DR Congo: Alarming issue of forced youth recruitment in North Kivu

the spokesperson for the FARDC (Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo) in North-Kivu, Lieutenant-Colonel Guillaume Njike with captured M23 elements

The ongoing situation in North-Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo, has raised significant concerns regarding the recruitment practices of the M23 in the region, particularly in Rutshuru territory. This matter was brought to public attention through a statement released on Friday, January 19, by the spokesperson for the FARDC (Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo) in North-Kivu, Lieutenant-Colonel Guillaume Njike.

According to Lieutenant-Colonel Njike, the Rwandan army, along with M23 affiliates, are experiencing a decline in their forces due to substantial neutralization by the FARDC and a series of defections. Consequently, to replenish their ranks, the M23is allegedly engaging in the forced recruitment of youth and minors in areas under their control. The FARDC claims that these recruiters, reportedly affiliated with the M23, are using death threats and financial incentives (up to 400 U.S. dollars) to coerce young individuals into joining their cause. However, it is alleged that once these recruits reach the training centers in Rutshuru, the money is forcibly taken back from them.

These allegations have been further substantiated by the civil society group, Forces Vives of North-Kivu, in their own alert note published on the same day. The note details the specific locations of this forced recruitment, including Kiwanja, Seni, Kacemu, Rubare, Bunagana, and Kabindi. John Banyene, the president of the civil society group, elaborated that meetings and public gatherings were organized in these areas to persuade local leaders to initiate a recruitment campaign for accelerated military training. The aim is to compensate for the reduced manpower resulting from losses in recent conflicts.

As of now, there has been no official response from the M23 regarding these combined accusations. However, both the FARDC’s operation commander in North-Kivu and the local civil society urge the public to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activities related to this forced recruitment.

In a related development, on Saturday, January 20, 2024, the FARDC presented 13 captured M23 elements, along with seized weapons and military equipment, to the press in Goma. This event underscores the escalating tension in the region and the ongoing efforts by the FARDC to counteract the influence and activities of the M23.