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Who is Who in the Congo Conflict?

By Jake W.

Edited by Brendan S.

Residents of Katale refugee camp in Tunda, Masisi Territory, North Kivu in July 2013. (Alexis Bouvy)

A recent massacre in South Kivu province and Nobel Prize-winning doctor Denis Mukwege’s denouncement of the attack has once again brought the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the world spotlight. While not as well-known as the international mess that are the Syrian or Libyan conflicts, Congo’s internal strife causes thousands of deaths each year, and millions have been displaced as a result. Here is an overview of notable or major groups fighting in the conflict:

Nduma Defense of Congo-Rénové (NDC-R)

The Nduma défense du Congo-Rénové is one of the largest and most powerful groups fighting in Congo’s conflict. Formed after a lieutenant of Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka’s Nduma Defense of Congo (NDC) defected, the group eventually grew to control large swathes of territory in North Kivu province. Since its inception, the group, led by Guidon Shimiray Mwissa, has been involved in violent fighting with the FDLR group and its local allies, the Nyatura and APCLS, often benefitting from support from the Congolese national army. In Summer 2020, the group split in two after one of Mwissa’s lieutenants attempted to oust him. Later, the rebellious lieutenant and his faction of nearly 500 fighters surrendered to the Congolese army, dealing a severe blow to the group.

National People’s Coalition for the Sovereignty of Congo (CNPSC)

CNPSC fighters with a UN delegation, 2019. (MONUSCO)

Founded in 2017 as a merger of several local militias in South Kivu by popular rebel leader William Yakutumba, the Coalition Nationale du Peuple pour la Souveraineté du Congo is one of the largest groups in the province. The group formed to resist the government of Joseph Kabila, who had refused to give up power after overstaying his constitutionally-mandated term limit. They launched a major offensive in 2017 that resulted in the group nearly capturing the major city of Uvira. Starting in 2019, the group shifted its focus to fighting against militias from the Tutsi community of South Kivu. The CNPSC believes these groups are tied to the Rwandan government, and wishes to prevent another incident similar to the M23 rebellion.

Ngumino & Twiganeho

The Ngumino (a portmanteau of Kinyarwanda words “guma” and “ino” meaning “stay here”) and the Twiganeho (meaning “let’s defend ourselves”) are two strongly allied armed groups in South Kivu. They are made up of South Kivu’s Tutsi community, and frequently engage in fighting with the CNPSC coalition. According to the militias themselves, they are fighting against an enemy that wishes to commit genocide against them. The groups have been alleged to have received aid from the government of Rwanda, and have collaborated with the RED-Tabara group, a Burundian rebel movement trained and funded by Rwanda. The Ngumino and Twiganeho are the perpetrators of the Kipupu massacre, a violent attack in July of 2020 that killed an estimated 220 people.

Nyatura - Collective of Movements for Change (CMC)

The Collectif des mouvements pour le changement coalition is an alliance of several Nyatura factions in North Kivu. Nyatura groups are ethnic Hutu armed movements that sprung up to defend their communities against attacks by other armed groups and the national army. Since then, these groups have also committed atrocities as well. The CMC coalition, led by a certain Domi (real name Dominique Ndaruhutse), portrays itself as an anti-government opposition alliance, similar to that of the CNPSC. The group maintains ties to the FDLR and APCLS militia groups, and is involved in an intense rivalry with the NDC-R.

Cooperative for the Development of Congo (CODECO)

CODECO fighters in Bunia, Ituri, 2020. (Radio Okapi)

The Coopérative pour le Développement du Congo militia traces its origins back to the late-70s as an organization dedicated to assisting locals in Ituri province with agricultural development. As time went on, however, the group became increasingly political and radicalized. Its membership is made up of the Lendu ethnicity, who have been involved in a violent rivalry with the Hema people since the early 2000s, known as the Ituri conflict. The group has carried out deadly massacres of Hema civilians, killing over 400 people since August 2019. CODECO was led by Justin Ngudjolo until late March 2020, when he was killed in a shootout with the Congolese army. CODECO now has several splinter factions, some of which favor demobilization, while others continue the group’s violence.

Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) The ADF originated in Uganda in the aftermath of the country’s civil war in the 90s. It was an Islamist movement dedicated to overthrowing Uganda’s government and replacing it with an Islamic state. Intense military operations and the outbreak of the Second Congo War pushed the group into neighboring DRC, where it has existed since then. The ADF has committed violent massacres against civilians and has resisted several military offensives attempting to destroy it. In October 2019, the Congolese army launched a major offensive against the ADF which seemed to weaken it, but once again not destroy it. The ADF has continually carried out attacks targeting civilians, which have killed hundreds of people since 2019. The militia is also alleged to have ties to the Islamic State, although the extent of these ties is unknown.

Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR)

The Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda is one of the most recognizable militias involved in Congo’s conflict. Founded in 2000 as a unification of the remnants of the Hutu government that carried out the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the group has been active across eastern Congo, carrying out atrocities and attacks against security forces alike. Since then, however, their power has largely waned. While previously the group held territory in Tanganyika, South Kivu, and North Kivu provinces, military offensives and splinter factions have limited its control to North Kivu and several miles of bush in Tanganyika. The FDLR has been involved in fighting against the NDC-R group, and has found allies in the local Nyatura groups and APCLS. The group’s military commander, Sylvestre Mudacumura, was killed in late 2019 by the Congolese army. The group’s influence and power has continued to wane since then.

Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo (APCLS)

Featured on a 2012 Vice documentary, the Alliance des Patriotes pour un Congo Libre et Souverain is one of the more notable Mai-Mai groups in North Kivu. During the time of the documentary, the group was assisting the Congolese government in suppressing the M23 rebellion. Since then, the APCLS has increased its cooperation with the FDLR and its Nyatura allies. It is currently involved in violent fighting with the NDC-R group. The group is also believed to receive funding from wealthy landowners and small-scale illegal mining.

National Council for Renewal and Democracy (CNRD)

The Conseil National pour le Renouveau et la Démocratie is the largest splinter group of the FDLR. Purporting to take a more moderate stance, the CNRD claims to be fighting for the repatriation of the Rwandan refugee community in Congo, and for the removal of the RPF government. The group was weakened by a large-scale offensive by the Congolese army in November 2019, causing its leaders to lose control of the organization and scattering its fighters across South Kivu. Several CNRD units are active in Kalehe Territory, Kahuzi Biega National Park, and the Itombwe Highlands in South Kivu. Due to their isolation, many of these units are unsure if their leaders are still alive, and of the status of the movement as a whole.

Raia Mutomboki

Raia Mutomboki fighters in Kalehe Territory, South Kivu, 2019. (Tresor Pendeki)

Raia Mutomboki (“angered citizens” in Swahili) is the name for a collection of armed groups in North and South Kivu. The group was formed in 2005 in order to fight against units of the FDLR that were harassing civilians. They re-emerged in 2011 to fight both the FDLR and the national army. They are considered to be a “militia franchise” as the movement doesn’t identify one single group, rather a variety of factions united under the Raia Mutomboki banner. Although maintaining influence over a large amount of territory, the Raia Mutomboki have not been as active as of recent.


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