Sake: A City Divided Between M23 Rebels and FARDC Forces

Defense Minister Jean-Pierre Bemba during his second visit to Goma in less than a week

In the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the outskirts of Sake, a city located approximately 20 kilometers west of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, have become a battleground between government forces and the M23 rebel group. Sake is strategically important as it serves as a crucial point on the road to Goma, and recent days have seen an intensification of clashes in the area.

According to various sources, including local residents contacted by AFP and medical sources, fighting resumed on the hills overlooking Sake, leading to a significant displacement of the civilian population. The local authority, referred to as the “city chief” or mayor of Sake, Maombi Mubiri, reported that the town, previously home to tens of thousands, saw its inhabitants flee due to the ongoing conflict. The situation has led to a division of control within the city, with M23 rebels occupying the southern part and Wazalendo (militia supporting the army) stationed in the north.

The North Kivu province has been engulfed in conflict since late 2021, involving the M23 movement, which is said to be supported by Rwandan army units, against the Congolese army allied with armed groups and two foreign military companies. The United Nations has reported that the Rwandan army is accused of using sophisticated weaponry, including surface-to-air missiles, against the Congolese forces.

During his second visit to Goma in less than a week, Defense Minister Jean-Pierre Bemba emphasized the government’s commitment to protecting the populations of Sake, Goma, and surrounding areas. He reiterated Kinshasa’s objective to regain full control of the territories and restore territorial integrity. The DRC accuses Rwanda and its M23 allies of attempting to seize the mineral-rich eastern regions, while the M23 claims to defend a threatened segment of the population and demands negotiations, which Kinshasa refuses, labeling them “terrorists.”

Vice Prime Minister in charge of the Interior, Peter Kazadi, called for national unity and discipline in the face of the conflict, highlighting the legitimacy of the DRC’s position in defending its country against multiple adversaries, specifically targeting Rwandan forces led by President Kagame accused of seeking to take over the DRC’s natural resources.

The conflict has led to Goma being cut off from six surrounding territories, with the M23 controlling key roadways essential for the supply of foodstuffs, causing women to rely on Lake Kivu for provisioning from Minova. This isolation has resulted in scarcity and price increases for food products from the fields, prompting urgent calls for government intervention to prevent a crisis that could suffocate the city of approximately 2 million residents.