A Simplistic Narrative used to distort the truth about The M23 Insurgency

 This simplistic narrative has overshadowed the numerous underlying causes of the conflict. It has also determined the intervention strategies at the expense of all other necessary measures like resolution of land conflicts, promotion of inter community reconciliation, economic development of the Eastern DRC, respect for human rights by state authorities and the reform of state administration.

As a result of focus on this one single narrative and on the solutions recommended, international efforts at peace building have failed in the East. International efforts have in effect contributed to the deterioration of the situation. Advocacy campaigns in Europe and America and humanitarian and peace building initiatives implemented in Eastern DRC by NGOs, all revolve around regulating trade in minerals and providing support to victims of sexual violence. The minerals trafficking narrative has diverted attention away from the need to resolve grassroots conflicts over land and power, local political and social antagonisms, hostile relationship between security forces and the population, reform the state administration,  deal with corruption at all levels of the political and economic  system and end the marginalization of Kinyarwanda speaking Congolese.

The minerals trafficking narrative has been given prominence by interviewers and investigators in the Eastern DRC who lack contextual knowledge and in-depth understanding of the conflicts. Apart from rare exceptions, international agencies involved in the DRC recruit their staff on the basis of their technical expertise either in humanitarian aid, peace building or diplomacy but not on their knowledge of the real issues prevailing in the DRC. Before deployment, these recruits benefit at best from a few days briefing on the DRC and therefore lack contextual knowledge upon arrival in the field. They over rely on information from Congolese authorities.  They lack access to the most unstable areas and they are unable to speak the local dialects eventually obtaining a very simplistic and obscure understanding of the conflict.

Superficial media, UN ‘’Panel of Experts’’ and NGOs are presently involved in a campaign aimed at demonizing M23 which serves to divert attention away from the historical nature of the root causes underlying the conflict.


In 1996 the Zairian government through the governors of North and South Kivu Provinces gave Kinyarwanda speaking Congolese of Tutsi origin an ultimatum to leave the country on the ground that they were not citizens of Zaire. Zairian forces were ordered to execute this decision. Following the decision many Congolese Tutsi were arrested, assaulted and driven across DRC’s border into Rwanda in an inhuman manner. This resulted in thousands of Congolese Kinyarwanda speaking people who had lived in the area for more than 200 years becoming non –citizens. Local Congolese and government troops in collaboration with Interahamwe militia and former Rwandan government forces, who had fled their country after committing a genocide that claimed the lives of more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus according to the United Nations, began attacking Congolese Tutsi in order to expel them out of Zaire. Thousands were driven off their land and their cattle and properties seized. They are still languishing in refugee camps in neighboring countries. The reaction to this xenophobic violence culminated into the creation of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (ADFL) which went on to capture power in Kinshasa. The then President of former Zaire (that changed name to Democratic Republic of Congo) Laurent Kabila fell out with his allies who had helped him to capture power two years earlier and  ordered their immediate withdrawal  from DRC. While executing his orders, Congolese Tutsis who were in the army were considered as foreigners and ordered to leave with the Rwandan Army. This resulted into the creation of another rebellion, the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) in 1998.

RCD signed a Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the Congolese government in 2003 but this agreement failed to address and resolve the issues that were the underlying causes of the recurrent wars in the country. These unresolved issues led to the creation of National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP).
CNDP signed a peace agreement on 23rd March 2009 with the Government of the DRC upon which CNDP were to have been  integrated into the Congolese army but three years on, the government having failed to implement the key terms agreed upon, reneged on the agreement. This resulted in the creation of M23 on 6th May 2012.


One of the key issues agreed upon on the signing of the 2009 agreement was the repatriation of refugees from Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi who have been living in exile for the last 18 years.  Rwanda alone has 56,000 of these refugees from the DRC. Nobody cares about the plight of these stateless people.  The Congolese government does not regard them as Congolese citizens and their land which was seized in the xenophobic frenzy that engulfed the Kivu Provinces in 1996, has been settled on by others. A structure from Ministerial level to be charged with national reconciliation was to have been created after the signing of the agreement and Reconciliation Committees created at grassroots levels in order to facilitate the resolution of problems arising out of ethnic conflicts. These structures were required to be in place to handle the challenges that were bound to arise with the repatriations. The government did nothing to put these structures in place and just a few of the refugees returned on their own while others were prohibited from returning by government officials.

Under the 2009 Agreement, a special Police Unit made of former elements of CNDP was to be trained and charged with securing the return of refugees but this was never implemented.  The same agreement had provided for the creation of a local permanent police force that was to protect the repatriated refugees among other duties but this too was not implemented.


Negative forces like Forces Democratiques pour la liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) continues to live and operate freely in the DRC forests. The situation is so absurd that FDLR who were supposed to have been neutralized are instead controlling the border point of Ishasha (crossing into Uganda) jointly with the DRC government. The government in Kinshasa has in effect relegated a part of DRC territory to a foreign rebel group. The FDLR have inflicted much suffering on the population of East DRC but have been supported and facilitated at different points in time by some high ranking officials in the Congolese army and government. In November 2012 there were two attacks on Rwanda by FDLR in which three Rwandan citizens were killed but this was hardly mentioned in the Western media probably because it would have indicated that Rwanda does have legitimate security concerns and this goes against the narrative perpetuated by the UN ‘’Group of Experts’’ and foreign NGOs.

Besides FDLR, Eastern DRC is a haven to 22 other militia groups among them is Allied Democratic Forces (ADF); a Ugandan rebel group whichhas consolidated its positions in Beni and Lubero territories of North Kivu and Front National de Liberation (FNL), a rebel group from Burundi which continues to use South Kivu for its mobilization. The rest are Congolese militia groups that commit atrocities against the population. All these groups were in existence well before the emergence of M23. This begs the question why the sudden obsession with M23?  The FDLR in contrast, never attracted nearly as much mobilization against them by the foreign NGOs, humanitarian groups and international observers yet their reign of terror and their record of ruthlessness is well known to all. Even more sinister are the threats of annihilation of M23 coming in the midst of ongoing negotiations spearheaded by regional countries. This appears to be potentially aimed at destabilization of the region.


HRW is bent on pursuing what can best be described as a smear campaign against M23. On 4th June 2012, HRW Advocacy Officer Ms. Ida Sawyer authored an article entitled ‘’DR Congo: Rwanda Should Stop Aiding War Crime Suspects’’. Ms. Sawyer claimed that M23 is a mutiny led by Bosco Ntaganda who is wanted on an ICC warrant since 2006 and the recruits were civilians forcibly recruited in Musonze and Rubavu districts in Rwanda some of whom are children. Interestingly when M23 marched into and out of Goma not a single child soldier was spotted in their ranks. Ms. Sawyer also claimed that ‘’witnesses’’ told HRW that Bosco Ntaganda remained in overall command of the forces. Six months later Inner City Press reported that HRW facilitated witnesses for their ‘’testimonies’’ against M23.

Ms.Sawyer alleged that Rwanda Defense Forces kidnapped teenage boys and forced them onto trucks destined for North Kivu. Once they got to Kivu they were reportedly shown how to use a gun and sent off to the frontline without any further training. Common sense dictates that if any of this was true then M23 would not have registered any success on the battlefield.  Ms. Sawyer also claimed that M23 used hammers to kill those who attempted to flee to the government troops. This unsubstantiated accusation is a deliberate attempt meant to portray M23 as killers.

M23 responded to HRW accusations in a letter dated 5th June 2012 in which they refuted all the accusations made against the Movement and extended an open invitation to HRW to visit the territory under M23 control.  M23 clarified that Bosco Ntaganda was not a member of the Movement and neither was it the responsibility of the Movement to track him down. They also reminded HRW that the top brass in the Congolese army met with Bosco Ntaganda in Goma in April 2012 and after the meeting Ntaganda freely walked away. Similarly, the international community under MONUSCO umbrella had supported the AMANI LEO (Peace today) operation in which Bosco Ntaganda was the deputy commander.

HRW did not visit M23 controlled territories but in December 2012 the same Ms. Sawyer authored another article entitled ‘’ Ending the Cycle of Abuse in Congo’’ in which she again maligned M23 accusing the Movement of summary executions of civilians including children.  This begs the question why HRW ignored the invitation extended to them by M23 and the assurance of unlimited access to the M23 controlled territory but instead continue to make profound yet unfounded accusations against the Movement.


Foreign NGOs have been falling over themselves to sensationalize the calamity caused by M23. At a press conference in Goma, Oxfam’s Congo director, Elodie Mortel, said 500,000 people have been displaced since April 2012 and that the ‘’vast swaths of the East have descended into chaos with no government or security in presence’’. No sooner was he done than an Oxfam Twitter message claimed more than 2 million people are displaced! Then there is Human Rights Watch making the loudest noise who interestingly have the capacity to see ‘’atrocities’’ committed by M23 in a few months but are totally blind to more havoc wrecked by FDLR and other groups over a longer period.  The reality is that civilians live in easy co-existence with M23 in the territory that M23 controls.
It is equally shocking the manner in which Congolese Kinyarwanda speaking people have been raped and killed in Eastern DRC by FDLR and the Congolese army, and when they stand up to demand for justice, somehow displacement of people becomes a much more serious crime than the rape and killing of people.

The media in Kinshasa, which should be putting the government to task to explain why the truce signed with CNDP has never been respected, is instead resorting to the hate speech of 1998 with some openly calling for the annihilation of Kinyarwanda speaking Congolese. Some government officials have joined in by going on radio and television and calling for annihilation of Kinyarwanda speakers claiming they are not Congolese which begs the question as to why then is the government of DRC locked in negotiations with ‘’Rwandan nationals’’ in Kampala?
The UN and humanitarian groups in DRC ignore the security threat to Congolese Kinyarwanda speaking people and instead focus on demonizing M23. There is a conspiracy to conceal what is happening in East DRC. The UN ‘’Group of Experts’’ report names of some Rwandan military officers for supposedly arming M23 but omit to name  those who are arming FDLR or those trading in minerals and illegal sale of charcoal with the FDLR, an activity that generates profits of approximately $30 million.

The mistake made by international actors involved in the DRC is to choose a side and treat the government as innocent and M23 as rogue soldiers.  On 22 May 2012 the All – Party Parliamentary Group on the African Great Lakes Region (APPG) hosted a roundtable meeting on Security Sector Reform (SSR) in the DRC with Thierry Vircoulon, the International Crisis Group Project Director for Central Africa who is on record for stating to IRIN that ‘’ Everyone is worried about M23 because of its leaders and their involvement in killings in the past and there is no access to those areas ( controlled by M23 ) at the moment’’, which is not true in light of a written invitation M23 extended to HRW on 5th July 2012 to visit the territory under M23 control.

On 19th July 2012 the All – Party Parliamentary Group on the African Great Lakes Region (APPG) tabled and contributed to a parliamentary debate on the security situation in the DRC based on the information received from Thierry Vircoulon as well as other sources that did not include any input from M23 yet the issue of Rwanda’s supposed involvement in the M23 mutiny was discussed


Members of the peacekeeping mission have been known to connive with and facilitate FDLR whose top commanders are responsible for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.  In 2009 some members of MONUC which preceded MONUSCO, connived with FDLR by facilitating the sick FDLR commander Silvestre Mudacumura to access medical treatment.  Having found it difficult to airlift Mudacumura to Congo Brazzaville, one Christian Manhal, a then MONUC coordinator in East DRC, in collaboration with MONUC’s intelligence chief connived with FDLR leadership and sympathizers in Europe to bring in medical doctors Jerome Gasana and Francois Goujon who arrived in Kisangani and entered the Walikale region under MONUC’s highly guarded secret operation.  MONUC denied that their staff were involved in this operation and commissioned no inquiry to ascertain the truth. This secret operation coupled with the strategy of international NGOs like Human Rights Watch who campaigned to stop military operations against FDLR reveals an international network that supports FDLR.

Earlier in April 2008, a BBC investigation found that MONUC troops had traded arms and UN rations for gold and ivory from FDLR.

In August 2012 it came to light that MONUSCO and the Kinshasa government had sought the support of a Mai Mai militia group in North Kivu to help fight M23. The militia group is known for its aversion to Congolese Kinyarwanda speaking people. Their leader Janvier Karairi said he was asked by a visiting group comprising of a UN representative, a Member of Parliament, Mwami Bahati, who is also a tribal chief and a commander of the military zone in North Kivu to form an alliance with the Congolese army to fight M23.


M23 demands for political reform in DRC and a roadmap to local elections with a clear goal of legitimizing local leaders.

M23 demands for a solution that guarantees protection for Kinyarwanda speaking people in the DRC. Hundreds of them have been made stateless and those who remain in the DRC risk annihilation. Congolese Kinyarwanda speaking people can no longer tolerate being considered as half citizens for the purpose of political expedience.  Denying them citizenship rights serves to divert attention away from the real issue of failure of governance in the DRC.

M23 demands for a process of community reconciliation in the East, resolution of land conflicts, return of misappropriated properties, the creation of a community police force and a legitimate local administration that carries a local mandate.

M23 demands for a system of governance that would allow the East and other regions to garner more authority in their affairs including security and full representation in the legislature as well as sharing of the national resources.

The government in Kinshasa has long absconded from its responsibility to provide security and social services to its citizens in the East. Government authority is absent in most parts of the East and North East of the country. MONUSCO has demonstrated ineptitude that has ranged from incompetence in the face of attacks against civilians to allegations of criminal behavior like rape, poaching and selling firearms to militia groups.

Kabila does not appear to have any coherent plan for resolving the underlying issues in East DRC. The state is more a fiction than reality. There is little semblance of a state in most of the country. What the international community insists, recognizes and accepts as a state is a greedy syndicate of politicians and elites in Kinshasa who are involved in grabbing and stealing the country’s resources to stash abroad. The army goes without pay for months and survives by extorting from and robbing the population. Congolese in the East survive inspite of the state rather than with the support of the state. Many Congolese citizens are protected by their own ethnic militias from harassment by government soldiers. The international community in its ignorance as well as self- interest is defending this broken down government against the legitimate grievances of victims who have taken up arms to challenge this injustice.

The international community continues to shield the Congolese elites in Kinshasa from seeking internal social integration and from building a viable state.  Using Rwanda and Uganda as scapegoats, claiming they are the source of the problem will not solve the deeply entrenched problem of governance failure in the DRC. Angolans and other regional forces may only give temporary support to prop up Kabila’s government in the East. It is an unlikely scenario that the DRC government will be able to restore control over the East.

East DRC needs a strong disciplined political and military movement that will impose order and create security paving the way for legitimate local administration. M23 has the capacity to step up to the task and restore order. The Movement has established security in the territory it controls and has set up structures to collect customs duties and taxes for the purposes of security maintenance, road repairs and local administration.

To resolve the problems of the DRC would require a domestically generated solution and not human rights advocacy. It would require the examination of sources of tension and place the search for internal political accommodation above the need to please poorly informed outsiders.  Disenfranchising of the Kinyarwanda speaking Congolese by the state must cease and political agreements signed in the Kivu Provinces need to be properly implemented.

Note: Diana. S. Katabarwa is freelance columnist for African Global Village covering the Great Lakes Region.


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