Slavery in the DR Congo: FDLR are the masters

Posted: September 2, 2013 in Analysis
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“Master and Slaves”: Daily life in the FDLR-controlled areas of Mwenga and neighbouring territories in South Kivu

By Patrick Mihali Nyamatomwa*

Military organization

The FDLR has two divisions. The first is stationed in North Kivu, led by General Mudacumura, the longest-serving commander of all officers in North and South Kivu. The second division, in South Kivu, is directed by General Kagoma. Each division consists of brigades, which in turn are divided into battalions. Battalions are composed of companies which are divided into platoons.

In South Kivu, each brigade has at its head a Colonel or Lieutenant-Colonel; companies are led by captains and platoons by lieutenants. The estimated strength of a brigade is 4,000 to 5,000 men.

The FDLR units are highly mobile, both within a province and across the provinces of North and South Kivu. The FDLR effectively controls and exercises power in the areas of Burhinyi, Lwindi, Basile und Wamuzinu in Mwenga territory. This territory is the economic powerhouse of South Kivu province. It has abundant mineral resources; agriculture as well as livestock breeding is widely practised. Five different ethnic communities live there: Shi, Bembe, Nyindu, Lega and pygmies.

In Itombwe, the well-armed fighters of the Bembe community have mounted fierce resistance against the FDLR. In Fizi territory, the FDLR is based in the sector of Lulenge; in Uvira territory they control the middle plateau and the Ruzizi floodplain. Linking the middle plateau with Ruzizi, the Uvira corridor is a strategic location for the FDLR, permitting them to export minerals (coltan, gold, cassiterite, etc.) and other resources (especially hemp) to neighbouring countries such as Burundi where they re-supply themselves with ammunition and other essential goods.

Concerning its political activities, the FDLR organises meetings where political assessments are discussed; declarations are issued verbally and in writing; and political and military alliances are formed with other armed groups in the region.

This has been the case in Uvira, for example, with the Burundian Hutu rebel group National Forces for Liberation (FNL); in the high plateaus with the Banyamulenge General Patrick Masunzu, at the time when the latter was in open conflict with the groups of Bisogo and Makanika in Minembwe; in the Mwenga territory with a number of Maï Maï militias that refused to integrate into the national army. Similar alliances are also in place with Kapopo in Itombwe, with the Yakotumba group in Fizi, with Zabuloni in Uvira, with Kirikicho in Kalehe and so on.

The FDLR also participates in both formal and informal meetings at the international, African, national, provincial and local levels. This was for example the case with the negotiations organised by the community Saint Egidio in Rome, or a conference organised by the Protestant Federation of Churches (ECC) in South Kivu in November 2007.

The rebels have formed a well established administration that includes a number of local Congolese notables and chiefs loyal to them. In some localities, for instance Luhwindja, the chief of the sub-district protects their interests.

The FDLR also has military and civilian courts – although the military ones are more numerous – that can take action against FDLR members as well as the Congolese living under their yoke.

The rebels have established new administrative units named after Rwandan towns, for example: Byumba II, Kigali II, Cyangugu II, Ruhengeri II, Butare II, etc. They appoint and remove political officials. Likewise, they have formed a quasi- governmental structure with ministries for health, education, external relations, defence, justice, trade and local government.

Wherever it is in control, the FDLR organises the illegal exploitation of mines and forests. It trades minerals and other valuables resources, locally and even abroad. This is the case for precious hardwoods that are exported to Burundi. Transport is organised via Fizi, the Ubwari peninsula and Kazimia, where the FDLR uses motor- driven dug out canoes to ship wood, charcoal, hemp and smoked game meat to Rumonge province in Burundi. The nature reserves of Itombwe (in Mwenga) and Namutungulu and Ubwari (in Fizi) are severely affected by exploitation of the forests.

Tax for the Liberation of Rwanda

The FDLR also trades in basic necessities like staple foods and alcoholic beverages. And they have a monopoly on cattle trading. Since 2004, in Mwenga territory they raise a so-called “tax for the liberation of Rwanda”. It amounts to 10$ and is imposed on every Congolese older than 17 years.

Initially, the tax was collected monthly; at present, it is charged every three months. Following a census under FDLR supervision, each chief of a locality has to compile a list of local residents who have reached the required age. Other mandatory duties are imposed on the mines, the most important ones being in Lemura (Uvira), Mississi

(Fizi) and Kakanga (Mwenga). The following taxes are collected in the pits:

  • Rations chip: 1$ pro Paket;
  • Vignette: 1$ per week and person
  • Deposit: 2$ per week and person
  • Digging permit for the quarry director, called PDG: 35$ per year and director
  • Registration card for miners: 3$ per year and person
  • Customary law: lump sum
  • Permission to access a mine: 1.5$ per person and entry
  • Permission to leave a mine: 1.5$ per person and exit
  • Tax for the association of miners: 1$ per person and 1$ per bag (by exit)
  • Residential tax: 1$ per person and week
  • Cooperation tax for the Director of the mine: 5$ per week
  • Allotment tax: a one-time tax of 10$ per plot
  • The buyers pay 1 kg of coltan or cassiterite for each bag of 10 kg they buy
  • The buyers pay 4$ a week for a security guard (night and day).

Moreover, the FDLR have assumed control over local markets, sometimes in conjunction with Congo’s army (FARDC) and police. In some parts of Fizi, an estimated 35% of market revenues accrue to the FDLR. In other areas, for example Mwenga and parts of Shabunda, they pocket all market fees.

The FDLR has autonomous socio-cultural structures in the regions under its control. There are FDLR-run churches, cemeteries, schools for their children, video movie cinemas and football teams. There are also traditional healers and theatrical groups among their numbers. Moreover, wedding ceremonies are organised, although it should be noted that they have the habit of marrying young women they bring over from Rwanda.

Slavery in the DRC

The relationship between the FDLR and the local Congolese population is reminiscent of that between master and slaves. The Congolese have little choice but to pay mandatory levies on the agricultural products they produce; they do not move freely for fear of sexual violence and assaults on the road etc. Finally, the Congolese are conscripted to clean the military camps of the FDLR at least once a week.

On the military level, key demands of the FDLR include the return to Rwanda and their integration into the national army, commensurate with their military ranks. Politically speaking, they call for a collective amnesty because, they say, “in Rwanda, everyone has committed killings and everybody has been killed.” They also demand an inter-Rwandan dialogue, similar to the one that was held in the DR Congo.

Finally, they claim that the Congolese state should compensate them for the crucial support they lent Congo’s army during the successive wars under Kabila, father and son.

In view of the numerous criminal acts that have been committed by the FDLR in the regions it has colonised, we suggest the following:

  • That the FDLR’s sources of financing be cut off. We propose an official ban on exploitation of mineral resources in North and South Kivu and parts of Maniema, to be accompanied by measures to support local miners.
  • Putting pressure on the Congolese president to make public and, if possible, respect the agreements signed with the FDLR, which the latter incessantly claim do exist.
  • That all minerals from eastern DR Congo be subjected to a temporary embargo in order to prevent the FDLR from procuring weapons and ammunition in neighbouring countries (Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania etc.), after selling their minerals there.
  • That the agreements of Nairobi be re-negotiated.
  • That the Congolese communities living under the yoke of the FDLR should be associated with the tripartite negotiations that are organised by the governments of the region.
  • That the international community accompanies independent researchers and civil society groups in their activities geared towards the FDLR question.
  • That the strategy be reinforced to place amidst the FLDR certain persons to permanently sensitize FDLR members about their repatriation and counter the rumours that their already repatriated brothers have been ill-treated in Rwanda.
  • That the international community, apply pressure, on the FDLR, to disarm.

*The author of this paper is a Congolese from South Kivu, and he wrote it in June 2008. It was published in 2010 in a report by Pole Institute under the title: Guerillas in the mist: The Congolese experience of the FDLR War in Eastern Congo and the Role of the International Community

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