Uganda Accused of Supporting M23, But Denies Allegations

In the volatile region of North-Kivu, tensions have escalated as civil society representatives raise alarming allegations against foreign military involvement. On February 15, 2024, Jean-Claude Bambaze, president of the civil society in Rutshuru, voiced concerns in an interview with Jean Noël Ba-Mweze of Deutsche Welle (DW). Bambaze claimed to possess concrete evidence of the Ugandan army’s support for the M23 rebels, including the provision of armored vehicles, artillery, and sophisticated equipment. This development has prompted calls from civil society for Kinshasa to reevaluate its relationship with Kampala.

Responding to these serious allegations, the Ugandan military’s spokesperson, Brigadier General Felix Kulayigye, issued a strong denial on the official website of the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF). Kulayigye clarified that the UPDF has no presence in Rutshuru and suggested that the images cited as evidence actually depict the Ugandan contingent of the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) on a mission in the region, not supporting the M23. Furthermore, Kulayigye accused Jules Mulumba, erroneously presented as a spokesperson for the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), of disseminating false information to justify losses against the M23. It’s important to distinguish that “Wazalendo,” meaning “indigenous Congolese,” refers to a grassroots self-defense force, sometimes formed from former armed groups, to combat the M23, not to be confused with FDLR.

The involvement of neighboring countries in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) internal conflicts has long been a point of contention. Historically, Rwanda has faced numerous accusations supported by UN experts and several Western countries of backing the M23 rebels. However, allegations against Uganda have been less common, despite its military’s presence in Eastern DRC for operations against other rebel groups, such as the ADF, which adheres to extremist Islamic principles.

The M23 itself traces its origins primarily to Uganda, where many members sought refuge following their defeat in 2013 by Congolese forces supported by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).