By Jake W.
On July 9th, 2020, the Nduma Defense of Congo-Rénové (NDC-R), one of the largest and most powerful rebel groups fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo, split in two. In a signed statement, several officers of the group announced the removal of the group’s leader, and subsequently fighting began between loyalists to the ousted leader and those supporting his replacement.
Why did this happen? To understand, we must take a look at the history of the group.
The Nduma Defense of Congo-Rénové was founded by Guidon Shimiray Mwissa in 2014. Mwissa was originally a lieutenant of Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka, a prominent militia commander in North Kivu province who led the Nduma Defense of Congo (NDC, separate from NDC-R). Sheka founded the group in 2008 as a way to oust the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) from mining sites across the Walikale and Masisi Territories of North Kivu. Mwissa split off from Sheka’s group, citing disagreements, and took over most of Sheka’s former strongholds.
Mwissa quickly became more powerful than his former boss, and by early 2017, Sheka’s group was no longer relevant in the militia politics of the area. In July of that year, Sheka surrendered to the UN. Mwissa’s new NDC-R militia struck up alliances with local groups to help fight against the FDLR, which originated in Rwanda as the remnants of the Hutu genocide government. Mwissa’s group also gained the support of elements of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC).
Harnessing support from the army, Mwissa was able to become the most powerful warlord in eastern Congo, using his group to challenge the FDLR and their allies. FARDC support did not save him from the law, however, as the government issued a warrant for his arrest in June 2019, which was supported by the UN mission. The warrant cited a number of human rights abuses committed by his group, including violence against civilians.
It was for this reason that Mwissa’s officers chose to remove him. Désiré Ngabo Kisuba, the group’s spokesman and former right-hand man to Mwissa, signed a statement which established that Mwissa was being removed for his human rights abuses and “deviationist behavior”. The group of officers appointed Gilbert Bwira, the former second-in-command of the group as the NDC-R’s new leader.
Heavy infighting followed the declaration, which pitted Bwira’s faction against the loyalists of Mwissa. Nine people have reportedly been killed thus far, and the fighting continues. Christoph Vogel, a conflict researcher at Ghent University, stated, “As fighting between the factions is ongoing, the short-term effect will likely be a destabilization of the area controlled by the NDC-R”. A consequence of this infighting could be a resurgence of the FDLR’s coalition, which the NDC-R had dealt significant damage to. The NDC-R’s infighting will inhibit its ability to continue its anti-FDLR operations and, in turn, the FDLR and allies will be able to recover from their losses. The Nyatura militia, a group in the FDLR’s coalition, has already occupied several villages formerly controlled by the NDC-R. As infighting continues to develop, the future of the NDC-R is uncertain.