The Congolese government is officially tired of negotiating with every new band of rebels that emerges in the Kivus. Defense Minister Mwando Simba has said that soldiers have one last chance to integrate into the Congolese army during the current “regimentation” process where existing units will be consolidated into regiments in the Kivus. After that, rebels’ only choice will be demobilization.
But there are still probably around twenty armed groups in the Kivus – ranging from a few dozen to thousands strong – and their integration has suffered serious setbacks in South Kivu over the past weeks.
A striking example of these problems emerged at one of the regroupment centers in South Kivu last week. On June 7, the South Kivu commander General Masunzu visited the Kananda center in Fizi territory, announcing that the commander of the new regiment would come from outside of the 43rd sector. This infuriated officers from that sector, including its ex-PARECO Hutu commander, Colonel Kifaru Niragiye. Fighting almost erupted in Kananda, leading to a displacement of the local population, and Col Kifaru then deserted with reportedly around 150 soldiers, mostly Hutu from North Kivu.
This is troubling, not just because this is the largest desertion from the Congolese army in a while. Kifaru might be headed to Minembwe, the capital of the Banyamulenge-dominated area of the High Plateau, were Major Sumahili, another Hutu ex-PARECO commander and deputy commander of the FARDC troops in Minembwe, has also reportedly deserted. To make matters worse, the Congolese army unit that was sent to bring Col Kifaru back was apprehended and disarmed.
At the same time, other reports from South Kivu suggest that 100 ex-FRF soldiers also deserted from the regroupment center to return to Minembwe, perhaps to join dissident FRF commander, Colonel Richard Tawimbi.
It is unclear whether the Hutu ex-PARECO troops and the Tutsi ex-FRF troops could end up joining forces. However, these events could spell the end to the FRF integration process. Two weeks ago, the integrated ex-FRF Colonel Michel Rukunda travelled to Minembwe to convince Colonel Tawimbi to join the integration process. Rukunda failed, and the desertion of FRF soldiers from the regroupment center will vindicate Tawimbi’s opposition to the integration process. This dissent comes on top of other problems in the FRF integration – after five months, their troops remain unpaid and most of their ranks have not yet been confirmed.
A further setback to the integration process has been the defection of Colonel Nyerere Bunana, a former Mai-Mai commander from the Ruzizi Plain who had been integrated into the police force. On June 6, Col Bunana deserted from his post after the Congolese army issued an order for his arrest on suspicions that he was involved in criminal activity in the town and that he had been recruiting youths to join an alleged armed rebellion. While his group is much smaller than that of Col Kifaru – one MONUSCO official spoke to me of around 15 elements – his desertion is all the more troubling given reports that he has linked up with other Mai-Mai deserters in Uvira territory, including Fujo Zabuloni, Bede Rugasara and Mukenge.