On how (not) to stop M23, and the flux of rematches & paradigm shifts

The moment this is written, breaking news stipulate the ‘new’ M23 rebel movement has taken further villages in the rural area around Rutshuru in North Kivu. Based between the mentioned town and bordering Bunagana (crossing to Uganda), the movement now controls more and more villages in the area while counter offensives fail due to M23’s obvious tactical warfare skills. Since May the ‘mouvement 23 mars’ had commenced insurgent military operations against the FARDC, DRC’s regular army. Being initially perceived as a mere resurrection of ex-CNDP remnants under the aegis of ICC-wanted General Bosco Ntaganda (‘The Terminator’), many doubts have meanwhile emerged if such simplistic explanation would suffice to unveil the real settings on the ground. As the preceding article highlighted, M23 refers to a peace signed between CNDP’s armed branch and the FARDC after Laurent Nkundabatware’s detention by Rwandan authorities. The peace deal brokered in 2009 entered into force on a certain 23 of March and included generous concessions for CNDP units, most notably in form of non-deferment to provinces others than their wider homeland (i.e., North Kivu, South Kivu, Maniema, and Northern Katanga).

In the frame of ‘brassage’ and ‘mixage’, two techniques used by FARDC’s état-major to reconfigure the ostensibly porous structure of the regular army, promises to the ex-CNDP were not given priority anymore and disenchantment among the concerned units began. In reaction, many ex-CNDP refused to be referred to other provinces or disintegrated and combined with other units. ‘Brassage’ and ‘mixage’ thus resulted in a modest failure though still the related efforts were enough to alert ex-CNDP units, which to a large extent became part of the so called Amani Leo mission. Amani Leo was put in place, mainly to fight FDLR-FOCA, representing some sort of ‘natural enemy’ to ex-CNDP soldiers. Its command structures were highly interspersed with ex-CNDP cadres, beginning with Ntaganda as deputy commander of the whole MONUSCO-backed military mission. Beyond just fighting FDLR (and various Mayi-Mayi militia such as Yakutumba, Kapopo, or others) Amani Leo also signified a powerful parallel structure to permanently existing military structures, the so-called ‘military regions’. Equipped with rather good hardware, logistical support by UN peacekeepers, and a permissive mandate, Amani Leo units both managed to sensitively hit FDLR-FOCA during the last two years and to become a significant player in illicit exploitation and trade of the region’s natural resources. Ex-CNDP units have been profiteers as much as regular army units too.

The official call for withdrawal of Amani Leo, the mounting international (and maybe domestic?) pressure on Joseph Kabila to engage against Ntaganda (who is wanted for war crimes committed as deputy commander of recently sentenced Thomas Lubanga in Ituri), and new efforts in dismantling the prevailing ex-CNDP structures in the FARDC are all factors playing a role in the events unfolding since April 2012. While international media (with a few exceptions) concentrated on pulling together Ntaganda’s flight and the massive desertion of ex-CNDP cadres and soldiers from FARDC, it seems now that – at least for the time being – Ntaganda is no direct part of the M23 and its command structures. Rumours have spread about arguments between him and his former loyalists heading M23 (Sultani Makenga, Vianney Kazarama, and others). Still it is worth to note that in the frame of the infamous turf war between DRC and Rwanda that emerged in consequence to an allegedly leaked UN report reported by BBC and a latter briefing by Human Rights Watch (which has been much clearer and concrete), Ntaganda is playing a key role. There is testimony of him having met Rwandan military officials in his Rwandan home town Kinigi where some of the ‘Rwandan’ M23 recruits that have enforced their military strength in the last months have been trained. Although up to now, this remains the most obvious link between Ntaganda and M23 which has repeatedly dismissed connections to the former right hand to Nkundabatware (to add some gossip: Other rumours also ‘confirm’ he had been seen in neighbouring towns of Gisenyi, Rwanda, and Goma, DRC, on various occasions.)

Having observed this setting, two important questions emerge among others: How to deal with the military and humanitarian threat represented by M23 and how to classify this newly emerged opposition force, its motivations, and its allegiances?

To begin with the latter: As already noticed, M23 is referring itself to a peace deal between ex-CNDP and FARDC. Thus, both in self-reference and third-party reference, it considers itself as a movement based on what used to be the CNDP: An politico-military group consisting of what media like to call ‘ethnic Tutsi’. Literally CNDP was the representation of Banyamulenge, a Rwandophone group that migrated from contemporary Rwanda to a hill plateau around the town of Mulenge in South Kivu. Major migration waves are quite ancient (between 1880 and 1960) so that it would be simplistic to consider them as Rwandans today (bunches of books have been written on this subject so that I will not go much further into detail).Adding to the Banyamulenge, there are elements of ‘Tutsi’ Banyabwisha (another Rwandophone migrant group mainly based around Rutshuru, North Kivu) and ‘real’ Rwandans as well as soldiers that have no specific affiliation to the cause of the Congolese Tutsi population, presumably Ntaganda had also brought Hema fighters to CNDP that used to be part of his units under Lubanga’s UPC and historically had certain ties with the regional Tutsi population (both Hema and Tutsi used to be rather pastoralists than agriculturalists. While the Hema people, or Hima in Uganda and Rwanda, are considered as an ethnic group, or clans respectively, their ‘Tutsi brothers’ used to be a distinct social class among the Banyarwanda which had been ethnicised by virtue of colonial divide and rule policies).

The M23 thus represents, like its predecessor, a ‘Tutsi-based’ armed group. It has been, however to unclear extent, propped up by own and allegedly Rwandan recruits, probably with similar orientation. Their narratives emphasise the complete implementation of the March 23, 2009, agreement although many voices claimed M23 was preparing either a) separatism and/or balkanisation in eastern DRC, b) a coup d’état against Kabila, or c) another ‘Rwandan invasion’.

The first option is among the classics of conflict in eastern DRC. Numerous armed groups from RCD to M23 have always been accused of planning to disintegrate the country and there is surely a tendency of eastern ethnic groups to disregard central power in Kinshasa, and more recently to cede support for Katanga-born President Kabila who was little successful in bringing peace and prosperity to the Kivu provinces. Still separation and balkanisation is not immediatly likely for two reasons: First, the CNDP already had, in 2008, established a quasi-state with own taxation and administration systems in North Kivu (partly structures are still upheld). They have, even at those times, not shown interest in further ‘officialising’ this system: In addition, integrated ex-CNDP units have long time had a very comfortable position reducing their incentives to engage in balkanisation beyond its unofficial light but de facto version.

The second option is far more unrealistic. Yet, since a coup d’état is quite unlikely due to the remoteness of the Kivu provinces in relation to DRC’s capital city and again, for the Kivu’s own riches and resources that, as often times proven, can easily be smuggled to neighbouring states without necessitating any efforts to take over virtual state power.

The third option is politically ver unlikely, since Rwanda would take an immense risk of losing its current political standing as a regional power and donor darling. At the same time, the economic interest, be they vested or obvious, in eastern DRC is not deniable. Still, this option summa summarum is unlikely for the time being, since Rwanda might now have an interest in creating more chaos around its own borders. If at all, there is active M23 support (which despite allegations and probabilities lacks evidence) it might be due to another, hidden reason to be found in some sort of local-regional power-balance and preemptive self-defense – not only against the perpetual enemy FDLR-FOCA, but maybe against a currently invisible threat that may emerge at medium-term.

Having declined a range of possible motives or rationales, the self-employed narrative of M23 appears not that unrealistic, at least for being one of the objectives. Concerning the further issues, it has to be observed how the movement will militarily act within the next months, and whether there is final evidence for Ntaganda not being part of it or some observation that in reality he is among their strongmen. Finally the question, both for the DRC government, FARDC, and MONUSCO, is how to deal with M23 or how even to stop it. Current military efforts had rather resulted in a fiasco as well numbered battalions of the FARDC proved to be incapable to make considerable steps in weakening the numerically inferior, but well-trained and -equipped M23 units. Promised MONUSCO support is not likely to change a lot in these dynamics especially if the peacekeepers’ mandate, equipment, and personnel will not be clearly modified in the pending Security Council negotiations, as International Crisis Group has splendidly illuminated last week.

Finally much will depend on whether DRC and Rwanda will find a way back to constructively deal with the issue as diplomatic ties have been stretched during the concomitant discourse about violent infiltration (Rwanda) and blatant incapacity (DRC) related to the M23 saga. On the international level it should be a clear warning signal that the current peacekeeping strategy urgently has to be changed and new approaches to SSR, DDR, and civilian protection are absolutely vital in the context of a refined MONUSCO mandate. For other international and regional stakeholders, resurgent violence and humanitarian despair should be a wake-up call too, prompting new thought on the usefulness of current diplomatic and economic approaches. An outstanding example, even of not directly connected to the very M23 issue, is the blatant failure of Dodd Frank Act, section 1502, to lower the level of conflict on the mineral-rich Kivu Province as obviously the de facto ban has not resulted in any lowering of the illegal exploitation of natural resources which is not the cause, but one of the engines for perpetuated and resurgent conflict. Rather than too much concentrating on the resource-conflict nexus, other issues such as the local-regional dimensions of conflict and sustainable SSR and DDR lie at the core of any durable solution. M23 is but one more example for that.


One Response to “On how (not) to stop M23, and the flux of rematches & paradigm shifts”
  1. Everyone can notice how the kisangani river is calm. Most of the case; the image depicts the reality. Unfortunately, it is not the case, here. where are we going if anyone who wants to express himself uses force?? rationale.??

    Some would say, it is one of the way of making one’s view heard, but I am sure others would say we should be pacifists another to achieve our goals.,instead.

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