As Goma trembles, M23 invigorates and different actors explore their options

Before beginning a new post, I kindly ask all readers to apologise for the second last post as some of the tentative statements I made therein do not seem to be confirmed until further notice. Contrarily, some connections I spoke about proved to be not that substantial and others escaped my knowledge at that time. In addition, it is also important to me to emphasise impartiality in  reporting and researching. Against all criticism made, I argue that reports written on the whole M23-DRC-Rwanda complex have been free of any unnecessary or unsustainable accusations against whichever of the conflict parties involved. If any reader does not share this opinion, I am free to engage in respectful and thorough discussion (i.e. my email contact is given on the about-page) but I will certainly continue my policy of censoring insulting comments on this blog. Thank you for understanding.

Many new developments have held busy the stakeholders in and around the newly ignited M23 rebellion in North Kivu since a controversial UN Group of Experts interim report and, more specifically, its M23 addendum, have been finally published. The addendum was first held up within the UN (mainly by US ambassador Rice) but was released finally by the end of June. It accuses Rwanda and some of its top politico-military officials (Defence Minister Kabarebe along with his aide Senkoko, Gen. Ruvusha, Jack Nziza and Charles Kayonga) of actively breaching UN sanctions and propping up the M23 led by operational commander Sultani Makenga (with Bosco Ntaganda in reach although his position in M23’s internal structure remains unclear and notorious Laurent Nkunda involved in strategic meetings). Although the addendum has been investigating manifold aspects of the ongoing M23 rebellion – it even severed its yet high-standard methodology from three to five independent sources – it failed in providing resilient evidence in some regard: Although regular phone contact and meetings between M23 leaders and Rwandan government officials have been grounded on evidence, there is no real proof that these have served the purpose of discussing the operational details of alleged Rwandan support to M23. Another weakness of the addendum is its partly reliance on DRC’s secret service, while apparently the Rwandan and Ugandan counterparts were not or could no be included in the set of informants. Nonetheless, the report remains the single most yielding source of information for this complex story as other information are scarce and many media remain superficial (anglophone and francophone media bear a couple of really appreciated exceptions, while in the germanophone sphere – and in other languages as well, though I cannot check for e.g. Chinese – they are quite few).

Meanwhile, some major changes arose on the ground: From its former stronghold around Jomba hills close to the Ugandan border, M23 – while defending against the national army FARDC attacks – has successfully enlarged the areas under its control. Still not surpassing more than a couple of hundred soldiers (though, apparently well-trained and sufficiently equipped for extensive military operations as “wasting bullets in the air” while temporarily taking Rutshuru suggests) they conquered Rutshuru earlier this week and came extremely close to Kiwanja and Rumangabo. After this demonstration of force they quickly redeployed back towards  Bunagana. Before they had forced some 600 FARDC soldiers to cross the border to Uganda and get disarmed by their neighbouring colleagues in Kisoro. This group included Gen. Vainquer Mayala, North Kivu commander, who shortly afterwards got sacked by Kinshasa. Some speculation is going on concerning his person but it might be too early to speculate whether there is other than the official reasons for his flight and subsequent removal. Despite their appealing military supremacy in the subregion, M23 has not tried to move further towards Goma until now, albeit on the political level, the group issued statements that a march on Goma would be envisaged under certain circumstances (literally, if harassment of Congolese Tutsi and other Rwandophone populations in the provincial capital would make it ultimately necessary).

Via spokesman Vianny Kazarama and acting commander Sultani Makenga, the M23 also continued to urge the DRC government to agree to negotiations on an equal footing, thereby emphasising the rebellions continuously stated narrative of fighting for the implementation of March 2009’s CNDP integration peace agreement (while this is certainly not the only motivation of M23, many people even though, doubt that it is the primary one). M23 now also named a so-called “political wing”, led by evangelical bishop Jean-Marie Runiga (interestingly, the father-in-law of a certain Laurent Nkundabatware), however, he and others have not yet been very active in that regard and it can be expected that, even in case of negotiations, people such as Makenga will maintain most of the control over M23 positions. The DRC government has not yet formally answered to the reiterated claims. Instead it continues to urge Rwanda for immediately ceasing to support the movement (with these claims based on the addendum) and generally calls for order in the Kivu region (which is nothing particularly new either). With the perceived threat against Goma, Kinshasa has also redeployed several US-trained battalions from the LRA-Anti-Kony battle front in the North and increased collaboration with Goma-based MONUSCO unit (which apparently have been increased too). Worth to mention that this is not only increasing MONUSCO’s partiality and bias towards the DRC government and its army but also further compromising the work of UN and (to a slightly lesser extent) non-UN humanitarians on the ground.

To get a glimpse of what such partiality could further ignite, one should have a look to Goma these days. Anonymous inciters of violence (often referred to as the “moto gang”) engaged in some sort of popular Tutsi chase harassing people on the basis of language and appearance as reported by Pole Institute and others. Although it is difficult to say who the instigators of these actions are, this example makes clear how Gomatraciens are involved and instrumentalised by the ongoing events. While this happened North Kivu governor Paluku was remarkably absent, giving some leeway for other to accuse him of being behind the anti-Rwandan resentments. Other theories point at the Rwandan side or the M23 with the motivation to create a reason to invade Goma. Whichever of these or other explanations (which, as always have to be taken with a big grain of salt) are touching upon the underlying developments, they clearly show that ethnicisation continues to play a huge role, especially in this newly resurged conflict. Even though it is probably not the prime motivation of the belligerents (as it never was in exclusive manners, much more used as narrative) it is among the most vital repercussion factors on the yet stricken local populations. Some aid organisations are currently either evacuating or canceling missions to the zone.

In addition, the anti-Rwandan narrative is basically wrong for the following reasons: First of all, M23, even if being mainly led by Congolese Tutsi, is not an ethnically uniform movement. If allegations are partly right, it includes both Congolese and Rwandan Tutsi and Hutu (partly ex-FDLR reintroduced from but not necessarily by Rwanda) and other Congolese. Collaborators also include FDLR splinter group “Mandevu”, FDC-Guides, NDM of Sheka Ntaberi and maybe others (powerful Mayi Mayi like Lafontaine etc.) while contacts seem to be held with even some Raia Mutomboki elements and several militias from South Kivu (the role of Foca Mike remains unclear in that regard. Secondly, differently as pretended there is no actual Rwanda-DRC front in North Kivu. Populations continue to be mixed, especially in Goma which is why narratives of “Rwandophones marching to Goma” are false since they are (at least not yet) marching and Goma anyway is populated by many Rwandophone already (if they are not chased away altogether). Thirdly, not only Rwandophone ex-CNDP officers have deserted, but Congolese officers as well.  Especially among the Nande (North Kivu) and Shi (South Kivu) communities, both representing one of the strongest ethnical groups in their respective provinces, growing discontent has emerged against Kinshasa (partly underlined by the regional election results for Mbusa Nyamwisi and Vital Kamerhe (who both temporarily supported President Kabila before). Any role of those two stakeholders is extremely difficult to assess at this point of time. Concerning Mbusa though, the ancient RCD commander, various rumours he had sought contact or affiliation to M23 have been reported.

If still, what remains absolutely possible, Rwanda is the/a main force behind the M23 mutiny, a few things have to be reframed: Active support of M23 is unlikely to have begun with the mutiny’s onset. Much more likely is that, since roughly almost a year, things have been slowly prepared on both sides, though on organisational and political levels (the alleged support of FDC-Guides and NDM is but one example for that). Then at its onset, the mutiny first went to Masisi (to Ntaganda’s farm) and others remained scattered (Makenga is reported to have stayed in Bukavu until he became visible for the first time. Rather than having “operated” the  M23 from its first step on, Rwanda might have come in at the point of refoulement around Rutshuru later this year.

On the diplomatic level, the issue has led to a special summit of the ICGLR, taking place at the margins of ordinary AU summit in Addis Ababa (the latter having the issue on the agenda too). The ICGLR meeting was attended by the Foreign Ministers of its Member States and brought along a couple of recommendations I may analyse in a later post (basically political of nature). Interesting to not, this special summit was supposed to be attended by defence ministers too, an idea that might have fallen prey to the fact the Rwanda Defence Minister Kabarebe is among the key accused by the addendum and both diplomatic behaviour rules and Rwandan willingness would maybe not have allowed for such a meeting under these circumstances. The first meeting was inaugurated by heavy accusation from the DRC side against Rwanda, upon the official beginning though, the tone calmed and narratives have been softened. At this point the exact outcome of the meeting is unclear. However, it can be expected that a set of recommendations will be addressed at the different stakeholders, containing more or less concrete indications. More interesting, certainly, will be a possible M23 or DRC government reaction. Meanwhile European governments and the US have openly called upon Rwanda to halt any support for M23 (on the basis of the UN findings) while Rwanda continues to reject all allegations.

Finally, the situation remains very tense. A couple of important aspects shall therefore be considered: First of all, a complete regional escalation is unlikely. Rwanda will most probably not start openly intervening in DRC (i.e. to replace Kabila, as rumours mentioned). Although it would not have been the first time, now the presence of MONUSCO (its presence is sufficient here, concerning its impact this is a different question with long and mixed answers) is DRC’s guarantee that the international community would not accept such action. As an insider mentioned, an attempt of regime change in Kinshasa by Kigali would possibly prompt a regime change in Kigali. Still, the dangers of escalation should not be underestimated, as M23 has proven to be a militarily professional and dedicated player and FARDC response (not necessarily due to lack of fighting but much more of coordination capacity) has been poor – maybe also because they lost some of their best soldiers to the new enemy. And beyond the classic military duel, which to some extent can be influenced by MONUSCO and other stakeholders too, there is the socio-political dynamic on the ground, literally the ethnical strife inflammated by radical leaders and carried out by populations that rely on their ethnical ties for security and survival and – due to lack of education among others – have at various occasions before proven to be responsive for racist and xenophobic discourse. Unfortunately neither the peacekeeping missions in DRC nor other international actors have ever been really successful in positively influencing these dynamics. All that on the basis of the current state of the arts in DRC, where elections have further delegitimised the central government and security sector reform (SSR, including army, police, and justice) remains a puzzle, is more than critical given the continuous outside interference (not only by Rwanda but in general). Also, the real role of Rwanda should be investigated again in a closer way instead of rallying the dominant discourse as this would help enlighten the complex set of interests at stake in the region. In this regard, Uganda has until now remained an opaque player reflected by its parliament asking Museveni to reveal the Ugandan role in the current situation. Other neighbouring states as well as businesses and the international community are, which is to be repeated since it has widely gone lost in reporting, also more than mere mediators and purely exogenous actors.

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10 Responses to “As Goma trembles, M23 invigorates and different actors explore their options”
  1. ethuin says:

    And, one note: NDM has been falsely typed and should be NDC, Nduma Defense of Congo by Sheka Ntaberi. Apologies for realising very late.

  2. ethuin says:

    phil, thank you for the style teaching, which i appreciate a lot. although your, sharper, version also slightly changes the tone compared to my original paragraph…

  3. ethuin says:

    included the missing word in your first post.

  4. Phil Quin says:

    malicious intent

  5. Phil Quin says:

    Although the Group of Experts attempts to apply a higher than usual standard of rigour, some of the evidence in the addendum falls short of these lofty ambitions. Phone contact and meetings between M23 and Rwandan officials do not on their own establish malicious intent. Similarly, the Group’s dependence on accounts of DRC intelligence services – and the absence of countervailing testimony from Rwanda or Uganda – raise eyebrows. Such weaknesses aside, the report nonetheless helps readers understand these complex events, especially given the scant and fragmented nature of media coverage.

  6. ethuin says:

    Yes, this is the Mugasa Mandevu group. They deserted FDLR a while ago and began collaborating with Ntaganda (think in the UN GoE you find more details on that).
    The bishop (you mean Runiga?) is the father-in-law of Laurent Nkunda, if my source is right. Interesting configuration right now although I do not know which is actual power might be. Would guess Makenga and some of the other renegade colonels are in charge of M23 military wing with Ntaganda somewhere outside the operational wings. But difficult to say. DRC government said he is in Runyoni while M23 said he is not there, but the government would know where he really is…

  7. Ross G says:

    And these “Mandevu”, I take it, are followers of Colonel Mugasa Mandevu from the FDLR? Promoted from Corporal to Colonel by Bosco himself? So now the big question seems to be just what are the relationships between Ntaganda, Makenga, Rugeroro (the “Bishop”) and any other military leaders of the M23 (reportedly some other colonels). Seems that no one really knows Bosco’s whereabouts.

  8. ethuin says:

    Ross, as already replied on Twitter, the ex-FDLR splinter group in question is “Mandevu”. They have aligned to Bosco even before M23’s official creation and seem to continue this allegiance. Allegedly, they also helped Bosco to flee from FARDC attack on his farm in Masisi to join others base around Jomba and (either before or after or both) do trips to Rwanda. Although, I cannot finally confirm the last information. In addition, there are constant rumours that ex-FDLR that have undergone DDR towards Rwanda have been “recycled” back to DRC in order to increase M23 battle force. This fits in the often heard notion that M23 is not only a “Tutsi” thing – alongside with all the other report on M23 collusion with local militia (FDC, NDM, various Mayi Mayi, and even partly Raia Mutomboki). Much more intelligence will though be needed to substantially prove the details of these connections. UN GoE has already done so e.g. for NDM (the Sheka group). What I am not sure about, is what M23 leaders really want. Despite collaboration with ex-FDLR and other groups, there might also be some “Tutsi hardliners” among them. But as of now their cohesion seems good enough that it is difficult to estimate these internal differences. That is what I can say, half is speculation the rest based on sources. Still, I am also struggling a lot to make any sense of all that happens.

  9. Ross G says:

    Christophe – thanks for the informative post.
    I have to ask, however, as I am puzzled why you say the FDLR has members in M23? It seems inconsistent with the past in that the CNDP under Laurent Nkunda spent extensive effort hunting the FDLR down, as former members of the Interhamwe militia, blaming them for continuing persecution of Congolese Tutsi. It is my understanding, paraphrasing others who blog on the issue, that the leaders of M23 are former deputies (at least one, Makenga) of Nkunda himself, and thus have strong ties to the former CNDP. In fact, I have seen many references basically equating M23 with the CNDP and that they are one and the same. Have you (or others) been able to confirm FLDR members have joined M23? If so, what is their interest in allying themselves with former members of the CNDP? Has this been an outcome of the various alliances created to oust Nkunda? I realize the history here must be very complex, but it would be interesting to explore the last 3 years of history of these FDLR – to whom is their allegiance, and with whom are they allied, as DRC and Rwanda temporarily cooperated in routing the FDLR.

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  1. […] Was einen Marsch auf Goma betrifft, sollte man beachten, dass die M23 erst vor zwei Wochen zum ersten Mal aktiv Territorien eingenommen hat, nachdem sie bis zu diesem Zeitpunkt die kongolesischen Streitkräfte nur defensiv bekämpft hat. Bunagana und Rutshuru wurden eingenommen und die M23 sind bis vor Kiwanja und Rumangabo in Richtung Goma vormarschiert. Diese Positionen wurden aber sehr schnell wieder aufgegeben, offiziell zumindest. Inoffiziell haben dann Polizeieinheiten, die eher M23 Sympathisanten sind, diese Gebiete wieder übernommen, bevor dann letztendlich die kongolesische Regierung teilweise mit Unterstützung der MONUSCO wieder Boden gut machen konnte. Diese Taktik zeigt, dass die M23 im Moment zwar operativ zwar sehr gut aufgestellt ist – besonders hinsichtlich der Ausstattung mit Waffen und der Fähigkeiten ihrer Streitkräfte – allerdings dürfte es aufgrund der wenigen Kombattanten militärisch für die M23 derzeit nicht möglich sein, Goma einzunehmen, vor dem Hintergrund, dass die kongolesische Regierung mit ihrem Partner, der MONUSCO, ziemlich viele Streitkräfte und auch teilweise schweres Gerät zusammengezogen haben. Trotz der rhetorischen Ankündigungen ist es daher meiner Meinung nach sehr unwahrscheinlich, dass die M23 in den nächsten Tagen oder Wochen auf Goma marschieren wird, es sei denn es würde tatsächlich noch eine Hetzjagd gegen ruandophone Bürger in Goma geben. Das würde die Sachlage noch einmal verändern. In der letzten Woche gab es schon derartige Zwischenfälle. GA: Was waren das für Zwischenfälle? […]



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