North Kivu: The Strategic Battle for Mweso

Mweso, North Kivu, January 27, 2023 – The strategic city of Mweso in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo, has become the focal point of intense military conflict. After five days of fierce clashes, the M23 rebels, allegedly supported by the Rwandan Defense Force (RDF), have seized complete control of Mweso and its surrounding areas, according to local journalists present in the region.

Located approximately 100 km north of Goma in the Masisi territory, Mweso holds significant economic and military importance. It acts as a crossroads connecting the territories of Masisi, Rutshuru, and Walikale. The control of Mweso allows dominance over crucial routes, including Kashuga-Kalembe leading to Walikale, and the axes of Kitshanga in Masisi and Katsiru-JTN in Rutshuru.

Sources close to the Government in Kinshasa reported that on the morning of January 27, 2023, M23-RDF launched simultaneous attacks on the positions of the Wazalendo youth resistants in Karuba, Rushoga, and Katana within the Masisi territory. From Mweso, further attacks were initiated against the Wazalendo and FARDC in Mbuhi and Bukama. The engagements extended to Butare on the hills of Murambi and Busumba, and the conflict continues to unfold across these zones.

The ongoing conflict has triggered a withdrawal of humanitarian workers from Mweso and its vicinity, as reported by Radio Okapi, a United Nations-affiliated broadcaster. Numerous aid workers have either left the area or significantly reduced their on-ground staff due to the escalating violence. This exodus follows the tragic explosions in Mweso which resulted in several casualties. The key socio-economic impact is evident as Mweso currently serves as the primary route connecting the northern part to Goma, following the suspension of traffic on the Goma-Rutshuru road. The route’s deterioration and the presence of armed men imposing hefty taxes further exacerbate the challenges for travelers and cargo transporters.

As per local sources, the M23 has also gained control over Nduhi village, leading to a full dominance over Mweso. Civilians, who had fled the area, are beginning to return cautiously to assess the situation. In the meantime, the Wazalendo-FARDC coalition and the M23 continue to engage in combats across different locations, including Karuba and Mushaki in the Bahunde chiefdom, as well as Butare and Kibachiro in the Bashali chiefdom. The conflict’s intensity is evident in the high casualty numbers, with several civilian deaths and injuries reported.