In recent months, tensions between Congo-Kinshasa and Rwanda have increased. The rebel group M23 has forced hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee in the eastern part of Congo-Kinshasa. Rwanda is accused of its denial of sponsoring the rebels, but the conflict between the countries has roots far back in time.
At the end of October Rwanda's ambassador was expelled from Congo-Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo). In November, Congo-Kinshasa was accused of having violated Rwandan airspace. And later that month a soldier was shot out of Congo-Kinshasa government forces killed by Rwandan troops.
The conflict between Rwanda and Congo-Kinshasa has gradually escalated since last year. The stresses are caused by Movement Du 23 March, M23, a rebel group consisting mostly of Congolese Tutsis. In recent months, they have gradually advanced in the province of North Kivu, which is located in the eastern part of Congo-Kinshasa.
On March 23 2009 Congo-Kinshasa entered into a peace agreement with the insurgents who wanted to expel former Hutu militias who fled Rwanda after the end of the genocide in 1994. 2012 was formed M23 in protest against the fact that Congo-Kinshasa, according to them, has not kept its part of the 23 March agreement. Following military pressure from reinforced government forces and MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping mission in the area, the Congolese government and M23 concluded a new peace agreement 2013, which has now been broken again.
Rwanda supports M23
Congo-Kinshasa accuses Rwanda of supporting the M23 rebels, which President Paul Kagame and his government deny. The claims that Congo-Kinshasa has appointed them as scapegoats for its internal problems. Rwanda, for its part, accuses Congo-Kinshasa of collaborating with Hutu militias, something like Congo-Kinshasa denies.
An expert group from the UN reported however, earlier this year that Rwanda is actually assisting M23 with weapons, ammunition and other military equipment. And when M23 was formed in 2012 Rwanda sent troops in order to support the rebellion against the government of Congo-Kinshasa. Even then, the M23 rebels murdered civilians in North Kivu, according to the UN Security Council, which also stated that the rebels raped women and children and forcibly recruited boys and young men.
The reasons why the M23 is rebelling again
The rebels themselves claim that Congo-Kinshasa has still not integrated the Tutsi insurgents into the national forces, as agreed in 2009. Foreign Policy speculates that Paul Kagame may also have felt threatened by Congo-Kinshasa's rapprochement with the East African Community (EAC), the intergovernmental cooperation body made up of Rwanda, Congo-Kinshasa, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi and South Sudan. The country is one of Rwanda's most important trading partners. With Congo-Kinshasa's membership in the EAC, Rwanda is exposed to greater competition from other EAC member states. This may have prompted the Kagame regime to incite the M23 rebels to revolt again, according to the magazine.
It can also be as simple as Congo-Kinshasa's natural resources justifying Rwanda's involvement, writes Africa Confidential. Eastern Congo-Kinshasa is rich in precious metals and minerals and the natural resources have contributed to conflict ever since the European colonization of the area. We do US IRS reported last spring that 90 percent of all gold from Congo-Kinshasa is smuggled via Rwanda and Uganda, where it is refined and resold.
Protests against M23 – and MONUSCO
It is difficult to get an idea of exactly how many people have been affected by M23's attacks. Al Jazeera reports hundreds dead and almost 300 displaced. Refugee camp has been established as M23 has taken villages in North Kivu. In the attacks, civilians, including small children, are killed, according to information from Human Rights Watch. Last reported at the end of October The East African that M23 bombed a village just north of the provincial capital Goma, where they interviewed a pregnant woman whose husband had been killed in the attack. With the help of the Red Cross, she managed to get past the front line to receive treatment, but her five children remained behind.
The population of Congo-Kinshasa protests – but not only towards the M23, but also against UN peacekeeping forces, which many believe has broken its promise to protect civilians. IN summer 36 people died in the violent protests. Four soldiers from MONUSCO were also killed in the clashes.
New agreement within the East African Community
The 23th of November EAC member states, including Rwanda, officially agreed to try to persuade M23 to withdraw from the areas they have taken over in North Kivu and enter into an immediate ceasefire.
- It is encouraging to see that Paul Kagame feels that he can influence M23, said a spokesperson for Congo-Kinshasa President Félix Tshisekedi ahead of the EAC negotiations.
It remains to be seen if and, if so, when he succeeds. But some are skeptical.
- It can be easier said than done, writes DN's Africa correspondent Erik Esbjörnsson.