Troops from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) will in the future try to curb the rebel group M23 in eastern Congo-Kinshasa. Pictured: Soldiers from UN peacekeeping forces in 2013 who had been sent to North Kivu province when the M23 rebels were last active. Photo: MONUSCO Photos/Flickr.

Development magazine explains

The M23 rebel group in Congo-Kinshasa - this is how the conflict has escalated

Last fall, the M23 rebel group in eastern Congo-Kinshasa agreed to a ceasefire, mone it was quickly broken. Sthe thirties have continued and over 800 people have been forced to flee since 2021† Now sendr additional African countries troops to the area - and fclay experts fears an intensification of the conflict.
- Is the Third Congo War on the way? asks Africa expert Teresa Nogueira pinto 

Over 800 people have been forced to flee since the M000 rebel group re-emerged in November 23, after being inactive since 2021, according to Amnesty International. Many of those who were forced to flee now live in refugee camps in North Kivu province in eastern Congo-Kinshasa, where M23 has been most active. The living conditions for the people on the run are difficult with insufficient food supply and inadequate sanitation.

- It is new for me to live under such circumstances, under a small tarp with so many children. We just want peace, says Christiane Mukankusi Bashoiwe, who lives with six of her eight children in a refugee camp in Bulengo in North Kivu, to The New Humanitarian.

How many people have died as a result of the fighting is difficult to ascertain. Congo-Kinshasa has stated close to 300 people, while Human Rights Watch have only been able to confirm about ten deaths during the particular attacks that they have been able to properly investigate.

The EU, with the support of France, has carried out several aid efforts. In March, the European Commission established an air bridge to Goma in North Kivu for the delivery of various supplies to the area. The Commission also sent 47 million euros to various aid organizations on the ground.

Criticism of Kenyan peacekeepers: "The rebels never left"

In November 2022, the members of the East African Community, EAC, agreed to work together to get the M23 rebel group to withdraw from the eastern parts of Congo-Kinshasa, which The development magazine reported on. It is now clear that the agreement has not been kept.

The EAC forces consist mainly of Kenyan military, and Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi recently accused the forces of cooperate with the rebel group. However, he has not described exactly how the parties would have cooperated. The civilians who have been affected by the M23's advance are also skeptical to the Kenyan EAC efforts.

- The regional [EAC] forces have not changed anything - the rebels never left, said an anonymous person who has fled the town of Kibumba, which M23 has previously invaded and, according to the Kenyan military, has since been secured by the EAC.

Now troops from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are to take the helm, mainly with military from Angola - a decision that has been welcomed by Felix Tshisekedi.

UN: Rwanda supports M23

Rwanda has long been accused of supporting the rebel group, among others by Human Rights Watch.

In March this year visited a UN delegation Congo-Kinshasa, and U.N-representatives said that there is no longer any doubt that Rwanda supports M23. Rwandan President Paul Kagame denies however continued all involvement with M23.

The group is one of ösee 120 militias housing in the eastern parts of Congo-Kinshasa – an area rich in valuable natural resources.

- The focus on M23, which is just one of hundreds of armed groups that murder, rape and loot every day, is evidence of the cynical approach in eastern Congo-Kinshasa that only prolongs the suffering of millions of men, women and children, says Jean-Mobert Senga , researcher at Amnesty International in Congo-Kinshasa, to The Guardian.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame (left), Congo-Kinshasa President Félix Tshisekedi (center) and Angolan President João Lourenço (right). The three leaders are now facing an escalation of conflict reminiscent of the escalation to the Second Congo War (1998–2002). Here at the funeral ceremony in May 2019 for Congo-Kinshasa's former Prime Minister Étienne Tshisekedi, also Félix Tshisekedi's father. Photo: Paul Kagame/Flickr.
The United States and Great Britain are low in criticism of Rwanda

USA is one of many countries that have criticized Rwanda's association with M23. However, tensions between the countries eased in March 2023 when government critic Paul Rusesabagina was released from prison in Rwanda, following prolonged diplomatic pressure from the United States, which The development magazine reported on. It is now unclear whether the Biden administration will continue to pressure Paul Kagame, writes Foreign Affairs.

Britain is also low in criticism of Rwanda. Rishi Sunak has not condemned Rwanda's involvement as the countries have agreed to send asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda. It writes The Guardian. The agreement has received sharp criticism from, among others, UNHCR, which The development magazine reported on.

Escalated conflict likely: "Is the Third Congo War on the way?"

In December this year should elections be held in Congo-Kinshasa, it will be difficult for President Félix Tshisekedi – who is expected to run again – to make concessions in negotiations with M23. That's what Reagan Miviri, a researcher at the Congolese think tank Ebuteli, thinks The East African have spoken to.

Also Africa expert Teresa Nogueira Pinto at the think tank Geopolitical Intelligence Services believes that public confidence in Félix Tshisekedi would be severely damaged if he accedes to M23's demands to integrate the rebels into Congo-Kinshasa government forces. She does not rule out that the upcoming election is a potential way out of the conflict, if Félix Tshisekedi were to judge stabilization measures as the best tools to win the election. But she thinks that is highly unlikely. She does not believe in a quick diplomatic solution to the conflict, as neither Congo-Kinshasa nor Rwanda has control over M23. An escalated conflict is more likely given that more and more African countries are drawn into the fighting, with no signs of abating in the tensions between Congo-Kinshasa and Rwanda.

Like the Geopolitical Intelligence Services draw among others BBC News and Africa News parallels to the Second Congo War which took place between 1998 and 2002. It is the bloodiest war since the Second World War - when almost five and a half million people died. Even then, troops from Kenya and Angola were sent to eastern Congo-Kinshasa to try to curb conflict between Congo-Kinshasa and Rwanda.

- Is the Third Congo War on the way? asks Teresa Nogueira Pinto.

M23, EAC and SADC

Movement Du 23 March, M23, is a rebel group consisting mostly of Congolese Tutsis. 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 was broken again in March last year. The rebels themselves claim that Congo-Kinshasa has still not integrated the Tutsi insurgents into the national forces, as agreed in 2009.

M23's stated purpose is to protect Congolese Tutsis, among other things with reference to the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. But Foreign Affairs writes that even Congolese Tutsis who are not part of M23 fall victim to the violence in the area. They have been stoned in the streets and their homes burned down by other Congolese ethnic groups, who assume they support M23.


East African Community, EAC, consists of seven member states: Burundi, Kenya, Congo-Kinshasa, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.

Southern African Development Community, SADC, consists of 16 member states: Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Comoros, Congo-Kinshasa, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.   

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