The return of M23: Is there a way out for the DRC?
Several international forces are deployed in the eastern Congo, where the Rwanda-backed rebel group continues to seize towns and territory.
Last week, Angola’s President João Lourenço confidently stated his belief that his Rwandan and Congolese counterparts are ready to reconcile with one another after a year of strained relations. His announcement came after many months of mediation, yet just days before heavy fighting between the Rwandan-backed M23 rebel group and the Congolese army began once again.
Relations between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have not always been so difficult. When Felix Tshisekedi become president in January 2019, he invested substantial energy in improving the DRC’s relations with its neighbours. He welcomed Paul Kagame, who became the first Rwandan president to visit the DRC in over 20 years, on numerous occasions. And he allowed Rwanda troops to deploy clandestinely in Congolese territory. In turn, Rwanda deployed a new ambassador to the Kinshasa. Rwanda Air started flying between the Congolese and Rwandan capitals.
Things changed, however, in 2021. By now, some were expressing concerns that Tshisekedi had been naïve in rushing his rapprochement with Kagame. And when the Congolese president turned down Rwanda’s secret request for a larger-scale military deployment in the eastern Congo, the relationship soured. In October 2021, the Rwandan-backed M23 rebel group resurged.
Rwanda was likely further antagonised by the DRC’s improved relations with Uganda, which was invited to deploy troops in the north-eastern DRC in November 2021 as part of joint operations against the rebel Allied Defence Forces (ADF).
Despite solid evidence presented by a UN Panel of Experts that Rwanda is providing logistical support to the M23 and reinforcing its ranks with Rwandan Defence Force (RDF) soldiers, Kigali denies backing the rebel group. At the same time, however, it has said any military involvement it does have in the eastern Congo would be justified because the DRC is working with the FDLR, a Rwandan Hutu militia whose leaders were involved in the 1994 genocide.
In fact, despite its official denials, Rwanda is participating in internationally supported mediation efforts with the DRC, which suggests it recognises there is something to be reconciled. And on 24 October, it accused the Congolese government of abandoning a negotiated solution with the M23. The DRC responded by saying the statement was tantamount to “a clear and irrefutable admission that it is Rwanda that operates behind the M23” and accused it of defending “an armed group, a terrorist one at that, in another state”.
Deployments to the eastern DRC
The M23’s resurgence has prompted several bilateral and multilateral efforts. Already on the ground are the UN mission MONUSCO, which has been present since 2001. And the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) arrived in 2013 after the M23 captured key towns in eastern DRC. Composed of troops from South Africa, Tanzania, and Malawi, the FIB’s deployment coincided with a rare moment of international consensus that Rwanda must end its support of the M23 and stop destabilising the region.
Since the M23 reconstituted itself in 2021-2022, a new regional bloc has entered the fray. The East African Community (EAC), of which the DRC became a member in March 2022, has initiated a two-track process aimed at ending instability in eastern Congo: political talks with rebel groups that have expressed a willingness to surrender, coupled with the deployment of an East African Force. So far, Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, and South Sudan have contributed to this new unit. The DRC has welcomed the force but stated that it would not accept Rwanda’s participation in it.
The neutrality of the EAC’s intervention, which will be commanded by Kenya, is questionable. Over the last three decades, Uganda has intervened unliterally in the DRC countless times, pursuing its own political and economic interests. Meanwhile, the Burundian army has also been secretly active in the eastern Congo for some time, pursuing anti-government rebels. Both the Ugandan and Burundian contingents will remain where they were before the EAC rebranded their military engagements as a regional stabilising force.
The East African unit’s official mandate is to go after rebel groups – domestic and foreign – that refuse to surrender. Former president Uhuru Kenyatta is mediating talks in Nairobi with those that have. But as the M23 captures more terrain, it likely that some of those armed groups may resume fighting.
For the M23’s part, its military strength is apparently greater than ever. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has warned that MONUSCO cannot contend with a M23 that has the fighting power of a conventional army. The question also remains of whether Kenyan and South Sudanese troops will be able and willing to get involved in what is now a hot war.
Constrained in the Congo
In moving forwards, President Tshisekedi is constrained by a number of factors.
To begin with, the M23’s resurgence has stoked ethnic hatred and anti-Rwandan sentiment in the DRC. There is a little popular appetite for talks with the rebels or for attempts to de-escalate tensions with Rwanda. Tshisekedi has raised expectations that only a military defeat of the M23 or a Rwandan admission of guilt will bring an end to the violence.
However, this has backed the Congolese government into a corner. The DRC’s attempts to garner international condemnation of Rwanda’s actions have been largely unsuccessful. Despite the UN Panel of Experts report, the historic reluctance among many governments to criticise Kagame remains a key obstacle.
It may be significant that Tshisekedi and his team are relative newcomers to the regional game. Unlike former president Joseph Kabila, who had intimate knowledge of the key military and civilian leaders in the Great Lakes, and who spent over 20 years interacting with his Ugandan and Rwandan counterparts, Tshisekedi’s inner circle is composed of civilians, most of whom are relatively unfamiliar with the byzantine inner workings of the insecurity dynamics in eastern DRC and wider region. This complicates the possibility of a behind-the-scenes rapprochement.
Mediating the divide
Lourenco’s comments last week may have been premature, but his job as mediator is vital. He must keep the two presidents talking with the aim of diffusing the crisis, halting the violence, and keeping the DRC and Rwanda from full-scale war.
Mediated talks between the Congo, Rwanda and the M23 may also be a useful approach. Although talks with the rebels will be politically costly for Tshisekedi, the armed group’s ongoing military successes are already making his government look weak. But in order for Tshisekedi to accept such talks, there must be a quid pro quo from Rwanda in the form of some admission of its role in supporting the M23.
This could lead to improvements in the short-term. In the long run, however, mediation efforts – supported by the Africa Union, EAC, southern Africa’s SADC, UN, and special envoys from key countries – must address the entrenched drivers of violence in the Great Lakes. It is not enough just to reconcile Kagame and Tshisekedi or militarily defeat the M23. After three decades of conflict and meddling in the eastern DRC, relationships in the region are characterised by distrust and disrespect. This will not change until the cost of the status quo becomes unbearable not just to the DRC but also to Rwanda and Uganda.
About 90% of M23 current combatants were 15- years old or less – only few Seniors Officers were there in 2012-2013.
Today, the main goal for M23 is to obtain the repatriation of their parents who have been living in refugee camps in Rwanda, Uganda and in many places in Africa. They fight for their inalienable right and it has nothing to do with the reintegration in the DRC army as many pretend . Since their aspiration is noble and there is no alternative to it, many political leaders in the region and around the world are reluctant to use the military force against M23 as in 2013 they did. This explains why the DRC position is not convincing: They are asking M23 to leave Rutshuru. To go where?
The only option is the negotiation between DRC authorities and M23 for the return of Tutsi Congolese in their country from refugee camps in neighboring countries where they have been living for 2 decades to escape the FDLR and other Hutu militias threat in the eastern Congo
Mr IGnas kayijamahe what you are saying is not true , let me get opportunity to ask you , are you a Congolese? The answer is not .
Why am saying like this , theM23 are not Congolese because me I Born in too the war caused by Rwanda since 1994 up to now,.
The since Rwanda had the intention of be given one territory from DRC , that why Kagame is sending the unknown M23 there for this how Rwanda used to send their soldiers in DRC:
1. In 1997 Rwanda sent their soldiers ,and they called them RCD this was to follow FDRR whom was soldiers of former president of Rwanda HABYARIMANA there for after this one’s killing many DRC community ,DRC Mixed them with their soldiers.
2. In 2007 it came a nother group called CNDP this also was from Rwanda where by they killed mane Congolese and rape wemenes , there for all Nationals consoled DRC to mixe with DRC army .
3. In 2011_2013 it came the same group called M23 from the some contry ,this after the difetness they took two direction : the big group went to Rwanda their home and the second group went in Uganda means their home.
4. Know recently this year 2022 M23 came again from this two neighbors countries ,Rwanda and Uganda there for they are again need DRC to negotiate with them for what?
N.B: Dear presidents of all Nationals the new president of DRC he got confused because in DRC army there’s many who are not patriotics of DRC whom mixed in and most of the fighted to get higher lunker’s , there for this actually M23 they’re in relationship with the no patriotics army who are now called DRC army that mixed from Rwanda rebels, that why they what negotiations to join their brothers .
From this there are more than 1000congolese died killed by M23 and Force the Congolese youth to join their army .
Question: if they were patriotics couldent they have potty of the community who are dieing because of them?
What said that M23 are children of congolese refugees it’s totally lies or not true, because refugees who are in Uganda in kyangwali,kyaka2,nakivale,rukinga, rwamwanja and some in kiryandongo are all there their settlement camps waiting for peace of their country.
And to ad on that Rwandans they are doing this not that are Congolese but because Rwanda is a small country with big population and DRC is big with More empty Land’s they are looking for land , there for they couldn’t make war and make congolese problems they could beg for refugee to DRC!!!!
To ask for repatriation you have to Kill, rape and decapitate people even Children? Don’t take people to be Stupid. This is a war based on Rwanda’s hegemonic delusion and continuous fraud and steeling of ressources. 2022 is not 1997 or 2013. You don’t become a citizen by force. A stranger is A Stranger no matter what he does Illegally.
Just stop manipulation. Since when Congolese are refugees in Rwanda ? No one buys anymore your lies. Refugees since when? Since 1996 with AFDL backed by Rwanda, RCD backed by Rwanda , CNDP backed by Rwanda and M23 as well, why didn’t these “refugees” return to Congo? M23 is comprised of Rwandese. Their aim is just to get incorporated in Congolese army. This will never happen again. These Rwandese terrorists will never be incorporated in Congolese National Army and there will be no negociations. Your victimisation and manipulation are over.
IGNACE KAYIJAMAHE you must be working to spread propaganda for Paul Kagame. Congolese Tutsi refugees? Pure fabrication and Bullshit. M23 has one commander in chief and that is Paul Kagame. M23’s mission in the RDC is to help steal lands and populate it with Rwandan Tutsi; thus, achieve Rwandan expansion that they’ve been trying to accomplish for decades since the ousting of Mobutu Sese Seko by J.D Kabila and Paul Kagame with the help of Bill Clinton. M23 is a group of paid mercenaries to carry Kagame’s mission of expansion in the RDC. Period!
Museveni is supporting M23 100 percent. Museveni gave sanctuary to M23 rebels and lived in Uganda military barracks. They came to Uganda with their weapons and Uganda never disarmed them. No single nation can allow refugees or rebels enter its country with weapons. Before the attacked DRC, M23 escaped from Uganda with their weapons. Many high M23 generals were given security escorts while in Uganda.
DRC should understand that M23 is a Tutsis army. M23 objective is to annex part of DRC using Uganda and Rwanda. The government of Uganda is full of Rwandese and Uganda army is mainly composed of Tutsis. Museveni is slaughtering Ugandans especially Baganda for opposing him and Kagame against creating Tutsis empire in the region. Kenya new president Ruto is a good friend of both Museveni and Kagame and Kenya has sent its military in DRC and it will help M23 and it is not there to keep peace.
ADF is funded by Museveni and its leader Jamil Mukuru in custody in Uganda, is being tried in civilian courts not in military courts while civilians who oppose Museveni are tried in military courts. Museveni is constructing roads in DRC to smuggle minerals from DRC. DRC will NEVER be stable as long as Museveni and Kagame are in power. DRC shares its boarders with nine African countries but why is it that the problem is on Uganda/Rwanda side?
It may be now time to think the unthinkable…negotiating a joint jurisdiction with Rwanda over South Kivu?