While the focus here at Codebook: Africa has been on developments in CAR, it is important to note that authorities from the Democratic Republic of Congo and representatives of the M23 rebel group signed a deal formally ending hostilities in Kenya on Thursday. A deal brokered by Uganda had stalled out, in no small part due to the issues of the final status of former rebels and reported Ugandan support for the group. Many M23 rebels, including its military chief Sultani Makenga, had fled into Uganda, and Uganda had said it had no intention of repatriating them to the DRC without their consent.
Given these issues it is no wonder that a final agreement was brokered by a different third party, one that the DRC would believe was actually acting as a neutral facilitator. However, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni was reportedly at the event. The arrangement reached in Kenya saw DRC and M23 representatives sign separate declarations. The DRC pledged to help demobilize and reintegrate former M23 members back into society, while the M23 representatives reiterated the end of the movement as an armed group. No amnesty for those believed to be responsible for war crimes was included. DRC President Joseph Kabila was said to have been hailed by other African leaders present at the ceremony for signing the DRC’s document. The US and UN also responded positively to the deal.
As always it remains to be seen how this new agreement will play out. As previously noted here and elsewhere, M23 was only the latest iteration of Tutsi rebels in the region. There is nothing to say that grievances, real or imagined, of government inattention or outright hostility to the Tutsi minority in eastern DRC might not again provoke a return to open conflict. With the status of former M23 members in Uganda remaining uncertain, there is the possibility that members of the group could return to set up a new armed movement.
In addition, M23 was only one of a myriad of armed groups in DRC, including a large number of localized and independent “Mai Mai” militias, said to act in self-defense against the other more formalized movements. The UN has already looked to launching offensives against some of these groups like it did against M23. The activities of the UN’s intervention brigade in DRC, formed this year, were said to have been instrumental in the rapid collapse of M23 at the beginning of last month. This past week, the brigade launched a new offensive against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a Hutu rebel group operating in DRC. Whether this is really the beginning of a new chapter for the DRC, its clear that there is a long way left to go.