DRC: accused war criminal becomes defense chief
Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi appointed former warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba as defense minister and deputy prime minister in a cabinet reshuffle on March 24. Bemba, who served as vice president from 2003 to 2006, was convicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2016 of crimes against humanity over atrocities allegedly committed by rebels under his command when they intervened in the conflict in the neighboring Central African Republic in 2002. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison, but the court overturned his sentence on appeal in 2018. However, five defendants were convicted on charges related to obstruction of justice in the Bemba case. (AfricaNews, France24)
Massacres mount in eastern DRC
Militants from the ISIS-aligned Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) killed at least 15 people, more than haf of them women, in attacks on the villages of Manyala and Ofay in Ituri province of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, local authorities reported Jan. 30. On Jan. 23, presumed ADF fighters massacred at least 20 people at a bar where local residents were drinking beer in Makugwe village, in the Beni region of neighboring North Kivu province. On Jan. 16, presumed ADF fighters killed some 20 Christian worshippers in a bomb attack on a church in Kasindi village, North Kivu. (MTT, VOA, Defense Post, BBC News)
African dissent from biodiversity protocol
The UN Biodiversity Conference, or COP15, concluded Dec. 19 in Montreal, with what is being hailed as a landmark agreement to address the current unprecedented loss of species, now termed the planet's sixth mass extinction. The centerpiece of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, conceived as a match to the Paris Agreement on climate change, is the so-called "30x30" pledge—with countries committing to protect 30% of their territory for habitat preservation by 2030.
Massacre claim overshadows DRC peace talks
A third round of peace talks between the Democratic Republic of Congo government and rebel movements opened Nov. 30. But the M23 armed group—which has seized large chunks of territory in recent months—was not invited. A government spokesperson said the insurgents must vacate occupied areas before they can join the talks. More than 50 armed and civil society groups are present at the dialogue, being held in Kenya under the auspices of the East African Community. Those attending have been told to cease hostilities and join a new program to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate combatants into society. Rwanda, accused of backing the M23, has also been invited to this round of talks.
East African troops deploy against M23 in Congo
Kenya is set to deploy a battalion of soldiers to eastern Democratic Republic of Congo as part of a regional military response to advancing M23 rebels. Kenya will command the new East African force, which will include troops from Burundi, South Sudan and Uganda. A notable absentee from this intervention will be Rwanda: Congo accuses Kigali of supporting M23, and tensions are soaring. In the past weeks, M23 has dramatically expanded the territory it controls, forcing UN peacekeepers to abandon a strategic base at Rumangabo, and closing in on the key city of Goma. In a region with a history of foreign meddling—in which more than 120 rebel groups operate—the East African deployment is distrusted. Both Burundi and Uganda already have troops inside Congo pursuing their own interests. It remains unclear how the new East African force will be funded; how it will coordinate with UN peacekeepers (in which Kenya also has a contingent); and what its exit strategy will be. Some are urgently calling for regional dialogue as the solution to Congo's instability, fearing the military option will only make matters worse.
Mounting crisis, resource sale in DRC's east
Two people were killed and several others injured when UN peacekeepers opened fire during an incident in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo on July 31. The incident, in Kasindi, North Kivu province, appears to have started in a confrontation between soldiers of the peacekeeping force, MONUSCO, and Congolese troops. It followed several days of anti-MONUSCO protests, in which some 20 people were killed, including three peacekeepers. Demonstrators attacked MONUSCO bases in Goma and other eastern cities, calling on the mission to leave the country, as it has failed to protect civilians amid a resurgence of fighting between security forces and the M23 rebels. (UN News, TNH, VOA)
UN: record 100 million people displaced worldwide
According to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, the number of forcibly displaced people worldwide rose to 90 million by the end of 2021, propelled by new waves of violence or protracted conflict in countries including Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Burma, Nigeria, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 2022, the war in Ukraine has displaced 8 million within the country and forced some 6 million to flee the country as refugees. This has pushed the total displaced to over 100 million for the first time.
Olive branch as Burundi war spreads to DRC?
Burundi's President Évariste Ndayishimiye announced May 11 that he is prepared to negotiate with the country's two main rebel groups, should they reach out to his government. But it's unclear if the rebels will do that, especially given ongoing operations against them. The National Liberation Forces (FNL) and the Resistance Movement for Rule of Law in Burundi (RED-Tabara) both have bases in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo. The latter, the stronger of the two, has conducted a string of attacks in Burundi since 2015—the year then-president Pierre Nkurunziza won a disputed third term, triggering waves of political violence. Reports suggest significant numbers of Burundian troops have crossed into the DRC in recent months to track down RED-Tabara fighters. The group is one of a number of foreign rebel movements in DRC, where nearly three million people were displaced last year. Hundreds of thousands of Burundians, meanwhile, are still living in refugee camps, afraid to return to a country where the killing and torture of ruling party opponents is rife.
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