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IN FOCUS | M23 atrocities in DRC and upcoming Nigeria elections

  NIAS Africa Team

Africa Weekly #51, Vol. 2, No. 8

14 February 2023


HRW report on atrocities in DR Congo : Six Takeaways 

by Anu Maria Joseph

On 6 February, the Human Rights Watch released a report titled “DR Congo: Atrocities by Rwanda-Backed M23 Rebels.” The report focuses on war crimes committed by the M23 rebels, reportedly backed by Rwanda, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and the Congolese army’s offensive against the M23 by collaborating with other regional ethnic militias. A senior Congo researcher at the Human Rights Watch Thomas Fessy says: “Rwanda-backed M23 rebels in North Kivu are leaving behind a growing trail of war crimes against civilians, Rwanda should end its military support for the M23 while Congolese government troops should prioritise protecting civilians and cease using abusive militias as proxy forces.”

Six takeaways

First, an increase in abuses by M23 rebels. The report cites the UN’s Group of Experts and the HRW investigations which claim that the Rwandan army is fighting alongside M23 rebels in eastern DRC; however, Rwanda denies this. In December, M23 rebels took control of Rutshuru territory, aiming to expand towards neighbouring Masisi territory. The UN Stabilisation Mission in Congo (MONUSCO) said that M23 rebels had killed 131 civilians in December. Besides the civilian killings, young men including some from Rwanda, are forcibly recruited, to carry supplies and ammunition, do labour work at rebel camps and fight.

Second, the Congolese Army’s offensive by collaborating with ethnic militias. The resurfacing of M23 rebels in 2021 led to the formation of a coalition of various armed ethnic groups, some of them previously being rivals. The HRW report says this ethnic coalition of armed groups named ‘Patriotic Coalition’ has revived its fighting against M23 alongside the Congolese Army since October 2022. Among which the prominent groups are the Patriots Alliance for a Free and Sovereign Congo (APCLS) led by Janvier Karairi, the Nyatura’s Coalition of Movements for Change (CMC) led by Dominique Ndaruhuste, the Mai Mai Mongol, the Coalition of Congolese Patriotic Resistance (PARECO) and Coalition Democratic Forces of the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). Majority of these armed groups were previously condemned internationally for their human rights records. Though the Congolese government has denied collaboration with the armed groups, the report says that there is clear evidence of Congolese army fighting alongside ethnic militias with abusive records.

Third, catastrophic security, war crimes and humanitarian situation in North Kivu and the broader eastern region. All the warring parties including the M23 rebels, the Congolese army and ethnic armed groups are accused of committing war crimes in the region. PARECO, an armed group is accused of raping women and girls, killing civilians opposing their activities in their stronghold and raiding villages for cattle, goats and other goods. Since October, Nyatura and FDLR factions have been accused of kidnapping for ransom, sexual violence and murders. In January, mass graves with 42 people including women and children were discovered in one of the villages in the North Kivu province. Besides, the UN says that the fighting has forced more than 520,000 people to flee their homes, which has exacerbated the humanitarian situation in the region. In addition, the Doctors Without Borders has warned of a potential health disaster after a cholera outbreak in many camps of displaced people outside Goma.

Fourth, the ethnic hatred. The involvement of various ethnic militias has raised the concern of ethnic violences against the civilians from both sides. Hundreds of Tutsi ethnic communities in Kitchanga and nearby villages have been attacked, on the grounds of reportedly supporting the Tutsi-led M23 rebel group. Tutsi families, their homes, cattle and farms are often attacked by other communities. The reluctance of the Congolese government to investigate these offences, including the ethnic violence has worsened the security situation.

Fifth, little progress in regional efforts. A series of peace talks mediated by various regional actors has been held since late 2022; however, progress has been limited. The fighting re-erupted a week after Angola-led mediation by the African Union between the presidents of Congo and Rwanda. Similarly, the East African Community (EAC) led inter-Congolese talks in Nairobi along with the Patriotic Coalition in November 2022 were also unsuccessful. Countries including Kenya, Burundi and Uganda sent their troops as part of the EAC regional force. However, Rwanda’s continued support to M23 and the Congolese government's use of the armed groups as proxy force is hindering the regional efforts.

Sixth, lack of inclusivity in international efforts. The international actors play a little role to end the conflict. In December, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Rwanda should use its influence on M23 rebels to end the violence. Belgium, France, Germany and the EU urged Rwanda to stop supporting the rebels. The international actors fail to make a strong stance against Rwanda for supporting M23 and continue to provide military assistance to the country where its troops are fighting insurgency in Mozambique. In February, protests against UN peacekeeping forces in DRC turned violent, killing eight civilians. The protests have been intensifying against the peacekeeping forces which are widely criticised for failing to counter the rebel attacks. Besides, Rwanda’s non-compliance to international efforts are challenging the peace efforts.

ICG Report on mitigating risk of violence in Nigeria’s elections: Five takeaways 

by Apoorva Sudhakar

On 10 February, the International Crisis Group published a report “Mitigating Risks of Violence in Nigeria’s 2023 Elections,” outlining the major highlights and challenges ahead as the country goes to polls. 

On 25 February, Nigerians will vote for presidential and federal parliamentary elections. Of the 18 parties contesting, three parties lead the race: the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Labour Party. The leading contenders for the presidential position from the three parties are Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Atiku Abubakar, and Peter Obi respectively. On 11 March, 28 of the 36 states will hold governor and state legislature elections.

The report says that despite a constant fall in voter turnout over since 1999, the 2023 elections may see greater participation for a number of reasons, including introduction of new technology in polling, the economic situation and unemployment, and the increasing insecurity, that would lead to demand for better governance. 

The 2023 elections would also witness the largest number of eligible voters with over 90 million voters, reportedly “bigger than the electorates of West Africa’s fourteen other countries combined.” If successful and violence-free, the elections would consolidate Nigeria’s position as a regional leader. 

Five takeaways

First, concerns over rising insecurity. The report outlines that the operations of armed groups, including terrorist groups like Boko Haram and the Islamic State, are threatening the security of the public and the polls. The threat has been amplified by murder of several security personnel, attacks on government buildings, electoral commission’s offices, and destruction of polling material including ballot boxes. Apart from armed groups, communal conflict between Fulani herders and other ethnic communities has consolidated the insecurity in northeastern Nigeria. In the backdrop of the attacks on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) offices and officials, the report summarises that over three million voter cards could not be issued to people living in volatile areas. Apart from the risk to election officials, politicians and civilians have also been subject to the pre-election violence since 2021, wherein several campaigns were halted after armed groups killed civilians and politicians in several separate incidents. The election process has also been prone to attacks on government officials by the Indigenous People of Biafra’s (IPOB) separatist movement, and the fighting between the group’s factions. The report believes that for the above reasons, voter turnout may be “depressed” in some areas. 

Second, involvement of multiple actors to curb tensions. The report calls for bringing down rhetorical campaigning and instead, focus on security and economy. Resolving inter-party tensions play a major role in complying to the above, as seemingly religious undertones in a party’s decision, including choosing a candidate, act as irritants to a voter base. This is applicable to addressing the ethnic divisions too. However, the responsibility to maintain civility amid campaigns and discussions on elections also rests with NGOs and leaders from religious, ethnic and regional groups, and not solely with the government or the opposition politicians. The report highlights that two institutions, the judiciary and the media also are responsible for preventing election violence. The INEC has admitted its inability to address violence; therefore, courts are key to reviewing electoral offences and offenders. Similarly, the media is obliged to fact-check and curb misinformation, and carry out balanced reporting. 

Third, monitoring flashpoint states. The report identifies six states that should be monitored throughout the elections as they are prone to violence: Lagos, Rivers, Kano, Kaduna, Ebonyi, and Imo. These states are important either for their large electorates, the divisive partisan politics, the incumbent governments that people are unhappy with, and leaders who are seeking re-election. However, the risk is not limited to these states; various hotspots of armed violence are present in northeast and northwest Nigeria wherein armed rebels control swathes of territories. 

Fourth, new technologies to ensure free and fair elections. The report outlines that vote buying and cash transfers from parties to voters are major concerns that could fuel tensions during elections. However, the INEC has introduced new technologies including the use of fingerprints and facial biometrics to verify voter identity and registering tallies directly to the INEC portal. These measures would help address questions raised on the elections’ integrity, wherein the report outlines that people are “doubting the credibility of the voters’ register” alleging that there were duplications and irregularities. 

Fifth, the deteriorating economic situation. Lastly, the report highlights that addressing fuel and cash crises is necessary to ensure smooth elections. To curb corruption, bribes and a flourishing black market, the government announced that old Nigerian Naira notes of 1000, 500 and 200 denominations would have to be replaced with new ones by January; the date was extended to February as the country ran short of the new cash; lastly, amid the cash shortage, the Supreme Court suspended the deadline. However, the crisis has caused unrest among the civilians leading to violence outside banks and ATMs. Additionally, Nigeria also faces a debt crisis and fuel shortage. Therefore, these grievances could impact the election results and the aftermath. 


7 February-13 February

By Anu Maria Joseph and Apoorva Sudhakar


President sacks Foreign Minister

On 8 February, President Kais Saied fired Foreign Minister Othman Jerandi without providing any reason. Jerandi was appointed to the position in September 2020; he is the fourth minister to be sacked from this position this year, with the trade, agriculture and education ministers already being replaced. The development comes after Saied initiated various measures in 2021 to enhance the president's powers. (“Tunisian president fires his foreign minister,” BBC, 8 February 2023)


Social media restricted amid protests against church split

On 9 February, NetBlocks confirmed that Ethiopia had placed “severe restrictions” on social media platforms Facebook, Messenger, Telegram and TikTok. NetBlocks’ confirmation came a few hours after at least 30 people were killed in protests in the Oromia region, sparked by a split within the Orthodox Church. The protests began when three church officials, after declaring themselves archbishops in January, established their own governing body. The Orthodox Church condemned the move and called for protests that later turned violent. (“Social media restricted in Ethiopia as church rift turns violent,” Al Jazeera, 10 February 2023)


UN warns of famine after failed rainy season

On 9 February, the UN warned of a possible famine in Somalia by April. The warning comes amid the sixth consecutive failed rainy season in the country, which has left over seven million people affected. The UN, the Somali government and humanitarian agencies said that the international response to the drought was insufficient. The humanitarian situation has forced more than 1.4 million people to flee their homes. The country’s special envoy to the UN for drought response said: “Somalis have zero contribution to climate change but we are facing this dire consequence.” (“Somalia famine warning as rains set to fail again,” BBC, 9 February 2023)


12 killed in attack near Mali border

On 13 February, BBC referred to a French news agency and reported that at least 12 civilians had been killed in an attack in Kossi province along the border with Mali in the north. Locals told the news agency that unidentified armed men, suspected to be linked to the Islamist insurgency, stormed a village on 10 February, looted animals and goods, and killed the civilians. (“Twelve civilians killed in Burkina Faso attack,” BBC, 13 February 2023)


President declares state of disaster to manage power crisis

On 9 February, President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster to address the power crisis. Ramaphosa said this would help the government support food production, storage and retail supply chain, and roll out solar panels for unhindered power supply. Ramaphosa said a Minister of Electricity will be appointed to the presidency “work with the Eskom board and management on ending load shedding and ensuring that the Energy Action Plan is implemented without delay.” (Hassan Isilow, “South Africa’s president declares state of disaster over power crisis,” Anadolu Agency, 10 February 2023)


Chad and CAR to cooperate on security issues

On 10 February, BBC reported that Chad’s transitional president General Mahamat Deby and Central African Republic’s President Faustin Touadéra had agreed to work together and address common security concerns. The development came after the two leaders met on 9 February in a meeting hosted by Angola, after the two countries were tangled in a blame game over rebel activities along their border. (Guy Bandolo, “Chad and CAR promise cooperation after Angola talks,” BBC, 10 February 2023)

Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso to seek re-entry to ECOWAS and AU

On 9 February, Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso sought re-entry to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU). The three countries were suspended after they were taken over by their militaries. Following a meeting between the respective foreign ministers, a joint statement read that they “agreed to pool their efforts and undertake joint initiatives for the lifting of the suspension measures and other restrictions” by the AU and ECOWAS. The ministers criticised the sanctions claiming that they impact their citizens, who are already suffering from insecurity and political instability. (“Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso seek re-entry to regional blocs,” Al Jazeera, 10 February 2023)

Eritrean president visits Kenya, dismisses right abuse allegation in Ethiopia

On 9 February, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki dismissed the reports of Eritrean troops committing war crimes during the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. He said that the claims were part of a disinformation campaign by detractors of the peace agreement signed between the Ethiopian government and Tigray authorities. He also declined to answer the questions regarding the complete withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Tigray. President Isaias was speaking in Kenya following his meeting with Kenyan President William Ruto. (“Eritrea leader dismisses army rights abuse allegations,” BBC, 9 February 2023)

Somaliland: At least 50 people killed in clashes

On 8 February, the UN called for an investigation into the death of 50 people during clashes between regional government and local militias in the self-declared republic of Somaliland. The clashes occurred over the disputed city of Las Anod between Somaliland and Puntland. Reuters quoted a resident of the city: “Somaliland forces are carrying out heavy attacks on medical facilities and civilian homes. The deaths and injuries of civilians cannot be counted.” Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud called for calm and urged Somaliland authorities to negotiate with traditional leaders for peace. (“UN urges probe into deadly Somaliland clashes, BBC, 8 February 2023) 


Africa witnessing exponential rise in cholera cases, says WHO

On 9 February, the World Health Organization said Africa is witnessing “an exponential rise” in cholera cases, wherein a 30 per cent increase in cases was noted in January, compared to whole of 2022. Malawi has witnessed the highest number of cases and deaths; the other affected countries are Mozambique, Zambia, Burundi, Cameroon, DRC, and Nigeria. As of January 29, 660 deaths had been recorded in 10 countries. The WHO regional director for Africa said: “We are witnessing a worrying scenario where conflict and extreme climatic events are worsening the triggers of cholera and increasing its toll on lives.” (“WHO reports exponential rise in cholera cases in Africa,” UN News, 9 February 2023)


Russian foreign minister visits Mali and Sudan 

On 7 February, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov began his visit to Africa with Mali, marking his first visit to the West African country and second visit to Africa in two weeks. Lavrov said: “The fight against terrorism is, of course, an issue for the other countries in the region. We are going to provide our assistance to them to overcome these difficulties. This concerns Guinea, Burkina Faso and Chad and the Sahel region generally and even the coastal states of the Gulf of Guinea." On 9 February, Lavrov visited Sudan, met with the military leaders and urged the country to resolve political challenges as the country has been in a continuing political crisis after the coup in October 2021. Lavrov’s tour also included visits to Iraq and Mauritania. (“Russia urges Sudan to solve its political challenges,” BBC, 9 February 2023)

About the authors

Apoorva Sudhakar is a Research Associate at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. Anu Maria Joseph is a Research Assistant at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. 

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