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Congo (Kinshasa): War in the East, 2

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Nov 28, 2012 (121128)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"The 'International community' invested in an army, but after all these years the FARDC [Congolese national army] has remained much more a part of the problem then a part of the solution. Programs and policies meant to reinforce democracy and security were designed and implemented by people in offices far away from the complex realities on the ground, by people with very limited understanding of them." - Kris Berwouts

The events in eastern Congo are rapidly changing but also depressingly predictable and familiar. The M23 rebels are giving "mixed signals" about withdrawing from recently occupied Goma, as demanded by regional states ( New negotiations are expected. But the fundamental realities of insecurity in the east, including support from Rwanda and Uganda to rebels across the border, the lack of a legitimate Congolese state with security forces that protect the people, the weakness of international peace efforts, and vulnerability of the civilian population to a changing configuration of armed groups, continue the same.

Today's two AfricaFocus Bulletins contain a selection of recent articles I have found useful in digging beyond the day-to-day headlines.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin, not sent out by e-mail but available on the web at, contains two longer analytical articles appearing recently on, with additional background on the conflict. One article is by Kris Berwouts, until recently the Director of EurAc, the network of European NGOs working for advocacy on Central Africa. The other is by Michael Deibert, author of the forthcoming African Arguments book The Democratic Republic of Congo: Between Hope and Despair.

The other Bulletin, sent out by e-mail and available on the web at, contains reports by statements by Congolese and international groups calling for a new approach (also a pattern that has been repeated again and again), two background articles from the blog CongoSiasa (on the rebel group M23 and the role played by Susan Rice in stalling pressure on Rwanda), and an article from Southern Africa Resource Watch noting the surprising absence of "conflict minerals" in the background of the latest fighting.

Additional resources with calls for action and policy proposals include:

TransAfrica Avaaz Petition to U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice

Friends of the Congo

"DR Congoâ€TMs Goma: Avoiding a New Regional War" International Crisis Group, 20 November 2012

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Congo (Kinshasa), visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Congo-Kinshasa: Goma Falls to the M23 - a Tale of War, Rebellion and Dreadful Peace Agreements

by Kris Berwouts, 21 November 2012

African Arguments

[Kris Berwouts has, over the last 25 years, worked for a number of different Belgian and international NGOs focused on building peace, reconciliation, security and democratic processes. Until recently, he was the Director of EurAc, the network of European NGOs working for advocacy on Central Africa. He now works as an independent expert on Central Africa.]

On Thursday November 15th 'M23' - the rebellion movement which was created earlier this year - launched a major attack on the city of Goma which, after a quieter day on Friday, culminated in a very stressful weekend. The question on Sunday evening was: will or will they not take Goma. On Monday they did. These are thoughts compiled throughout the last week, culminating in the fall of the city.

The birth and growth of M23

M23 was founded when a part of the CNDP leadership returned to the maquis after the government of Congo tried to arrest their commander Bosco Ntaganda. There had been an International Criminal Court warrant on Bosco for many years and after the 2011 elections there was a lot of pressure on Kabila to deliver him as a sign a good will.

Kinshasa wanted to capitalize on this arrest to replace Bosco with a more loyal commander, thus dismantling (at least partially) the 'army within an army' that the CNDP had remained since it was integrated in to the FARDC in 2009.

Despite this integration, the CNDP maintained its parallel chain of command. Formally they belonged in the government camp, but neither the government nor the army command had a proper grip on the former rebel movement.

Bosco's departure was seen as a new beginning. Kinshasa searched in the circles of Congolese Tutsi for a new leader who had both the confidence of the CNDP leadership and was closer to the government. This would have been an important step towards real integration.

At the same time, a big CNDP taboo was broken - at the end of April the first contingent of CNDP soldiers was sent outside Kivu. For three years, CNDP had refused to operate outside of its home territory, afraid of having their troops dispersed over the country. These two developments were the real start of M23.

A lot has happened since then, but three elements are essential to understanding the movement's development.

First is the evidence provided by the UN Panel of Experts of the support given by Uganda and, to a much greater extent, by Rwanda to M23. This support has been political, technical - for example, providing facilities for communication to the movement's leaders - and, most crucially, military: recruitment, training and weapon delivery, even direct military support from the Rwandese army in certain operations.

Secondly, M23 hasn't received a lot of support in eastern Congo. Their capacity to mobilize and recruit people has generally remained low - considerably lower even than in the days of earlier rebellion movements which had their roots in the Rwandophone communities in Congo. They not only managed to mobilize a big part of the Tutsi community, but many Hutus as well.

This has not been the case this time. Very few Hutus have joined M23 and an important segment of the Tutsi have also refused to come on board. The Banyamulenge (Tutsi from South Kivu) distanced themselves from M23 from the start, this remains the case today.

Thirdly, the mobilization of military force by M23 was diminished by the prompt action of the international community, which reacted faster and sharper than usual. When it became clear that Rwanda was very actively supporting M23, it was heavily criticized by some of its most loyal partners. In Washington, London, The Hague, Berlin and Stockholm immediate measures were taken to cut or suspended parts of their bilateral support.

These measures clearly hit Rwanda where it hurts and also had an important discouraging effect in Congo itself (individuals and groups thought twice before joining M23) and in Uganda, which retained a lower profile and acted with greater discretion than Rwanda in its support for the rebel movement.

The attack on Goma

Initially nobody really believed that what we were dealing with was a rebellion that wanted to start a war. Many, myself included, thought that the first and only reason for M23's existence was to obtain, through negotiations, better positions within the army and the government.

On Thursday November 15th M23 launched a huge attack, firstly on Kibumba and then Goma. It was such a large offensive that it was way beyond its own military capacity. Very soon we received confirmation, through independent sources, of the massive support and even the direct involvement of the Rwandese army in the operation. What followed was days of confusing and often contradictory bits and pieces of information.

The first analysis coming through was that M23 did not intend to take Goma. Nkunda and the CNDP had reached edge of the town in 2008, but under pressure from Kagame and international diplomacy he had not taken the city.

This seemed the most likely scenario once again. M23 had already experienced several difficult months; putting extreme pressure on Goma seemed the best way to force negotiations from a position of relative strength.

Taking the city didn't look like a viable option, such an act would have highly significant consequences and the risk of violence and massacres in and around the town would be high. Taking Goma would change the entire outlook of the conflict, one which had already had heavy consequences for Congo.

The fact that the government has failed to bring the armed group under its control has accelerated the disintegration process within the army and has had a very negative influence on the relationship between the ethnic groups in eastern Congo. Goma's fall could set the peace process back many years.

On Sunday November 18th it became obvious that Goma would not resist the attack. Thousands of people fled the town and the surrounding refugee camps. The army and the political authorities also left. But on Sunday afternoon, as in 2008, the rebels stopped some kilometers short of the town.

Monusco conducted negotiations with the M23 leadership. They requested immediate and direct negotiations with the government which started on that same Sunday in Kampala. The governor of North Kivu returned to town, order was maintained by Monusco and the Congolese police. It looked like the worst had been avoided.

The fall of Goma

Early afternoon on Monday, two messages reached me simultaneously. M23 communicated that the negotiations in Kampala had failed because of the government didn't want them to succeed.

At the same moment, I received an SMS from a friend in Goma which stated that heavy shooting had started again, probably a few kilometers north of town. It was the beginning of another cascade of messages and information, unconfirmed, confusing and sometimes contradictory.

Heavy weaponry around the airport - had M23 attacked? Shooting of light weapons rapidly moving north - counterattack of the regular army? Grenades in certain neighbourhoods of Goma - launched from the Rwandese border town of Gisenyi?

At least one shell was launched from Congolese territory. Many people on the run but most of them shivering under the kitchen table. The Republican Guards stopping people in the streets and stealing money and watches. Rwandese troops reported to have crossed the border. Direct confrontations between the Congolese and Rwandese armies. And on, and on.

The later it got, the more difficult it became to verify or double-check messages. I switched off my mobile, after I got the message "Angolese and Zimbabwean troops on the ground, ready to join the fighting tomorrow morning" - something I hoped and believed was absolute nonsense. But in any case, the events around Goma looked like they were going to become the worst crisis since 1998. On Tuesday morning the city finally fell.

On Monday morning everybody had believed that we were going linea recta towards another unworkable 'negotiated solution'. This would euphemistically be categorized as a 'peace agreement', which would create (through another empty form of power sharing) a bit of space and probably a cease fire.

But this ceasefire would contain no elements that could lead to sustainable stability or a workable political construction capable of building confidence and a common agenda between the groups, parties and communities involved. This did not happen. Twenty four hours later we were able to observe the bankruptcy of a mis-conducted, ill-accompanied peace process.

A legacy of failure

At this very moment we must acknowledge that all the money and work invested in security and democracy in Congo has resulted in a very limited sustainable impact. We happily believed that we had contributed to the rehabilitation of the Congolese state, but neither two elections (2006 and 2011) nor years of army reforms have allowed it to arise from the ashes.

The West was very ambiguous about democracy. On the one hand, we found elections very important, but on the other we went very far in accepting the undemocratic way they were organized.

The 'International community' invested in an army, but after all these years the FARDC has remained much more a part of the problem then a part of the solution. Programs and policies meant to reinforce democracy and security were designed and implemented by people in offices far away from the complex realities on the ground, by people with very limited understanding of them.

A lot of these policies were based on a rather superficial analysis of the problems in the region. We imposed on Congo a standard package of post-conflict measures and their accompaniments, not taking into account the fact that the conflict in Central Africa never really finished. Cruel wars and dreadful, unworkable peace agreements were the result, and now we are reaping what we sow.

In the eyes of the Congolese population, the West has lost all its credibility. Despite lip service being paid to democracy, the people haven't seen real commitment.

The big challenges weren't addressed: bad governance and poverty are endemic, the land issue remains a time bomb, the Congolese state is still very fragile and cannot rehabilitate the instruments it needs to guarantee the rule of law. This will not change whilst support is limited to the technical dimension of these problems.

If we really want to be loyal to the Congolese population, we have to understand the quality of the security and the democracy to which we contribute. This can only be achieved through open dialogue with the Congolese leadership, which will enable us to define with them clear bench marks which allow progress to be measured. We also badly need better insight in to the way local, provincial and national levels of government influence each other.

On top of all this comes the regional context. We already mentioned that Rwanda supports M23 in many ways. We suspected this since the very beginning and we have known it to be true since June, when the UN Expert Panel published its provisional report. Rwanda has made little effort to hide this, even if it has continued to deny it.

If Rwanda gets away with this, we will have to accept that future generations of Congolese will be stuck in a vicious circle of wars and dreadful, ineffective peace agreements.

Congo-Kinshasa: The Fall of Goma

Michael Dibert, 21 November 2012

[Michael Deibert is author of the forthcoming African Arguments book The Democratic Republic of Congo: Between Hope and Despair.]

When the provincial capital of Goma in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo fell to rebel forces yesterday, the rapidity of the rebel advance was shocking, but the fait accompli failure of both Congo's armed forces and the country's United Nations mission was not.

As 2012 dawned, the international community and the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo - known by its acronym, MONUSCO (formerly MONUC) - were hailing the peace and stability that a 2009 deal with the Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple (CNDP) rebel group had supposedly brought to the eastern part of this vast country.

Formed by renegade general Laurent Nkunda, the CNDP's ostensible goal was the protection of Congo's Tustsi ethnic group and the defeat of the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), the main Hutu-led military opposition to the Tutsi-led government of President Paul Kagame in Rwanda.

The FDLR, though a severely degraded force from what it once was, has its roots in Rwanda's 1994 genocide when several hundred thousand Tutsis and Hutu moderates were slaughtered by extremist Hutu supremacist elements.

Succoured by Rwanda, Nkunda nevertheless proved himself to be a headstrong and unreliable negotiating partner with the regional powers and with the government of Congo's president, Joseph Kabila, who Nkunda openly talked about toppling.

Kabila's father, Laurent Kabila, had seized power with Rwandan help in 1997 only to then go to war with his former patrons and die by an assassin's bullet a little over three years later.

As a result of his recalcitrance, Nkunda was jettisoned and replaced at the negotiating table by another CNDP leader, Bosco Ntaganda. He had been indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague in January 2006 on three counts of war crimes allegedly committed while he was helping to command another rebel group in Congo's Ituri region, a time during which he earned the sobriquet "the Terminator."

The deal struck between the Kabila government and Ntaganda's CNDP in March 2009 saw the rebels become a registered political party and their forces integrated within the official armed forces, the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC). Bosco Ntaganda became an important powerbroker in the province of North Kivu, the Rwanda and Uganda-border region of which Goma is the capital.

Far from a road to Damascus moment, the agreement was rather a modus vivendi by cunning, ruthless political operators.

Kabila, reelected in a highly controversial 2011 ballot, has fashioned a government that is in many ways a younger, more sophisticated version of his father's. Relying on a narrow circle of trusted individuals and a network of international alliances, Kabila's power is built on patronage rather than a political base.

This model was dealt a serious blow when one of Kabila's most trusted advisors, Augustin Katumba Mwanke, a man who often handled Kabila's most delicate financial and political transactions, was killed in a plane crash this past February.

Across the border, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, for so long a darling of western donors and development workers, has for many years presided over a tight-lidded dictatorship where government critics meet either death (opposition politician Andre Kagwa Rwisereka, killed in Rwanda in July 2011), exile (former general Kayumba Nyamwasa, wounded in a shooting in South Africa in June 2010) or both (Inyenyeri News editor Charles Ingabire, shot dead by an unknown gunman in Kampala last December).

[Along with other neighbours who have seen fit to intervene in Congo over the years, Rwanda has been happy to help itself to large amounts of the country's extensive mineral wealth, as documented in a 2001 United Nations report]

As a number of people (myself included) warned at the time, the peace deal as implemented was a marriage of convenience destined for a nasty divorce. Unfortunately, the international community itself gave an additional seal of approval when, against the advice of their own Office of Legal Affairs, UN forces backed Congo's army as the latter launched Operation Kimia II ("Quiet" in Swahili) in March 2009 against the FDLR.

Despite the common knowledge that Ntaganda - a wanted accused war criminal - was acting as de facto deputy commander for Congolese forces during Kimia II, MONUC's command hid behind transparently false Congolese government assurances that Ntaganda was not involved.

According to one investigation, between January and September 2009 more than 1,400 civilians were slain in the provinces of North and South Kivu, at least 701 by the FDLR and the rest by Congolese and Rwandan government-allied forces. Over the same time period in the same provinces, over 7,500 women and girls were raped and over 900,000 people forced to flee their homes.

Despite these excesses, the UN signed a Joint Operational Directive with Congo's army as it launched yet another operation against the FDLR, this one dubbed Amani Leo ("Peace Today"), during January 2010.

Immaculée Birhaheka of the Promotion et Appui Aux Initiatives Feminines (Promotion and Support for Women's Initiatives) pleaded that "the name of the military operation has changed, but the situation remains the same: Women are still being killed, maimed, abused like animals."

They would have been wise not to look to the UN for help. Though the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo is the largest in the world at nearly 17,000 military personnel, it is still cartoonishly small for a country the size of Western Europe.

Nor has the mission shown any great appetite for adhering to its mandate, which charges it with working "to ensure the protection of civilians, including humanitarian personnel, under imminent threat of physical violence."

In May 2002, when dissident soldiers mutinied against their commanders in the central city of Kisangani, MONUC troops did almost nothing as those commanders (including Laurent Nkunda) oversaw the killing of at least 80 civilians and a ghastly bout of rape.

Two years later, in the city of Bukavu, Nkunda was again present as a series of ethnically-based attacks in and around the city saw looting, raping and murder take place as MONUC did little to aid common citizens. In November 2008, CNDP forces led by Bosco Ntaganda killed at least 150 people in the town of Kiwanja despite the fact that 100 UN peacekeepers were stationed less than a mile away.

Once part of the official apparatus in North Kivu, as pressure grew (as it inevitably would) on Ntaganda to break the parallel chains of command within the FARDCintegrated CNDP units, and with chorus of calls demanding his arrest, the warlord finally decided that the pressure was too much.

By early April of this year, former CNDP members began to desert their posts in North Kivu and fighting broke out around the province. By May, the deserters had named their group the Mouvement du 23 mars, or M23, a reference to the date of the 2009 peace accords between the CNDP and the Kabila government. They operated, as they always had, with strong Rwandan backing.

In July, saying that the Obama administration had "decided it can no longer provide foreign military financing appropriated in the current fiscal year to Rwanda," the United States announced - for the first time since 1994 - that it was suspending military aid to the Kagame regime, citing "evidence that Rwanda is implicated in the provision of support to Congolese rebel groups, including M23."

That same month, the Netherlands announced that it was suspending five million euros ($6.2 million) in aid to Rwanda, a decision it said was directly linked Kigali's support of M23. The following day, the British government also announced the freezing of £16 million of aid.

[The recent decision of the UK's international development secretary, Andrew Mitchell, to restore aid to Rwanda on his last day on the job resulted in a storm of controversy and a pledge by his successor that she would gather evidence in terms of Rwanda's linkage with M23 before deciding on any new aid.]

But today, with almost-certain Rwandan (and Ugandan) backing and with, by all accounts, barely token opposition from UN forces stationed there, the M23 seized Goma. And tonight, as the United Nations and the international community stand by, the people of Congo are once again at the mercy of those who have tormented them in the past.

The approach of the international community thus far, both in exercising its mandate to protect civilian lives in Congo and in holding the outside supporters of Congo's rebel groups to task, has thus far proved woefully insufficient.

As word of Goma's fall spread throughout Congo, reaction was immediate. Buildings belonging to Kabila's political party - with many Congolese accusing the president of caving in to the Rwandans - were burned in the cities of Kisangani and Bunia, and UN buildings were pelted by stones in the latter town.

The fall of Goma may prove a defining moment, for both the Congolese government and for the gulf between the actions and the words of the international community in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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