Critics have questioned the DRC’s response to the situation, pointing out that the country has failed to address its internal problems and instead shifted blame to neighboring Rwanda. In the midst of the fighting with M23, Congo accused Rwanda of backing the rebel group, which subsequently captured different areas and later handed them over to regional forces as part of established mechanisms to restore peace.
Rwanda has consistently refuted these allegations and urged the DRC’s leaders to find a solution without externalizing their problems. However, it appears that the DRC has turned a deaf ear to these pleas, further exacerbating the situation by forming a coalition with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a terrorist group comprised of individuals responsible for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.
The violence perpetrated by this coalition has escalated, leading to targeted killings of members from Congolese Tutsi communities. In addition to the violence against specific ethnic groups, there have been reports of provocations such as bombs being shelled on Rwanda’s territory.
The ongoing collaboration between FARDC and FDLR is a grave concern and a threat to regional security, undermining the efforts made to address the crisis. Despite the hostile environment for independent media in North Kivu, two courageous journalists, Adeline Umutoni and Marc Hoogsteyns from the Kivu Press Agency, managed to enter the tense area and gather invaluable testimonies. These testimonies shed light on an unprecedented collaboration between the FDLR and the FARDC, revealing an even more sinister reality.
19-year-old Lambert Habumugisha testified to the terror instilled by these armed groups, stating, "I lived with my chief ’Fayida’. We worked for all the present soldiers. If you are suspected of working with M23, they behead you overnight and decimate your entire family." He also revealed that the FARDC facilitated the strengthening of FDLR military operations through new recruits and the supply of arms.
The situation is further complicated by multiple alliances, particularly between the FDLR, FARDC, and Nyatura. Civilians, who are the primary victims of these conflicts, suffer significant losses, particularly due to the forced recruitment of young individuals by the armed forces.
Hakizimana Rukundo, 20, a former FDLR member, shared his experience of being recruited, stating, "My parents and I fled to Congo to survive. As soon as we arrived, the FDLR recruited us. We cooperated with the FARDC."
According to Théoneste Ndayambaje,20, another former FDLR member, the forced recruitments are justified by the FDLR as a necessity to protect themselves against external threats, particularly the rebel group M23. "They told us to ensure our security, to make sure no Tutsi lives here," he reported.
The lives of civilians are disrupted by this violence, as they are subjected to taxation in the form of food or material goods by the FDLR, FARDC, and Nyatura, with the M23 being presented as the common enemy. In the face of this constant struggle for power, North Kivu resembles a complex chessboard where civilians pay the heaviest price.
Dr. Jason Stearns, Director of the Congo Research Group (GEC) and former member of the United Nations Group of Experts on Congo, affirms that the FDLR has maintained a devastating presence in North Kivu for decades. Their genocidal ideology and brutal military tactics have left indelible scars on the region.
Amanda Thomas-Johnson, a researcher at the Center for Conflict, Freedom, and Security Studies, underscores the persistent threat posed by the FDLR to Rwanda and the DRC.
Their ongoing presence continues to destabilize the North Kivu region and poses a significant obstacle to achieving peace and security.
According to the United Nations, over 6,000 people have lost their lives since tensions escalated in North Kivu. The majority of the victims are innocent civilians trapped in the clutches of this endless conflict.
International cooperation and support, coupled with a comprehensive approach that addresses the root causes of the conflict, are essential for achieving lasting peace in eastern DRC.
Besides, the atrocities committed in North Kivu demand urgent attention and concerted action.