The return of M23 and the role of neighboring countries

By Ben Barugahare

Initially supported by Rwanda in its alleged strategy of containing the FDLR by an interposed force which is none other than Rwandan forces disguised as Congolese rebels, the M23 is reborn and threatens diplomatic relations in good shape between Rwanda and the DRC. under the presidency of Felix Tshisekedi. What are the real motives of this movement? what interests on the part of the neighbors who serve as a rear base or whose soldiers take part in the clashes?

Twenty-nine soldiers would have lost their lives during these fights, specifies the civil society. The M23 is a former Congolese Tutsi rebellion supported by Rwanda and Uganda, which was defeated in 2013.

This attack now raises the question of the involvement of neighboring countries of the DRC, as recalled by Juvenal Munubo, Congolese national deputy and member of the Defense and Security Committee of the National Assembly. “This pushes us above all to wonder about the role of neighboring countries. We know that the leaders of the military wing and the political wing of this movement have taken refuge in Rwanda and Uganda”, confides the Congolese deputy to DW.

“We also know that Kinshasa currently maintains good relations with these countries. But we must still tell the truth and find out what can further strengthen this movement and if, from their rear bases in these countries, they have not We have to wonder about the responsibility of these countries which are all signatories of the Nairobi Pact on the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, and of a certain number of legal instruments of peace such as the ‘Addis Ababa Framework Agreement of 2013’, underlines Mr. Munubo.


The M23 showed its impatience and remarkable determination by seizing Goma, despite airstrikes by MONUSCO and international pressure exerted, in particular by the UN and the EU, to stop its advance. Following the fall of Goma, rebel commanders repeatedly asserted that they would take Bukavu, Kisangani and also Kinshasa, further challenging state authority. Furthermore, the ultimatum issued by the ICGLR heads of state on November 24 – ordering the M23 to withdraw from Goma within 48 hours – did not impress the political leadership of the M23 either. Three days later, when the ultimatum had expired, M23 “President” Runiga set out six preconditions for his movement to leave the city, raising another set of issues previously absent from official M23 communication. Knowing that these prerequisites include the arrest of a number of high-ranking Congolese army officers, the release of political prisoners and direct negotiations with the political opposition, it is clear that Runiga hardly expected until President Kabila accepts them. Moreover, during an interview with RFI Runiga said that even after a possible withdrawal of M23 troops he would retain political and administrative control of the city. Runiga, like other M23 leaders, clearly demonstrates their political ambition. In addition, various clues suggest the existence of a program beyond the demands of the CNDP and North Kivu from the creation of the M23. The UN Group of Experts has established that the M23 leadership attempted to forge alliances with other Congolese armed groups that were not involved in the negotiations of the March 23 agreement. He identified ten armed groups that were approached by the M23 with a view to creating a broad coalition of armed opposition against Kinshasa. These attempts began in May 2012. The rebels used three interposition forces in Masisi and Walikale, including Raia Mutomboki. In addition to North Kivu, they have made considerable efforts to extend their rebellion to South Kivu and the Ituri district. The Group of Experts has demonstrated that the M23 supports armed groups in these areas through permanent mobilization efforts, remittances, arms supplies and recruitment. The M23 has also attempted to challenge President Kabila by reaching out to the main Congolese political opposition. In private, Vital Kamerhe admitted having been contacted by the M23 with a view to establishing an alliance – which he categorically refused. According to the Group of Experts, a similar proposal was made to Étienne Tshisekedi’s UPDS, while the M23 concluded an alliance with the armed group “Movement for the Claim of the Truth of the Urns” in Kasai Occidental, the province of Tshisekedi. In the seven months since its creation, the M23 has been very active on the political front, and it has recorded remarkable territorial gains. Analysts agree on the mediocrity of the Congolese army, but so was the M23. They also agree that the M23 would not have achieved so much success in such a short time without outside help. External support for the M23 has been demonstrated by the UN Group of Experts and the international NGO Human Rights Watch, both of which have conducted extensive investigations into the support by the Rwandan government. Many other observers – including MONUSCO personnel, foreign intelligence officers, local NGOs and journalists – conducted their own investigation and came to similar conclusions.

The United Nations Panel of Experts concludes that the Rwandan Minister of Defense, James Kabarebe, leads the M23 chain of command. Rwanda’s involvement in the M23 and the control it exercises on this movement shed new light on the motivations of the movement. The actions of the M23 betray his will to power which seems to prevail over all other considerations mentioned above. They reveal a clear tendency to establish political control over the territory and to challenge the authority of Kinshasa. Intervening since 1996 through various rebellions, Kigali has repeatedly shown a strategic interest in increased political control in eastern DRC and a change of power in Kinshasa. Thus, after the overthrow of the regime of Mobutu by the AFDL, Rwanda admitted having planned, directed and supplied the rebel forces. Similarly, it has been amply demonstrated – notably by the UN and Amnesty International – that after 1998 Rwanda supported the RCD rebellion in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The real aims of Rwanda

As known rebels of M23 and CNDP are just some battalions of Rwanda defense forces and as evidence thereon their commanders MAKENGA, NTAGANDA and NKUNDA were part of RPA during their struggles of 1990-1994 against FAR. Indeed, they are deployed in DRC to serve Rwandan interests in terms of natural resources and are regularly instructed by the Rwandan Ministry of Defense. Inhabitants of Rwanda-DRC border testify of arms and munitions which pass through the area coming from Rwandan arsenal joining zones occupied by those rebels. In this regard, political causes claimed by those rebellions are just pure pretexts to fool international community. On contrary the truth is that Rwanda is covered by those alleged political petitions and insecurity to ensure is permanent presence in this country and access its mineral resources; Rwandan inmates sent there as man-power are convincing witnesses. If not anyone aware of the Rwandan poor potential is daily impressed by the numerous skyscrapers erected by generals who were part of military expeditions in the eastern DRC. 


The strategy implemented by the M23 on the battlefield does not indicate that the protection of the Tutsi population is its primary concern. Similarly, the M23’s declared intention to “neutralize” the FDLR is also not reflected in its military actions. Furthermore, it is striking to note that the M23 currently does not control any important mining area, that it has not attacked any mines and therefore that for the moment it is not seeking to maximize its profit by interfering in the mineral trade. The rebels clearly show their political ambition, and from the creation of the M23 they decided on a program that goes beyond the demands of the CNDP and North Kivu. They are clearly moving towards establishing political control over the territory and challenging the authority of Kinshasa – strategic interests they could share with Rwanda.