Guest post: Observations on the Goma seizure

This is a guest post by David Barouski (Twitter: DBarou):

These are my observations and comments after reading through the events of November 21, 2012.  They are not organized and written down as they came to me, so I apologize for the haphazardness and lack of being easy to follow.  Most of these points are open for discussion/debate.  It is not a recap of factual events.  Editing time was also extremely limited due to the desire to post these comments in time for them to be relevant, as things are moving very quickly vis-à-vis the Congo situation. This was written yesterday just after the announcement following the meeting in Kampala.  Apologies for any information that is outdated at time of posting.  All comments and views are mine and mine alone.  Any errors are mine.

–        In any conflict/war, there is always rapid action before a ceasefire to gain as much relative advantage as possible.  ARC activities COULD be a sign of a ceasefire coming, or at least anticipation of one, but we’ll have to see the collective outcome of known and backdoor talks between various stakeholders and what is actually implemented.   Meeting between Kagame, Museveni, and Kabila called for M23 to leave Goma.  Will see if they do or if something happens (real or staged) to resume fighting and the M23 begin advancing again.  If they pull back, M23 option is to use ultimatum by Museveni as face saver; they still humiliated MONUSCO and DRC gov + FARDC.

–        As pointed out, there are no real strategic towns between Minova and Kavumu airport.  However, control of the lakefront itself is strategic because, as seen in the past, boats from Rwanda move soldiers and supplies across the lake to aid allied forces occupying the lakefront stretch.

–        Anyone seen Gen Makenga since he entered Goma?  Seems to be keeping a low profile, not holding press conferences himself that I’m aware of.

–        The M23 may be serious about taking Masisi territory at some point, but we will see.  The CNDP controlled it.  Many interests of Rwandan political elites, Rwandan government, Congolese business elites (primarily Tutsi), and M23 soldiers/supporters are there.  May also be a desire of the Bagogwe members of the M23 (inc Bosco) in general.  However, Masisi currently has several armed groups opposed to the ARC including Raia Mutomboki, APCLS, FDLR, but there are also pro-M23/ARC groups there as well.  With most of the FARDC focusing

–        Remains to be seen if threats to march to Bukavu in near future are real.  They may be intended to have the same effect as the threats to attack Goma right after Rutshuru territory was taken.  However, securing South Kivu even part way out from the border would provide a buffer zone for the length of the entire western border of Rwanda, one of its strategic aims.

–        It remains to be seen if any of its allied militias will help it secure as much of Masisi territory as possible.  These groups will be much more limited in their capacity to take and consolidate territory.  They may do so if there is a shared interest or if the armed group can gain something for itself.   The alliances with M23 are tenuous and sometimes hinge on 1 single common goal (usu. “enemy of my enemy is my friend”) and the ability of the M23 to provide opportunities for them to gain in self-interest.  Some of these groups are opportunistic, and it’s very possible they will capitalize on the demoralization of the FARDC and the security vacuum to pursue their own interests and through them, the interests of their Congolese pol elite backers.  With the FARDC focusing its forces on Bukavu right now, Masisi has a greater government forces security vacuum and thus may provide an easier strategic target to capture.  The biggest threat militarily will be the APCLS, who will join with local Mai-Mai groups opposed to the M23 if present.  The FARDC that are pro-government that are present in Masisi territory will also ally with APCLS and sympathetic Mai-Mai.

–        The march to Kinshasa threat must be viewed carefully.  M23, even with Rwandan help of a few  thousand total troops and heavy weapons, won’t likely march across the country due to capacity issues.  Their goal will likely be to consolidate in the territory they control, especially if it is expanded beyond Rutshuru territory.  Also commonly used to give perception of strength.  Used on demoralized population/army with no relative advantage, in a loss frame, and are risk adverse with perception (real or imagined) that their lives are at stake, will promote bandwagoning with the stronger side as a rational decision and right or wrong perception they will gain more by bandwagoning, at least for time being.

–        The threats to take lots more territory may be a tactic to affect negotiations, though they may advance some in near future to create buffer zone around Goma.  Kabila has a domestic crisis of legitimacy.  Civic nationalism is lacking, the public is polarized against him and his gov, the state has internal weakness from inability to defend itself and a divided society.  Rwanda, Uganda, and M23 know state is weak.  They have a major relative advantage in negotiations.  The DRC gov is in a loss frame.   The threats of a quick advance on Bukavu and threat to take Kinshasa puts pressure on Kabila and advisors to make a quick decision.  Especially when negotiating from a position of weakness in a loss frame, the DRC gov is more likely to want to take quick action, lose rationality, which will generate a hasty decision that will lead to even more relative loss.  Due to the crisis of legitimacy, population polarization, recent history of humiliating defeats at hands of state-supported (at times sponsored) non-state actors in East Congo, and the immediateness of the situation, the DRC government may be risk averse.  Credible threat established by military actions of M23 and RDF and credible threat if DRC doesn’t comply, the M23/RDF will take action (and will do so even with international condemnation because no meaningful action [but revoking aid from RW has affected them much more than gov lets on] taken-impunity reigns), reinforces mindset.

–        I’ll say what I have not heard others say yet: Gen. Kabarebe, Gen Kayonga, et al are not acting alone decentralized without, at lowest common denominator, tacit consent from even higher up the chain of command.

–        If Kinshasa decides to fight back via proxy, I believe it is more likely to be through some Raia groups, APCLS (in North Kivu) and Mai-Mai as opposed to FDLR (new Mai-Mai groups in North and South Kivu almost sure to be formed since FARDC shown can’t protect people), though some decentralized support may happen and/or non-state armed groups may align with them out of shared goals and respective lack of individual capacity.

–        The crisis of legitimacy, perception of weakness, and popular polarization against Kabila and the PPRD has led the opposition to spend more time criticizing and attacking the AMP/PPRD in particular rather than joining together to propose solutions or propose constructive solutions themselves (Kamerhe’s party exception-pushing for pol dialogue). Additionally, the now government co-opted MSR has called for politicians to “bury the hatchet” for the sake of the east.

One Response to “Guest post: Observations on the Goma seizure”
  1. BarouD says:

    Error – The MSR is not currently an opposition political party because it joined the PPRD-led AMP.


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