Since the recent clashes, the M23 has been making headlines again, but many security problems persist as diplomats scramble to tackle the underlying causes.
Since March 2022, fighting has intensified in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) between the army and the rebel group March 23 Movement, better known as the M23. The latter allegedly attacked army positions near the border with Uganda and Rwanda. A United Nations helicopter also crashed in the combat zone, killing eight peacekeepers.
These events made headlines around the world and provoked a reaction of the Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres.
The upsurge in fighting between the M23 and government troops actually started in the end of year 2021. Moreover, this is just one of the many ongoing armed clashes in eastern DRC where, moreover, the Allied Democratic Force, an insurgent Islamist group of Ugandan origin, continues to massacre citizens, despite ongoing joint operations between Uganda and the DRC. Another factional war is taking place in the Uvira and Fizi Highlands, not far from Burundi. And in Ituri, at the northeastern end of the DRC, various armed groups, including CODECO factions, continue to wreak havoc.
Yet the March 2022 clashes between the Congolese army and the M23 were the deadliest in a decade. This situation raises important questions about timing and context that we will address in this article.
We both undertook research on the conflict dynamics in eastern Congo for many years. Part of this research, among others, is the role of armed groups in society, the interaction between armed mobilization and the recent Ebola epidemic, And the fragmentation of belligerents.
As part of this research, we also analyzed the evolution of M23 from its beginnings in 2012 until today. From our point of view, the resurgence of the group's activities since the end of 2021 is undoubtedly a reaction to Kinshasa's attempts to end insecurity in the east. It may be that, feeling threatened, the M23 seeks to strengthen its position in the event of possible negotiations.
Safety, a priority
President Felix Tshisekedi has made security in eastern Congo one of his top priorities. He tried different strategies to achieve this, including talks engaged with armed groups, a program of demobilization and disarmament and the declaration of thestate of siege in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri.
But like recent research indicates, this combination of tactics has rarely been effective in the past.
The current slew of initiatives is therefore unlikely to put an end to the M23 and other rebellions for good, until the underlying historical issues that fuel the violence are resolved.
The rise of the M23
Created in April 2012, the M23 is located at the crossroads dynamics of local, national and regional, where he takes part in various struggles for the control of territory, people and resources. These struggles are linked to the security concerns of various cross-border political and military networks, which bring together state and non-state actors.
The M23 quickly gained international notoriety when it occupied the city of Goma, capital of North Kivu province, for 10 days in November 2012. The occupation followed eight months of intense fighting in the Rutshuru region of North Kivu province.
These events considerably embarrassed the international community, which had invested billions of dollars to restore peace and rebuild the State, in particular through its UN peacekeeping mission. But the soldiers of the mission had contented themselves with playing the spectators when the M23 marched on Goma.
Although the rebels withdrew after coming under heavy international pressure, they continued to control key strategic sites, such as the Bunagana border post bordering Uganda, which provided them with significant tax revenues.
Ultimately, the group's ability to challenge the Congolese government and the UN was its downfall.
In 2013, a new component of the UN peacekeeping mission was tasked with dismantling armed groups in eastern DRC: it was called the Intervention Brigade and was made up of regional armies; it had made the M23 its main target. Internal tensions have also caused a split within the M23, leaving the group weakened and forced toexile in Uganda and Rwanda.
After his defeat, the M23 signed a peace agreement with the government in December 2013, in which it agreed to demobilize its fighters and transform itself into a political party.
However, under the leadership of Commander Sultani Makenga, some parts of the group returned to the DRC at the end of 2016. This situation was foreseeable because the peace agreements did not resolve the underlying problems of the conflicts.
The story of the rebellion
An important feature of the genealogy of the armed groups to which the M23 belongs is that they were led primarily by Tutsi commanders from North Kivu. Historically speaking, these commanders have maintained close ties with the Rwandan army. In the early 1990s, as one of us was told in the multiple interviews, several of them joined the Rwandan Patriotic Front in its fight to overthrow the extremist Hutu regime in Rwanda, which perpetrated genocide in this country.
One of the main driving forces behind rebellions, such as the M23, has been the precarious situation of the Tutsi community in North Kivu due to a combination of complex and interrelated factors. First, the policy applied by the colonial state (1885-1960) and by the regime of Mobutu Sese Seko (1965-1997) was to divide and rule. In the 1990s, the Mobutu regime fueled longstanding conflicts between Hutu and Kinyarwanda-speaking Tutsi populations, denying the latter the right to citizenship, which triggered violent conflicts in the east.
Secondly, there is the political propaganda which falsely labels all those who speak Kinyarwanda in eastern DRC as "immigrants" rather than "citizens", not "citizens". despite the fact that several Kinyarwandophone communities are present in the DRC long before colonization.
The fact that Tutsis were involved in several foreign-backed rebellions, in particular the RCD-Goma, from 1998 to 2003, does not help matters either.
Finally, members of the Tutsi economic elite bought large tracts of land in a context marked by land grabbing by local elites, of which many peasants were victims.
Due to all these factors, Tutsis and Kinyarwanda-speaking communities in general are subject to widespread resentment. Conversely, the Tutsis of North Kivudé deplore the lack of consideration and protection due to them as citizens from the Congolese state. Hence the support given by those who speak Kinyarwanda to successive rebellions, in order to protect themselves against armed groups that are hostile to them.
What the future holds
After the first clashes in March and April of this year, the M23 said unilaterally, several ceasefires. He also announced his desire to lay down his arms definitively. Then, in April, he promised to withdraw from the areas he had occupied after the fighting at the end of March and called for the establishment of a dialogue with the Congolese government.
These statements were made at the start of a new round of negotiations between the armed groups and the Congolese government in Nairobi, under the aegis of the Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta. The Congolese government presented the talks as the last chance for armed groups to surrender. This threat was followed by theannouncement of a new regional force put in place to combat armed groups.
However, fighting later broke out between the Congolese army and M23 units, with both sides accusing each other of being behind the clashes. As a result, the main M23 faction, led by Sultani Makenga, was expelled Nairobi talks.
On a regional scale, the return of the M23 coincides with several important changes, namely in particular negotiations for the accession of the DRC to the East African Community and the military intervention of Uganda in the north of the area of operation of the M23 to fight to fight the Forces Allied Democrats.
Furthermore, after five years of friction leading to border closures, bilateral relations between Rwanda and Uganda appear to be improving rapidly, despite geopolitical rivalry and competition for trade and infrastructure projects in eastern DRC.
On the ground in North Kivu, other Congolese armed groups have recently declared the creation of a new coalition ad hoc, which was allegedly negotiated by Congolese army officials, with the aim of combating the M23.
Thus, the M23 rebellion finds itself in the tiny but highly strategic border triangle between eastern DRC, Rwanda and Uganda, and at the center of a rapid shift in local security and diplomacy. and regional.