Conflict Alerts # 569, 24 November 2022
In the news
On 23 November, Angola’s foreign minister announced that regional leaders had agreed to a ceasefire in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, for cessation of hostilities from 25 November. The ceasefire was signed by DRC, Rwanda, Angola, Burundi and former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. The ceasefire calls on the M23 to withdraw from all the areas it controls and disarm and surrender to the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC).
On 21 November, Kenyan President William Ruto met Felix Tshisekedi, President of DRC, in Kinshasa where Ruto had emphasized the East African Community’s (EAC) commitment “to do whatever it takes” to support Tshisekedi, the Congolese government, and its people in ensuring peace in the DRC. Ruto said: “It’s in our interest, collectively and individually, that we have a peaceful region.” The same day, Uganda assured that Kampala would send 1000 troops to DRC under the EAC’s regional force. Meanwhile, mediation talks between the DRC government and rebels in the country's east, scheduled for the day, were postponed.
On 19 November, the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) killed a soldier suspected to be from the FARDC; the RDF claimed the soldier had crossed into Rwandan territory and opened fire at local forces. However, DRC maintained that no FARDC soldier was missing.
On 18 November, news agencies, referring to an EAC statement, reported that mediator and former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Rwandan President Paul Kagame had agreed on the necessity of a ceasefire and withdrawal of the M23 from the towns they captured. Reuters quoted the deputy spokesperson of the DRC president: “It is encouraging to see Paul Kagame recognize that he can influence the M23.”
Issues at large
First, the latest violence between DRC forces and M23. Since late October, violence between the M23 and Congolese forces has escalated with the latter trying to recapture rebel-held territories in North Kivu province in the east. A UNICEF report indicates that 234,500 have fled the conflict areas and daily activities in rebel-controlled Rutshuru town have come to a standstill, except for “a few actors.”
Second, rebel groups in DRC’s east. The M23 (acronymized from March 23), formed from a mutiny within the FARDC in 2012 by former militiamen who were integrated into the army, demands the rights and representation of Congolese Tutsis. However, in 2013, the M23 rebellion was suppressed by the FARDC and UN missions. Apart from the M23, an estimated 120 militia groups who have their roots in the two Congo wars in 1994 and 1996 and those that emerged later with support from neighbouring countries, operate in the east.
Third, accusations and counter-accusations. The DRC government claims it has evidence that Rwanda supports the rebels. The government also expelled Kigali's ambassador to Kinshasa. The constant accusations instilled an anti-Rwanda sentiment among the Congolese who have been holding protests against Rwanda. Meanwhile, Rwanda has denied the allegations and has, instead, accused DRC of supporting groups operating against the government in Kigali.
Fourth, failure of previous attempts to reduce tensions. The latest development comes after talks failed in July 2022. The M23 resurfaced after a ten-year hiatus in November 2021 when it started attacking FARDC positions in North Kivu. By March 2022, the group had captured areas along DRC’s border with Uganda and Rwanda and moved further towards the provincial capital, Goma. At the time, DRC-Rwanda relations soured and in July, both countries agreed to de-escalate tensions. However, the M23 reiterated: “We are Congolese, not Rwandan. If there's a ceasefire, it can only be between us and the Congolese government."
First, the M23 demands that the DRC government negotiates with and considers them as Congolese citizens and not link them with Rwanda. However, the government has not met this demand so far; the lack of negotiations, therefore, is likely to fortify the violence in the east. Simultaneously, the constant blame game between Kinshasa and Kigali over M23 activities could worsen the relationship between the two countries, which has been precarious since the 1990s.
Second, the involvement of the EAC commenced after DRC joined the regional trade bloc in April. With DRC’s inclusion, the EAC territory spans from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic, and DRC offers a vast market, not just in terms of consumers but also for its resources and minerals. However, the tensions and frequent recalling of diplomats between DRC and Rwanda hinder the smooth functioning and potential growth within the EAC as the DRC connects with other EAC members such as Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, and Tanzania.
Third, with the UN peacekeepers facing an increased backlash within DRC, the involvement of regional troops is a new option for the government and the people. The military may be able to quell the M23 as they did in 2013, however, they can neither address the insecurity stemming from other groups nor will they be able to establish peace in the region pursuing kinetic options alone.