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DRC rebel groups

Hilke Fischer / mc
November 12, 2013

Peace efforts between the DRC government and the M23 rebels are to continue even though the two sides failed to sign a deal in Uganda. But M23 is not the only rebel group Kinshasa counts among its adversaries.

©Kyodo/MAXPPP - 11/12/2012 ; GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo - Soldiers of the M23 rebel movement hold weapons aboard a vehicle in Sake near Goma, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on Nov. 30, 2012. (Photo by Takeshi Kuno) (Kyodo)
Soldiers of the now defeated M23 movement near Goma during its heyday in November 2012Image: picture-alliance/dpa

In Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, victory is in the air and large placards extol the deeds of the armed forces. The decisive offensive against the M23 rebels lasted just two weeks. The rebels had been terrorizing the population in the east of the DRC, exposing the weaknesses of the DRC army and UN blue helmet troops. Militarily, M23 is now a spent force, but sustained peace in the crisis-torn region is still a long way off.

"The fact that the M23 has been defeated does not in itself mean that stability will return to the eastern Congo," said Stefanie Wolters from the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria. There are dozens of other national and international militants groups that are active in the area.

Wer hat das Bild gemacht/Fotograf?: Simone Schlindwein Wann wurde das Bild gemacht?:15.Aug.2012 Wo wurde das Bild aufgenommen?: Kalembe Ostkongo FDLR Kämpfer im Dorf Kalembe im Ostkongo
The avowed aim of the FDLR is to overthrow the Rwandan government but for many years they have preyed mainly on Congolese civiliansImage: DW

The DRC army has already announced its next target – the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a DRC-based descendant of Hutu extremist groups that carried out the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. After the genocide, many of the perpetrators fled across the border to the eastern DRC. To this day, the FDLR questions the legitimacy of the Rwandan Tutsi government and spreads terror among the local population.

Rwanda uses the presence of the FDLR on DRC territory as justification for its incursions there. Combating the FDLR was one of the aims of the M23 and it probably received backing from the Rwandan government for that very purpose.

"It will be very difficult to defeat the FDLR militarily," said Stefanie Wolters. Unlike M23, they don't have easily identifiable bases. In addition to a military offensive, political talks with the FDLR will also be necessary.

State authority lacking

But even if such talks were to succeed, there are still a plethora of other groups, who have sprung up during 20 years of war and conflict in the DRC and its neighbors. Many of these groups have retreated to forests of the eastern DRC where the authority of the central government is weak.

©Delphin Bateko/PANAPRESS/MAXPPP - 23/03/2013 ; Kinshasa ; DR Congo - LUMUMBASHI - MARCH 23: Some members of the Mai-Mai rebel group called 'Bakata Katanga' who have taken refuge in the premises of the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in DR Congo (MONUSCO) after they entered the city opening fire against government troops, causing many casualties, on March 23, 2013 in Lumumbshi, DR Congo. (Photo Delphin Bateko/ Panapress) - LUMUMBASHI - 23 MARS: Des miliciens du groupe Mai-Mai denomme
There are at least 20 Mai Mai factions. Some groups number fewer than 100 and team up with others when they need to fightImage: picture-alliance/dpa

One of these groups in the Allied Democratic Forces-National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF-NALU), which has been spreading terror in the northern part of the eastern DRC province of Nord Kivu near the Ugandan border. The militias that belong to this grouping were founded in the 1980s and 1990s in opposition to the government of Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni. Ugandan and DRC government officials believe that the ADF receives support from the Somali Islamist militant group al-Shabab.

Another threat to stability are the Mai Mai, community-based militia forces. There are around 20 Mai Mai factions, formed for the defense of the local population. But they also arbitrarily attack "invaders," which in eastern DRC generally means people of Rwandan origin.

Claudia Simons is an analyst specializing in the DRC at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin. She said the east of the country will continue to be at war with itself "as long as people fail to have any confidence in state-guaranteed security." In many parts of the country village communities keep their own militia.

Military intervention alone will not suffice

Many local militia leaders have little interest in change. Stefanie Wolters said they are quite happy being warlords in the areas they control. "They don't want security, they want to continue to exploit the mineral resources and levy illegal taxes," she said.

Claudia Simons believes that a huge amount of effort would have to be invested by the DRC government if it is to pacify the mineral-rich eastern part the country. The armed forces need reform. Closer cooperation over pressing issues is required between the DRC and its neighbors. This applies in particular to the millions of refugees, forced from their homes by 20 years of chaos and war. The DRC army may have recently emerged triumphant, but it cannot bring permanent peace to the region on its own.

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