Eastern Congo’s ex nihilo rebels

Eastern Congo’s ex nihilo rebels

Nicoletta Fagiolo

The war in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is by far the worst crisis in numbers of people killed and uprooted, before Syria, Yemen and other severely war-torn areas in the 21st century, yet it rarely makes world headlines. The recent surge of extreme violence which began in the latter part of 2014 in Beni, North Kivu, an oil and mineral-rich region in the eastern part of the country bordering Uganda, is part of an on-going war which has plagued the area since 1996 causing the death of circa one million Hutu Rwandan refugees and over 10 million Congolese.[1]

In the forthcoming book Congo’s Beni massacresFake Islamists, Rwandan Unending Occupation, Lyon University law graduate Boniface Musavuli, unmasks many myths and his analyses accomplishes authenticity through its wide range of sources, from personal interviews with politicians and regional experts [2]; testimonies of people who have been on the front line of this war; UN reports, local and international newspapers: local and international NGOs reports; social media sites; local authorities’ declarations, as well as evidence revealed at recent regional military trials.

Congolese and international mainstream media, as well as expert reports, have attributed the recent Beni killings to a former Ugandan rebellion, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), often underlining that it has international jihadist connections. Yet Musavuli, by outlining the movement’s history and its main characteristics, reveals how from April 2014 onwards Jamil Mukulu’s ADF, which had been operating in the region for two decades, disbanded after its leader fled and was subsequently arrested in Tanzania.

What is left of the historical ADF in the region are barely thirty combatants facing a 20,000 strong UN mission as well as the Congolese army (known as Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo or FARDC) deployments.

So, Musavuli asks, who are these rebels coming from nowhere, called ADF, which the Kinshasa government is accusing of being behind the Beni massacres, yet the local population and survivors of their onslaughts define differently? Are the Nande ethnic group and their representatives in the region particularly targeted?

An Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) 2015 report pointed to the direct involvement of Congolese national army FARDC elements in the massacres. Musavuli looks into the historical process that led to the phenomenon of the arrival of FARDC units composed mainly of Rwandan-speaking soldiers in eastern Congo, thus creating an army within an army. This process, a main cause of instability, began with the Global and Inclusive Agreement on Transition in the Democratic Republic of Congo in Pretoria in December 2003 and has allowed for impunity for these crimes to persist.

According to military expert Jean-Jacques Wondo, quoted by Musavuli, the FARCD regiments involved in the current massacres are mainly made up of soldiers from the former Rwandan Tutsi armed movement, the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) of Laurent Nkunda and Bosco Ntaganda as its successor, the M23.

These proxies, ex nihilio rebels, are rebels with no societal program or grounded grievances, but rather a well-armed politico-military extension of Rwandan and Ugandan soldiers on Congolese soil.

Blaming FARDC elements for the killings thus becomes imprecise in light of operations such as the joint FARDC-Rwanda Defence Force (RDF), Rwanda’s national army, operation against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) known as Umoja wetu launched in January 2009 following the Goma peace process. Tracing individual biographies of key figures, as the author has done, may instead take us a step closer to identifying major culprits in the recent drama.

In trying to explain the excessive migratory influx into today’s eastern Congo Musavuli looks at Rwanda’s dramatic internal politics – such as the recent 2014 unexplained fifty thousand disappeared Rwandans, as well as thirty thousand disappeared Rwandan Hutu prisoners sentenced to forced labour – for possible explanations.

Just as today the term ADF is used as a false flag, in 1996 the invention of the Banyamulenge affair was a pretext for Rwanda’s invasion, forging a myth for the cause of the beginning of what is known as the first Congolese war, which toppled Mobutu Sese Seko’s thirty-two-year-old regime.

As early as mid 1996 then Rwandan vice-President Paul Kagame and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni decided to create a proxy movement, the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL) and gave it a Congolese façade by naming Laurent Desirée Kabila its leader. Diplomatic history corroborates US financial and logistical support of the ADFL, such as US Ambassador Bill Richardson’s remarks to the House of International Relations Committee in November 1997.

The pretext for the invasion of Mobutu’s Zaire was to empty refugee camps which housed 1.5 million mainly Hutu refugees who had fled the Rwandan Patriotic Front’s advance in Rwanda. The reality on the ground looked more like an aggression: as early as 4-5 June 1996 Zaire asked for an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council with regard to incursions into Bunagana, North Kivu Province, by a force from Uganda; Rwandan soldiers had attacked a hospital in Lemera, South Kivu on 4-5 October 1996 killing patients and its personal; several local NGOs such as Groupe Jérémie, the archbishop of Bukavu Christophe Munzihirwa as well as countless demonstrators denounced an imminent Rwandan invasion.

In this heated context on 8 October 1996 the vice-governor of South Kivu Lwabandji Lwasi Ngabo announced the creation of a humanitarian corridor to evacuate Tutsi and non-Tutsi populations such as the Babembe, Bafuliro, and other ethnic groups living in the Haut Plateaux, an area under threat of attack from Rwanda from which Lwabandji Lwasi wanted to evacuate the population for their safety. His declaration was picked up by international media and literally set upside down: he will be accused of threatening to burn the hills and to drive out all the Tutsi refugees (known in this area as Banyamulenge) from South Kivu. Since then Lwasi, living in exile, has also won a trial in Belgium establishing the truth of his version of the facts in his October 1996 speech.  Yet it is the distorted version of events that is recorded to this day in most reports and authoritative history books on the Congo.[3]

At the very moment the Rwandan Patriotic Army occupied Goma, North Kivu on 2 November 1996 the Rwandan Foreign Minister Anastase Gasana said, “without batting an eyelid, that if the Zairian army continues to provoke us, we have the right to defend ourselves.’ Clearly, the aggressor claimed to be aggressed in order to justify his aggression,” writes Great Lakes expert Filip Reyntjens on the beginnings of the first Congolese war.[4]

Renowned scholar of African politics and author of The Congo, From Leopold to Kabila, A People’s History Professor Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, recalls the beginning of the second Congolese war in 1998: “On 6 August Ernest Wamba dia Wamba called me from Kigali asking me to join him there as soon as possible so we could go to Goma and lead the rebellion against Kabila.” Professor Nzongola-Ntalaja remembers asking Wamba dia Wamba for a few days to reflect before giving him an answer and when he called him back a man who spoke no French and called himself Don answered, telling him they were waiting for him. Nzongola-Ntalaja, quite upset, left a message for his long-time friend Wamba dia Wamba: “tell him I can not join something guided from the outside.” Don, Nzongola-Ntalaja continuous, was “none other than the Rwandan military officer who was second in command to James Kabarebe and who is alleged to be responsible for the massacre of Hutu civilians at Mbandaka.”[5]

It is also due to inaccurate reporting on events that the United Nations Security Council only condemned Rwanda and Uganda for its cross boarder incursions into Congo as late as 16 June 2000.

Successful information warfare has accompanied the wars of aggression in eastern Congo since 1996 providing the US, Rwanda and Uganda backed proxy rebels (ADFL, RCD, CNDP, M23) with a pretext to be there. Faulty pretexts such as characterizing the war as a war of liberation and later a civil war; the need to eliminate the threat emanating from refugee concentrations and later the FDLR; Tutsi populations living in Congo in need of protection; the need to disband Ugandan terrorists in Congo and the more recent ADF jihadist threat.

These myths shatter when confronted with rigorous historical analysis and evidence. Congo’s Beni massacres brings us closer to answering questions about what Noam Chomsky and Andre Vltchek have called Congo’s super-genocide, by unmasking who the main perpetrators of these crimes are and their patterns of violence on the ground.

Notes and References:
[1] According to Beni’s civil society representatives in the region at least 3,575 civilians have been killed and 3,877 civilians kidnapped since October 2014.
[2] Forthcoming publication Boniface Musavuli, Congo’s Beni massacresFake Islamists, Rwandan Unending Occupation, Foreword by Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, Post face and translation by Nicoletta Fagiolo, amazon2018. Musavuli is also the author of  Les génocides des Congolais, De Léopold II à Paul Kagame, Editions Monde Nouveau/Afrique Nouvelle, Switzerland, 2016.
[3] In a recent 2015 interview, Lwabandji Lwasi Ngabo has exposed the names of the areas in his 1996 speech. These areas all lie further away from the Rwandan border deeper within Congolese territory.
[4]Filip Reyntjens. The Great African War: Congo and Regional Geopolitics, 1996–2006 (Kindle Locations 639-641). Kindle Edition.
[5]Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, The Congo, From Leopold to Kabila, A People’s History, Zed Book, London and New York, 2002. p. 228-229


Nicoletta Fagiolo is an Italian Filmmaker who has worked for UNHCR. Her first film was on the impact of microcredit in Bangladesh ‘Fighting Financial Apartheid’ followed by a documentary entitled ‘Rebels of the 9th Art’. Since  2012 she has developed a project on the making-off of the documentary Simone and Laurent Gbagbo, the right to difference on contemporary Ivorian history. She works for national and international TV channels writing and producing reportage and documentaries. She translated (into English), and wrote the Post face to, Boniface Musavuli’s book translated as ‘Congo’s Beni massacres, Fake Islamists, Unending Rwandan Occupation’


FARDC and their immediate commander Colonel Chicko Tshitambue (2nd from right) push their jeep out of the mud on the road near Sake, North Kivu, 2006. Copyright Keith Harmon Snow. More of his work here.