In June 2017, an armed group coalition in the far south of South Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo started a large-scale offensive. The Coalition Nationale pour la Souveraineté du Congo (CNPSC) launched a series of attacks, rapidly overrunning Congolese army bases. It obtained significant amounts of arms and ammunition, briefly took control of large gold mining areas, and reached the outskirts of Uvira, a regional trade hub. The coalition involved at least seven armed groups, spread out over an area of hundreds of square miles.
Over a year later, the group has been buffeted by an army offensive and pushed out of most population centers, but still remains a threat to civilians and to regional stability.You can read our report on the CNPSC here.
The emergence of the CNPSC was closely linked to the long history of armed insurgency in the region, but was also motivated by the desire of armed actors to unite against a central government perceived as weak and illegitimate. The group’s surprising power is the product of a series of events that allowed it to obtain significant amounts of gold and ammunition, all the while benefitting from the weakness of a government whose forces are under-equipped, has a disorganized command and is weakened by suspicions of treason.
There are several key figures in this coalition. The veteran commander William Yakutumba, who has been active in armed groups since 1996, is its leader. Sheh Asani Mitende, whose Mai-Mai Malaika launched several attacks against the Canadian mining company Banro, has become an important partner, alongside General Shabani Sikatenda, a former intelligence chief of Laurent Désiré Kabila. The Malaika were – briefly, at least – linked to Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, the presidential candidate for Joseph Kabila’s Front Commun pour le Congo (FCC) coalition. Shadary reportedly put Sheh Asani and Sikatenda in contact and played a major role in the release of foreign hostages.
The trajectory of the CNPSC does not suggest an organization capable of seriously challenging the Congolese state, but rather a latent humanitarian crisis created by a proliferation of armed groups. Until now, the Congolese state has lacked the political will to carry out the necessary military operations against groups like the CNPSC, and to provide the necessary demobilization and reintegration programs. Newly inaugurated President Felix Tshisekedi will now face the steep challenge of trying to reform his army and dismantle the over 130 armed groups in the Kivus.