Africa: Who Pulls The Strings in Eastern Congo? (analysis)

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Burco(BM)-Considered an overview, this piece combines a wide range of events, observations, and consequent thoughts on the current situation in the eastern DRC. Focusing on M23 rebels, DRC government, and the UN mission it will also take into account main other dynamics and actors.

An accumulation of events

In the last few weeks, the often low-intensity conflict in eastern Democratic Republic Congo (DRC) became not so low in intensity with newsworthy events unfolding on an almost daily basis. North of Goma fresh clashes broke out between the Congolese armed forces (FARDC) and the notorious M23 rebel movement.

During the ensuing bombing, various neighbourhoods in Goma were hit, as well as Rwandan territory in Rubavu district, bordering the DRC. The UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo, MONUSCO, for the first time engaged in offensive operations through its newly created Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) and faced fierce protests from residents of Goma resulting in tumultuous scenes in the bustling border town. One peacekeeper was killed andthe shelling of Rubavu provoked a military build-up by the Rwandan army on the border. After several days of joint FARDC-MONUSCO offensives (with losses suffered), M23 retreated from Kibati and announced a unilateral ceasefire, asking for the Kampala peace talks to resume.

Relations between the DRC government and its Rwandan counterparts have hit rock bottom and both regional and international mediation efforts have ground to a temporary halt. With opinions varying between anticipation of a window of opportunity and imminent regional war it is time to ask: Who pulls the strings, what is at stake, and why do things happen?

Shelling and protests in Goma

Skirmishes between FARDC and M23 resumed on August 23rd between Kibati and Kibumba at a spot locally known as ‘three antennae’. The following day, the city of Goma was hit by heavy shelling. Grenades landed close to the Mugunga IDP camps and in the busy neighbourhoods of Ndosho, Katindo, and Birere. Explosions were also reported from nearby sites in Rwanda. A total of at least four people died in a sequence of attacks which left dozens wounded, another two casualties resulted from a rocket that targeted the village of Kanyarucinya. On the Rwandan side, casualties have also been reported.

The renewed bombing of North Kivu’s capital created a climate of chaos and fear among residents. A few hours after the bombing, citizens took to the streets and engaged in protests against MONUSCO withcars burnt and civilians injured. The popular outburst focused on peacekeepers, and their intervention brigade in particular, accused of not protecting civilians despite the establishment of a security zone around Goma and the smaller town of Sake one month earlier. In what became a violent demonstration, the civilian population demanded that the Blue Helmets enlarge the security zone northwards to more aggressively engage M23. Stones were thrown at peacekeepers but the anger also turned against M23 as well as political and public authorities.

Following a series of popular protests in Goma, the demonstrations show how much the city’s inhabitants betrayed by all parties in the conflict. The demonstrations culminated in the deaths of 2 Congolese civilians – – allegedly shot by Uruguyan peacekeepers and Congolese policemen. MONUSCO refuted the allegations and an independent investigation is to follow. An indicator of how serious popular tensions in Goma have grown, Martin Kobler, the new head of MONUSCO, went on a PR offensive asking the population for its support and apologising for the general state of insecurity. Yet, Kobler stated that MONUSCO could not be held accountable for everything that went wrong in DRC.



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