Confusion totale au Petit Nord?

Few days after the Addis framework agreement on eastern Congo had been signed, North Kivu appears to witness an escalation of violence bearing potential of dramatically changing the short-term politico-military landscape, particularly in the Petit Nord (territoires of Rutshuru and Nyiragongo). While clashes erupted between Congolese army FARDC and the Mayi Mayi of APCLS (“General” Janvier) around Kitshanga (it is unclear as of how it exactly started and mentions on that are contradictory), the most consequential events certainly happened within the zone controlled by M23 movement. Fighting started on February 24 at night between members of M23. While some voices first attributed this attack to FDLR fighters, in soon came out that it was an infight. Several people (at least one M23 officer and civilians) were killed that night and rumours of a deepened split within the rebel group gained momentum.

The internal cohesion of M23 has always remained doubtful, given that the late CNDP had experienced a serious fissure when General Nkunda was detained by Rwanda, leaving the place for ICC-indicted Jean Bosco Ntaganda. Within the newly created M23, the two factions emerging from the Nkunda story remained alive: The so-called Kifuafua and Kimbelemble. Roughly, it can be estimated that the former are regrouping more cautious elements of the movement, being attached to Nkunda. This faction is led by military commander Sultani Makenga. The Kimbelembele are the Bosco-oriented wing led by Baudouin Ngaruye. M23 political president Jean Marie Runiga also adhered to this side. On February 27, the next shockwave happened within M23. Makenga sacked Runiga over charges of high treason and took over the interim political lead over the movement. This did not remain uncontested: Within hours, M23’s yet fragile cohesion seemed to completely vanish and the two factions split up. While Makenga and his entourage are reported to have retreated to the Bunagana/Jomba area (where everything more or less started in 2012), the Ngaruye side moved southwards to Kibumba area. Rutshuru was left and meanwhile taken by FDLR fighters. Hence, the last days saw increased tension between the “two M23”, culminating in heavy fighting on February 28. News agencies report that at least between 30 and 40 casualties result from these clashes and Makenga, despite allegedly having fewer troops than Ngaruye, was able to counter the latter’s offensive. The exact strength of the two factions is extremely difficult to estimate. The most precise indication is that their combined number before breaking up was up to 3,000 and the Kimbelembele might have a slightly higher share of combatants. Even this, though, might be wrong. Further news spread until early March 1 indicated that the Makenga side had re-defected to the FARDC and the Kabila government – this cannot be confirmed either.

So, what can be said in terms of understanding the current situation with so much contradictory information and rumours, especially in the twittersphere?

1) The split of M23 is obvious and the lines along it happened can be traced with a certain degree of exactitude. Much more unclear is the picture concerning M23 perceived external supporters and its main opponent, the DRC government. One more thing in the mist is to which extent capital diplomacy between Kinshasa and Kigali plays a role. The idea of Makenga returning in Kabila’s arms, with Kigali’s

2) The fighting around Kitshanga may be linked to all that in a way, but rumours of the FARDC regiment there being co-opted by either of the two M23 factions seem improbable as of now. Given the ethnic configuration of the area around Kitshanga, it is still possible that linkages will emerge in the coming days, but yesterday’s fighting indicates that M23 is currently busy enough with their secession.

3) The spill over potential to other areas, most notably South Kivu is currently low. M23 is known for having engaged in PR work among elites, and militias there but the impression in several cities is rather that of joy over M23’s perceived implosion. Notwithstanding it remains to be observed how previous links (via Colonel Bede towards other local groups in Uvira and via Colonel Kahasha to others in Shabunda/Kalehe) develop.

Hence, the analysis is that there is barely ground for a real analysis at this time. But maybe soon.

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