The recent defeat of the M23 rebels by government forces in eastern DR Congo inspires hope that lasting peace can now be achieved in the region – although there are other rebel groups active there. Still, the expansionist ambitions of Rwanda and Uganda remain a big challenge to DRC
The Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC), as the Congolese armed forces are known in French, and the Rwanda- and Uganda-backed M23 rebel movement made up of Rwandan and Ugandan demobilized soldiers, other Tutsi and Hutu insurgents and some Congolese, had not clashed since August 2013. The two sides were awaiting the outcome of the peace talks paid for by the Congolese government in Kampala and overseen by President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni (who also backs the M23). Uganda had assumed the rotating presidency of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region.
However, during the talks, apart from acts of terrorism, rapes, massacres and mineral looting (they have made $500 million since the launch of the insurgency last year, according to a report by Enough Project NGO), the M23 who occupied a huge portion of eastern Congo since May 2012 kept on militarily harassing the FARDC, applying Museveni’s and Kagame’s well-known tactic: “talk and fight”. Kinshasa could not tolerate it anymore, and the Congolese government suspended participation in the talks and the Military High Command ordered an all-out offensive against M23 launched on 25 October 2013.
Just within a week, the FARDC, supported by the intervention brigade made up of Tanzanian and South African troops within the UN Mission for Stabilisation of Congo (MONUSCO) recaptured all the key strongholds occupied by the M23, drove them out of eastern Congo, inflicted heavy losses on them (including the seizure of many weapons) and had many of them surrender, 27 in Rutsuru alone. This spectacular string of victories by the Congolese armed forces and defeats for the M23 started with the recapturing of the town of Kibumba, 30 kilometers from Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu, on 25 October 2013 where three mass graves were discovered.
On 27 October 2013 the FARDC recaptured the town of Kiwanja, 70 kilometers north of Goma after heavy fighting. Local people welcomed the Congolese armed forces with shouts of joy. Unfortunately, a Tanzanian peacekeeper was killed during the fighting, as the Congo-based UN-sponsored Radio Okapi reported. Just a few hours later the army took control of the city of Rutshuru. The M23 rebels were just fleeing the advance of the FARDC. The people of this city greeted the arrival of the FARDC and encouraged them to pursue the rebels into their last strongholds. On Monday 28 October 2013, the army continued its advance. After Kibumba Kiwanja and Rutshuru, it was the turn of Rumangabo, one of Congo’s biggest military base located 50 kilometers from Goma, to pass under the control of the FARDC. Another mass grave was discovered there. On Wednesday, 30 October 2013, the Congolese military took control of Bunagana, a Congolese town near the border with Uganda which the M23 turned into its political headquarters.
Congolese government’s spokesman, Lambert Mende, announced that some rebels, including their political leader Bertrand Bisimwa had fled to Uganda. After taking Bunagana, Congolese President Joseph Kabila addressed the nation. He said that the recent victories of the FARDC against the rebels did not have “the effect of nullifying the political and diplomatic options to restore lasting peace”, as the Congo-based UN-sponsored Radio Okapi reported. After being forced to retreat from most of their strongholds in eastern Congo, the M23 leadership called for a cease-fire but pending their demobilization and disarmament, the FARDC continued their advance, capturing three hilltop positions from the M23, who were now confined to the hills of Runyoni, Mbuzi and Tshanzu near Bunagana.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF CONGO’S MILITARY VICTORY
1. The Congolese have had enough and enough is enough! Sixteen years of genocide, massacres, rape, looting, forced displacement, forceful occupation of Congolese land by Tutsi regimes of Rwanda and Uganda. Enough is enough! In fact, addressing the Congolese parliament on 20 October 2013, South African President Jacob Zuma reiterated what we have been saying for a long time now: “Enough is enough! The war in the Democratic Republic of Congo has lasted too long! Now is time for peace.”
Now the question is, how can Rwanda and Uganda get away with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity they have committed in Congo simply because of what happened in Rwanda in 1994 and for which the Congolese people are not responsible? We need a special international criminal court for Congo.
2. It will be difficult now for the over-populated Rwanda and Uganda to annex eastern Congo as they dreamed or turn it into a settler colony for the Rwandan and Ugandan Tutsi population.
3. Those external hidden hands who heavily invested in blood minerals looted by M23 are now the biggest losers.
4. The United States of America and Britain must give up their double-standard attitude when it comes to handling the “Congo question”. The people of Congo were shocked to hear Russell Feingold, President Obama’s special envoy to the Great Lakes Region, telling Radio France International on 28 October 2013 that “A further DRC military effort could jeopardize talks in Kampala. President Kabila has won several military successes in recent days, but I encourage him to exercise restraint”. This pro-Rwanda statement was simply unbelievable! Congo has exercised restraint for over 16 years at the cost of 8 million lives, many Congolese killed, raped, Congo’s natural and mineral resources looted and natives’ land occupied by force while they have had no choice but to become refugees in their own country.
5. Western media clearly are supporting Rwanda and Uganda’s invasions of Congo. Proof: While the fighting was taking place far from Goma, the BBC, intent on waging a psychological warfare against the Congolese people on behalf of Rwanda Uganda, reported on 25 October 2013, that “Congolese soldiers and M23 rebels were clashing near Goma” which the M23 captured in November 2012. The BBC touched the Congolese people where it hurt most. Britain has always supported all attacks against Congo by Rwanda and Uganda.
6. Rwanda unjustifiably enjoys the “prestige” of the so-called “model of good governance in Central Africa” when that “prestige” is based on looting, rape and genocide in Congo - Museveni and Kagame enjoy impunity simply because they have won sympathy all over the world following the events which took place in 1994 in Rwanda, especially from the United States and Great Britain where their most important military, political and financial support comes from.
7. The UN’s peacekeeping presence in Congo has lasted 18 years so far without keeping the peace. In fact the UN’s main agenda is to control the mineral wealth of Congo. As a reminder, in the 1960s the United States financed 60 percent of the budget of the then UN Mission in Congo called ONUC. The outcome was the assassination of Congo’s first prime minister Patrice Lumumba and the hoisting to power of western stooge Mobutu Sese Seko who facilitated the exploitation of Congo’s mineral wealth for 32 years. The US took over the monopoly and control of Congo’s mineral wealth from Belgium. The intervention brigade composed of Tanzanian and South African troops in the recent case has put an end to the calculated lethargy of MONUSCO and proved that “African solutions to African problems” is no longer a wishful thinking. The Congolese people pay their tribute to three Tanzanian soldiers who fell on the battlefield, targeted by Tutsi insurgents simply because Tanzanian President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete had asked Kagame to speak to the Hutu for a lasting peace in the region and Kagame called him a “genocide denier.” The Congolese people call for the African brigade to be transformed into a stabilizing force in the long term when MONUSCO folds its luggage. MONUSCO is not totally altruistic and the United States by largely funding the budget of the MONUSCO will definitely want to draw political and economic dividends like in the 1960s.
8. Presidents Museveni and Kagame are masters of division in Africa. In fact, after the military victory against Rwanda and Uganda in Congo, which was made possible thanks to the support of Tanzanians and South Africans, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya are clearly sidelining Tanzania and Burundi within the East African Community (EAC). Nevertheless, Tanzania will never be isolated because the Southern African Development Community (SADC) will never allow it to happen! Both the Tanzanian and Burundian governments have now expelled Rwandan immigrants from their respective countries (back to their over-crowded hilly country).
9. Congolese President Joseph Kabila’s three-pronged strategy (military pressure, political and diplomatic efforts) has born fruit. The Congolese armed forces have proven that if well equipped and trained as they are now, they can crush any enemy, powerful though he or she might be. Other armed groups sowing terror in eastern Congo will undergo the same fate as the M23 if they do not voluntarily disarm (as I write this piece, the FARDC have announced that they have killed 100 Forces Patriotiques de Résistance or FPRC elements in the Ituri region). Similarly, if Congolese are well equipped, they can dig their own minerals instead of giving free reign to rogue investors. That is why transfer of technology is very important!
10. Time has come to rebuild a more beautiful Congo than before based on a national reconstruction plan which extends over the whole national territory. Congo needs a “Marshall Plan” and looks especially to China for a win-win cooperation and partnership. The Congolese people must therefore consolidate their unity following the recent National Consultation Conference which brought all the national stakeholders （government, opposition, civil society, academics…） together to reflect on the future of the country and whose recommendations hinge around national unity, political stability and national security reforms without which sustainable development cannot be achieved in Congo. The Congolese people have been subjected to 12 wars since independence on 30 June 1960 because of lack of national unity of purpose. An external force, so powerful though it might be, can never defeat a united people, as China’s case has proven. Many Congolese political leaders enjoyed familiarity in Rwandan and Ugandan government circles and compromised themselves as a result, the Congolese army was infiltrated, weapons and rations diverted to the enemy, soldiers’ pay embezzled, military commercialism thriving, acts of treason and communicating information to the enemy explain the numerous defeats of the Congolese army in the recent past... All these factors have now been mitigated and the situation is under control, hence the current victories of the FARDC.
11. The M23 must totally be dismantled. “Congolese Tutsi” have lied so much! It is now very difficult for the majority of other Congolese to believe or trust them, as Congolese scholar Shungu Tundanonga writes. If the generals and high ranking officers within M23 now say they are willing to surrender, they must, hands in the air or bearing a white flag, appear before the Congolese Army Chief of Staff. They will then be immediately placed under arrest and taken to the nearest garrison to sign the official surrendering act compiled by the Congolese Army Chief of Staff. Once signed, they will be immediately placed under arrest and transferred to Kinshasa. For those who had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, the military Criminal Code will be strictly applied against them. There is the possibility of amnesty for ordinary Congolese foot soldiers rebels within the M23, examined case by case (no general, blanket amnesty), if they must be deployed in other parts of the Congo other than near the Rwandan and Ugandan borders. In addition, International arrest warrants will be launched against elements within neighbouring countries’ governments who armed them.
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