DRC blames radical groups for violent attacks on peacekeepers

Saturday September 02 2023

Demonstrators march during a demonstration against the East African Community Regional Force in Goma, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, on January 18, 2023. PHOTO | GUERCHOM NDEBO | AFP


Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo are now laying blame on radical groups for fuelling violent protests against foreign peacekeeping missions including the United Nations.

This week, dozens of people were killed in Goma after new protests emerged against the Monusco, the UN stabilisation mission troops, and those from the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF).

Officials put the death toll at 43 after the Wednesday confrontation between Congolese security agencies and the protesters.Yet the violence is putting authorities in the DRC in an awkward position. Kinshasa has criticised these missions but wants a diplomatic way of dealing with perceived weaknesses.

Read: 48 killed in East DR Congo anti-UN rally crackdown

Mystic-religious group

Instead, it is blaming a mystic-religious group. It said members of the “Foi Naturelle Judaïque Messianique vers les Nations (FNJMN) / Agano La Uwezo Wa Neno/Wazalendo and assimilated to a church that practices fetishes, claim to follow in the footsteps of Patrice Emery Lumumba have radicalised youth to fight for “true independence.”


Lumumba was DRC’s first prime minister who was assassinated.

The Congolese army claimed they were armed, intoxicated and manipulated, “posing as the Wazalendo belonging to a mystic-religious sect of a certain prophet Bisimwa Ephraim.”

Local Military Governor Constant Ndima claims that this group has already broken into the Monusco base and the town twice before.

The governor did not specify the town. But Lt-Col Kaiko Ndjike, army spokesman in North Kivu and government spokesman, said that the group had been responsible for “similar cases” in South Kivu. Their demonstrations had resulted in the deaths of followers of Bisimwa.

The group is demanding the “immediate departure” of Monusco, the East African Regional Force (EACRF), Westerners and NGOs from Congolese soil.

Read: Protests erupt again in Goma over UN peacekeepers

But the Congolese army says that, in reality, this group was “playing into the hands of the M23 and the Rwandan army”.

“The Defence and Security Forces have taken every precaution and professionally stopped the adventures of these troublemakers,” Ndjike said on Thursday.

Monusco has been in the DRC for the past 25 years, working under mandates that have been revised, amended and extended over the years.

Last month, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the mission will leave from December this year, citing the local hostility he blamed on political incitement. But the UN chief also admitted their departure will leave a security void and asked the EACRF to cover up, alongside other foreign missions agreeable to Kinshasa.

Uneasy relationship

The EACRF itself has been in the crosshairs of Kinshasa in its 10 months of existence on Congolese soil. Kinshasa is expected to decide the EACRF’s fate by signing an extension of the Status of Force Agreement, or not. EACRF mandate expires this month, having been extended in March by six months.

This week, DRC signalled it will be amenable for the longer stay of East African Community Regional Force as long as they can force armed groups to respect the ceasefire.

Read: Tshisekedi pegs EACRF's longer stay on M23 respecting truce

The apparent climb-down emerged on Monday as President Felix Tshisekedi hosted his Burundia counterpart Evariste Ndayishimiye, the current chair of the East African Community.

“It is true that some days back, I expressed my certain annoyance at the behaviour of the East African regional force,” DR Congo President Felix Tshisekedi said on Tuesday in Kinshasa.

“But the meetings have started being much tougher on the armed groups, just like the last one (on August 24 with the Defence ministers in Nairobi) in which our Deputy Prime Minister of Defence, Jean-Pierre Bemba, took part. “That meeting was much tougher on respecting the terms of the agreements reached through the Nairobi process, which is enriched by the Luanda roadmap.”

Nairobi and Luanda processes are part of a regional project to force the parties involved in the Congolese conflict to observe a ceasefire, before embarking on the road to peace.

President Ndayishimiye said a Summit of the heads of state will be held soon to examine DRC’s demands.

The Congolese president said his country will use that meeting to express its views on the basis of the findings, namely whether the M23 would finally be allowed to go into cantonment.

Kinshasa recently agreed to the deployment of forces from the southern African bloc, SADC.

Read: SADC troops get Great Lakes nod to deploy in DRC

But SADC said those troops will complement, not compete with EACRF.

The Congolese government has always taken the view that since March this year, the M23 has not really withdrawn from the conquered areas, even though there has been no fighting with the Congolese army for nearly six months.

Gory media footage

In Goma, where protests ensued on Wednesday, the army spokesman in the region said that the defence forces had acted professionally. But on Thursday, social media images of soldiers dragging corpses and piling them into a lorry caused a public outcry.

The crowd turned on the officials, calling for the military governor who runs North Kivu province to be punished. The governor explains that the violence started when the protesters, “well before starting the march, stoned a policeman to death and the guns started to crackle in their camp.”

Transition plan

Wednesday's abortive demonstration in Goma is reminiscent of the violent marches in July 2022 against the “passive” presence of Monusco in the DRC, which left 36 people dead in several towns in eastern Congo.

Read: 150 killed in DRC in two weeks: UN

The Congolese authorities and UN leaders have already agreed that the withdrawal should begin after the elections in December. A transition plan has already been defined. This plan provides for the peacekeeping mission to transfer its missions and prerogatives to the Congolese authorities in phases.

As for the East African regional force, its mandate is due to expire September 8.

Defence ministers of the East African region have already endorsed its extended stay.

But the Summit must approve the proposal for Kinshasa to sign, which it may not.