Goma in the hands of M23, what’s next?

Roughly two hours ago, the M23 or ARC has taken control of major parts of Goma. Many FARDC have retreated (most sources say to Bukavu or to nearby base of Sake. The airport of the city seems to remains under MONUSCO control, but most planes grounded and M23 all around the parcel seem to tolerate peacekeepers remaining there. M23 has also advanced to the neuralgic points of petite and grande barriere (two major frontier posts to Gisenyi, Rwanda) and stands in front of the MONUSCO HQ at the lakeside in Goma.

The UN and many NGOs have started to evacuate all or “non-essential” staff. Minor shootings have been reported from areas of Birere, Ndosho, Katindo, Himbi, although as of now, these all seem to be under M23 control. The DRC government has been quite silent with this most recent advance of today, and only anonymous army sources have acknowledged having lost the city. President Joseph Kabila is announced to hold a speech (probably on Congolese national television and different radio stations) tonight at 9pm local time. Protesters have started to express their discontent with both M23 activities and the government’s non-reaction. A party building of Kabila’s PPRD is burning in Kisangani, while demonstrations happen in Kinshasa, too. In Goma, people seem to be either welcoming M23 or to scared to criticise their invasion. Although, as obvious given the history and culture of Goma, one can be sure that opinions are quite diverse in town.

The taking of Goma by M23 (whatever might have been outside help or not in the whole story) puts two actors under pressure: The DRC government and its army have not been able, neither to foresee nor to counter the M23 offensive. Although they maintain the moral trump of pointing fingers against the Rwandan and Ugandan governments, their inability to appease the situation is obvious. Also, MONUSCO seems to play a tragic role, again, one it tempted to say. Yesterday they have been reported to fire heavy ammunition on advancing M23 troops – without (much) success. Now they find themselves securing an airport that is defunct because around them all the area it M23-controlled and see the mutineers up to their doors in downtown Goma. Within not even two days, the M23 has humiliated both the Congolese state and the UN in general.

What will the immediate future look like? The Congo Siasa blog, a couple of hours ago, presented some noteworthy thoughts. In addition, a few more ideas and speculations: The offensive on Goma is unlikely to be followed by an immediate expansion to Bukavu. The distance between the two cities and the fact that M23 is esteemed by most observers to have a maximum of 2500 combatants makes this option an unlikely one – at least for the immediate future. With M23 controlling the Goma Gisenyi borders, however, things can change. Here, much will depend on Rwanda’s future role. Maybe the announced high-level talks in Kampala (not yet clear if under ICGLR auspices or not) will let things move or bear some answers.

If outside political interference, be it regionally or internationally, is not clear and strong, an estimation would be that M23 tightens its grip over Goma and waits before any major activity (with the exception of maybe closing the triangle between Rutshuru, Goma, and the Sake-Kirolirwe-Kitchanga axis). In terms of goods and assets, as well as political leverage, there is also no apparent need for M23 to widen territorial control to South Kivu, given that many Raia Mutomboki faction there and other armed groups appear to be hostile to them. Also with regards to that Masisi area appears a more realistic target for M23 advances. They have had expeditions via Virunga national park before (partly by “sending” Badege et al. and partly through delegations). Most contacts seems to exist with Sheka Ntaberi’s NDC militia (that has been reported active in north-west Masisi the last weeks) but also the unclear state of Nyatura and FDC-Guides groups (that underwent splits here and there) could make them easily co-opted satellites. The truth though also is that M23 alliances have been weak and the movement lacks ideological tissue to bind others for its cause. So, all this remains speculation.

Important to see is another arena: What will be the consequences of popular and spontaneous uprisings in Kisangani and Kinshasa? People’s discontent with the Kabila government have risen to a high with the current agony in dealing with the M23 crisis and both the mutineers, other armed groups linked to them or not, and the accused neighbour states have known how to exploit this fact to the detriment of the DRC government. The only ones left are the Congolese opposition. With popular rage increasing against the government, their voices (like seen with the example of Kamerhe demanding negotiations) will echo louder in the days to come. Then, with the government that much under pressure, it is doubtful if Kabila will let his republican guards shoot into bunches of Kinois (this being an unlikely horror scenario). Much more realistic is a hearts and minds campaign in order to mobilise the population against the “external aggressors” – which again has dangerous implications for whichever negotiations.

To end here, as the situation remains way too volatile to draw any substantial conclusions, a referral to twitter as a source of information should be made. During the last 48 hours, twitter has proven to be the best information channel for DRC and Goma related events. However, especially on twitter, the informational chaos is huge, so it is partly tough work to crosscheck and factcheck information. On the other side, it allows many individual witnesses, including Congolese (and Rwandan, and Ugandan) voices to report. A non-exhaustive list (in which I had the honour to be included, can be found here). More information on this blog shall be provided as soon as possible.

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