Beni Massacres and some thoughts on the ADF

Butembo © C Hellyer

Butembo © C Hellyer


The territory of Beni is still under curfew after two months of massacres in villages and towns alongside the road that runs from Beni through Oicha to Eringeti.

People are getting restless and bored with the confinement but fortunately the massacres have subsided and let’s hope it stays that way.

At the start I questioned why the authorities including the UN peace-keeping mission MONUSCO, were so quick to attribute the attacks to the ADF.

The reasons for my questions were multiple including the fact that I saw a ‘party line’ being adopted that set off alarm bells.

After the first attacks local FARDC officers were already in the middle of fighting an unidentified Mai Mai group near Beni and the initial response I received from Beni FARDC contacts was that they suspected Mai Mai as the attackers of the civilians.

This all changed when FARDC ‘official’ spokesman, Oliver Hamuli, publicly attributed the attacks to the ADF. From then onwards everyone, from MONUSCO to FARDC and so on, all stuck to this – tenaciously.

Interestingly, this has now shifted to ‘ADF and related elements’…

For what it is worth, because they don’t suggest perpetrators, the forthcoming Group of Experts report also agree that few, if any of the attacks, were down to the ADF.

Meanwhile, the public trial commenced into the murder of Colonel Mamadou who was killed in Ngadi, which was also the location of one of the first attacks. I won’t go into details of the trial here beyond noting that it fell under the genre of farce…….

As the attacks continued, a range of other events developed quite quickly and the media descended upon Beni with varying degrees of success in their reporting.

Assorted ‘citizens’ groups took to the streets, civil society groups issued florid press releases and MONUSCO became the focus of of blame.

I deconstructed some of these developments on my Facebook page at the time but for those who didn’t see it – a quick rundown.

The Rumour Machine

There was a shooting incident in November in Mbau which is about 15km along the road from Beni which was widely misreported as ‘UN troops shooting civilians’.

The shooting incident was not at a demonstration which is what Reuters said. It was at a roadblock the night before that youths set-up as ‘civil protection’. This was after the mayor asked everyone except the army and MONUSCO to stay off the roads after dark.

Some reports claim the UN soldiers shot civilians but do not mention that FARDC were present and we do not know who was shooting. We do know that the youths attacked the Tanzanians and my sources say FARDC had to prevent what almost amounted to a ‘lynching’ attempt on a Tanzanian soldier.

We also know that after the shooting the youths took the bodies to the Administrator’s office and ransacked it. Early the same morning an unidentified man was found murdered on the street in Oicha as ‘suspected ADF’. Only the next day did this turn into protests at the MONUSCO base at Mavivi.

The Beni -Mbau – Oicha – Eringeti road is strategically very important – it is the route to both Bunia and Kamango and the Rwenzoris and many of the militias and the ADF.

It is connected to the nearby Ugandan border and it is also like a cross-roads for other small but important routes from Lubero to Oriental and it’s near the airport too.

Contrary to media reports the FIB soldiers from Tanzania were patrolling it every night through the night and it is really dangerous.

From Beni to Mbau there is a dense palm plantation and all along there are plenty of potential ambush sites. I know, I have driven it all the way to Bunia – repeatedly.

There had been crazy rumours flying around Beni for ages including saying that MONUSCO is supplying weapons to the ADF during Operation Sukola and passports and free flights to rebels.

This motivated a previous protest against MONUSCO during Operation Sukola by soldier’s wives who thought the UN was arming the rebels who were killing their husbands.

They blocked the Kamango road and prevented the MONUSCO logistics troops from advancing, ironically to feed and supply the Congolese soldiers.

However, dismissing these things as ‘rumours’ is not helpful to understanding Beni – a place that is still very much rendered in the same unresolved colours of the Congo wars that are then glossed over by international terminology that frames it as a ‘post-conflict’ situation.

The so-called rumours and published ‘tracts’ are often politically orchestrated and with careful research can sometimes be traced to source and some interesting patterns emerge.



One example is the rumours about MONUSCO in Beni. MONUSCO doesn’t help the situation – they never communicate with local people or offer statements to the public so the information vacuum just gets filled by those who wish to manipulate things for their own ends and radio trottoir does the rest.

The Tanzanians of the FIB were held in high regard until an almost systematic undermining developed.

A prolific promoter of that undermining both during Operation Sukola with the protest by the soldier’s wives and the ‘road-block’ confrontation in late October was the same – one of the civil society organisations in Oicha.

This contra-MONUSCO discourse was then echoed on certain local radio stations including Radio Rwenzori which is/was owned by Mbusa Nyamwisi and was shut-down by Lambert Mende.

From the time of Mobutu there have been regional power struggles that have far-reaching (and continuing) effects.

As Severine Autesserre identifies in great detail the top-down political-science propelled policies that are the dominant ideology of international efforts towards peace-building prioritised elections over actual peace.

This ignored the regional and local dynamics and failed to resolve anything much – particularly in the Grand North. In Beni for instance, 10 years after the event, there is a still a community of Lendu who had to flee Bunia

In the Grand North this means understanding the complexities of an ongoing insurgency that, as I have said before, has blurred the lines between criminal, rebel, citizen, soldier and state.

The ADF and the Group of Experts Report

The ADF rebels are situated within this complexity while maintaining, at their core, their own self-defined identity and vision.

The forthcoming (and as yet unpublished but leaked to the press) Final Group of Experts report offers some fascinating insights into workings of the ADF although due to limitations of mandate, time and resources it both fails to join the dots or expand into the landscape in which the ADF operates.

What it does show us is a degree of insight into what I have previously suggested is a Russian-doll structure and it identifies the form of some of the inner core which it names as the Kanana or 8000 Group.

This is the elite group of commanders who, according to the report, number approximately 20 plus their dependants. The tiny Russian doll in the middle of the set.

The report confirms that during operation Sukola the rebels split into smaller groups and as I said at the time, left the camps before FARDC arrived.

One of the main divisions according to the report, resulted in many of the elite group leaving altogether and a second, much larger group of approximately 1,000 – 1,200, led by Seka Baluku, Mukulu’s second in command. This group was then moving repeatedly.

This second group which split into smaller groups, lost prisoners, combatants and children due to the fighting and a combination of weakness bought on by a lack of supplies and weapons, escapes by hostages and ultimately an alleged period of starvation.  This latter claim is shakey but possible – all I will say for now is it is open to debate……

The report also offers some insight into militia bureaucracy, rebel disciplinary measures and mentions, almost in passing, how local motorcycle taxis, cars and supporters delivered supplies.

Homelands, Networks and Bigger Russian Dolls

What it doesn’t mention, is how this network radiates out into the community and beyond.  The ‘Elite Group’ are alleged to have moved their dependants to Butembo and Goma and  thus are hardly disconnected from the locality.

The rebels received regular deliveries of food, fuel, medicine, clothes, money and various consumer goods according to the Group of Experts but the report doesn’t offer any details.

The supporters and suppliers, employees and associates are interesting.

This is where we journey into the shifting terrain of ‘part-time’ combatants who live in the community, people employed in ADF business enterprises and the revolving door of failed demobilisation projects.

At the start of Operation Sukola local sources identified the return of some of these local ADF supporters from the bush to the towns. They recognised them for reasons I will refrain from detailing.

The drive-by shooting in Beni town in early 2014 of a linguist and MONUSCO disarmament worker who was working specifically on ADF disarmament, was a clear warning to those who might offer identification.

The insecurity in Beni had been rumbling both overtly and covertly since before the 2011 elections. The roads and villages had long been on the ‘forbidden’ list for foreign NGOs and a range of armed groups and individuals were  active.

Back in 2012 I wrote about the night-time visits of unidentified gunmen who appeared in people’s houses, the threatening text messages and mysterious killings. Mai Mai commanders broadcast on the radio their intention to take the town.

All through 2013 this became worse with two prison attacks, an audacious Mai Mai attack on the military HQ in Beni and shortly after, the mayor had to jump through his window to save his life.

Kidnappings in the region developed into a growth industry many due to militia – particularly the ADF – but also local ‘criminal’ elements who carefully select high-value targets which they then ransom for big money.

The various Mai Mai include the militia of ex-FARDC major, Hilaire Kombi, who is sitting in a hotel in Kinshasa in a stalled demobilisation process. His combatants are mostly still on the loose.

However, this is only one of the local armed groups and networks. which also link in to local businessmen, politicians, soldiers and some civil society organisations.

Civil society organisations in Congo sometimes depend on local business interests for funding and thus may be compromised.  They can be a launch pad into politics and they assist in the alignment of interest groups.

Under this rubric we can include the Khyagandas – ethnic organisations; the youth vigilante groups including Veranda Mutsanga in Butembo and so on.

The latter featured in a few foreign news articles as a spontaneous youth approach to insecurity.

What this ignored, apart from the long history of the group and the neighbourhood of its instigation is how they threatened other youths and Butembo residents in attempts to bully them into either participating or giving material support.

Eventually the mayor of Butembo placed a ban on their night-time activities. Although it is interesting to note that Butembo’s new chief of police made an introductory visit to the group as one of his first moves upon taking up his post.

A wave of arrests ensued while carefully maintaining the ADF-as-decoy official line. These arrests included ten ‘grandes poissons’ which media reports incorrectly identified as Nande business people – some were Nande but not all.

The Nande component included Madam Getou – Gertrude Vihumbira – who is the (very wealthy) FEC president in Beni and one of the local ‘petrol barons’.

Also taken to Kinshasa by the ANR and another RCD-KML ‘notable’, is Jean-de-Dieu Paluku, Honourary Mayor in Beni town.

Some of the others arrested worked at or near the Kasindi border post including Madame Jeanne Lusi, officer in the Directorate General of Customs and Excise. At least two were Ugandans.

The relation between the local FEC – Fédération des Entreprises du Congo – and protection rackets operated by the RCD -KML of Mbusa Nyamwisi during the Congo wars extended to control of the Kasindi border post.

As I reported for Al Jazeera more than a year ago, Nyamwisi’s brother who also worked at the Kasindi Customs office was arrested in 2013.

Tim Raeymeakers describes how during the war a form of ‘mediated state’ emerged which he suggests is: “a standoff between state and nonstate norms of governance.”

In Butembo this was backed by the Comité des Sages which had a rotating chair between the Bishop’s representative, the rebel administration and FEC.

The 2008 Goma Declaration was signed on behalf of the Comité des Sages by Abbe Malu Malu. The other signatures on the document shed some light on a few more of the dynamics in the Grand North.

However, when it came to committing names to paper many of the protagonists either changed their names or went to ground.

The Butembo arrest in November of Kukumana – Fabien Kahindo Mudohu, a former chief of the original Forces d’Autodéfense Populaires (Enoch’s) revived another of these ghosts from the past.

Local sources suggested he was behind the resurrection of an old group with new recruits in Vurondo, Beni Territory, where ten were arrested for being in a militia.

Up in Mahagi, a new group appeared – the Forces for the Protection de la Nation Congolais – FPNC, complete with a manifesto that claims to want to reinvent the Congolese state wheel.  The manifesto decries the presence of ‘foreign armed groups’ on national territory and lists – FDLR, ADF, LRA, etc.,

Maybe relegating M23 to an etc., was an oversight or maybe this is the alliance of ex-M23, Mai Mai and RCD-KML that became the new suspect named by Lambert Mende a few weeks later as responsible for the massacres in Beni.

Meanwhile, some of the Nande Khyagandas issued increasingly loud proclaimations of a ‘Nande genocide’ which was ludicrous in view of the fact that the massacres didn’t discriminate.

Ethnicity, politics, land….. again

This was symptomatic of another developing problem that the top-down international approach failed to resolve – the ethnic tensions that have their roots in the politics of land-ownership and are manipulated by politicians.

In 2013 the Committee of Hutu Returnees blamed the South Lubero Civil Society organisation for inciting xenophobia.

In Lubero, the Congolese Hutus were facing increased violence and publicly issued cries for support. A Congolese NGO who works in local peace-building had to move their focus from Beni to Lubero for a while in November because things became so bad.

Some of the Hutus went on the move across the Grand North searching for security and work.

It was a small group of these Hutu who were attacked in Beni town and gained lurid international headlines when one man was burnt to death in the street and allegedly cannibalised – the victim was wrongly blamed in the media for being in the ADF.

Some of the so-called rumours directed at MONUSCO declared that the UN gave passports and free flights to Hutus – a perversion of the FDLR disarmament story.

It is with this in mind that we have to treat with caution (although not dismiss), by those who survived the massacres and repeated in the Group of Experts report, that some attackers spoke Kinyarwanda amongst other languages.

The ADF, politics and massacres

However, none of this can be seen in simple ethno-political terms. For instance, contrary to some suggestions the RCD-KML is not the all-powerful all-encompassing Nande constituency.

Over the years their support has decreased and even in its heyday there was always resentment towards it from sections of the business community.

The militias have constantly shifting loyalties and rise and fall with great regularity. They are also well-known for being as capable of fighting each other as they are at forming alignments.

As for the ADF, they gained local legitimacy through their alliance with NALU.

The latter has mostly (but not completely) faded from view and the ADF consolidated its local position through business relations that were lucrative to various sectors of Beni society including some in the military.

The ADF paid their external workers a regular wage and had a reputation for being honourable in business.

Interestingly, one of their principle business operations in Beni is taxis and it is often the taxi-drivers who are at the forefront of street protests…

Through their alliance with NALU they gained connections to the extensive Nayamwisi family network including a ‘lease’ on land in Mutwanga.

The relationship between the ADF and some chefs de commune is well-known – Mutwanga is not the only example.

This is one reason why the top-down tendency of international NGOs to accept them as ‘local’ representatives’ is highly problematic.

These local ADF networks and connections are often overlooked by advocates of military operations as I said at the start of the massacres.

However, simply replacing chefs de commune or other administrators with PPRD loyalists won’t solve the problem either because the PPRD is on shakey ground in the Grand North.

They allegedly gained the vote count in one of the ex-CNDP deals that saw Bwambale Kakolele supervising the ballot box stuffing in Beni.

Who is behind the massacres and whether it is even all the same perpetrators is still not clear but I am even more convinced that it isn’t solely the work of the ADF.

The arrests of Muslims in Beni and beyond and the ongoing harrassment of the wider Congolese Muslim population certainly won’t help community relations and risks opening the door to external elements who promote radicalisation.

Suggestions that the series of massacres in Beni were ‘revenge attacks’ by the ADF for operation Sukola fail to understand both the history of how the ADF operate and local dynamics.

The ADF have a tendency to attack with a purpose – even when that isn’t always immediately obvious such as Bundibugyo.

In the 2013 Kamango attacks for instance, they gained a good supply of medication and other pharmaceuticals along with the MSF staff. The chief was killed for switching his loyalties and a couple of others who got in the way. Kamango is in Watalinga an area claimed and occupied by the ADF.

And as the Group of Experts report suggests, once the ‘roving’ rebels emerged from the deeper bush they were soon able to re-establish local contacts and supplies.   In Beni obtaining a gun is as easy as obtaining a machete.

These recent massacres have been fairly systematic in their approach with all the massacres being within a few kilometers of the N4 road. There has also been an often recurring pattern of massacres taking place at the same time ‘officials’ have paid high-profile visits.

The attacks could be attributed to an intent to demonstrate that both Joseph Kabila and the UN troops are incapable of protecting Beni’s citizens.

The ADF rarely kill children and other counter-evidence includes alcohol drinking, languages spoken – Lingala in some reports, Kinyarwanda in others and methods.

I don’t think there was a ‘copy-cat’ or mimic effect going on as suggested as some have suggested.  Massacres are nothing new in Congo sadly, as the Hema Lendu conflict so brutally demonstrated.

The suggestion that Hilaire’s group or anyone else copied ADF tactics also overlooks the incredible surge in kidnappings in the Grand North during the last few years never mind that it clobbers agency on the head….

Kidnapping has never been the preserve of the ADF and on the contrary if you played by their curfew rules, for a long time you could travel safely through their territory. Off the road by 4.00pm was the rule.

I was physically present during negotiations with the ADF in a failed attempt to gain release of a small group of  kidnap victims before Operation Sukola.

The ADF wanted rid of them due to the failing health of one of the group who was seen as a liability.

The recent massacres may have caused the ADF an image problem but locally not everyone bought into the ADF-as-decoy myth.  They too questioned it from fairly early on.

The M23, Mai Mai, RCD-KML network was alleged back in 2012 by the UN Group of Experts.  The network map above is worth investigating for interactive details based on the report.

For a long time there were suspicions in Beni that former fighters of the RCD-KML integrated into the Congo army were still protecting Nyamwisi’s interests from within military units in Kisangani, Beni and Butembo.

However, the appearance of a ‘manifesto’ just as the attacks were gaining momentum, seemed a little too convenient.

There are some very dark political and economically motivated forces pulling strings in the Grand North and this is what happens. Congo is heading for elections……..

I’ll continue with the ADF project shortly


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