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IN FOCUS | Challenges to peace in Eastern Congo

  NIAS Africa Team

Africa Weekly #39, Vol. 1, No. 39
22 November 2022


Eastern Congo: Return of peace hinges on three issues

The return of M23 after a ten-year hiatus has unravelled the challenges to peace in DRC’s east and will result in bilateral and regional repercussions. 
Apoorva Sudhakar

On 21 November, Kenyan President William Ruto met Democratic Republic of the Congo’s President Felix Tshisekedi in Kinshasa. Ruto emphasized on 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.” On the same day, Uganda assured DRC that it would send 1000 troops to DRC under the EAC’s regional force, becoming the third country to do so after Kenya and Burundi. Meanwhile, mediation talks between the DRC government and rebels in the country's east, scheduled for the day, were postponed. 

The development comes in the backdrop of the Rwandan Defence Force (RDF) killing a soldier suspected to be from the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (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. A day earlier, 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 Tshisekedi’s deputy spokesperson: “It is encouraging to see Paul Kagame recognize that he can influence the M23.”  

Since late October, DRC forces and M23 rebels have been clashing, wherein the former is trying to recapture rebel-held territories in North Kivu province in the east. A UNICEF overview report suggests 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.” 

One could identify the following three challenges to the return of peace.
1.  Security situation in the eastern DRC
The M23 (acronymized from March 23), formed from a mutiny within the FARDC in 2012 by former militiamen who were integrated into the army, demanded rights and representation of  Congolese Tutsis. However, by 2013, the M23 rebellion was suppressed by the FARDC and UN missions. However, M23 is one fraction of the estimated 120 militia groups who operate in the region. These groups have their roots in the two wars of Congo in 1994 and 1996, and were supported by neighbouring countries like Rwanda and Uganda. Despite various peace agreements and recent joint military operations, the groups continue operations, targeting the FARDC. However,  the civilians have suffered from the prevailing situation, and remain displaced or in need of humanitarian assistance. 

2. Trust between DRC and Rwanda. 
In 1994, people belonging to the Hutu community, which targeted Tutsis in the Rwandan genocide, fled to DRC, resulting in accusations that DRC was a haven for those who carried out the genocide. Rwanda invaded DRC’s borders in the east to target the Hutus in 1996. Since then, despite several peace agreements, the two countries have not moved past mistrust. Today, DRC claims to have evidence that Rwanda supports the M23 and expelled Kigali's ambassador to Kinshasa. The constant accusations instilled an anti-Rwanda sentiment among the Congolese who have been protesting against Rwanda. Meanwhile, Rwanda has denied the allegations and has, instead, accused DRC of supporting groups operating against the government in Kigali. 

3. Uncertainties regarding peacekeeping missions 
Sporadic protests against the UN Organization Stabilization Mission (MONUSCO), deployed in DRC for more than two decades, are not new. However, In July, protests against MONUSCO escalated in North Kivu’s capital, Goma; by August, 36 people had been killed and more than 170 injured. Demonstrators called for an end to the mission, claiming that the security situation in the east had not improved, despite two decades of operations. In late September, the UN said it was willing to cooperate with the DRC to speed up its withdrawal by 2024. 

What lies ahead
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 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; in July, both countries agreed to de-escalate tensions but the ceasefire failed to materialise. The M23 responded to the development: “We are Congolese, not Rwandan. If there's a ceasefire, it can only be between us and the Congolese government."

There are bilateral and regional repercussions of the situation in DRC. 
First, the M23 demands that the DRC government negotiates with and considers them as Congolese citizens, not linked to Rwanda. However, the government has failed to meet this demand so far; the lack of negotiations, therefore, would continue the violence in the east. Simultaneously, the constant blame game between Kinshasa and Kigali for M23 activities would worsen the relations between the two countries, which have been staggered since the 1990s.  

Second, the EAC involvement commenced when DRC joined the regional trade bloc in April. With DRC’s inclusion, the EAC territory spans from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic;  DRC is a vast market, not just in the size of consumers but also for its resources and minerals. However, the tensions and frequent recalling of diplomats between DRC and Rwanda hinders the functions and potential growth within the EAC as the country’s east connects with other EAC members - Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and Tanzania.

Third, with the UN peacekeepers facing an increased backlash within DRC, the involvement of EAC’s regional troops is a new option for the government and the people. The military forces may quell the M23 as they did in 2013; however, neither will they address the insecurity stemming from other groups nor will they establish peace in the region. 

15 November – 21 November
By Anu Maria Joseph and Apoorva Sudhakar

UNHRC chief calls for political deal
On 16 November, the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Volker Turk urged Sudanese civilian and military factions to reach an agreement to end the worsening political and economic situation in the country following the coup in 2021. He said: “I really call on all sides involved in the political process to go the extra mile, to work towards the prompt restoration of civilian rule in the country, and bring an end to the uncertainty that has left much of the population in peril.” Talks between the Forces for Freedom and Change, and the military have been going for weeks. The civilian bloc said it is seeking for a “framework agreement” with the military as a first step to end the political crisis. (“Sudan: UN human rights chief calls for political deal,” Africanews, 16 November 2022)

Tigray officials accuse Eritrea of atrocities
On 17 November, a spokesperson from Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) said that the Eritrean forces continue to commit human rights atrocities despite the ceasefire deal signed the previous week, which ended the two-year war. The spokesperson  said that Eritrean forces are killing civilians and looting and destroying property. He also added that TPLF would not draw down its arms until the federal government ensures the complete withdrawal of Eritrean and other forces. Meanwhile, an Ethiopian official said that the Eritrean issue will be resolved after federal troops are stationed in Tigray’s borders. (“Eritrean army accused of atrocities in Tigray,” BBC, 17 November 2022)

PM vows to honestly implement ceasefire; TPLF faces criticism
On 15 November, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed promised “to implement honestly” the ceasefire signed with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) on 2 November. Abiy said: “We have moved one step forward. We have discussed, agreed and signed. The next thing expected from us will be to honestly implement what we have promised to make the peace sustainable.” Meanwhile, TPLF leader Getachew Reda defended the signing of the ceasefire after he faced criticism for allegedly selling out Tigrayans. BBC explains that critics of the TPLF decision said the Front does not have the authority to disarm the Tigray Defence Forces. (“Ethiopia PM Abiy vows ‘honest’ implementation of Tigray truce, “ Al Jazeera, 15 November 2022; Line Tsigab, “Tigray official defends peace deal amid criticism,” BBC, 15 November 2022)

Ruto condemns legislature’s comment to remove presidential term limits
On 16 November, Kenyan President William Ruto condemned the statement made by a legislature that the country should remove the term limits of the president. MP Salah Yakub, belonging to the ruling United Democratic Alliance (UDA) said: “The terms of the presidency should not be limited to two terms, three terms, or even four. If the president is doing a good job he should extend his term.” In reply President Ruto said: “Do not spend your time pushing for selfish and self-serving legislation like changing the constitution to remove term limits, my focus is service to the people.” (“Ruto slams 'selfish' idea to scrap president term limit,BBC, 16 November 2022)

At least 130 people kidnapped by gunmen
On 22 November, BBC reported, at least 130 people were kidnapped by gunmen in Nigeria's north-western state of Zamfara. The state's information commissioner said that the gunment on motorcycles raided two regions and abducted women, children and the elderly. He added that the gunmen were using the victims as "human shields" following the ongoing "heavy bombardments" targeting their hideouts. However, separate reports said that the people abducted were farm workers who were busy during the harvesting season. Zamfara is one among the Nigerian States struggling with ransom kidnappings. (“Gunmen kidnap 130 in raids in north-west Nigeria,” BBC, 22 November 2022)

At least 12 killed in gunmen attack
On 16 November, Reuters reported that the residents and the state governor said at least 12 people were killed in a gunmen attack in the northern Nigerian state of Plateau. The governor said that there are frequent attacks and destruction of farm crops, livestock and properties within the state which are concerning. In October, nearly 23 people were killed in a clash between herdsmen and farmers in Benue state. (“At least 12 killed in Nigeria after gunmen attack villagers,” Reuters, 16 November 2022)

President inaugurates Chinese-built new parliament
On 16 November, Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangawa formally opened a new 650-seat parliament in the capital, Harare. Manangagwa used the occasion to deliver a state of the nation address. The state-run Herald newspaper reported that the finance minister will present the 2023 national budget the next day. The project has been funded by China as a gift to Zimbabwe. ("Zimbabwe to open new Chinese-built parliament," BBC, 21 November 2022) 

Uganda sends troops to DR Congo
On 18 November, the Ugandan army said that it will send nearly 1,000 troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo's Ituri region to fight the ongoing insurgency. Ugandan forces are already engaged with DRC forces fighting the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels in the region. The new troops are deployed as part of the East African force fighting nearly 100 other rebel groups. The announcement came a day after Kenya sent a second batch of its troops to the North Kivu region. (“Uganda to send more troops to DR Congo,” BBC, 18 November 2022)

West African countries meet in Ghana, discusses spiraling Islamist insurgency
On 18 November, officials of several West African countries met at Ghanaian capital, Accra, to discuss the worsening Islamist insurgency in the region. Ghana's National Security Minister Albert Kan-Dapaah said that cooperation is needed as "terrorist" activities are crossing borders. The meeting comes amid several countries announcing withdrawal of their troops fighting along with an international peacekeeping mission in the region. Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Ivory Coast are at risk of being affected by Islamist militants pushing southwards from Sahel countries. ("West African neighbours debate Islamist spill-over," BBC, 18 November 2022) 

French embassy requests protection after violent protests
On 21 November, the French embassy requested the Burkinabe government for more protection after violent anti-French protests on 18 November. The protests, in front of the French embassy and military base, demanded the exit of French soldiers from the country. A French embassy letter said: "The events suffered in October and November are susceptible to be repeated in the coming days, if nothing is done." Burkina Faso's chief of staff of the national gendarmerie said that the security officers outside the embassy were not well equipped to handle the protest and that they were waiting for orders from authorities for reinforcement, which took several hours. The worsening Islamist insurgency in Burkina Faso is perceived as neo-colonial influence from Paris, subsequently calling for a partnership with Russia similar to Mali. ("French embassy asks Burkina Faso for more protection after protests," Reuters, 22 November 2022)

France delivers attack helicopters to Niger
On 17 November, BBC reported that France has given two attack helicopters to Niger to boost its fight against the Islamist militancy. Niger’s Defence Minister Alkasoum Indatou said during the unveiling ceremony of the aircraft that the delivery of the equipment was a part of military cooperation between the two countries. According to the authorities, the aircraft included five military helicopters which cost nearly USD 24.8 million, having reconnaissance, surveillance and attack capabilities as well as included the training pilots. (“Niger receives two French attack helicopters,” BBC, 17 November 2022)

France suspends aid over ties with Russia
On 18 November, a French foreign ministry source told AFP news agency that France suspended development assistance to Mali following the announcement of the end of Operation Barkhane. The French foreign affairs ministry quoted that it suspended aid over "the attitude of the Malian junta allied to the Russian Wagner mercenaries."  Several French NGOs denounced the decision in a letter to President Emmanuel Macron. It called on the government to review the decision saying that the suspension of aid jeopardises dozens of development projects that are under way or planned in the country over the coming years. (“France halts aid to Mali over Russia ties - reports,” BBC, 18 November 2022)

Do not blame Africa for “taking sides,” says Rwanda President
On 15 November, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who is also the chairperson of the African Union Development Agency (Nepad) Heads of State and Government Orientation Committee addressed the G20 summit in Bali, stressing on the impact of the Ukraine war on Africa. Kagame outlined that the blockade on Russian supplies of fertilisers was affecting parts of Africa preparing for their cropping seasons. Outlining African countries’ voting in the UN sessions on Russia, Kagame said Africa should not be blamed for “taking sides,” adding, “What Africa wants to see is peace. We are confident that we cannot be accused of taking sides, simply by asking for peace. Africa is here for Africa and our productive relationship with the rest of the world.” Kagame said, too often Africans paid the price for external factors, be it climate change or the war in Ukraine. (“G20 Summit: Africa 'just wants peace', not taking sides in Ukraine war - Rwanda's Paul Kagame,” News24, 15 November 2022)

Russia is sending Africans to fight against Ukraine, says Kyiv
On 15 November, the Ukraine Foreign Ministry spokesperson tweeted that Russian President Vladmir Putin was “African citizens imprisoned in Russia to the war in Ukraine.” The development comes after a Zambian student, who had been serving a nine-year jail time, died fighting against Ukraine in September. The spokesperson said: “We call on the African Union and all African states to demand that Russia stop press gagging their nationals. Africans shouldn’t die for Putin’s sick imperial ambitions.” On 14 November, Zambia's foreign affairs minister said he would update the deceased student’s family updates on the death as Russia had not previously informed the Zambian government of the incident. (“Ukraine accuses Russia of pushing Africans to fight,” BBC, 15 November 2022)

About the authors
Apoorva Sudhakar is a Research Associates at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. Anu Maria Joseph is a Research Assistant at NIAS.


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