Addis or the unexpected turning point
After months of stalling at the ICGLR meeting in Kampala, the M23 crisis in Eastern DRC suddenly saw rapid, if not hectic evolution in last days.
The turning point seems to be the Addis Ababa framework for peace, signed on March 24 by 11 countries of the region, including DRC, Uganda and Rwanda.
The initial reactions to this framework were mostly negative as it is not inclusive of main rebel groups that plunder DRC, and is more a general expression of goodwill than a concrete roadmap to durable peace. As such, the framework relies both on implementing measures that remain to be decided, and on the goodwill of its signatory parties. Looking at the recent Congolese history and regional contributions to its steady collapse, there is little wonder why such a broad framework was welcomed with skepticism by the majority of Congolese and by many international observers.
The framework was however taken seriously enough by the M23 rebel group to ignite a bomb that had been sleeping since its decision to withdraw from Goma.
Goma: a fish too big to swallow
Antagonisms between Sultani Makenga and Bosco Ntaganda exist since at least 2009. At the beginning of that year, Laurent Nkunda was placed under house arrest in Rwanda after Kinshasa accepted the idea of joint RDF-FARDC operations against the FDLR rebels. Sultani Makenga was close to Nkunda, and never digested this agreement, nor the nomination of the uncontrollable Ntaganda as his replacement. When accessing his new position, Ntaganda worked to create a core of officers and politicians closer to him than to Nkunda/Makenga, and this is how Pastor Runiga was recruited.
The war axe was buried for several years, and gradually resurfaced during the taking over of Goma, a fish too big to swallow for a rebel group with such short political vision. The Nkunda affiliated wing of M23, lead by Colonel Sultani Makenga, was in favor of the withdrawal as a first step towards negotiations. The Ntaganda affiliated wing, lead by Pastor Runiga, desired to remain in Goma in order to obtain further political weight during negotiations to come, and to be able to demand more than a mere implementation of the March 23, 2009 treat –including political demands and amnesty for some ex-CNDP officers.
It is interesting to note that Makenga had the last word, despite Runiga being the official President of the movement. This further demonstrates that the whole M23 structure is a public relations mascaraed from the start, where official leaders are not pulling strings and where, like in Kinshasa, unknown men take decisions behind closed doors. The democratic demands of the movement also prove to be nothing but a display, as it fails to implement this governance in its own limited organization of 3,000 men. One can only wonder what kind of democracy they dream of imposing on 70 million Congolese.
Why Addis further ignited the tensions
These internal tensions reached their pike with the signing of the Addis framework. While probably not sufficient for durable peace, it appeared like a first step towards the short-term reintegration of M23 officers and troops in the FARDC.
Such a reintegration without further conditions meant the military, political and judiciary deaths of Bosco Ntaganda (wanted by the ICC), and his allies including Runiga, currently scrutinized by the international community. As such, the Bosco wing became a burden for part of M23 and its external support.
While the Kampala talks have been stalling since months, pressure has been mounting on all sides.
With time, the M23 became increasingly isolated at national level as the inconsistencies of its demands during negotiations revealed their fake nature and the existence of hidden agendas behind them. Internationally, new sanctions were voted against its leaders, and Obama announced a 5 million USD reward for Ntaganda’s arrest.
Pressure has also been mounting on Rwanda, a country that starts to seriously feel the effects of its foreign aid suspension, on which more than 40% of its budget was depending.
It therefore slowly became clear that the rebel group had to lower its expectations, abandon crazy ideas such as new elections or a national dialogue, and go for integration under 2009 conditions as best way out. A best way Ntaganda could not accept.
During the evening of February 24, the day the Addis framework was signed, fighting erupted in Rutshuru, leaving several dead, including Major Anicet Musana from the M23 movement.
Suspicions of M23 internal fighting quickly erupted on Twitter, as the town was under M23 control and no particular attack on it had been reported that night. In its usual hypocrite style, the M23 backed by some Rwandan press made its best to make us believe that truths are false and lies are true. It was not internal fighting, but a cunning attack by the murderous FDLR that was courageously repelled by the brave M23, for the well being of the population. Pictures of Pastor Runiga parading in Rutshuru were displayed to show that he was still President of the movement, and others of Runiga sitting next to Makenga at Major Musana’s burial equally showed off later as clear and undisputable evidences of M23 unity.
The rebel group is either very unsecure and undecided, or composed of criminals that made a living out of killing (a lot), and then lying (a lot) to cover their crimes. I’ll let the reader decide, as only one day after this paparazzi style display, Sultani Makenga announced that he decided to destitute Runiga from his functions, for treachery –being close to Bosco Ntaganda- and mismanagement of funds – in favor of Ntaganda-. Such an announcement couldn’t be made without the usual use of shameless demagogue wording, and Makenga emphasized on the fact it was unacceptable that Runiga deals with a man wanted by the ICC for war crimes.
Lessons learnt on M23
Let’s stop one second on these events and try to analyze them, as they are quite telling on the nature of M23.
First, as mentioned above, M23 is not a structured rebel group fighting against dictatorship and for the liberation of Congolese people as it claims to be, it fails to implement transparent leadership even in its own limited circle.
Second, one should note the hypocrisy behind Makenga’s statement on Runiga’s dismissal. The M23 President did not become pro-Ntaganda overnight and already was at the creation of the movement, as expressed above. Sultani Makenga also forgets to mention that he co-holds responsibility for the execution of more than 100 civilians in Kiwanja during his CNDP times. Makenga will therefore struggle to convince anyone that he is acting out of humanist considerations. Runiga and Ntaganda are sacrificed to the cause. To what cause precisely? This remains to be clarified.
Third, it’s becoming clearer that the M23 is made of compulsive liars. How else can the desperate attempt to display those pictures of Runiga and Makenga one day before the split became official, and 2 days after the Rutshuru event, be described? It seems these men got so used to lying that they do it spontaneously, without even bothering to think of consequences and potential added or subtracted value anymore. Never believe what they say. Ever.
Masks have finally and permanently fallen, the M23 scam has been revealed in all its glory to the world. What now?
The Kampala talks are still on until their chairman, Museveni, calls them off. One can wonder why this chairmanship wasn’t transferred to Denis Sassou Nguesso when he took over the ICGRL presidency, but that is another debate.
My wild guess is that the M23 Makenga faction will try to save face by at least obtaining a status quo in the implementation of the March 23 2009 agreement, and reintegration in the FARDC army. They could also use the additional FARDC assistance in their hunt for Bosco and Runiga.
It’s however not clear whether Kinshasa will accept this. The advantage shifted in its favor in the last days, and it would be surprising, or guided by yet other shady deals and considerations, if it was to accept this status quo. Even if he wanted to, it is unclear whether Kabila still retains enough political legitimacy at national level to be able to impose such a decision on a population that has repeatedly expressed its opposition to this non solution.
The current situation could therefore develop in every direction, from a peace deal involving M23 reintegration, to a renewed military offensive, this time backed by international troops. Only the wind knows.
In the interim, it would be appreciated that the FARDC wakes up from its hibernation and reoccupies the towns left empty by the M23 such as Rutshuru, currently under the hands of and being looted by FDLR rebels. While Kinshasa and the FARDC could have easily taken advantage of the situation with a quick win, by simply walking into Rutshuru, they are making fools out of their irresponsible selves one more time. – EDIT: FARDC finally took control of Rutshuru and Kiwanja the day after this article was written.