Sherri McFarland
National Defense Intelligence College (NDIC), USA



This study of insurgency groups and the counter insurgency measures used in the DRC, Ethiopia and the Sudan reveals the uniqueness of the relationships that exists between the marginalized groups and the governing powers of each nation state. The populations of the Sudan, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo will continue to be afflicted by war because of the usage of proxy militias that only serve to intensify pre-existing problems. In the marginalized regions of these countries there must be a serious effort to stop the usage of proxy militias to quell unrest in ungoverned regions and more emphasis should be placed on strengthening state and local institutions so that political legitimacy can be established.

Internal strife, oppression and human atrocities are a part of the political, social and economic fabric of many African states. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia and the Sudan are among the nation states of Africa that have historically and currently been affected by such issues. The on going crises in these three nation states have been exacerbated by the usage of proxies as counter insurgency measures. Government forces in the aforementioned case studies have fought along side proxy militias in an effort to stop various insurgency groups but it has only led to more death and destruction.

There are many reasons why African governments have continued to rely on such ineffective counter-insurgency measures. The first being corruption and lack of infrastructure. Most African governments are dysfunctional due to weak state institutions that are plagued by corruption and the lack of infrastructure which has resulted in the inability to provide basic services for the citizenry at large. In addition to corruption and lack of infrastructure, large African states such as the Sudan, the DRC, and Ethiopia are saddled with the responsibility of using feeble state institutions to govern a vast amount of territory which further challenges the political legitimacy of the central government. Thus, insurgency groups and counter insurgency measures are a response to the dysfunction of the state.

Oftentimes African armies are incapable of winning the war against insurgency groups because they lack the financial resources and the military equipment that is needed to “attack the guerrillas on the scale required to defeat them.” Additionally, insurgency groups are usually heavily entrenched in the country side which is not widely controlled by the government. The task of defending a large land mass and a widely dispersed population is further complicated by an undisciplined military force that many times does not receive pay for services rendered. The inability to project power due to weakened military capabilities has caused beleaguered African governments to favor the usage of proxies as an inexpensive counter-insurgency measure. The co-option of irregular militias that live among groups that oppose the government in many cases has also proven to be very beneficial because such a tactic divides and distracts groups that could potentially unite. “Although militias provide immediate advantages for the government,” in the long run it does not provide an environment for constructive engagement and peace. This study of insurgency groups and the counter insurgency measures used in the DRC, Ethiopia and the Sudan reveals the uniqueness of the relationships that exists between the marginalized groups and the governing powers of each nation state.

The Democratic Republic of Congo

The DRC which is home to the world’s largest peace keeping mission due to years of civil strife has been adversely affected by the Congolese army and its relationship with various insurgency groups. The insurgency groups that exist both inside and outside of the DRC have had a profound impact on the nation state’s institutional capacity. The governing powers of the DRC have especially been plagued by the troubles in the eastern region of the country. The central, regional and local governance in the eastern region of the country has been challenged by armed factions and age- old ethnic and land disputes at the individual, family, clan and village level. This has played a major role in destabilizing the nation-state. Since the DRC is the second largest country on the continent and it is populated by roughly fifty-six million people “who belong to more than two hundred and fifty ethnic groups,” this paper will focus only on the government’s relationship with militia groups in the eastern region of the country such as the Mayi Mayi and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

The relationship between the Congolese government and proxy militias such as the FDLR and Mayi Mayi began during Laurent Kabila’s reign as head of state. Laurent Kabila’s rise to power was birthed out of civil unrest among ethnic groups in the Kivu region of eastern Congo regarding land disputes and the citizenship of displaced persons and refugees. Tensions also arose from President Mobutu Sese Seko’s political, economical and social support of ethnic minorities particularly of Rwandan descent. Because of this unrest, neighboring countries such as Rwanda, Burundi, Angola and Uganda helped to form a coalition which led to the eventual overthrow of the Mobutu regime. The Rwandan government provided military support for the overthrow of Mobutu because of its intense need to protect Rwandan Tutsis which populated the mineral rich regions of eastern Congo. The Rwandan government’s desire to protect co-ethnics in eastern Congo led to the discovery of eastern Congo’s greatest mineral resources such as cassiterite, coltan, gold, diamonds and palm nuts. Discovery of such minerals resulted in Uganda and Rwanda becoming major exporters of cassiterite, coltan, and gold which are very limited in quantity in both countries. Consequently, Laurent Kabila later used the Mayi Mayi and the FDLR as proxies to protect against several invasions that were made by Rwanda and former allies. The Rwandan government was especially offended when Kabila fired Congolese political officials of Rwandan descent, suspended Congolese/Rwandan military relations, “and began inciting the population to racial hatred toward Rwandans and Congolese of Rwandan ancestry.”

Throughout the years factionalism and shifting alliances have complicated the relationship between the government, the FDLR and the Mayi Mayi. Currently, there are some factions within the FDLR and the Mayi Mayi that continue to support the government and others that do not. The alliance between the FDLR and Mayi Mayi was established shortly after the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Following the cessation of the Rwandan genocide and Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s current Tutsi President’s rise to power, one million Rwandan Hutu refugees fled to the eastern Congo which caused the Congolese people in the eastern region to organize unstructured armed groups called the Mayi Mayi. Because of the failure to establish the rule of law in the eastern region the Mayi Mayi was given the responsibility of protecting the local citizenry from unlawful acts committed by the incoming Rwandan population which was comprised of Hutu and Tutsi refugees, fleeing genocidaires, and troops from the Rwandan national army. Some factions within the Mayi Mayi rebel group soon joined forces with the defeated Hutu rebels that had just arrived. This was the beginning of the Mayi Mayi-FDLR alliance. The newly arrived Hutu rebels eventually became fortified in the eastern Congo because of their alliance with the Mayi Mayi rebel group which enabled them to gain access to certain mineral rich lands and mines.

Joseph Kabila, the current head of state and the son and successor of the former President Laurent Kabila, used the Mayi Mayi-FDLR alliance to fight against Tutsi dissidents that were supporting the Rwandan-backed Tutsi General Laurent Nkunda. Laurent Nkunda was the leader of the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) which is a rebel movement that was established to protect the rights of the Tutsi people of eastern Congo. Continuous public outcry regarding human rights violations that were committed by General Nkunda and his followers resulted in his recent arrest that occurred on January 22, 2009. General Nkunda was arrested in Rwanda during joint military operations between Rwandan forces and the Congolese army. Military cooperation between the neighboring countries had not existed for many years because of previous invasions of the DRC by Rwandan forces and adverse relations between Tutsis and Hutus. General Laurent Nkunda was sympathetic to the Rwandan agenda which was to defeat all Hutu militia groups in the eastern Congo that posed a threat to Rwanda’s national security and the Tutsi people both in the Congo and in Rwanda. Nkunda, a Rwandan Tutsi born in the DRC, was an advocate for the Rwandan agenda because his parents fled their native country of Rwanda during the “first wave of ethnic killings in 1962.” Since the 2006 election of Joseph Kabila and the establishment of a new National Assembly that is radically bent on the ethnic cleansing of Congolese people of Rwandan descent there have been renewed fears of ethnic cleansing campaigns in the eastern region of the Congo. Consequently, low-level fighting between the Congolese government forces and General Nkunda’s troops became a major confrontation. The Congolese government routinely accused the Rwandan government of consistently supplying arms to General Nkunda’s rebel movement because of the great mineral wealth of the eastern Congo and the existence of Hutu militia groups in the region. Thus, the fight between the Congolese government, the FDLR-Mayi Mayi pro-government militia alliance and General Nkunda took on a regional as well as international character...

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