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ISS Seminar Report: The fall of Goma - what is next for the DRC?
Date: 30 November 2012
Venue: , ISS Conference Room, Block C, Brooklyn Court, 361 Veale Street, New Muckleneuk, Tshwane (Pretoria)


  • Stephanie Wolters, Director of Okapi Consulting
  • Nelson Alusla, former United Nations Group of Experts on the DRC


  • David Zounmenou, Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis Division of the Institute for Security Studies

The M23 rebellion started in April 2012, and the rebels soon formed a de facto government challenging President Joseph Kabila`à‚­s authority in Kinshasa. On Tuesday 20 November, the provincial capital of Goma in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) fell into the hands of the M23 rebels. Some observers pointed out that the movement had received new equipment and fighting material, giving it an advantage over the FARDC, the national armed forces. While the Congolese government sent close to 7 000 troops to the region, most of them went into hiding well before the M23 rebels could enter the city. The taking of Goma is the M23`à‚­s biggest victory to date, and a big blow to the authorities in Kinshasa. Moreover, it raises questions about the presence of MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping force, in the region. While the UN has close to 17 000 soldiers to protect civilians, citizens often criticise its inability to help them. A fundamental question that has often been raised concerns the interpretation of MONUSCO`à‚­s mandate.

  • What does the fall of Goma mean for the DRC and the region?

  • Are we likely to see a repeat of history?

  • What are the options available to the actors involved?

The seminar aimed at unpacking the dynamics of the conflict in the eastern DRC.

Stephanie Wolters gave an overview of the rise of the M23 rebellion, focusing on their origins in the CongràƒÂ¨s national pour la dàƒÂ©fense du peuple (CNDP). The CNDP is a rebel group that was formally born on 26 July 2006. From the start the CNDP was pre-occupied with eradicating the Forces dàƒÂ©mocratiques de libàƒÂ©ration du Rwanda  (FDLR) and repatriating the Congolese refugees living in Rwanda. In 2006, following a fight between the two groups that led to major losses on both sides the CNDP was integrated into the forces Forces ArmàƒÂ©es de la RàƒÂ©publique DàƒÂ©mocratique du Congo (FARDC). This deal was called mixage, and led to the creation of mixed brigades that were deployed in Masisi and Ruthsuru.  The leader of the CNDP at the time was Laurent Nkunda, who managed to retain full control over his troops, even after the mixage integration process. These mixed brigades were mandated to launch a campaign against the FDLR. However, the CNDP mainly focused on how they could strengthen themselves through the money and weapons they were receiving due to being a part of the mixage process. Eventually mixage collapsed, and fighting broke out between Nkunda`s loyalists and the Congolese army, as both parties tried to hold onto strategic positions.

This fighting was brought to an end under the Ihusi agreement of 16 January 2009, which was an agreement between the governments of Rwanda and the DRC. This agreement allowed for the Forces Rwandaises de DàƒÂ©fense (RDF) to pursue the FDLR on Congolese soil for a period of 90 days, which led to an improvement in the relations between Kigali and Kinshasa. Under the Ihusi agreement, once again, the CNDP was to be integrated into the FARDC. By January 2009, Bosco Ntganda announced that Nkunda should be removed as the head of the CNDP. Over 5000 troops were integrated into the national army, and many were given local level ministry positions, but no CNDP members were given any key ministries in Kinshasa. The famous March 23 agreement of 2009, is a separate agreement between the CNDP and the government of the DRC.  It was under the March 23 agreement that the DRC government agreed not to deploy the CNDP outside of the Kivus.

As Ntaganda rose to power he amassed mineral wealth and placed many CNDP commanders in strategic positions in the east. While the March 23 agreement was to a large extent met by Kinshasa, the M23 are still demanding the repatriation of Congolese refugees from Rwanda.

The CNDP was becoming more and more influential in the east, and by 2010 Kinshasa was making moves to reduce this influence. However, all attempts from Kinshasa were met with threats by the CNDP to withdraw from the peace process. In February 2012, Mwake Katumba, a senior advisor to President Joseph Kabila was sent to Rwanda to negotiate moving the CNDP out of the Kivus. Before anything was successfully negotiated, Katumba died in a plane crash. The CNDP members became increasingly afraid of losing their position in the east and so the M23 rebellion was formed.

Most of the March 23 agreement was already met by Kinshasa, but the M23 still claim that they wish to renegotiate the agreement, perhaps indicating that they really have another agenda. Both the M23 and Rwanda are well aware that breaking up the current structure would effectively kill their collective influence in the east. Possibly, the demands that the M23 is currently making are more for the purposes of gaining international sympathy than anything else.

The eastern part of the DRC can definitely be considered a region in turmoil. There are now seven armed groups that have allied themselves with the M23. Kinshasa, on the other hand is collaborating with various Mai Mai groups and on occasion with the FDLR. The FARDC is far too weak and could not have defended Goma even if they wanted to. Already, Joseph Kabila`s government was weakened by the flawed elections of 2011. Domestically he is very unpopular, and according to his opponents, the M23 rebellion has exposed the extent to which Kabila has allowed Rwanda and the CNDP to control the east.

Both North and South Kivu are economically very important to the armed groups operating there. There are various theories on Rwanda`s involvement, one being that it is a way for Rwanda`s own military to let off some steam. There are internal splits in Rwanda`s government and one of Kigali`s major concerns are that the groups operating in exile may link up with those in the East. Yet, the FDLR has been significantly weakened in the past few years, which means that pursuing the FDLR can no longer be Rwanda`s primary excuse for putting boots on the ground in the east. However, there is also the reality that Rwanda is not impressed with how President Kabila is running his country. Regarding Uganda`s involvement, the speaker argues that it is likely due to their economic interests, and not the fact that there are anti-Kampala groups operating in the east.

International actors, specifically the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) have responded to the renewed crisis with a flurry of meetings, but nothing concrete has materialised from any these meetings. The proposed military solution, in the form of an international neutral force, as well as the idea of forced disarmament will not solve anything, but likely only cause further chaos. The situation requires a political process because there are political demands being made. The various peace processes have not been completed, and thus there has to be a military process to accompany the military process.

The United Nations has condemned the rebellion but has not implicated Rwanda and Uganda. It has been the same with the African Union. After the summit that was held in Kampala, the M23 agreed to withdraw from Goma, but only within 20 km outside of the town, while they also insisted on continuing to administer the town. The FARDC has not been able to take back the towns taken by the M23, and Kinshasa is only issuing contradictory statements.

Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni`s role as the mediator in the ICGLR process also raised concerns. Uganda is implicated in the M23 rebellion and this means that his legitimacy in the process could be undermined. President Joseph Kabila`s government may start to show splits as his weaknesses are exposed. He does not have an ideologically sound government, but rather one where loyalty is based on financial gain. The M23 has indicated their willingness to link up with anti-Kabila groups in Kasai and Provence Occidentale. However, it is not yet clear whether M23 will follow through on this, or whether Kigali will back this rebellion all the way to Kinshasa. The way that MONUSCO handled the fall of Goma has led to them being discredited completely and has also pointed out the weakness of the international community in responding to the on going crisis. While there has been some bi-lateral aid withdrawal by Rwanda`s donors, it has already slowed down, with some aid being reinstated.

There is a need to talk about a wider peace initiative in the east, but the real objectives of Kigali and Kinshasa have to be known and considered. The main question is whether there is any political will to stop what is going on.  If nothing changes this time, the M23 will simply stay in the east, and there will be another repeat of history, with more failed peace processes and mutinies. This time, Kinshasa should not let the opportunity go by to change its dynamics with the armed groups operating in the east.

Nelson Alusala pointed out that the mandate of the United Nations Group of Experts (UN GoE) on the DRC is to investigate, military, political and mineral issues. The GoE lives in the countries where they are investigating. This gives them the opportunity to get to the primary sources and not just rely on journalists` reports. The GoE undertakes regional visits to identify the relevant individuals in governments that they should refer to. It is important to note that the M23 was a part of the FARDC and that there is nothing they do not know about the FARDC. After they defected they maintained communication with the GoE, and thus the GoE could contact them to get information about the unfolding events.

Alusala reminded the audience that the M23 defections started in Masisi, about 45 Km from Goma. The first mutineers were mostly of Tutsi Congolese origin. The mutineers were given 5 days to reconsider. This timeframe gave them enough space to move from Masisi to the hill of Runyoni, which is very close to the Rwandan border. At the time, Sultani Makenga was second in command of the Amani Leo operation in North Kivu.

By May 2012, the M23 took control of the town of Bunagana, which is on the Ugandan border, and which links the East African coast line to Mombasa. Controlling the town of Bunagana means that the export route via Kampala to Dar es Salaam and Mombasa is obstructed. The fact that this border was closed meant that some sources of income for the M23 were stifled.

The M23 has indicated that it is planning to take the town of Bukavu, which is the capital of South Kivu. There are numerous rebel movements in the east that have been infiltrated by the M23, such as Mai Mai Raia Mutomboki and Mai Mai Sheka.

According to the speaker, Uganda had little choice but to involve itself in the rebellion one way or the other. Considering the size of the DRC-Ugandan border, and the fact that the CNDP was gaining increasing control of the area, Uganda had to ensure it could still access its own border.

At this point, Kinshasa really has very few options. The areas that have fallen to the M23 are to be administered by a neutral force according to the ICGLR. However, questions remain about the composition and financing of this force.

Zounmenou concluded the presentations by pointing out that the situation in the eastern DRC requires the sincere engagement of the international community, especially regarding SSR. A coherent response is needed from the regional bodies. In addition, Kigali, Kinshasa and Kampala must engage in honest, sincere talks as well alongside the discussions between Kinshasa and the M23.

During the first question and answer session, there were questions regarding Rwanda and Uganda`s involvement in the conflict, Rwanda`s recent election to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the rational of negotiating with the M23 and the status of the GoE report.

It was pointed out that Uganda`s alleged current backing of the M23 is for the purpose of political gains and control. Moreover, Rwanda`s admission to the UNSC poses a problem, as it means that it will become difficult for the UNSC to touch on issues to which Rwanda is sensitive. Rwanda now has the power to veto any issues getting onto the agenda which do not match its policies. It is not completely unusual for the UN to be playing both sides. It must be noted, however, that there are also fractures within the M23, with certain members more loyal to Makenga and Nkunda,  while others are loyal to Ntaganda.

It is important that governments do not neglect the demands of small groups, because small groups may very quickly grow in size and become bigger threats. The wisest way to proceed would be to consider how to negotiate with these groups.

Zounmenou closed the seminar and provided a summary of the main challenges.

According to Zounmenou, first, the problems in the Great Lakes are well known, but the solutions remain inadequate. Second, giving authority to the ICGLR was not the right initiative, as the ICGLR is not capable nor is it sincere in solving the problem. The process needs to be broadened to fully include the AU and the UN. Third, the idea of a neutral force needs to be revised, as none of the countries in the region can be considered neutral. Even the offer that came from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) cannot be considered as neutral as there are problems between Rwanda and South Africa, and there is also a complicated history of involvement of certain SADC countries such Angola and Zimbabwe in the DRC. Fourth, the DRC leadership is failing in being responsible towards its own citizens. It must be questioned whether the political elite are really concerned about the Congolese people at all. While sincerity is required from the international community, it is up to the people of the DRC to challenge their government on national security issues. Fifth, in general, it must be remembered that in peace processes, when giving power to warlords, the people are automatically excluded from the political process, as everything becomes militarised.


ISS Conference Room
Block C
Brooklyn Court
361 Veale Street
New Muckleneuk
Tshwane (Pretoria)

Ms Maria Maluleke
Tel: (012) 346 9500
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