The presidency of the Democratic Republic of Congo on Monday ordered the military and police to take over civilian authorities in two regions that have been declared “besieged”.
North Kivu and Ituri – both eastern provinces where dozens of armed groups operate and civilians have been subjected to horrific massacres – were declared besieged on Friday.
According to the DRC constitution, the president can declare a state of either siege or emergency “if difficult circumstances immediately threaten the independence or integrity of the national territory, or if they interrupt the regular functioning of the institutions”.
In an address broadcast on public television on Monday, President Felix Tshisekedi said he had heard “our people’s cries for help and felt the pain our mothers, sisters and daughters are suffering in these provinces ravaged by barbarism.”
His spokesman Tharsice Kasongo Mwema confirmed that the two provinces would be declared under siege for 30 days from Thursday 6 May.
“To respond to the situation during the siege, the provincial governments of Ituri and northern Kivu and the units in these provinces will be replaced by offices of the DRC Armed Forces or the National Police,” he said.
“The actions of the civilian jurisdictions will be replaced by the military jurisdictions” until the “restoration of peace”, he added.
The announcement of a besieged state has been welcomed by North Kivu Governor Carly Kasivita, who said he had repeatedly called for a “national mobilization” to deal with attacks in the province’s Beni region.
However, some observers have expressed concern about the idea of replacing civilian authorities with military ones and warn that this could lead to abuse of power.
Shaken by force
Mineral-rich northern and southern Kivu, located along the eastern borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo with Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, came under violence during the country’s two wars between 1996 and 2003 and have never regained stability.
Ituri, further north, has also been shaken by violence since the end of 2017 after 15 years of relative calm.
Kivu Security Tracker, a monitoring group, estimates that 122 different armed groups of various sizes are active in the eastern DRC.
The Allied Democratic Forces, a group of Ugandan Islamist fighters based in the eastern DRC since 1995, are blamed for many of the massacres.
The ADF – which the United States brands as a “terrorist” organization affiliated with the Islamic State group – has been accused of murdering more than 1,000 civilians since November 2019 in Beni alone.