eastern Congo militias

Church Groups: Rwanda-Backed Militias Plague Eastern Congo

Scott Morgan on August 30, 2022

United States and United Nations officials are highlighting ongoing violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), mirroring church groups troubled by militia activity in the geographically large African country’s east.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to the region August 10-12, calling upon all sides in the conflict to stop supporting militias and other groups active in the country’s east.

One week preceding Blinken’s visit, the United Nations Panel of Experts for the DRC released a report claiming that neighboring Rwanda is providing military support to M23, one of the militias active in the eastern DRC. Soon after the report’s release, the social media hashtag #Rwandaiskilling began trending on Twitter.

Africa Faith & Justice Network (AFJN), a coalition of left-of-center Roman Catholic advocacy groups, organized an August 25 online briefing titled “End it Now: Rwanda-Democratic Republic of the Congo Crisis.”

Jacques Bahati, a policy analyst with AFJN, stated that the eastern Congo crisis is not a new phenomenon but that the action of Rwandan President Paul Kagame in the DRC has resulted in the deaths of Congolese and the loss of economic development since the First Congo War in 1996-1997.

Addressing the meeting from the Congolese capital Kinshasa, Fr. Ngobert Minami mentioned that the Lusaka Agreement, an effort to end the second phase of the Congo Wars, has undermined the DRC security sector and has led to the destabilization of the eastern part of the Congo leading to the current instability

Maître Omar Kavota, Executive Director of the Study Center for the Promotion of Peace, Democracy and Human Rights, spoke from Beni in the northeastern DRC, critical of the effort by the U.N. Stabilization Mission in the Congo (MONUCSO) to take on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), one of the militias active in the region. On March 10, 2021, the ADF was declared to be a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by the U.S. State Department.

The international community at large was criticized in the briefing for alleged hypocrisy in the conflict.

Friends of the Congo Executive Director Maurice Carney stated that support provided by the U.S. government to regional allies has led to a direct U.S. involvement in the crisis. Carney charged that the U.S.-allied regional leaders do not represent American values of promoting Democracy and fairness. 

Claude Katumbe, a refugee from Rwanda, asserted to briefing participants that the M23 insurgency is a fake. He stated that since M23 combattants wear uniforms and have specific equipment then they are members of both the Rwandan and Ugandan militaries and are invading the Congo. He further claimed that Rwanda’s Kagame is the real current head of M23 and is seeking control of the rare earth minerals in the eastern Congo

Washington-based independent African analyst Nii Akuetteh was similarly critical of relationships between Washington and autocratic leaders in central Africa. He also suggested that Washington would be a better partner in the region than China.

These statements present an image of events currently taking place in the eastern DRC. There is ample evidence that Rwanda – and to a lesser extent Uganda – have supported militias in the eastern Congo for decades but have not been held accountable for these actions. 

The suffering of those on the ground has been overlooked in the decades of violence. Churches have not been immune to violence plaguing the region. As recently as July there were reports of at least 17 Christians killed in a series of attacks that targeted churches in Congo’s east. The main suspects in these attacks are the ADF.

The ADF is not the only entity in the eastern Congo demonstrating a willingness to attack Christians. Movement for the Development of the Congo (CODECO) fighters were accused of murdering 18 Christians seeking shelter in a church compound in March of this year. The activities of CODECO went unmentioned during the online briefing but the group is known to be a loose coalition that has the goal of protecting the interests of the Lendu ethnic group.

Is this a case where the plight of Christians are being overlooked to support a larger and potentially more visual agenda? Christians appear to have been specifically targeted by groups to further their goals. International Christian Concern did nominate the ADF as one of the Entities that are the worst persecutors of Christians in 2021. CODECO has been able to thrive as other groups have been the focus of the Congolese government, U.N. peacekeepers and the military intervention of neighboring states.

It is a shame to see people of faith struggle like this.

  1. Comment by John Kenyon on August 30, 2022 at 12:03 pm

    Thanks for bringing this more out into the open, Scott.

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