As Tanzania prepares to lead the Southern Africa military forces in the war-torn city of Goma in Kivu Province, the top leader of M23 rebel faction this week declared that he was ready for both options: a peace deal or face the barrel of the gun, whichever way things turn up in the next few weeks.
Interviewed with The Guardian on Sunday on Tuesday this week, in his military base, just 20km in the eastern Goma, the M23 rebel leader, General Sultan Emanuel Makenga said he had since prepared his troops to fight “to the last man” should the Kampala peace negotiations fail to bring a lasting solution to the current conflict.
In a rare interview to the media, the M23 rebel leader told The Guardian on Sunday: “We want peace … the Congolese want peace, but if we are forced to achieve peace through the barrel of the gun, we shall fight this war at any cost.”
“It seemed like the Kinshasa regime is playing games … pending the deployment of the SADC forces in Goma and that’s why they are not fully committed in the Kampala peace negotiations.
“If the Kampala talks can bring peace, we are ready for peace but if it’s war we are also ready because that’s how we’ve lived for the past two decades,” General Makenge told The Guardian on Sunday.
According to General Makenga, though he has withdrawn from Goma to pave way for the Kampala peace talks, he says his forces were capable of capturing the city within six hours … should the fighting resume.
“We don’t have anywhere to go apart from our home, Congo, and we shall fight till the last man to achieve ‘liberation,’” the M23 rebel leader said, adding that he knows no other language apart from the language of guns, bullets and bombs.
“The Congolese are tired … their country is a blessed land with all the resources needed on this planet, but they remain among the poorest … our country today has more rebel factions than during the Mobutu regime.
“But one thing African leaders, Congolese and the international community should ask … why Congo?” the M23 top commander queried, adding that Congo’s resources benefit not more than one percent elite in the Democratic Republic of Congo leaving about 60 million Congolese people in massive poverty.
Asked whether he would surrender to the SADC forces, General Makenga who joined the Rwandese Patriotic Army in Uganda at the age of 17, responded, “We shall do the same thing we did when Zimbabwe, Angola and some Southern African countries came to rescue the late Laurent Desire Kabila.
“I have fought for 22 years and I know what the war is all about … it’s more than politics or propaganda, it’s about the strategic plan, commitment, discipline and having a common goal.
“Let them come, but if they attack us, we shall respond with full force because this is our country .. for which we are prepared to die defending,” he said.
Asked about the motive behind his fight, the M23 top Commander responded, “My fight is against injustice brought about by the Kinshasa regime, which has become a stooge of the Western powers who dictate the terms of how the country should be managed.
“I joined this struggle 22 years ago … I was a small boy aged 17. I first fought against Habyarimana’s regime that wanted to kill all Tutsis. I was a member of Rwandese Patriotic Front … I joined the organisation in 1990 in Uganda because I didn’t like the Habyarimana regime as well as Mobutu’s rule,” he told The Guardian on Sunday.
Narrating his struggle, General Makenga, a soft-spoken man but most feared by his enemy due to his military capability said after fighting in Rwanda, he relocated to Burundi, where he met the late Laurent Kabila who had then just launched a guerilla war to oust the Mobutu regime in 1996.
“Mzee (Kabila) and I shared the same goal, to liberate Congo from the brutal, corrupt leadership of Mobutu, which has almost destroyed the country. That was 1996 when we launched the liberation struggle for Congo with Mzee Kabila.
“During that time all of us … we Congolese … were fighting for the same goal, but when we won the war, we were branded Banyamulenge — a group of Tutsi that is disobedience…We were called foreigners by the same man we had supported, and then told to return to Rwanda … where we belong.
“I have been fighting all these years because we want peace and stability for our people and our country,” he told The Guardian on Sunday.
Following the fall-out with the late Kabila, General Makenga and his colleagues joined the Rwandese and Ugandan forces to pursue Hutu militias in Congo, before forming a political party known as The National Congress for the Defence of the People (French: Congrès national pour la défense du peuple, CNDP) under the leadership of Laurent Nkunda in the Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in December 2006.
General Makenga described the Congolese army as corrupt, ill-trained, undisciplined and poorly paid, though it’s the biggest in Africa in terms of size.
“Imagine a country with 150,000 soldiers plus another 17,000 UN Peace forces (MONUSCO) … but we can still capture Goma anytime we want,” he declared, adding that the SADC forces were just another ill-timed move by the international community.
Born on 25 December, 1973 in Masisi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, but grew up in Rutshuru territory, General Makenga, a primary school dropout joined the army in 1990 after undergoing training for six months.
He rose to the rank of sergeant and deputy platoon commander in the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA), which is today known as Rwandese Defence Forces(RDF), where he met inspiring mentors.
Brigadier Makenga joined the infamous Nguruma battalion during the so-called second Congo war which was fought between 1998 and 2002. Nguruma battalion was the elite unit in the Rwandan army that participated in the Kitona airlift of 1998, during an operation commanded by James Kabarebe (then Chief of Staff of the Rwandan Armed Forces who is today Rwanda’s Minister for Defence). Makenga became an operations commander in Katanga, on the front lines of the war due to his military capability.
“I have spent 22 years fighting in the bush, but those I fought for have failed to govern according to our mission and vision…they still adore corruption, injustice, dictatorship and don’t care about the livelihood of the people.” He told me as we lunched in his compound.
General Makenga, a father of three, who got married three years ago, defected from the Congolese army on May, this year after he was dissatisfied by the implementation of the Nairobi peace deal signed on March 23, 2009 and joined the M23 rebellion, being elevated to the rank of general whereby he was named commander of M23.
Editor’s note: General Makenga was interviewed by The Guardian on Sunday’s Managing Editor, Richard Mgamba, who was in Goma this week, in a mission to research on his book about the genesis of the endless wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Source: GUARDIAN ON SUNDAY