Fighting resumed today between the M23 rebels — now calling themselves the Congolese Revolutionary Army — and government troops just outside of Goma in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), ending a two-month ceasefire for the conflict that began in April of this year.
While much of the attention surrounding the mutiny has been directed at U.N. leaked reports that finger both neighboring countries, Uganda and Rwanda, of providing arms and support to the rebellion and its leaders, very little scrutiny has been passed down on the government in Kinshasa, which deserves to also share in the blame.
The government — led by President Joseph Kabila — resides over 1,500 miles from the area where most of the centralized fighting has occurred this year. However, distance is only one of the problems that prevents the government from providing any sort of control or security over the virtually lawless eastern region of the country. Corruption at the highest levels has remained rampant, often leaving the coffers too bare to regularly pay soldiers. Many of these same troops have used this viable excuse to mutiny from the national ranks and join the influx of forces in M23. In fact, the origin of the M23 rebellion derives from soldiers that were integrated into the national ranks as part of a March 23, 2009 peace agreement. These mutineers claim that the government broke the peace deal by providing poor living conditions and failing to pay promised salaries. Unpaid salaries are nothing new in the DRC, and many troops resort to extortion, looting or illegal exportation of minerals to make up for the lack of pay. If they provide a man a firearm and fail to supply a means of living, what do they expect?
Now there is a new report that has surfaced implicating other rebel groups in the area of massive civilian slaughters. This new U.N. report states that two additional rebel groups, Raia Mutomboki and Nyatura were responsible for approximately 75 massacres in which at least 264 people were killed, including 83 children. Many of the victims were hacked to death with machetes or burned alive in their homes. The groups claim to be attempting to extinguish the remains of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a Hutu rebel group which has been operating inside the Congo since it fled Rwanda after the genocide in 1994. The group was formed by many of the perpetrators of the genocide against the Tutsi and moderate Hutu populations of Rwanda. The Raia Mutomboki have moved from their usual stomping grounds in South Kivu to advance into North Kivu because the government troops have turned their attention exclusively to the M23 rebellion.
Massacres such as these presented in the report are nothing new in the eastern DRC, where lawlessness reigns supreme and deep ethnic tensions can create abominable actions against one another. In a 2009 U.N. Mapping Report regarding human rights violations from 1993-2003 in the DRC, 617 such incidents occurred over the ten-year span. Many examples mirror the brutality of the most recent findings. With consequences rarely handed down on rogue militia members, they are free to rape, murder and pillage the countryside at will. The government provides little to no security for civilians and almost zero legal ramifications for the violent perpetrators.
Armed militia groups are common in the eastern provinces due to the lack of control by government troops. Many local security forces spring up to defend their villages, these groups are labeled Mai Mai. However, due to the lack of financial opportunities present for these men, the militia groups often turn to less-than-reputable tactics to make a living.
All of this could be obsolete if the government invested in development projects. The DRC is sitting on a literal gold mine, possessing one of the richest reserves of valuable minerals such as gold, tin, tungsten and tantalum — commonly used to hold a charge in most electronic devices. However, despite the wealth present below the surface, the per capita GDP is the lowest in the world at $400, making its inhabitants the poorest on the planet. Corruption, poor infrastructure and a steady wave of rebellions have allowed for a high level of illegal minerals to be smuggled out of the country and sold on the world market. This is another way that many of these rebel groups are able to finance their missions.
It is every country’s duty to protect its citizens from harm or fear under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights established in 1948. The government of the DRC has failed miserably on this account and should share in the blame for the suffering inflicted on its civilians. International pressure for increased governmental transparency and sustainable development projects may alter this pattern of poverty and corruption, but it is inevitably up to President Kabila and his cabinet to provide the instruments for change, something they have thus far failed to do. Without the tools of alteration of governmental practices, civilians will continue to suffer at the hands of violent rebel groups.