Proxy Wars and the Dawn of Godfathers RESHAPING VIOLENT ORDER IN BASHALI AN

Proxy Wars and the Dawn of Godfathers RESHAPING VIOLENT ORDER IN BASHALI AN


‘Can you imagine thinking of peace while using violence? I don’t think so, neither for armed groups nor the army and the population. We all lose.’ — North Kivu civil society activist, November 2019 Lying adjacent to both the Bashali (Masisi territory) and Bwito chieftaincies (Rutshuru territory), the region around Kitchanga combines a set of predominant conflict dynamics in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). These include long-standing social, political and economic tensions and a history of violence fed by political manipulation of identity and belonging (pitting so-called rwandophones against so-called autochthonous populations), contestation of local political power, the exacerbation of land conflict through historical and contemporary migration, displacement and land-grabbing, and widespread poverty, unemployment, and infrastructural bust. While each of these are problems in their own regard, they also underpin and intersect dynamics of warfare and armed mobilization.1 Since 2014, the International Security and Stabilization Support Strategy (ISSSS) has identified Kitchanga as one of its priority zones. Ever since, a flurry of initiatives have aimed to stabilize the area. Yet the situation has barely improved and stability remains largely an illusion in Bashali and Bwito. This report considers the two customary entities more broadly, arguing that their security challenges cannot be reduced to Kitchanga’s (peri-)urban dynamics 1 The authors would like to thank CRG and the peer reviewers for their support. The names used are pseudonyms.1 | Introduction 7 alone. It demonstrates how, after decades of conflict, another significant reordering of political authority and military control took place in 2019. Even though violence and insecurity had never ceased since the 1990s conflicts and the subsequent regional wars, patterns of military control had been somewhat stable between 2013 and 2018. However, during the past year, a sustained military campaign of the Nduma Defence of Congo-Rénové (NDCRénové) and its allies – acting as a proxy on behalf of Congo’s government army (Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo, FARDC) – has not only curtailed the clout of the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR) and its allies, but also triggered a spike in internal displacement: IDP numbers in Masisi and Rutshuru quintupled from 50,000 to around 250,000 within a year in each of the territories, according to Congo’s National Commission for Refugees (CNR). This report reproblematizes instability in Bashali and Bwito. It investigates how the reshaping of order generates new violence, unmaking previous peace interventions, and how new dynamics of conflict intersect with longer-standing problems. While violence in Bashali and Bwito is often reduced to ‘ethnic conflict’ pitting Bahunde against Kinyarwanda-speakers or Hutu against Tutsi, this report outlines more complex social, political and economic fault lines, many of which may develop or widen as Bashali and Bwito undergo a brusque reshaping of political order.


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