This report, like its predecessor on the Union des patriotes congolais (UPC, Union of Congolese Patriots), examines the precipitous decline in armed violence in Ituri but shifts the perspective from Hema- to Lendu-dominated armed groups. Specifically, it focuses on the Front des nationalistes intégrationnistes (FNI, Front of Integrationist Nationalists) and the Force de résistance patriotique en Ituri (FRPI, Ituri Patriotic Resistance Force), both of which emerged out of several smaller Lendu militias and were formally established in late 2002. While the FNI largely transformed itself into a political party in 2005, the FRPI continues to resist army integration to this day.
Both groups were born out of local feuding over land, and proxy wars between Kinshasa, Kampala, and Kigali. The involvement of Rwanda and Uganda in Ituri dwindled after 2005, which made it easier for the Congolese government and its foreign partners to arrest or integrate armed group commanders and dismantle the groups. However, the government has never thoroughly addressed the local roots of the fighting, making a rekindling of the conflict a constant possibility, especially as regional tensions mount in the wake of the M23 rebellion.
Lendu militias have been less centralized and cohesive than their Hema counterparts, which has also made it more difficult to strike durable peace deals with them. Two broad groups can be distinguished: those in northern Ituri, who grew out of the land conflicts in 1999 and were widely dispersed across several collectivités separated by Hema-controlled areas; and those who subsequently emerged out of the southern Lendu community living in the geographically homogenous collectivité of Walendu Bindi. When fighting escalated during a regional proxy war in 2002, the northern groups evolved into the FNI, the southern groups into the FRPI. For a short period lasting from mid-2002 to mid-2003, both received support not only from the Congolese but also from the Ugandan army, which sought to balance against the Rwandan-backed UPC.
Together with the Ugandan army, the FNI and FRPI forced the UPC out of Ituri’s capital, Bunia, in March 2003. After Uganda’s withdrawal from the district two months later, however, the UPC recaptured the city in a battle that left hundreds of civilians dead. In the subsequent months, the two groups retreated to their respective strongholds in northern and southern Ituri. There, internal conflict and splits soon revealed the gulf between politicians and local militia commanders in the FNI and even more so in the FRPI. The illusion of two well-organized armed groups, created in 2002 with support from the Congolese and Ugandan governments, thus once again gave way to the reality of heavily fragmented, localized militias.
By late 2007, most of their commanders and troops had integrated into the Congolese army. While the FNI’s politicians created a political party, the FRPI maintained a small but disruptive force in Walendu Bindi. In May 2010, Cobra Matata, the most notorious of the FRPI commanders, defected from the army and re-joined his former comrades. Since late 2011, he has been benefiting from army defections and new rebel coalitions, all of which have been linked in some way with the M23. In the meantime, Kinshasa has alternated between fighting and negotiating with the FRPI, while doing little to address pervasive tensions surrounding land and local power.
Integrating Cobra’s men into the national army, however, would not by itself bring lasting peace to Ituri. As long as the government is unable to tackle the broader issues, long-term stability will remain elusive.
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Henning Tamm is a doctoral candidate in International Relations at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford, and a pre-doctoral fellow with the Program on Order, Conflict and Violence at Yale University.
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Book Description Rift Valley Institute, 2013. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M1907431195
Book Description Rift Valley Institute. Paperback. Book Condition: Brand New. 58 pages. 8.11x5.75x0.20 inches. In Stock. Bookseller Inventory # zk1907431195