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DRC: President Tshisekedi tries to take on the disarmament challenge

By Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala
Posted on Friday, 20 August 2021 20:48

Disarmament boss Tommy Tambwe at a press conference at the presidency. © All rights reserved

The government had delayed appointments to a critical rebel disarmament grou since 2019. It has now announced the members of the 'Programme de Désarmement, Démobilisation et Reinsertion des Ex-Combattants (P-DDRC-S)' coordination team. The team, however, is controversial.

Set up by the DRC’s President Felix Tshisekedi, the national branch of the P-DDRC-S will be headed by Tommy Tambwe Ushindi.

Ushindi, a former rebel, was the South Kivu province’s vice-governor during the rebellion of the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie (RCD) Goma, which was backed by Rwanda in its fight against Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s regime and that of his son Joseph. Ushindi is also a well-known figure within the eastern DRC’s security landscape; and for good reason.

When the Congolese government was negotiating a peace agreement with the Mouvement du 23 Mars (M23) in Kampala in 2013, Ushindi was offering his services to the Kigali-backed rebellion, which the Congolese army had defeated in November 2013 with help from the UN intervention brigade.

Controversy

Since 2019, the UN Security Council has been urging Kinshasa to put in place a “credible” disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) strategy to encourage the ex-combatants’ voluntary surrender and designate its facilitators. Even though this has now been done, implementing the first steps of this new programme will still be difficult.

Shortly after Ushindi’s appointment as head of the P-DDRC-S, several individuals denounced the history of this former rebel who has become an expert at peace negotiations in his native South Kivu. In a statement, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Denis Mukwege said the various political agreements aimed at ending the violence have instead planted seeds of instability and a culture of impunity, as several members of armed rebel groups – both Congolese and foreign – have been integrated into the republic’s security and defense forces.

“Underfunded and botched disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration processes as well as mixing and mingling policies, which are often accompanied by promotions, have embedded indiscipline in institutions up to the highest level of state,” he said. According to him, by rewarding criminals instead of bringing them to justice, this strategy of string-pullers in Kinshasa, Kigali, Kampala and Bujumbura encourages armed groups to simply wait their turn in the jungle.

Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders (RWB) have reported that Ushindi has ruthlessly ordered for journalists to be arrested. They also cited his responsibilities within the Alliance pour la Libération de l’Est du Congo (Alec), a movement created by a group of Banyamulenge from the diaspora.

In addition, a source close to the UN Human Rights Office told us that making the programme operational would be the best way to ensure that thousands of ex-combatants in the East agree to voluntarily surrender. As a matter of fact, security sources confirm that several thousand ex-combatants, who had surrendered to the Congolese security services after former political opponent Tshisekedi’s inauguration, eventually went back into hiding because of a proper lack of care.

Ex-M23 combatants living in Rwanda and Uganda, whose political leadership reached an agreement in July 2019 in Kigali with the Congolese government that would provide for their repatriation to the DRC, are still waiting for this commitment to materialise.

Expert in peace negotiations

In recent years, Ushindi has offered his services in secret; in particular, public peace negotiations between the Congolese government and armed groups active in South Kivu. In the not so distant past, he worked to bring together the Mécanisme National de Suivi (MNS), a technical structure developed by the presidency of the republic and the Swiss NGO Interpeace. Alan Doss, the UN secretary-general’s former special representative in the DRC and former head of Monusco, is a member of this NGO. This has resulted in high-level meetings that aim to promote peace in the eastern part of the country.

This collaboration also led to the development of a programme that seeks to resolve armed conflicts in South Kivu, by focusing, in particular, on encouraging intra- and inter-community dialogue. This approach was intended to de-link from previous initiatives, which had failed due to tensions not only between local communities but also within them.

Tommy Tambwe will be judged by his work.

Members of the Banyamulenge community (from Kinshasa, the diaspora and South Kivu) spoke to each other in February 2020 in Kinshasa. The Babembe people then had a dialogue in Uvira in March 2020. It was expected that other communities living in the high and middle plateaus of Fizi and Mwenga would engage in the same process. However, the lockdown imposed in March 2020, to combat the spread of Covid-19, severely impacted this initiative’s implementation.

At the end of the Uvira dialogue that Ushindi had initiated, a cease-fire agreement – in principle – was signed by delegates from the armed groups that were operating in the area in the hopes of encouraging inter-community reconciliation. However, the cease-fire was soon violated. “The complexity of the security situation, which was marked by various obstacles, meant that the initiative did not last long,” said a security source.

$50m from the World Bank

While Tshisekedi, who has made ensuring peace and security in the eastern part of the country his top priority, has already been in power for two and a half years, the P-DDRC-S’ national branch has yet to win a heavy bet. Several of the DRC’s external partners have pledged to support the government in its efforts and have insisted on the need to renew the DDR, which has suffered a series of setbacks in the past. The World Bank has already allocated $50m for the programme. “Tommy Tambwe will be judged by his work,” says Tshisekedi’s entourage.

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