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Who are the Raia Mutomboki?

The Raia Mutomboki are perhaps the largest armed group in the eastern Congo, in terms of territory they control. Over the past two years they have managed to flush the Rwandan FDLR rebels out of vast areas, even forcing them to abandon their headquarters of many years in southern Masisi. And yet, the Raia Mutomboki are also one of the most ramshackle, fragmented, and ill-disciplined armed groups.

The Usalama Project’s sixth report on this phenomenon can be found here.


So what is so special about the Raia Mutomboki (“Outraged Citizens”)? The group is a franchise built around an idea––defending the local population against predation, especially by the FDLR––not a single organization. The movement began in the jungles of Shabunda in 2005, then went dormant for several years only to reappear in 2011, then spreading into Walikale, Masisi, Kalehe and Mwenga territories. While there are four main RM factions––and now even more, as the Sisawa-Ngandu-Meshe group has succumbed to internecine fighting in recent days––all of them use a variety of dawa (a magical potion), were born out of popular anger against the FDLR, and are known for their ruthless attacks against FDLR and their dependents (often more the latter than the former).

But perhaps most importantly, the RM are a product of flawed peace processes. In 2005, the first tentative appearance took place in southern Shabunda, as Mai-Mai left the area to join army integration, giving the FDLR unfettered access to the lucrative mines around Kalole, where the witchdoctor Jean Musumbu created the first RM group.

But the group never would have reached out of its jungle backwater if it hadn’t been for another, more notorious peace process: the 2009 integration of the CNDP, a deal that was only possible because Rwanda and the Congo agreed to gang up against the FDLR. While the deal was heralded by many diplomats, it caused a humanitarian catastrophe as Congolese civilians were caught up messy counterinsurgency operations. This was the main precursor to the explosion of the RM.

Ironically, it was an initiative that was intended as a corrective to the CNDP integration, which had given the former rebels disproportionate control of operations in the Kivus, that rekindled the RM. The regimentation exercise, which was supposed to streamline army units and counter CNDP networks, drew soldiers out of large areas of the Kivus to army camps, leaving the population at the mercy of FDLR, especially in remote Shabunda. It was particularly in mining areas in Shabunda where violence erupted, as the FDLR tried to violently impose their authority.

In response, the RM formed, first in Shabunda, and then spreading like wildfire into Kalehe and Masisi as their fame and success became known.

Much more can be found in the report. Below is a map of the main RM groups as of January this year. The situation has already changed, however, as the former Kifuafua now deny ever having been RM, the Bunyakiri group has increasingly split away from the Shabunda faction, and the northeastern Shabunda group is a big mess.

Published under Creative Commons licence held by the Rift Valley Institute
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