The Democratic Republic of Congo's army is fighting militias on several fronts. Now more trouble is brewing in the east of the country, where militias are uniting in opposition to President Joseph Kabila.
Coordinated efforts between several militias now acting independently could step up the pressure on President Kabila, already severely shaken by political violence and instability, as well as international criticism of his government. The spokesperson for the Patriotic Union for Liberation of Congo (UPLC) John Maangaiko, told DW that his alliance of militias included rebels from North and South Kivu, as well as Ituri. "We have come together to fight the man who wants to stay in power forever," he said.
"The man" is Kabila. The 46-year-old leader has spared no efforts to cling to power, although his mandate ran out long ago and the whole country is waiting for elections that keep being postponed. Frustration is growing and many people feel that violence is the only answer, Maangaiko said. "We don't have an alternative to taking up arms."
Florence Marchal, spokesperson of the UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), told DW that she did not see an increased threat because of new alliances. "It is true that there are alliances of armed groups. But what we could observe these last months is that these armed groups have no political background. They fight because of disputes over land and things like that. They have no political concerns."
Militia member Maangaiko would probably beg to differ. "We want to fight [Kabila] because none of the agreements he has signed with the opposition have been implemented." Maangaiko was referring to a treaty between the opposition and the government brokered by the Catholic Church in December 2016. It allowed Kabila to stay in office after the end of his mandate until presidential elections, which were supposed to have taken place by the end of last year. But the government once again postponed the poll, this time until December 2018, citing logistical problems. The last straw for many Congolese was the announcement by the country's electoral commission CENI that the election could not possibly take place before April 2019.
This has led to more bloodshed. Only last weekend, security forces violently repressed peaceful anti-Kabila protest marches in the capital, Kinshasa. Their intervention resulted in at least six dead. The protests were organized by religious organizations. But the Catholic Church's hierarchy is increasingly throwing its support behind the movement. Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo, archbishop of Kinshasa, called on Congolese "to remain steadfast" and strongly condemned violence by the security forces. Deploring the loss of life he asked: "Are we living in an open-air prison?" Nevertheless a rift persists among the church's leadership, with some bishops clearly distancing themselves from the grassroots movement.
MONUSCO's increasingly difficult task
The United Nations and the European Union were quick to condemn the violence, laying the blame squarely at Kabila's feet. They are especially incensed over reports of attacks by the military police against UN peacekeepers and human rights observers. Congolese authorities were reportedly riled by the decision to send into Kinshasa some 200 blue helmets and 50 observers to try and protect civilians and prevent violence during the latest protests over the weekend.
MONUSCO's spokesperson Florence Marchal told DW that the deployment into Kinshasa is part of an ongoing reorganization that started before the weekend. Asked whether the incident would affect the relationship between Monusco and Kabila, Marchal pointed out that the mission was in the country at the invitation of the government. But she added: "Of course there is room for improvement in the relationship."
Currently, a joint US, French and British mission is in DRC to prepare a new resolution for the United Nations in March. It will form the basis for a decision on the renewal of the MONUSCO mandate. US President Donald Trump's cuts in payments to the United Nations have not made MONUSCO's task any easier. "It is something that will affect all peacekeeping missions. We have already a decrease of eight percent in our budget," Marchal said. According to her, measures will have to be taken to guarantee that MONUSCO can go on protecting civilians and ensure the implementation of the 2016 political agreement.
"We are in the process of reviewing our program in order to fulfill our mandate in an even more efficient way," Marchal said.