On the early morning of September 17-18, 2019, news broke that FDLR’s long-standing military commander Sylvestre Mudacumura had been killed. As daybreak evolved, a narrative spread that the operation had been conducted by Nduma Defence of Congo-Rénové (NDC-R) militia.
Before this incident, NDC-R was only known among the dozens of militias roaming north and south Kivu provinces. Following the death of one of Rwanda’s most wanted, the NDC-R have since emerged as one of the most powerful armed groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
It’s leader Guidon Shimiray Mwissa, is a turfy bold-shaven guy who controls large sways on North Kivu province. A new report by the New York University’s Congo Research Group (CRG), says since early December 2019, Guidon had rallied leaders of other armed groups in a bid to federate them around the NDC–R.
The researchers led by Jason Stearns, who was expelled from Congo, confirmed they were in possession of videos in which Guidon announced his new Réseau des patriotes résistants congolais (RPRC) coalition and has confirmed the UPDI-Mazembe adhering to it.
Around mid December 2019, the rebel commander claimed he was ready to “help” DR Congo President Felix Tshisekedi to pacify the east. Then last week, Guidon invited journalists to one of his bases on Mweso on May 13, where he announced he was prepared to disarm, in response to call by President Tshisekedi.
What is with this NDC-R group and its flamboyant leader Guidon Shimiray who tactfully neither claimed nor denied responsibility for killing of the reclusive FDLR commander Lt Gen Mudacumura?
Around 14h, many hours later on September 18, Congo’s military FARDC issued statement posted on Twitter saying army had killed Mudacumura. The Twitter account of RDF, retweeted FARDC’s post. The new announcement did not put to rest speculation as to who exactly killed the FDLR leader for nearly two decades.
According to latest information from the CRG report, NDC–R was engaged in the broader military offensive that led to the death of Mudacumura but did not carry out the killing––most likely one of Mudacumura’s own soldiers pulled the trigger. The only person CRG could speak to that confirmed seeing Mudacumura’s corpse before it disappeared provided credible testimony that no traces of fighting were seen in the place where the FDLR leader had died.
This narrative rhymes with details that emerged days later from Rwandan exiles pointing to an inside job, but instigated from outside.
A Nyanga (though his mother is Kumu from the Batiri clan), Guidon was born in 1980 in Kigoma, near Mpofi in Walikale. He grew up with his mother and aunt, went to school in Binyampuri and claims to have earned a bachelor’s degree in political and administrative science at the Université libre des pays des grands lacs (ULPGL) in Goma [a degree which could not be independently verified].
After participating in the Mai-Mai group led by She Kasikila in the 1990s, Guidon was integrated with the rank of captain into the 14th brigade of the FARDC deployed in former Orientale province. He also underwent special forces training with the FARDC. He defected in 2007 – because of “bad politics” in the army and allegedly after having been wounded in combat – to join the Mai-Mai group of Mando Mazeri operating between western Walikale and Tshopo province.
He joined Sheka’s NDC around a year later as second-in-command. In 2014, he launched his dissidence against Sheka, becoming the overall commander of NDC–R. Guidon identifies as a Muslim.
Little is known about his family life, but on February 28 this year, news spread in Goma that Guidon’s son (with photos shared) had been kidnapped in Goma. The kidnappers were demanding money. On March 2, a sum of $12,000 was reportedly paid out to get the boy back from the kidnappers.
The Congo Research Group report details NDC-R origins as a splinter group from Sheka Ntabo Ntaberi’s NDC, its trajectory from 2014 to 2020, and its relations with other conflict protagonists, including the Congolese national army (FARDC) and the government more broadly.
The 70-page report shows how Guidon Shimiray and his troops are part of a proxy war led by the Congolese army, which subcontracted them for military operations against certain other militias and local or foreign armed groups.
Four senior DRC army officers, including General Innocent Gahizi, were cited at least three times as being the main organizers of the FARDC’s support to the NDC-R. Gen Gahizi has also been seen in a meeting with NDC-R commander Mapenzi Likuwe at Hotel Nyarusumba in Kitchanga on 27 December 2018.
The NDC-R’s role as a proxy for the FARDC has thus contributed to its spectacular rise: it has become a formidable force controlling vast areas across Walikale, Masisi, and Lubero territories – a very large area.
Though with no significant evidence to date, Guidon Shimiray also allegedly receives indirect support from Rwanda in his fight against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).
President Paul Kagame revealed at a press conference April 27, that his military was providing intelligence on situation in North and South Kivu to DRC government, on which it was basing to conduct ongoing operations against armed groups.
Rwandan exiles have repeatedly named Gen Gahizi as commanding operations that are killing “Rwandan refugees” in the North Kivu region.
More than 26,000 families living in camps for the internally displaced in Bibwe, Bweru and Mpati, in the Bashali, Masisi Territory are held hostage for months by Guidon Shimiray’s militia, according to Dr Andrew Tchie, from the the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).
To maintain his war effort, Guidon and his NDC-R controls large mining areas. They have various taxes on local including one called “war fund” tax (called locally aa mukongoro, “collection”), which can range between 3000 and 6000 FC (USD 1.8-3.6).
Failure to pay taxes can result in fines between 5 and 15 grams of gold. In other mines, monthly taxes also exist, often euphemistically called “rations” or sabuni (“soap”). Usually these taxes are gathered around the end of a month. They amount to 1.5 tiges, a local measurement unit worth around 10000 FC (USD 6).
NDC–R has overtaken most mining operations in Walikale, and its expansion into southern Lubero has allowed it to gain access to the numerous artisanal gold mines around Kasugho and Kagheri. The group also controls over a hundred known mining sites in Walikale territory alone.