M23: A BIG THORN IN KABILA’S FOOT source: The Bridge newsmagazine
It’ is 5.Am and we have just gone through the immigration procedures on the Uganda side at bunagana border crossing. Shortly after, we walk the 50 meters into the DRC side. A middle aged man clad in neat military fatigues smilingly approaches us surprisingly calling out one of us “Bart Kakooza, I have been waiting for you since 2 pm”. He exclaimed with excitement. “Welcome to our DRC,” he adds while smiling. He confidently introduces himself as one of the M23 Rebel fighters that has been assigned to take care of us during our stay in their territory.
We are led to a parked numberless- almost brand new grey Nissan Patrol. “Excuse our roads. They are not like yours in Uganda. These are mere tracks” he mused. We are joined by three AK 47 wilding mean looking men clad in unruffled camouflage as our escorts. It takes about 1 hour to drive, he continuously laments the social and economic decay as well as the marginalization subjected to the people of North Kivu by the government in Kinshasa. “It is this and many other reasons that we are fighting Kabila government,” he explains.
After the night fall, we come to understand that March 23 movement Rebels (Mouvement du 23 mars) popularly known as M23 was formed on 4th April 2012 when more than 300 soldiers a Number of them former members of CNDP turned against the DRC government accusing it of poor conditions in the army and the unwillingness to implement the 23 March 2009 peace deal the DRC government had signed with them. In fact, they (M23) draw their name from the date of signing the peace deal (March 23rd).
Accusations, war of words and struggle for Power
“he who states his case first seems right until the other Examines him!” since mid 1012, United Nation’s (UN) arms like human Rights Watch have been accusing M23 rebels of committing various abuses against civilians in Rutshuru territory and Goma the provincial town. Some of the abuses according to United Nation’s Human Rights Watch include; summary executions, rapes and forced recruitment. On the contrary the M23 rebels vehemently deny the accusations. “These are Kabila’s lies to hoodwink the international community into thinking that we are a mere bunch of thugs,” says General Sultani Makenga the overall commander. “If we are terrorizing civilians how come they comfortably live near our bases without fear,” pointing at the homesteads and people in the periphery of Rumangabo barracks.
Rumangabo is the Second largest military barracks in the DRC that in now under the control of M23. It is here that Sultan Makenga in an exclusive interview told us that the so called atrocities were committed by Kabila army together with Mai Mai militias. (Minova rape, Katanga rape)
Rutshuru town is a vibrant town with people going about their business as rebels also mind their own. There seem to be peaceful coexistence between the Two.
Tembo, not his real name- a vendor in Rutshuru market told the bridge News-magazine that they have no choice. “we have been in war not only caused by M23, but various rebel groups even before M23 came here like the Mai Mai who most of the time attack us and loot our small properties and destabilize villages. We even work with their (Mai Mai) wives and relatives in this market. Surprisingly, neither the UN nor the Kinshasa Government has come to our rescue. But at least since M23 took control of this area, attacks have reduced. I think m23 is strong.”
At a glance, the Eastern Congo population is struck by misery, stress, despair and uncertainly of what the future holds for them. “Before the Rebels came here, we had sleepless nights, less or no activities were taking place but now we can do business, our children can go to school and there is some relative peace but we don’t know whether the Rebels will also abandon us or turn against us”, says one Hotel owner in Rutshuru town.
The civilian situation seems to be in accordance with what one prominent writer chancellor Williams, author of “The destruction of the black civilization” that in situations where the master has more control, the slaves can even believe in the right to suffer since they have no option but to suffer since they have no option but to adapt to suffering”. Most eastern Congolese are seemingly submissive to whoever takes control of them. They say Kinshasa government and other groups that that terrorize them. “UN soldiers (MONUSCO) have been here claiming that they are keeping peace but before the rebels took control of this place there have been various attacks by different militia groups even some civilians are armed,” says Katenga, another vendor in Rutshuru market…
There Civilian population is spiteful of the government in Kinshasa “Kinshasa army is cowed and cannot even provide the little security these people enjoy under the rebel controlled territory,” says Fidel Matofali, coordinator of culture Association “ KUSEMA KWELI” a local based organization that sensitizes the population about health related issues. “In truth insecurity in eastern Congo is rampant peace,” he asserted. He said that in Goma where the rebels were asked to pull out, there is more insecurity than there is in Rutshuru and other Rebel controlled territories. “Here people are free they can walk even at late night and are not scared like it is the case in Goma town.” He adds.
With an already established pseudo stricture of government like the executive, military and police departments, the rebels unanimously rubbish allegations and accusations of the UN and other parties that their rebel group is primarily made up of Tutsis who oppose the Hutu’s power militia known as FDLR (Democratic Force for the liberation of Rwanda) and the Mai Mai Militias. “ The major cause of Problems is that some individuals in this country feel are more Congolese than others a problem that was planted by Europeans though a meeting they held in Berlin, German (The Berlin conference) to divide Africa, When these people where dividing Africa they never consulted our forefathers whether they were Congolese, Rwandese, Ugandans, Burundians, Sudanese ect. This created a precarious situation Congo finds itself today,” says Kabasha Amani M23 chief communication coordinator. “We are fighting for the Liberation of Congo and we are convinced it is our responsibility. Congo is ours, not for UN we have been suffering for the last 50 and more years when UN is watching even right now. We are Congolese and we must solve our internal problems.” He added.
…Col. Innocent Kaina, the M23 operation commander confidently said that they have given kabila enough time but he seems not to listen to their Demands. “Some of us have spent all our life struggling, our parent and relatives have been in refugee camps and in neighboring countries for most of their lives because some people are sitting in Kinshasa and so don’t care about what is happening elsewhere. We want liberate our people because we have the capacity. We are aware that this country has everything and it has many enemies but we will liberate it” he added.
Meanwhile, On march 28 2013, the UN security council unanimously approved the creation of a brigade of more than 2.500 troops with a mandate to conduct “targeted offensive operations” against Rebels in Eastern DRC. And it estimated that there are over 16 rebel groups operating in DRC. South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi are mustering the forces. The UN force is expected to consist of three battalions, an artillery company, a reconnaissance company and Special Forces. But M23 is convinced that the resolution was only passed to target their group.
“It is surprising the UN which is supposed to be a body of peace is now turning into a war monger body. We don’t know why they are planning to attack us when the peace talks are still going on in Kampala. Perhaps this means Kabila is not willing to negotiate with us. He is using this Time to mobilize military support instead of understanding why we are fighting him. I think UN needs to review its strategy otherwise, these are going to be too much bloodshed and yet we are fighting to have peace in our country” lamented Bertrand Bisimwa, The M23 chairman (Political leader).
The M23 Fighters seem not bothered about the impending UN assault. General Sultani Makenga who seemed confident and Ready to face any attack by UN troops told the Bridge, “we are fighting Kabila not UN and our demands are clear but if UN attacks us we shall defend ourselves and our country.” He warned UN of not meddling in Congo matters because it is going to cause more bloodshed. “we have been working to eastablish peace and improve the lives of our people.”UN should first know why we are fighting. We are just fighting to liberate our country” said General Makenga.
M23 insist they are not in the category of the other rebels in the DRC most of whom they dismiss as mere bandits. “We have a just cause for why we are fighting so we are not Kony rebels. And even the population knows that. You have been here you have visited various communities in this area. Would a criminal rebel Group allow you to talk to everyone here? Even when we are fighting against FARDC (Government forces) the masses walk with us. Would a criminal be tolerated by civilians? Kabasha asked.
The dawn of 20 November 2012 announced the realization of M23’s dreams as Kabila’s Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) faith was blighted, confidence destroyed, consciousness of their hopes tone and their love for the advancing M23 fighters. M23 paraded in the provincial capital Goma with many residents welcoming them. A source told the Bridge that more than 36 new Nissan patrol vehicles were captured, over 30 fuel tanks acquired as well as many containers full of modern arms and ammunitions of assorted shipping containers, plus about six artillery pieces including rocket launchers all abandoned by National forces (FARDC). “When we attacked Goma, we were able to get all that modern forces would require. Our “ father kabila” provided everything, “ an M23 fighter sarcastically retorted. This way, the Rebels say, have been able to acquire the military hardware and attire which UN accuse them of being supplied by Rwanda and possibly Uganda.
Experts say the war in the DRC is the widest interstate war in modern African history. Congo is a milieu in which numerous home and foreigner players hide. The war, centered mainly in eastern Congo, had involved 9 African nations and directly affected the lives of 50 million Congolese. The conflicts in East have provoked a tense drift towards the disintegration of state authority throughout the country. While the local and International media puts emphasis on the Eastern Congo because of its unending wars, many parts of this Africa’s second largest country have ceased to function normally throughout the Country. This is reflected in education, judiciary, and health structures that have collapsed with services dependent on under the table payments as well as the government’s powerlessness to provide basic services. Perhaps this is why M23 rebels accuse the Government of pervasive corruption especially by army officers.
One bitter challenger for kabila’s Government is that most top leaders in M23 defected from the national army (Fardc) where they had had served for a while thus they know very well the weakest and softest part of their former national forces and the government in general which seem not have changed or improved in anyway.
Besides, there is evidence that the Congolese military suffers from low morale, weak command and control, widespread corruption, poor operations planning among others. It has also been accused by both locals in Rutshuru where they have been charging civilians “Tax ya muguu” And Human rights watch as well as prior UN Reports have implicated Congolese soldiers in running lucrative mineral smuggling rackets and carrying out abuses against civilians to carrying out abuses against civilians. They are also said to have been responsible for widespread looting in Rutshuru and Kiwanja on July 8 and 25 last year, where they looted various homes and forced dozens of civilians to carry their belongings. All this violence is already an advantage and a tick to M23 who are now controlling an area estimated at 15.000sqkm with a possible population of 3 million. Kabila therefore, might not have an option but to negotiate with M23 rebels or appeal to UN and regional state partners for help. As on the look of things, the M23 are deeply entrenched in their territory and forcefully uprooting them may not be the solution. The other observation is that if the UN goes ahead to implement the resolution, it may turn out to be the biggest mistake the Word body will have made since its creation.
The Bridge NewsMagazine