Attempt to straighten some historic and contextual facts on the M23 rebellion

In today’s post, I would like to straighten some facts on the Congolese context, that could hopefully serve for better understanding of the complexity the M23 crisis really represents.

1. The M23 members were previously integrated in the Congolese army.

WRONG. The Congolese army is made of a mixture of the old FAZ (Mobutu’s Forces Armees Zairoises) and members of several armed groups that have joined the peace process after 2003. The CNDP, emanation of the previous RCD, was one of these rebel groups.

The official Congolese integration process is called “brassage”, which means mixing the rebel groups in several existing FARDC battalions, and redeploying them in Provinces distant from where they were created.

The logic behind this is straightforward: most rebel groups were mono-ethnic, and created with the main aim of protecting their ethnical groups interests. A national army has to protect a nation and its territory, not only parts of it. It is therefore impossible to have a real national army if ex-rebels remain in their traditional areas of control.

The CNDP has always refused this, reason why it was at war with the FARDC until 2009. That year, after defeating the FARDC several times and getting dangerously close to the 1 million people large city of Goma, it forced Kinshasa into accepting a biased integration process it created to serve its interests: the “mixage”.

Under this scheme, the CNDP rebels were integrated into new battalions tailored for them, and remained located in their areas of origin: the Kivus. Concretely meaning, integrated within them selves, and not within the FARDC.

2. The M23 represents and defends the Tutsi population of DRC

WRONG. The Tutsi community of DRC has two main and distinct origins, and is therefore separated in 2 distinct groups with specific interests: the Banyamulenge in South Kivu, and the North Kivu Tutsis.

a)    The Banyamulenge community

As the meaning of their name – people of Mulenge- suggests it, the Banyamulenge are Tutsis from South Kivu, where the village of Mulenge is located. They were the first Tutsis to arrive in the Kivus, for reason that would today be called “seeking asylum”, even though the notion didn’t exist then.

The most commonly agreed opinion on their origin places their arrival in South Kivu in the middle or end of the 19th century, as the royal Rwandan family from Butare was fleeing the Belgian colonizer and its massacres. After the Zairian independance, Mobutu used their access to nationality, which was never unconditionally granted, as a political trigger and tool in the East.

The Banyamulenge community sided with Rwanda during the 1996 and 1998 wars, as it felt rightfully threatened by the sudden arrival of hundreds of thousands of genocidors from Rwanda in 1994. It however rapidly noticed its protector was manipulating it, and the honeymoon ended shortly after the war.

Realizing they could only count on themselves to defend their interests, they created their own rebel group, the FRF, rather than joining Rwanda controlled Laurent Nkunda and its CNDP in North Kivu.

They remained in rebellion until early 2011, when they decided they could trust their FARDC brothers enough for the protection of their community, and subsequently integrated the army and a long term political process with Kinshasa.

Today, with the M23 crisis, the Banyamulenge community has once more proven the resentment it feels towards CNDP / now M23 and its supporters by remaining loyal to the FARDC.

At a civil society level, their President has publically expressed his condemnation of the M23 rebellion in his statement here.

b)    The North Kivu Tutsis

The history of the Tutsis of North Kivu is much more recent, political, and controversial. An interesting resume of this history can be found here, and in many other papers available by searching Google.

North Kivu Tutsis are mostly located in Masisi, a large Territory of North Kivu located at 50 kms from the Town of Goma, and stronghold of Bosco Ntaganda, previous CNDP leader.

In the early 1920s, Masisi was populated only by Hundes and Twas, and under the control of Belgian colonizers, who decided to use its large and fertile lands to develop its agriculture.

To do so, they created the “Comite National du Kivu” in 1928, with the aim of importing Tutsi manpower. In Rwanda already, the Belgian colonizer had chosen to use the Tutsis, who looked more similar to Caucasians than Hutus, for the implementation of their deadly colonial policy.

These Tutsis, who were coming to work for white farmers, were receiving 5 hectares of land each, as retribution for their delocalization. In the early 1950s, shortages of land were already reported, and the original Hunde population was forced to leave in order to give space to these new immigrants brought by the Belgians.

Between 1945 and 1957, the Belgians dramatically shifted their policy, as they would later in Rwanda, and started massively bringing Hutu workers rather than Tutsi ones. This further paved ground for the coming ethnic issues in Eastern DRC.

With its accession to independence, Zaire placed Nandes and Hundes at administrative positions, and these methodically worked on abolishing Rwandophone privileges and interests in North Kivu.

This “Zairianisation” of the Masisi lands and resources continued until the Rwandan invasion of 1996. The plight of the North Kivu Tutsi population was further heightened in 1994 with the arrival of hundreds of thousands of Hutu genocidors from Rwanda.

In 1996, with the Rwandan invasion, the Tutsis from North Kivu regained their political ascendency and regained ownership of most Masisi strategic resources, until today.

Search for Common Ground made an interesting opinion survey in June 2012 in large localities of Masisi for strictly humanitarian –not linked to M23- reasons, and published its findings in a very interesting report. It mentions that most land and mines in Masisi belong to Tutsis, while they constitute the minority ethnic group locally.

It is to protect these specific interests that the CNDP was created, and it is for this reason that Laurent Nkunda refused to join the peace process in 2003: fear that, like in 1960, the free DRC would work to strip North Kivu Tutsis from their controversially acquired privileges. It is this same CNDP that forced the “mixage” process in 2009, and tries to protect it today under the new M23 name.

3. The 60,000 refugees in Rwanda are a direct consequence of the fighting between the M23 and the FARDC in Masisi

WRONG. These are both victims and actors of a political tragedy. As demonstrated in the SFCG report, the Tutsi population of Masisi left suddenly, “without saying bye”, and without serious fighting taking place on the ground. This sudden departure created panic in the Hunde and Hutu populations, who were wondering what was happening.

There is no more widespread fighting in Masisi since the month of May, when the M23 left it after successive losses to the FARDC, and moved to Rutshuru where it could be more easily supplied by its friends. Today, the Hunde and Hutu population of Masisi is in its villages, living a normal life. Only the Tutsis live in refugee camps in Rwanda.

It is therefore clear that what the Tutsi population of Masisi fleas is not current fighting, but the absence of ex-CNDP/new M23 troops on the ground to protect their interests.  This means that they are aware of the controversial nature of these, and that being a minority they don’t feel their security is guaranteed unless Tutsi composed armed men are there to protect them.

This is a tragic statement, as it shows the difficulty of the Congolese context. While ill reason based, these fears are legitimate, and one can’t think of a solution to the current rebellion without thinking of durable solutions for the security of the North Kivu Tutsi population, by working on ethnic cohabitation.

 4. The solution to the crisis is to debate a report, and a regional force

 WRONG. As expressed above, the current crisis did not start in May 2012. The links between Rwanda and the North Kivu Tutsis go as far as the 1920s, when they arrived in the Kivus. This link never eroded since.

It’s not only a question of interest and big money – even though this also plays a big role-, it’s a question of survival. For Rwanda, who can’t absorb such a large population with its limited size and high density, the North Kivu Tutsis can’t be nothing but Congolese, there is no other way. For the North Kivu Tutsis, they were put in a situation where their survival depends on military protection from Rwanda backed troops.

The only way out is extremely complicated, and involves profound changes. The North Kivu Tutsis need to be given full and unconditional Congolese nationality, with all related obligations, rights and protections.

To make this sustainable, the cards need to be redistributed on the ground. The biggest fuel for the ethnic tension is land conflict, as put forward by the SFCG report. The current land repartition in Masisi is the result of a foreign invasion, and of the will of the invader. It is therefore unnatural, and not sustainable.

The North Kivu Tutsis need to remain holders of some land and administrative power, but a large part needs to be equally redistributed to the Nandes, Hundes, Hutus and Twas. Only with an even repartition of resources will ethnic cohabitation without need for military protection become sustainable.

In order to achieve these changes, the State needs to restore its full authority in the Territory as a precondition, which involves dismantling all present rebellions, including M23, FDLR and Raia Mutombokis. It also involves that Rwanda stops all support to M23 and starts working on durable and sustainable solutions for the North Kivu Tutsis to be fully accepted as Congolese, by all other present ethnic groups.

However many soldiers, local committees and land redistribution it takes, everyone from the Congolese authorities and population to the international community should focus on Masisi, while making sure that other parts of DRC are not destabilized as it is the case today with South Kivu and the Province Orientale.



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