Congo conflict: Who is telling the truth on M23 rebels

In an effort to prevent an escalation of the rebellion in the Central African country, Kabila flew to Kampala, Uganda, to meet Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda, and Yoweri Museveni, president of Uganda.
After the Kampala meeting, which among other things, urged for a cease fire in Congo’s North Kivu province, President Kabila who had earlier refused to negotiate with rebels promised to work on their demands.
With Goma falling in the hands of M23, government soldiers and police defecting to the rebels there’s was no any other choice but to renegotiate with Congolese rebel fighters.
It’s obvious that the Congolese President is in a difficult situation; first, he was in talks with the two leaders he has accused of supporting the M23 rebels in Kampala on Wednesday, and secondly, he is also forced to renegotiate with the fighters who have threatened to topple his regime.
While in the past twelve months, the Kinshasa regime has repeatedly accused Kigali and Kampala of supporting the M23 rebel group, the so-called United Nations’ Group of Experts, in two different reports issued during the past twelve months, has also issued the same accusations spoiling the already fragile relationship within the region.
Though there wasn’t any strong evidence issued to back the accusations apart from a transcript of phone calls, and some testimonies from the defected soldiers, the Western world and the United Nations, have chosen to believe the gospel according to the Group of Experts.
What’s M23?
But, in the mid of these allegations, no one has taken an initiative to ask some basic questions about who is really telling the truth? Who is M23 and how did it become a threat to the Kinshasa regime?
To understand the situation in North Kivu Province, first of all, one needs to know the origin of M23, which emerged about seven months ago.
The new rebel group called M23 gets its name from the date of a 2009 peace agreement, which was signed between a former militia group backed by Rwanda (called CNDP) and the Congolese National Army (FARDC).
According to the available evidence, the M23 is mostly made up of soldiers from a previous rebel movement that threatened to seize control of Goma, a city of one million people, in 2008.
The rebels and the government signed a peace deal on March 23, 2009, that called for the rebels to be integrated into the national army. The M23 is named after that agreement.
But the pact fell apart this April, and as many as 700 soldiers, mostly former rebels, defected from the military and launched the M23 movement. This time they didn’t stop on the outskirts of Goma, as they did in 2008.
The rebel group, which is also known as the Congolese Revolutionary Army, is believed to have backing from Rwandan government, and is said to have access to advanced weapons, night-vision goggles and 120mm mortars.
This is just a mere belief because so far DRC or UN to prove that Rwanda is backing this faction has issued no any concrete evidence. What we witnessed in the past two months was the inclusion of Uganda as another supporter and financial backer of the M23 a situation that triggered a serious diplomatic row between Kampala and New York—with the Yoweri Museveni government threatening to withdraw its peace keeping forces from Somalia.
So if the March 23, 2009 peace agreement was signed between the Congolese government and the militia group called CNDP, was it really honoured and nurtured by both parties especially the Kinshasa government?
According to the M23 spokesperson, Lieutenant Colonel Vianney Kazarama, the peace agreement wasn’t honoured by the Kinshasa regime as agreed. We are told that one of the agreements was that all rebels be integrated within the Congolese national army, promoted to the top military ranks and to allow the return of all Congolese Tutsi origin refugees to return back to their country DRC.
It was also agreed that the Kinshasa regime should introduce good governance, fight corruption and above all alleviate poverty, but till April, this year little efforts were shown by the DRC regime to fulfill its pledge.
“Within Kabila’s government, the M23 are seen as foreigners mainly Tutsi originating from Rwanda and therefore cannot be integrated within the government … it’s appalling to see that the people who have lived there for over hundred years are today called aliens and denied their political, economic and social rights,” a senior security official from Rwandese government told me two weeks ago in Kigali.
But, if these politics of exclusion were applied fairly and equally, even President Kabila lacks the originality of Democratic Republic of Congo and some of his opponents also see him as an alien.
It’s therefore appalling to see that his government still believes in such cheap politics of exclusion, which to my understanding is what has caused serious problems in this region during the past five decades of postcolonial era. One day, I will narrate this subject very well because to my understanding, it’s one of most distorted topic always told by non-Africans who pretend to know more about Africans just by reading books written by one sided scholars from Europe and US.
As a journalist, my belief is that I stand a better chance to tell my story African story more than foreigners. The danger is that if we cannot tell our own story, someone else notably the foreigners will do and when they do, it will be done in their own ways to suit their needs.
Has M23 joined FDLR?
On November 21, this year, the Washington Post quoting Associated Press reported that M23 had joined forces with another rebel faction known as Forum for Democratic Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).
The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda is the primary remnant Rwandan Hutu Power rebel group in the east of the of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
It is often referred to simply as the FDLR after its original French name: the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda. It has been involved in fighting from its formation on 30 September 2000 throughout the last phase of the Second Congo War and the fighting which has continued since then. It is composed almost entirely of ethnic Hutus opposed to Tutsi rule and influence in the region.
Now if this is the situation, then the question we should ask the UN and DRC is: How could Rwanda back the rebel faction which is allied to FDLR a rebel group operating in Congo freely but with a mission to overthrow Paul Kagame and his government?
Was it an operation to rout Rwandese enemies or was it another scramble for natural resources?
Since the end of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, FDLR and its affiliates have made DRC their stronghold, regrouping and also raising funds as well as fighters to overthrow the Kagame regime. When Rwanda sensed that it was in danger because of this group in 2000 it deployed it troops in collaboration with Uganda to oust all the Hutu militias in DRC.
Though the mission was tainted with the allegations of natural resources looting mainly minerals, which then prompted the fight between Rwanda and Uganda forces, it objective according to Kigali was achieved.
Following the international outcry, the Rwandan and Ugandan move was seen as an invasion of the Congolese territory and therefore the two allies were forced to pull out of Congo. But, it was also agreed that the Kinshasa government with the support from United Nations peacekeeping forces, should restore peace in DRC as well as ending the free movement of Hutus rebels in the country.
It’s nearly eleven years today; neither the DRC regime nor the UN peacekeeping forces have restored peace in Eastern Congo. Rebel factions in Eastern Congo have killed millions of people, thousands have fled their homes and security in the area has remained fragile.
To some analysts like Dr Peter Erlinder, the invasion had nothing to do with fighting Hutus militia, and was just a well-planned mission to control the vast natural resources of Congo.
This school of thought overrules the security threat posed by the presence of rebel factions in DRC, which have always vowed to capture Rwanda one day — no matter how long it takes.
To put things into perspective, which country in the world would be comfortable with a neighbour who shelters rebel factions aimed at destroying that country one day? The United States of America and United Kingdom invaded Afghanistan and Iraq located thousands of miles away just because those countries were considered a threat to Washington and London regimes.
They called it a war on terror in Afghanistan, while in Iraq they called it a war against weapons of mass destruction. They have got away with it as the world watched helplessly. Israel did the same thing when it bombed Gaza in what it described as operation against security threats caused by the Hamas militia.
It’s therefore absurd and unfair to think that Rwanda will always be comfortable while its biggest enemies, the Hutu militias, are freely re-grouping in DRC with a purpose of overthrowing the Kigali regime one day. In fact, the Rwandans have a better understanding of how this system works, because it’s the same thing that the Rwandese Patriotic Front did in the 1990s, when it re-grouped and grew in Uganda just a few years after helping Museveni capture Kampala regime.
After helping Museveni to achieve what he described in his book, “Sowing the Mustard Seed” as the second liberation of Uganda, the RPF fighters mainly Tutsi who fled Rwanda in 1960s and 1970s led by Prince Rwigema wanted the then Kigali regime to allow them to return back to their country.
During those days, I remember very well how the Hutu led government under President Habyarimana ignored Museveni’s advice, which urged Rwanda to consider negotiating with Tutsi elite whom majority of then fled the country in 1960s, 70s and 80s.
To the Habyarimana regime, negotiating with ‘Inyenzi’ a Kinyarwanda word for cockroaches or allowing them to return back in their country was an impossible option. However by the time Habyarimana remembered to negotiate with RPF in 1990s in Arusha, it was too late and we all know what finally transpired in Rwanda in 1994.
Because of its geographic characteristics, poor infrastructure and the size of the country, there are many rebel factions in DRC than any other country in the world.
The truth is that Congolese regime under President Joseph Kabila cannot control or disarm these rebel factions operating in the Eastern part of the country because first of all it doesn’t have a credible army to undertake the assignment. It’s the same story with the UN peacekeeping missions because in Africa, they have performed more abysmally than our regional forces.
Today, there’s stability in Somalia because of the AMISOM forces supported by Kenya Defence Forces. UN forces tried but failed dramatically, leading to the fragility of peace in the horn of Africa nation during the past two decades.
It was the same UN forces, which failed to stop the 1994 Rwandan genocide—causing the killings of about one million Rwandans. That’s why today, leaders like President Jakaya Kikwete and President Museveni want Africa especially the Great Lakes region to play a leading role in ending the conflict in DRC.
Since the AMISOM has succeeded in Somalia, then African leaders especially from the Great Lakes region believe that the same method should be applied in DRC – which they call a ‘homegrown solution’.
But, there’s also another lie told by western scholars such as Erlander that the fight in Congo is mainly about the resources meaning Rwanda and Uganda invaded the Central African nation because they wanted to loot its resources.
However, these western scholars do not talk about the Chinese presence and its impacts to the stability of DRC, where by the end of last year China had invested about $9 billion in the Central African nation.
Wenran Jiang wrote in 2009, “Since achieving independence five decades ago The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been ravaged by a dictatorship, war and political strife. Although large in territory and rich in mineral and other precious raw materials, the DRC is a failed state that has been seemingly incapable of maintaining any semblance of stability. With the lowest ranking per capita GDP, life expectancy, literacy rate and a host of other human development indicators, it suffers from rampant corruption on a level of pandemic proportions.”
“ Despite an election in 2006 and the deployment of the largest UN peacekeeping mission in history (18,000 troops), war looms in Congo’s Eastern region as clashes between rebel forces and the central government have already displaced up to a million people (All Africa, November 10, 2008).
At the same time, large-scale mining contracts and other economic activities have flowed into the DRC in recent years owing to the global boom in demand for raw materials. China—a relatively new comer in this new scramble has committed to $9 billion for investment in the DRC last year, thus becoming one of the most influential players in the Congolese economy almost overnight.” Jiang wrote in the report titled Chinese Inroads in DR Congo: A Chinese “Marshall Plan” or Business?
They don’t talk about the Western imperialists who have looted the DRC resources since 1960s till today. They don’t tell whole truth that a fragile and unsafe DRC is good for the looters, because it’s easy to steal the country’s vast resources.
Rwanda’s hefty price of refusal to comply
Congo is perhaps the richest country on the planet in terms of natural resources. It is the storehouse of strategic and precious minerals that are vital to the functioning of modern society. Its minerals are key to the consumer electronics industry, the technology industry, automotive, aerospace and military industries.
Its diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt, uranium, timber, iron, tin, tungsten, and coltan (mineral that is central to the functioning of our cell phones, laptops and other technology and electronic devices) are coveted from China to America. Due to Congo’s strategic location in the heart of African and the lust for her wealth by powerful nations have repeatedly intervened in the Congo over the past 125 years.
Congo is literally and figuratively the heart of Africa and the fulcrum on which the African continent swings. Former South African president Thabo Mbeki says, “There is no new Africa without a new Congo.” And president Obama proclaims, “If Africa is to achieve its promise resolving the problem in the Congo will be critical.”
Congo’s Potential
In spite of the remarkable challenges faced by the Congolese people, those challenges can be overcome, especially in light of the remarkable human and natural potential that exists in the Congo.
Congo has the agricultural potential to feed the entire world through 2050 when the world’s population is expected to be 9 billion. Congo also has the hydro capacity to provide electricity to the entire African continent with some left over to export to Southern Europe and the Middle East. Congo is also part of the second largest rainforest in the world and is vital to the fight against climate change and global warming.
While Western countries thought the new regime in DRC would have continued with “business as usual” by accommodating their interests in terms of allocating a big chunk of the country’s vast resources to their companies, what has taken place since the end of Mobutu regime is the opposite.
The Kinshasa regime decisions to revive its ties with China—an ally and also threat to the Western world, angered the same major players in Europe. This move has never been received well within the circles of the masters of the universe from the Western world, who wanted to continue their dominance over DRC after the ousting of Mobutu regime. France and Belgium, the former allies of Mobutu regime also thought, “they have been left in the cold” by the current DRC regime.
There’s impeccable evidence of how the same western country approached Rwanda in the past three years, convincing the country to turn hostile against its neighbours in DRC because the latter has failed to wipe out Hutus militias, which cause major threat to Kigali regime.
When Rwanda refused to buy the doctrine, the very same masters through their foreign intelligence turned to DRC, this time around telling the Kinshasa regime that its biggest enemy wasn’t just the dozens of rebel factions in its territory, but the Kigali regime, which backs them.
In a well-calculated move, two reports by the UN’Group of Experts were released—with more attacks directed at the Rwanda regime. While in 2009, the very same Group of Experts released a report accusing FDLR of planning major attacks against Kigali regime with backing from some dissidents Congolese including the Dar es Salaam based businessman Bandi Ndaguze, in the next two years the heat was turned to Rwanda.
Suddenly, the once Western darling was an enemy of peace and stability in DRC, and big donors including USA, UK and Netherlands cut their aid to Kigali regime citing the leaked UN report, which was authored by what Rwanda described as “the Hutu sympathiser”—Steve Hege.
Steve Hege the coordinator of the UN Group of Experts, has, for long sympathized with and advocated for the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). The FDLR, a militia group based in the DRC, comprises elements responsible for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis and moderate Hutus that left more than one million people dead.
To those who closely monitored the politics of Great Lakes region especially the insiders, what transpired following the leaked UN report was just a well-planned move to punish Rwandan regime for its failure to dance into the tune of the mastersthe Western donors, senior official from the Kagame’s inner circle told me two weeks ago in Kigali.
It’s beyond Rwanda and Uganda it’s about vast natural resources
For independent analysts of the DRC situation, the conflict is beyond just Rwanda and Uganda supporting some rebel factions. It’s about the clashes of the interests of the superpowers, Europe, USA and China.
Having reported major stories in the Great Lakes region in 1990s, I came across the slogan that when Congo bleeds, some multinationals make super profit out of the bleeding nation. They sell arms to rebel groups, the government and in return, they get timbers and minerals.
However, the entering of China in post Mobutu Congo has highly spoiled the party. According to a report compiled by Global Witness, the Chinese partners to the Congo deal promised to provide $9 billion finance for nationwide construction of roads, railways, hospitals, schools and dams, as well as for mine development. In exchange, the Congolese government pledged to provide the companies with up to ten million tonnes of copper and hundreds of thousands of tonnes of cobalt from mines in the southeastern province of Katanga.
Total revenues from the mines could come to at least $40 billion, even reaching as high a figure as $120 billion. This amounts to roughly four to eleven times Congo’s GDP. In simple mathematics, China has invested $9 billion in infrastructure development in forms of loan, but in return, the Asian tiger would earn between $40 and $120 billion from the Central Africa’s vast mineral resources.
With the US battling the aftermath of the credit crunch, and Europe struggling with limping economy clouded with Greece bailout and austerity measures, none of these superpowers was able to beat China’s spending spree in Democratic Republic of Congo.
Western intelligence analysts viewed the deal as “too much” giving to the Chinese by the Congolese regime. To understand the reaction of the Western world, one needs to read a report by a think-tank, Global witness titled, “China and Congo: Friends in need”.
“ This potential mutual benefit should not be squandered; indeed, few people deserve to “win” more than the people of Congo who are among the poorest and most vulnerable on Earth. While the
deal is no less transparent than many other mining deals signed by the Congolese government, a lack of information makes it impossible for the Congolese to judge how beneficial it will be for their country.
“There is a famous Chinese proverb, referring to risk-taking and gambling. Roughly translated into English, it reads: “If you must play, decide upon three things at the start: the rules of the game, the stakes, and the quitting time”. In Global Witness’ view neither the rules nor the stakes have been made clear,” says a report by Global Witness issued in 2011.
To the views of many western analysts, the China-Congo deal wasn’t a win-win situation as claimed, but is just another rip-off deal that was sealed behind closed doors with no any information available to the public on how the barter trade would be transacted.
Whether President Kabila and his regime understand their instability and insecurity is beyond Rwanda and Uganda is not clear but what we do know is that Kinshasa regime strongly believe that their biggest enemies are the two neighbours.
It’s a grave mistake to view the Congolese conflict as a creation of just two counties, Rwanda and Uganda. Congo is more than Uganda and Rwanda in terms of history, resources and geographical size. It’s a grave mistake to think that the powerful forces at work that planned and assassinated the former Congolese Prime Minister, Patrick Lumumba, have vanished or were swallowed by the end of the cold war.
Lumumba, the first legally elected prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), was assassinated 51 years ago — on 17 January 1961. According to a report published by the UK’s Guardian newspaper in January last year, this heinous crime was a culmination of two inter-related assassination plots by American and Belgian governments, which used Congolese accomplices and a Belgian execution squad to carry out the deed.
Ludo De Witte, the Belgian author of the best book on this crime, qualifies it as “the most important assassination of the 20th century”. The assassination’s historical importance lies in a multitude of factors, the most pertinent being the global context in which it took place, its impact on Congolese politics since then and Lumumba’s overall legacy as a nationalist leader.
For 126 years, the US and Belgium have played key roles in shaping Congo’s destiny. In April 1884, seven months before the Berlin Congress, the US became the first country in the world to recognise the claims of King Leopold II of the Belgians to the territories of the Congo Basin.
When the atrocities related to brutal economic exploitation in Leopold’s Congo Free State resulted in millions of fatalities, the US joined other world powers to force Belgium to take over the country as a regular colony. And it was during the colonial period that the US acquired a strategic stake in the enormous natural wealth of the Congo, following its use of the uranium from Congolese mines to manufacture the first atomic weapons, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs.
“With the outbreak of the cold war, it was inevitable that the US and its western allies would not be prepared to let Africans have effective control over strategic raw materials, lest these fall in the hands of their enemies in the Soviet camp. It is in this regard that Patrice Lumumba’s determination to achieve genuine independence and to have full control over Congo’s resources in order to utilise them to improve the living conditions of our people was perceived as a threat to western interests.
“To fight him, the US and Belgium used all the tools and resources at their disposal, including the United Nations secretariat, under Dag Hammarskjöld and Ralph Bunche, to buy the support of Lumumba’s Congolese rivals, and hired killers.” Reported the UK’s Guardian in a report published on January 17, 2011.
The assassination took place at a time when the country had fallen under four separate governments: the central government in Kinshasa (then Léopoldville); a rival central government by Lumumba’s followers in Kisangani (then Stanleyville); and the secessionist regimes in the mineral-rich provinces of Katanga and South Kasai, the report further said.
Since Lumumba’s physical elimination had removed what the west saw as the major threat to their interests in the Congo, internationally led efforts were undertaken to restore the authority of the moderate and pro-western regime in Kinshasa over the entire country. These resulted in ending the Lumumbist regime in Kisangani in August 1961, the secession of South Kasai in September 1962, and the Katanga secession in January 1963.
The question we need to ask ourselves today is whether the motive that caused the assassination of Lumumba is still there or it vanished together with the end of the cold war. The truth is that these secret forces are still powerful, and determined to succeed on their main goal to ensure that DRC isn’t stable and its resources benefit the chosen few in the developed world and some of their stooges in Africa.
There are bigger and more powerful players in DRC conflict than the names of Kagame and Museveni. If a thorough investigation, not by the biased UN Group of Experts, but by independent and credible investigators, was to be conducted, the final findings would shock the world because the culprits among others would be the Western world and China.
Some African countries, which are named in this conflict, are just mere spectators. Even if these countries were allowed to access Congo’s vast natural resources, their capacity to loot would be only just 0.01 percent because first of all they have no technology to loot, let alone having the size of the economy that can absorb the country’s enormous resources and a market to sell their looted resources without being detected.
So why would the Western world turn its attention to ‘minor thieves’, while at the same time turning a blind eye to the biggest looters from the developed world?

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