these interests may now be at stake or change hands from one wing of the CNDP-support networks to another. While recent research has already documented how CNDP officers are expropriating non-Rwandophones in Masisi or taking over mining sites in Walikale and in South Kivu at the expense of local communities, the rise of Bosco’s wing of CNDP is also affecting former Nkunda-loyalists, who are losing privileges and are now even suspected of anti-Rwandan activities. Lately, a number of Nkunda-supporters have been arrested in Gisenyi, while several others in Goma start to reach out to diplomats or MONUC officials, seeking “protection against Kigali”. An attempt to start a new CNDP-Courant Renovateur was very short-lived. A day after they issued their founding manifest on 4 May, the person who signed it – Patrice Habarurema – was already arrested in Gisenyi. It is unclear, at this point, what faction of CNDP he represents, but Kigali is clearly not ready to allow its proxy any independent political moves.

So, it is likely that a Ugandan backed alternative such as Gad’s FPLC, would attract Nkundist politicians and military officers and that their grievances are now turned against Kigali, as well as Kinshasa. Gad’s movement seems open to all: CNDP, FDLR-Rud, FDLR-FOCA, disgruntled FARDC officers who haven’t seen their salaries for months or the various Mayi Mayi whose parochial demands can never be accommodated by Kinshasa. When meeting with a Gad delegation in early May however, it was obvious – as during the Nkunda-days – that the majority of his rebel force is Tutsi and that the tactics used, ambushes and hit-an-run attacks against FARDC units and the spreading of rumors, have the same modus operandi as the CNDP.

As a consequence, we may soon see a Rwandan operation in Rutshuru territory, where Gad’s main bases are. This will be the first test for the RPA after the recent purge and it will be interesting to see if they, the RPA officers’ corps, are ready to go after potential Nkundist backers of Gad within the CNDP. Kinshasa, having no or very little leverage with the CNDP-officers, is obviously banking on this but even if Rwanda intervenes to take out the immediate threat of a new rebellion, the integration process will be seriously put to the test. The big question mark is what, other than more chaos and uncertainty in the Kivus, we need to expect of the relations between Rwanda and Uganda. For this, we probably have to wait until after the Rwandan elections in August, although war by proxy can already start before that on the Congolese side of the border. An unconfirmed but reliable report has it, that the RPF recently – in mid May – crossed into Uganda, to neutralize a group of FDLR operating from within Uganda, in an area straddling the three borders.

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