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Congo (Kinshasa): War in the East, 2
Nov 28, 2012 (121128)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
"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
(http://tinyurl.com/bs6txb8). 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
This AfricaFocus Bulletin, not sent out by e-mail but
available on the web at http://www.africafocus.org/docs12/ec1211b.php, contains
two longer analytical articles appearing recently on
http://www.africanarguments.org, 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 http://www.africafocus.org/docs12/ec1211a.php,
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
Additional resources with calls for action and policy
TransAfrica Avaaz Petition to U.S. Ambassador to the UN
Susan Rice http://tinyurl.com/coaut3h
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),
++++++++++++++++++++++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
[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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 CongrÃ¨s
National pour la DÃ©fense du Peuple (CNDP) rebel group had
supposedly brought to the eastern part of this vast
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 DÃ©mocratiques
de LibÃ©ration 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 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 ArmÃ©es de la
RÃ©publique DÃ©mocratique 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
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
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
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.
ImmaculÃ©e 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
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
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,
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 Â£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
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.
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