Rebellion in Eastern DRC Over…Until its Not

On 5 November 2013, M23 President Bertrand Bisimwa released a statement that requested rebel commanders prepare fighters for “disarmament, demobilization and social reintegration.”  This announcement comes as Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende told members of the press that military operations effectively ended overnight, following the capture of rebel positions in the tri-border region between DRC, Uganda, and Rwanda.  The rebel held areas in Tshanzu and Runyoni had been the only ones still in M23 control as DRC Armed Forces (FARDC) and UN elements had continued a major offensive against the group.  African leaders meeting in South Africa to discuss the security situation in the Great Lakes region had also called for an end to the fighting.

Map of the Democratic Republic of Congo showing the approximate zone of conflict.  The city of Goma has historically been a major point of contention and one can see the tri-border region with Uganda and Rwanda.

Map of the Democratic Republic of Congo showing the approximate zone of conflict. The city of Goma has historically been a major point of contention and one can see the tri-border region with Uganda and Rwanda.

The future of the region, however, remains uncertain.  For one, Bisimwa has already stated that he intends to continue to pursue his group’s goals through political means.  This highlights that while M23 may be militarily defeated, its leadership does not view the matter as settled.  The sources of conflict between ethnic Tutsi in DRC’s Kivu region and the central government remain unresolved, as does the issue of alleged involvement of Uganda and Rwanda in supporting ethnic Tutsi aspirations in the region.

M23 itself had spawned from rebels who had previously fought the central government over similar grievances before coming to an agreement in 2009 and being integrated into the FARDC.  It is also not the first time DRC authorities have tried this, having attempted to integrate National Committee for the Defense of the People (CNDP) rebels into the FARDC as part of a peace plan in 2006, which also failed to produce a lasting peace.  Unless the government has a way to address the significant differences in opinion, there is nothing to suggest that a similar outcome is not in the offing.  This is especially so seeing as members of M23, notably its military chief Sultani Makenga, were reported to have fled into either Uganda or Rwanda, rather than enter into a disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) process.  One can only hope that the DRC’s government will take advantage of this military victory to address the sources of conflict, possibly with the help of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).

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