Some thoughts on the M23 addendum to the UN Group of Experts midterm report

A couple of days ago, the much anticipated addendum of this year’s UN Group of Experts (GoE) midterm report on the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been released. While the previously published report concentrated on various pertinent developments linked to the security situation in conflict prone eastern DRC as GoE reports usually do, this so-called addendum exclusively touches upon the newly emerged M23 mutiny/armed group. Allegations of the latter being a proxy of Rwanda came up (as often, when it comes to Congolese rebellions supposed to have a Tutsi powerbase) and the whole issue engaged diplomats at highest levels in New York, Addis Ababa, and elsewhere. Bilateral diplomacy between Kinshasa and Kigali heated up as well, with both countries foreign ministers (Tshibanda/Mushikiwabo) meeting at various occasion and doing their respective diplomatic journeys to neighbouring states and international fora. Finally, the midterm report was published giving some rise to speculations on what could probably be subject of the expected addendum, since BBC, Human Rights Watch, and other had already started revealing confidential information on Rwandan involvement in the recent M23 upsurge (which has been covered on this blog before). Debates at UN Security Council culminated to an inner US struggle with the Africa guys at State Department favouring disclosure while US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice preferred to resolve the issue behind closed doors. While fighting around the Kivu provinces continued (despite some shorter ceasefires), the Carson side within State Department won the mentioned struggle and the addendum was published on June 27.

Three main questions (among many others) emerge in sequence to that report: First, what does the report tell about the M23 rebellion? Second, how reliable and serious are the claims made by the GoE? Third, what (if at all) will be the consequences as to the future developments in the Kivu region?

The first question appears to be clear, reading the addendum: Rwanda violated a serious range of sanctions established be UN Security Council resolution 1533: Direct support and contribution to armed groups in the DRC, (re-)recruitment of combatants, supply of arms and ammunition, political infiltration and lobbying, military intervention into DRC territory, support to armed groups and mutineers, and violation of asset freezing and similar. The list reads as if it was absolutely obvious that M23 was nothing else than a classic Rwanda proxy (such as RCD-Goma ten years ago) but as often in the DRC, the story might not be that easy. Accordingly and also for other, purely political reasons, Rwanda had opposed the publication of the addendum and asked for a chance to officially contribute its version of the story.

Back to the developments that brought along the contemporary crises and spoiled the fragile peace between DRC and Rwanda: In sequence to several post-electoral developments in the DRC, Kinshasa was mounting pressure on formerly tolerated (“a stabilising element”) Bosco Ntaganda and other segments of former CNDP integrated to FARDC in 2009. A couple of executed and attempted army reshufflings and concomitant political discourse made Ntaganda and many others deserting from FARDC in order to guarantee for the security (although Kabila never openly called for Ntaganda’s detention, as Jason Stearns rightly emphasised in his M23 fact check). Still, Ntaganda left FARDC with loyal troops and so did many other ex-CNDP commanders, but also disgruntled FARDC loyalist who rejected ex-CNDP preponderance in the higher parts of the integrated chains of command. While Ntaganda fled to his farm in Masisi (bringing along a certain number of troops and large stockpiles of arms and ammunition), others went to the highlands around Rutshuru, for example Sultani Makenga. May 2012 then saw the official creation of M23, composed of FARDC mutineers and signalled as the successor of CNDP. The newly formed group, as declared by its spokesman Vianney Kazarama, took up arms against their former FARDC colleagues claiming the March 23 peace agreement (brokered by Rwanda in 2009) was not implemented by the DRC side. The first M23 communiqué still wore a CNDP letterhead. Meanwhile other desertions took place, partly reinforcing the M23 fronts, partly diffusing into South Kivu’s forest and without any observable link to either Rwanda or the Makenga group. Ntaganda, after his farm was raided, allegedly went to Kinigi, his Rwandan hometown, where he met with several not identified Rwandan military officials, before later joining the M23 holding positions east of Rutshuru. The GoE found evidence that also Makenga immediately sought contact to Rwanda, meeting General Ruvusha in Gisenyi. Other constituting elements of the M23 also took a detour towards the neighbouring country, entering either via Goma or Bukavu, or by boat crossing Lake Kivu. The addendum tells they were given Rwandan uniforms after entering the country, allowing for a clandestine movement through Rwanda, mostly escorted by real Rwandan troops. The GoE, underlining that it has increased its usual standards of scrutiny (from three independent sources per information to five, due to the political sensitivity of these investigations) clearly indicates the routes taken by various M23 battalions via Rwanda, and finally crossing the border back to positions between Rutshuru and Bunagana. During that time, the Rwandan army (RDF) also engaged in recruiting new troops for the still small effective of M23. Among the most fashioned strategy was to “turn around” demobilised and returned (Hutu) FDLR fighters and send them to support (their mostly Tutsi brothers at) M23. Beyond that, the GoE also presents evidence for other Rwandan youth being recruited (most notably the eleven fighters captured by MONUSCO and questioned by Congolese authorities afterwards. Most of this took place in the zone of Ruhengeri and Kinigi again – both a strategic corner close to the DRC border and M23 territory, and the home region of Ntaganda and other figures of the rebellion. Pictures available to the GoE also support allegations of Rwanda having supplied arms and ammunition to the rebellion since rounds were found which are not used by any FARDC regiments but by RDF (of course it can be argued they were looted or stolen from caches without Rwandan consent – the same would apply to mutineers traversing Rwanda or recruits being trained on Rwandan soil. Exact chains of causality, contact and command are still difficult to verify. This is admittedly the weakness of the report which otherwise presents a great range of detailed observation.). Other, even more worrying evidence is presented in shape of phone calls that took place between several important actors within M23 and high-level Rwandan authorities. The latter include Defence Minister James Kabarebe (infamous head of the “DRC desk” and former chief of staff of the Congolese army under Kabila père) and his personal secretary Senkoko, the permanent secretary of the ministry Jack Nziza, RDF chief of staff General Charles Kayonga, and Laurent Nkunda. The last named in addition, regularly takes part in strategic meeting with M23 leaders in Gisenyi and elsewhere. Efforts on the Rwandan side provoked a situation whereby all Rwandophone army officers and other military segments were asked to leave the current formations and join the M23 for a secessionist war (a narrative that is considerably differing from what M23 continues to claim referring to the peace agreement). That appeal turned out to be at least partly successful since desertions continued on a regular basis and ties were made to other armed groups (the GoE talk of splinter FDLR factions, non M23 deserters, and Ituri-based groups – it seems that it is quite difficult though to make exact assessments on these collaborations or contacts since sources have been diverging and the GoE does not make all to concrete judgement in that regard.). More obviously, continued RDF intervention into Congolese territory has been witnessed as well as probably Rwanda support (at least through proxy means) for other armed groups linked to M23 or some of its protagonists: Mayi Mayi Sheka, aka Nduma Defence of Congo (NDM) were commandeered to and supported in killing FDLR and FARDC elements hostile to Rwanda. The FDC-Guides militia that carried out some high-precision killing operations by the end of 2011 already raised high suspicion of Rwandan training and supply before, making this GoE claim quite probable. Similarly, support has been alleged in the cases of newly formed Ituri armed groups front (led by infamous Cobra Matata) and other militias in the Kivu provinces.

Overall, the GoE presents a bunch of information, which if accurate, puts Rwanda in the really annoying place of being a driving motor behind the new rebellion. Of course, Rwandan authorities, including President Kagame and foreign minister Mushikiwabo, reject all claims made by GoE. As far as the GoE’s methodology can be assessed, their attempts of providing correct factual information should be appreciated by all involved and observing (including the government of Rwanda) since it creates widely amoral and traceable facts which can be put under scrutiny. Allegations based on their observations are kept as technical as possible, while others endorsed the bigger political dialogue (BBC, Human Rights Watch, etc.). Therefore the GoE should not be blamed for fuelling animosities but appreciated for its work. The other aspect is about accuracy, especially in terms of completeness of the information provided. While is can be estimated that information (both in the report and in the addendum) is correct in that sense, it is neither asserted by GoE nor by objective means realistic that they collected all single facts and tiny bits of the story, even if they consist of six highly experienced DRC researchers and probably a bunch of DRC based researchers feeding in information additionally. Still, probably the same disclaimer most informants give (“this is what I can say, but…”) surely applies to GoE pieces as well. Therefore, no definitive conclusions should be drawn from such a report, even if it seems that obvious. In particular, this applies to vilifying Rwanda as the sole perpetrator – this would be as simple and superficial as the Rwandan claim of DRC not being able to manage its internal affairs. The recent M23 fact sheet on M23 by Jason Stearns is an example that helps understanding some shaping dynamics beyond the technical tone given by the GoE.

After broadly discussing the content of the addendum and how to deal with it, the last question remains: What is going to happen next and will this addendum have influence the course of events? Certainly, the report heavily influences the way the issue is handled on the UN and international level. A first reaction has been the US calling Rwanda to disengage in any supportive measure for M23. Other following is probable, but concrete UN Security Council action is unclear, especially given the fact that they just renewed the MONUSCO mandate for a further year (taking into account the current situation but not the addendum). It might thus take some time for any wider reactions. On the AU level there is no real sign of immediate reaction either. The ICGLR seems to be quite engaged in behind-the-doors diplomacy with its Executive Secretary being in close contact to both DRC and Rwanda governments. The latter also continue their opaque system of diplomatic collusion and denouncing at the same time – recently Rwanda reinforced the claim that FARDC was propping up FDLR again despite both countries’ diplomats still sitting together regularly. It appears as a constant masquerade where displaying activity and involvement meddles with appeasement of the other and vested interests shared with armed actors on the ground.

Reiterating the last article on that blog, an important question remains the way M23 issues are related to others (which, as Jason Stearns rightly pointed out, might have at least the same impact in terms of military, political and humanitarian consequences, only that they appear less regionalised). A recent media piece put non-CNDP FARDC dissident Foca Mike, who plays an important military and connecting role in South Kivu conflict topography, into contact with M23. While the addendum does not really address this issue and only establishes indirect links, Foca Mike was reported to collaborate with M23. These are claims I cannot validate. In line with the addendum, it appears still more likely that Foca Mike is engaging in some sort of alliance with NDC, Yakutumba, Nyatura, Chiribanya, splinter FDLR elements, maybe so other non-CNDP deserters, and (parts of) Raia Mutomboki (the latter remaining one of the potentially strongest troublemaking formations in South Kivu). Still, this does not mean the earlier established speculation with regards to the existence and creation of M23 is proven in any way, since there have been sufficient rumours linking Raia Mutomboki to M23 (even of this would hardly be for more than ad hoc military or economic objectives). Still, it will be interesting to observe which reactions will be observable within and among armed groups not directly connected to M23 (also including several other Mayi Mayi militia), and how the (unfortunately increasing) anti-Tutsi and (more general) anti-Rwanda rhetoric will shape the patterns of action. Taking into account the historical patterns of conflict in the region, this is a point to look at, although it should not be forgotten that Tutsi are not the only group facing xenophobic resentment in the region and to some extent, fears of a “Rwandan” intervention remain to be vital within many Kivu population both in the South and the North as the intimidating effect of Kinyarwanda, Kinyabwisha, and Kinyamulenge may prove. On the other side, local militia in particular employ anti-Rwandan sentiments among their constituencies while chasing Rwandophone regardless whether they are civilians or combatants, regardless whether they are Rwandophone “Congolese” or Rwandophone “Rwandans” (which is again a long-lasting and completely different aspect to investigate). The GoE report, although meant to be an honest account is likely also to be used in support or to counter specific narratives and ideologies, at least within popular discourses (as pointed out elsewhere, in concrete action practical or tactical needs sometimes override ideology.

Lastly, the DRC government at this point of time, seems to have abandoned any attempt of genuinely controlling the setting and rather engages in securing its minimum goals (avoiding territorial loss and too much escalation on the battlefield while, if possible, crushing M23. The latter though is an aim I cannot even clearly confirm despite the ongoing military operations). Although Kabila’s information minister is quite alert at the public relations level and his foreign minister Tshibanda travels around the world displaying rather skilful diplomacy, there is no substantial grand strategy identifiable since the M23 mutiny initially began. The DRC’s inability to militarily and politically address the conflicts and all the societal and economical fault lines they stand for (as other conflicts before did) in conjunction with the M23 (international legal) restraints in achieving more than a temporally and territorially confined victory may give way again for another half-cooked peace deal and spoiled DDR and SSR initiatives paid for by an international community that often seems to be reluctant to engage itself in DRC in a timely manner. Rwanda, in this scenario will have lost some diplomatic credit but certainly uphold the trans-border influence it used to have the last years.


One Response to “Some thoughts on the M23 addendum to the UN Group of Experts midterm report”
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  1. […] Es ist kaum mehr von der Hand zu weisen, dass einige der Rekruten der M23 aus Ruanda kamen aber das heißt nicht unbedingt, dass die ruandische Regierung sie aktiv geschickt hat. Es spricht alles dafür, dass Ruanda in irgendeiner Form mitmischt, die Motive bleiben jedoch unklar… […]

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