Tensions in eastern DRC are on the rise once again, as what initially began as an internal rebellion within the country’s military now seems to have snowballed into a diplomatic fallout with Rwanda.
In late March 2012, General Bosco Ntaganda, a senior officer in the DRC national army (FARDC) wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), defected from the military along with 300-600 of his fellow soldiers following discontent over unpaid wages and poor living conditions. Two months later, on 3 May 2012, Colonel Sultani Makenga, the second highest ranking officer behind Ntaganda, began an apparently separate revolt and defected as well. Although Makenga has reportedly denied that the events were coordinated or connected, sources suggest otherwise claiming that the two are now working together to destabilize the east.
These mutineers are all former members of a Tutsi-led and Rwanda backed militia known as the Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), which integrated into the FARDC on 23 March 2009. Accordingly, they are now called the M23 Movement. Since 2009, Rwanda and the DRC had been organizing joint military operations in North and South Kivu, both of which border Rwanda.
The group’s leaders consist of a notorious list of criminals, including: Colonel Baudouin Ngaruye, believed to be involved in the 2009 Shalio massacre of 139 civilians; Colonel Innocent Zimurinda, alleged to have had command responsibility during the Kiwandja and Shalio massacres; and Colonel Innocent Kaina, said to have been involved in a string of human rights abuses in Ituri and Orientale provinces. M23 is not only demanding regime change in the DRC following what it calls President Joseph Kabila’s ‘fraudulent’ rise to power last November, but their final objective seems to be the partition of the DRC through secession of the Kivus.
With M23 wrecking havoc in the east, fingers have pointed towards Rwanda as a secret source of funding. Not only has Human Rights Watch now corroborated such allegations, but the United Nations (UN) recently released the findings of its own investigations in this regard, which indicate high-level support for the rebellion within Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s government. This report confirms that the Rwandan army has been providing military equipment, weapons, ammunition and general supplies to the rebels whilst Defence Minister James Kararebe, Chief of Defence Staff Charles Kayonga, and military advisor to Kagame himself, Charles Kayonga, are said to be directly involved.
Although Rwanda has repeatedly backed similar movements in the DRC, it has vehemently denied these latest allegations. Should the accusations prove true however, in which Kigali continues to back Ntaganda and his men, the current somewhat localized fighting in eastern DRC may quickly descend into inter-state or even regional war. Sources have indicated that Kabila remains determined to act militarily against Kagame given Rwanda’s repeated rhetoric on bad governance and lack of leadership in the DRC. Rwanda has in turn retaliated with its own statements concerning anti-Rwandan violence in the Kivu provinces, thereby laying some ground for a future ‘protective’ incursion into the country.
Rwanda’s possible backing of the M23 Movement suggests that the country has violated various UN Security Council Resolutions that prohibit the supply of weapons to the DRC. This in itself puts Rwanda’s western backers in an awkward position as not only has the country received considerable financial and strategic support from the west in recent years, with nearly half a billion dollars in aid flowing into Rwandan coffers in 2012/2013, but the country is set to secure a seat on the Security Council in January 2013. The fact that Rwanda may once again be an accomplice to instability in eastern DRC, places the country’s international standing in serious jeopardy.