Africa–M23: The DRC’s latest breed of mutineers

Estimate of territory held by factions in June...

Estimate of territory held by factions in June 2003 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Written by Catherine Akurut (1) Monday, 17 September 2012 05:26

On 7 and 8 August 2012, presidents and representatives of the 11 member states of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) held a summit to put a halt to the M23 rebellion, one of the rebel groups causing considerable human rights violations and an exceptional humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The extraordinary summit took place in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, and was attended by the host and chairman of the ICGLR, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, as well as the heads of state and representatives from Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic (CAR), the DRC, Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Sudan and Zambia. However, the summit was deadlocked on deciding whether to use a ‘neutral force’ to defuse the M23 rebels. This deadlock necessitated the host to schedule another summit in the month that follows to discuss an enduring solution to this latest crisis.

The M23 mutineers, who have made several media citations since their establishment, derived their name from the 23 March 2009 peace agreement, which put an end to the clash between Government troops and the Tutsi-led Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple(CNDP) rebels. The CNDP rebels were subsequently assimilated into the Congolese National Police and the Armed Forces as agreed in Article 1 of the peace agreement.(2) More than two years later, the mutineers claim that the Congolese Government is not honouring the terms and conditions of the agreement. Due to this grievance, the M23 munity was launched to challenge the Congolese Government not to do as it pleased, but to abide by the rules as drafted and co-signed in the peace agreement. The membership of the M23 rebel group consists of former CNDP rebels. One of its leaders, Bosco Ntaganda, was indicted and is being sought by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for perpetrating crimes against humanity. One wonders whether this latest munity is not in fact a decoy for these former CNDP rebels to carry on with their agenda as they were prior to the truce with the Congolese Government, which actually had them convincingly surrender. 

This CAI paper attempts to shed light on the M23 mutiny. It will provide a brief background of the DRC crisis, and an overview of the 23 March 2009 resolution, which is ostensibly the core reason for perpetrating the mutiny, which has consequently caused massive displacement following its establishment in April 2012. The paper will also discuss the outcome of the recent ICGLR summit. In this regard, it concludes that a military solution is not the best solution to defusing the M23 rebellion, but rather a catalyst for furthering the crisis in the DRC.

The DRC crisis: ‘Africa’s world war’

For an extended period of time, the DRC has suffered an endless conflict that has since become an ‘axis of conflicts’. Some scholars have referred to the crisis in the region as ‘Africa’s world war.’ This is perhaps because the conflict is protracted in nature. During the 1890s, King Leopold of Belgium took possession of the country we now know as the DRC, setting in motion one of the most hideous pillages ever by a colonial power.(3) Huge arrays of minerals, including gold, ivory and rubber, as well as millions of human lives were taken in his name. Despite acquiring its independence in the 1960s, this atrocious scramble for minerals in the DRC did not stop. Instead it carried on intensely under former President Mobutu Sese Seko’s corrupt 32 year old regime that ended in 1997. Even in the years after, the conflict for minerals carried on – incidentally the players seem to change, but not the game.

According to the International Rescue Committee, some five million people needlessly lost their lives between 1998 and 2007, making it the worst loss of human lives since World War II. Hitherto this escalating bloodshed was blind to the outside world.(4) The battlefield is concentrated in the DRC’s eastern provinces of north and south Kivu as well as northwards into the Ituri region of the “sprawling Province Orientale.” This region is a no-man’s-land and boarders the DRC, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. It is also one of the world’s richest sources of diamonds, gold, timber and, most recently, coltan and tin, both vital for assembling products in the high-tech industries such as computers and cell phones.(5)

While conflict has continued to prevail in the DRC, it has, for an extended period of time, been concentrated in the eastern part of the region, most specifically in north and south Kivu.(6) Although conflicts are an inevitable part of human life, and regardless of their cause, they eventually must be managed or resolved. In this regard, numerous attempts have been carried out to halt the seemingly endless crisis in the DRC, including the Lusaka peace accord of 1999, the peace talks in 2002, and even an interim Government in 2003 and most recently, the 23 March 2009 peace agreement. However, according to the DRC’s M23, the Congolese Government seems not to be honouring the latest agreement. The rebels thus decided to launch a rebellion in April 2012 to announce their frustrations and challenge the Congolese Government into abiding by the peace deal.

Why the name M23?

The rebel group, M23 takes its name from 23 March 2009, the date of the peace agreement that put an end to fighting between the DRC Government and the Tutsi-led CNDP rebels, which the rebels are convinced was violated by the DRC Government.(7) Many of its members are military personnel who walked out on the Congolese army to join and support the Congolese fugitive, Bosco Ntaganda. Also known as the ‘Terminator’, Ntaganda was a former leader of the CNDP rebels, and is sought after by the ICC for crimes against humanity (8) such as the recruitment of child soldiers about a decade ago.(9) The M23 rebels mutinied in April 2012, claiming that the DRC Government had failed to hold up their end of that peace deal. The peace agreement, which took place in the DRC town of Goma, was between the Congolese Government and the CNDP. Several sessions were conducted in Nairobi and Goma over an extend period of time under the auspices of the co-facilitation of the Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary General for the Great Lakes Region, Olusegun Obasanjo, and his co-facilitator of the African Union (AU) and of the ICGLR, Benjamin William Mkapa.(10)

In addition, the peace talks also considered the “necessity for the strict respect of the fundamental standards and principles of international humanitarian law as well as the CNDP’s military and political declarations in Goma on 16 January and 4 February 2009.”(11) The party members formally agreed on a number of things some of which included:

  • Transforming the CNDP into a political party and integrating its members into the Congolese police and army,
  • Having the CNDP expose a list of their political prisoners who would then be released by the Congolese Government,
  • Enacting the law of amnesty,
  • Recognising national reconciliation mechanisms,
  • Resolving all local conflicts,
  • Returning all refuges and Internally Displaced People,
  • And declaring north and south Kivu as “disaster areas.”(12)

A peace deal infringed: Why M23 was formed

The M23 rebels are former Tutsi rebels from the Rwanda-backed CNDP. The CNDP rebels were, however, integrated into the DRC army in 2009 as part of an agreement between the DRC Government and the CNDP rebels, following their failed attempt to take over the town of Goma in 2008. These Tutsi ex-rebels launched a rebellion in April 2012 demanding the DRC Government fully execute the 2009 peace agreement and also better pay. The insurgents claim they were being subjected to poor working conditions, and were denied promotions and positions both within the army and Government.(13) The eastern part of the DRC has been the battlefield between the Government forces and the M23 rebels. Fighting escalated in the DRC region when the M23 mutineers overran the Bunagana border post, displacing several thousands of people and also capturing some towns amidst retreat of the Government forces.(14)

Fighting has been ongoing in this region since 1994 when thousands of Rwandese – mostly Hutus crossed the border into the DRC following the genocide in which some 800,000 men, women and children – mostly Tutsis – lost their lives.(15) However, one cannot disregard the fact that among those who fled from Rwanda were the former ‘genocidaires’ who were responsible for the massive loss of human lives during the 1994 genocide. In fact, when these genocidaires fled, they formulated a rebel group called the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which had since contributed to the ongoing crisis in the DRC. The CNDP rebel group was initially established to fight against the FDLR rebel movement.(16) The M23 rebel group is dominated by Congolese Tutsis.(17) They are known to have occupied a hill top that overlooks Bunagana town, which is largely occupied by Hutus.(18) The Hutu populace fear that the ex-CNDP Tutsi leadership could launch an ethnically motivated attack on them. But, many of the M23 mutineers are Hutu, an aspect that restores confidence among the people that the fight perpetrated by the M23 rebels is not in any way ethnic.(19)

Prior to the Kampala summit, one of the founders of M23, Vienney Kazarama, announced how the rebel group had control over 30 kilometres north of Goma. However, he explicitly stated that their intention was not to take control of Goma, but rather requested to have peace talks with the Congolese Government.(20) Indeed the M23 rebel movement anticipated expressing their grievances at the recently concluded summit that took place on 7 and 8 August 2012 in the Ugandan capital.(21) The M23 mutineers also claim the treaty promised to have the DRC army crush the FDLR movement from its region, but so far that has not happened.(22) In addition, the mutineers oppose the current DRC Government because, according to them, President Joseph Kabila’s 2011 election results were counterfeited. The group also expressed concern that the national army is not only poorly paid, but does not respect the rule of law.(23) The rebel group anticipates continuing fighting with the DRC Government if it does not respect the rule of law.(24) Ignoring the fact that their track record involves the use of child soldiers and other gruesome human rights crimes,(25) the M23 proclaim that their rationale for fighting is not to “conquer territory or defeat enemies but to strengthen a negotiating position and to win, for its various partners, a bigger slice of power or money or security.”(26) The DRC is a mineral-rich nation, whilst its mineral trading city is host to several mineral trading companies, most of which are Asian.(27) Apart from being one of the world’s sources of gold, diamonds and timber, the country produces, copper, tin, and is the world’s third largest producer of tantalum, accounting for 10% of its global production.(28) It is no surprise that numerous rebel groups keep cropping up all anticipating to have a piece of the nation’s pie – control of its mineral-rich region.

Recent developments and the way forward

Numerous parties have engaged in the ceaseless conflict over who controls the mineral-rich area of the DRC. The M23 rebels fighting for the same right to control this region should not be disregarded.(29) The munity has led to the death of an unidentified number of people and the displacement of over 280,000 more.(30) However, after continuous clashes with the Congolese Government for nearly four months now, the M23 mutineers are ready for peace talks. But the Congolese Government says it is not ready and is unwilling to negotiate with the insurgents. In his words, the DRC Foreign Minister, Raymond Tshibanda, stated that “We don’t want them [the M23 rebels] to survive as a movement, as an ideology, we don’t want to see their actions continue.” In other words, “there is nothing to discuss [or] negotiate,” he added.(31)

Nonetheless, in the name of peace, a two-day summit recently concluded to discuss a suitable solution for dealing with the DRC crisis in reference to the M23 munity. Fighting in the region certainly came to a stalemate when President Museveni reached out to the mutineers as well as the regional leaders.(32) The summit proposed that a “neutral force” should be deployed to defuse the M23 rebels. However, the heads of states did not agree on whether this “neutral force” should be derived from the member states alone or whether it should be an international force,(33) hence the necessitation of another regional meeting – the Kampala summit. Surprisingly, the Kampala meeting also ended in disagreement. This deadlock necessitated the host (Museveni) to schedule yet another meeting in the four weeks that followed to discuss an enduring solution for dealing with the M23 rebels.

The M23 rebel group is well dressed, well funded, heavily armed, somewhat better that the DRC army, which poses the question: who is funding the group M23? Media speculations have been that Rwanda and Uganda are supporting the M23 munity, allegations which both countries deny. Donors, including Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and the United States, have suspended some of their financial aid to Rwanda over this speculation.(34) Rwanda and Uganda both agree that a regional force should be used to tackle the DRC crisis.(35) But, the Congolese Government disagrees, and is in favour of a ‘neutral force’, in its entirety.

Tshibanda was precise when he stated that “When we talk about a neutral force clearly, it cannot involve Congolese troops because it is international, and it cannot involve Rwandan troops as Rwanda is a part of the problem.” He then added that in case the talks over the use of a “neutral force” dragged on, the DRC would search for other alternatives. Such alternative could comprise an invitation to the armed force from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) or rather reinforcing the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO),(36) irrespective of the fact that the DRC has had an international force for over a decade.(37) Yet, the situation in the mineral-rich nation has not gotten any better. If anything, the unrest in the region keeps getting worse, while other uprisings crop up. Even though the crisis in the DRC is a concern of the country alone, past experience shows that the DRC conflicts tend to spill over its boarders, inevitably making it a regional problem. Therefore, a suitable solution, whether negotiable, regional or international, is urgently needed to bring about peace in this mineral-rich nation.

Concluding remarks

One major variable about the M23 mutiny is its ethnic composition – the membership and agenda of the group is largely Hutu/Tutsi. This does not only make the current conflict in the DRC very unique and complicated to resolve, but poses an enquiry as to whether the rebel group and its agenda has the sincere and true support of the local Congolese citizens.

Based on the ethnic dimensions of the conflict and the seemingly clandestine involvement of Rwanda and Uganda, the DRC Government wishes to utilise a ‘neutral force’ to defuse the M23 rebels. However, there are currently about eight Congolese armed forces operating in the eastern part of the DRC, including the M23 rebels, and three other armed groups led mainly by international forces.(38) The question remains whether deploying another armed force into the region is a suitable solution. This adds to the already huge number of armed forces in the region taking into account that there is no definite way of knowing which armed group is accountable for causing major atrocities such as rape against the Congolese people. The DRC Government should consider reinforcing its own army to defuse the M23 rebel group since negotiating with the mutineers is highly unlikely.

Nonetheless, deploying another armed force in the region would be at the expense of the Congolese populace who have endured appalling human rights violations and massive displacement for an extended period of time. Until a lasting solution for the DRC crisis is obtained – one that does not impinge of the welfare of the Congolese people – the future state of the DRC will continue to be one favourable for conflict and the continuous violation of human rights and massive displacement.


(1) Contact Catherine Akurut through Consultancy African Intelligence’s Conflict and Terrorism Unit (
(2) ‘Democratic Republic of the Congo: Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple (CNDP)’,
(3) Eichstaedt, P., 2011. Consuming the Congo: War and conflict minerals in the world’s deadliest place. Lawrence Hill Books, Chicago.
(4) Ibid.
(5) Ibid.
(6) ‘Democratic Republic of the Congo: Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple (CNDP)’,
(7) Jones, P., ‘M23 rebels breed fear in Congo border town’, RNW Africa, 15 July 2012,
(8) ‘Uganda denies supporting Congo M23 rebels’, RNW Africa, 31 July 2012,
(9) ‘DR Congo: UN helicopter gunship fires on M23 rebels’, BBC, 12 July 2012,
(10) ‘Democratic Republic of the Congo: Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple (CNDP)’,
(11) Ibid.
(12) Ibid.
(13) Bariyo, N., ‘Congo M23 rebels launch political wing’, The Wall Street Journal, 12 July 2012,
(14) Mukasa, H., ‘Eleven leaders in Kampala over Congo crisis’, New Vision, 6 August 2012,
(15) ‘DR Congo: UN helicopter gunship fires on M23 rebels’, BBC, 12 July 2012,
(16) ‘Uneasy calm inside Congo’s rebel-held territory’, BBC, 24 July 2012,
(17) Bariyo, N., ‘Congo M23 rebels launch political wing’, The Wall Street Journal, 12 July 2012,
(18) Jones, P., ‘M23 rebels breed fear in Congo border town’, RNW Africa, 15 July 2012,
(19) Ibid.
(20) Doornebal, A., ‘DR Congo M23 rebels ready for peace talks’, RNW, 6 August 2012,
(21) Ibid.
(22) Ibid.
(23) Ibid.
(24) Ibid.
(25) ‘Who are the M23 rebels?’, New Vision, 10 July 2012.
(26) ‘The tactics behind DR Congo’s munity’, BBC, 11 July 2012,
(27) Bariyo, N., ‘Congo M23 rebels launch political wing’, The Wall Street Journal, 12 July 2012,
(28) Ibid.
(29) ‘Regional heads to confer on DR Congo conflict’, Aljazeera, 7 August 2012,
(30) Ibid.
(31) Delany, M., ‘DR Congo says no negotiations with M23 rebels’, Bloomberg, 9 August 2012,
(32) Ibid.
(33) ‘Kampala summit on the Rwanda-DRC conflict a flop’, The London Evening Post, 9 August 2012,
(34) ‘Clinton urges end to Congo crisis as leaders meet’, Reuters, 7 August 2012,
(35) ‘Kampala summit on the Rwanda-DRC conflict a flop’, The London Evening Post, 9 August 2012,
(36) Delany, M., ‘DR Congo says no negotiations with M23 rebels’, Bloomberg, 9 August 2012,
(37) ‘Kampala summit on the Rwanda-DRC conflict a flop’, The London Evening Post, 9 August 2012,
(38) Doyle, M., ‘How DR Congo rebels make their money’, BBC, 29 July 2012,

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