Spreading genocide ideology as a terrorist group that was formed by individuals responsible for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi is among concerns given much attention when people talk about FDLR. However, the source of funding is not given the attention it deserves yet it is the backbone helping the group to continue terrorist activities that affect DRC citizens and pose threat to Rwanda’s security.
Various non-governmental organizations operating in DRC indicate that FDLR is involved in large scale trade in collaboration with members of Congolese Army, police force and politicians. Below are highlights of major activities serving as the source of revenues for FDLR to sustain terrorist activities and some recommendations to defeat the group.
Trade of charcoal
Pole Institute, a non-governmental organization operating in DRC, recently released a report pointing out sources of funding for armed groups in the country.
The report was released in April 2022 but there are no evidences that the armed group has stopped its businesses. The report shows that DRC is home to a large number of armed groups where 72 of 132 registered in 2017 were based in Northern Kivu Province.
It further reads that charcoal produced in Virunga National Park makes up the largest portion of FDLR’s source of revenues after losing mines controlled in Walikale and Masisi following the pressure of FARDC and Mai Mai armed group.
The report highlights that FDLR has strongholds in Rutshuru territory and Nyiragongo in protected areas of Virunga National Park. It also has bases in Bwito, Binza, Bukoma and Busanza. FDLR takes advantage of these forests and makes charcoal traded in Goma.
Emmanuel de Merode, the director of the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) which manages Virunga National Park in DRC, confirmed that FDLR benefits from illegal activities in the park including fishery and the production of charcoal.
He highlighted that FDLR reaps a handsome amount of money from sales of charcoal in Goma town populated by more than 1 million of whom 97% have no access to electricity. Merode disclosed that FDLR shares a portion of its profit with other armed groups including Mai Mai and FARDC soldiers.
It is said that Goma uses at least 150,000 tonnes of charcoal per year even though there are other reports estimating the quantity to be between 60,000 and 90,000 tonnes.
Of the charcoal, 95% is reported to be produced from Virunga National Park in the areas controlled by FDLR including Nyamulagira, Kahunga and Nyamitwitwi.
It is important to note that FDLR combatants do not transport the charcoal themselves. They have created a large network involving many people who benefit from the business.
The network is comprised of FDLR combatants, DRC soldiers and police personnel, transporters and retailers among others.
The report published by Pole Institute indicates that the trade of charcoal can generate up to US$45,000,000.
Overall, the report shows, FDLR and business partners receive at least US$20,000,000. This means, US$11,671,809.4 goes to FDLR and US$8,215,157.2 to business representatives.
FDLR has expended much effort in tax collection from residents in controlled areas.
A big portion of the revenues is generated from agriculture and transport. The report published by Pole Insitute indicates that FDLR charges rental fees or taxes so that residents can be allowed to exploit productive farmlands.
The revelations were also confirmed by FDLR combatants captured recently during fighting between M23 and FARDC in collaboration with armed groups including FDLR.
Warrant Officer Innocent Uwamungu is among FDLR combatants captured during a recent fighting that took place in Rutare, near Paris, on the way to Tongo.
Warrant Officer Uwamungu worked in the secretariat of General Pacifique Ntawunguka alias Omega, who took over as the commander of the military wing (FDLR-FOCA) after the assassination of Sylvestre Mudacumura.
Uwamungu said that FDLR depends on agriculture and collection of taxes to buy ammunition and medicines.
Among the people captured together with the FDLR was Pastor Niyonzima Jean Damascene, who said he provided the FDLR with intelligence information.
He was born in the former Commune Kinyami in Byumba Prefecture and left in 1994.
Niyonzima said that he was the ’Assistant Bourgmestre’ before leaving the country.
He also confirmed that FDLR secures funding from taxes and selling part of produce collected from farmers during harvesting time.
Residents in areas controlled by FDLR can be taxed between US$0.30 and US$5.
As for leaders and magnates, the report says, they pay huge amounts to FDLR to make sure their security is guaranteed.
Among others, the report shows that a politician running for electoral campaigns or following up other businesses can be charged up to US$2500 so that FDLR can provide safe passage for vehicles through Virunga National Park in Kalengera, in Bwisha or Tongo in Bwito.
It reveals that whoever disobeys the protocol, might be ambushed and eventually risk his/her life.
The report of experts on Congo emphasizes that soldiers and the government left taxes administration in the hands of FDLR, which shows that the country is not ready to take responsibility to protect citizens.
Apart from taxes, the terrorist group also works with commercial motorcyclists and truck drivers.
In Rutshuru, FDLR fixed taxes on transportation of goods transiting through controlled area.
The report released by the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) in 2014, indicated that a driver can pay between US$25 to US$300 depending on the type of luggage.
The report by Pole Institute confirmed that FDLR has its own Fuso trucks that carry bags of charcoal and commercial motorcycles for transportation of passengers.
The group hires Congolese to drive the vehicles and motorcycles but those who violate terms and conditions are killed.
Other sources of income
FDLR is also reported to be involved in the extraction and trade of minerals in Lubero as confirmed by MONUSCO.
MONUSCO’s report indicates that FDLR also sells timber, hemp and fishes. When combined with illegal taxation, the total revenue from these sectors at least amount to over US$71 million per annum (over Rwf76 billion). This is where FDLR secures funding to sustain its terrorist activities.
Experts reveal that the genocide ideology propagated by FDLR is of serious concern to Rwanda’s security and the entire region. Else, allowing the group to run businesses in an open air capacitates it to buy weapons and recruit more fighters.
The report of Pole Institute provides different recommendations to defeat FDLR where it stressed the need to increase police and military personnel in eastern DRC and block all its sources of revenues.
Meanwhile, the group of experts on Congo urges the country to stop supporting and working with armed groups including FDLR.