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.
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).
The leader of the M23 rebel group, operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s historically restive eastern region, issued a statement today calling for a cease-fire with the central government. Bertrand Bisimwa’s call comes as government forces continue to make gains against M23 strongholds and as African leaders prepare to meet in South Africa to discuss a way forward in the Great Lakes Region.
UN-backed talks between the DRC government and M23 rebels, being held in Uganda, were said to have stalled in October. The major point of disagreement was reported to be the desire by M23 negotiators to secure an amnesty for their members. The DRC government is likely wary of issuing such an amnesty given M23’s history, having spawned from demobilized rebels who were integrated into the DRC security forces in 2009 as part of a previous peace agreement.
United Nations peacekeeping forces have also been active in attempting to protect civilians from the conflict. Concerned by the persistence of the conflict in the country’s east earlier this year, the United Nations approved the activation of a reaction brigade in DRC in response to the expanding crisis in the country’s east. The activities of this brigade, authorized to take more offensive action, have also been seen as a reason for government government victories against the M23 group.
DRC’s eastern region, notably the Kivu region, has seen persistent conflict for years now due to various issues, including its ethnography. M23’s members are primary ethnic Tutsi, and have been reported to received assistance from Rwanda and Uganda, though both countries have denied this. M23 is also only the latest in a series of rebel groups, which the DRC government has continually attempted to strike deals with and otherwise integrate into its security forces.
This perpetual conflict in Africa’s Great Lakes Region prompted a meeting between the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), which led to an agreement in February to continue to coordinate and seek lasting peace in the region. Another summit organized by the SADC and ICGLR is scheduled to begin tomorrow.