Mouvement du 23-Mars (M23) rebels fled their stronghold in Bunaguna, a small town in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on the border with Uganda, the rebel movement’s political leader, Bertrand Bisimwa, called for a ceasefire to end all hostilities. While fighting is ongoing, as Congolese government troops (FARDC) continue to shell the mountains surrounding the town, it has become quite obvious in the last few weeks that rebellion was nearing an end. Last November M23 appeared to be resilient, as they swiftly captured the provincial capital of Goma. A year later the group is defeated and divided, their position weakened considerably as they continue negotiations with the DRC government in Kampala, Uganda.
While M23 is only one of several militia groups in open rebellion against the government, they were certainly the most unified and active since their revolt began in April of 2012. In addition to the recent success of the FARDC, the United States and the United Kingdom have urged M23 backers in neighboring Rwanda to cease supporting the group, which is made up of mostly ethnic Tutsis like the Rwandan government. Without the support of supplies, weapons and troops from Rwanda, the M23 rebellion seems to be fading into the twilight.
The recent shift towards a government victory against M23 began when DRC President Joseph Kabila changed the hierarchy of the national army. The FARDC, known for their ineptitude and for an extensive track record of human rights abuses against their own people, seemed to have cleaned up their act. They have become much more effective in recent conflicts with M23. Couple this with the deployment of the United Nation’s intervention brigade composed of troops from Malawi, South Africa and Tanzania and given the mandate to “neutralize and disarm” rebels, and the M23 has been on its heels since late August. This intervention brigade and the large peacekeeping force deployed from the U.N. under the French acronym MONUSCO, will now be equipped with surveillance drones to track rebel movements more efficiently.
Now that the M23 movement has been stifled, president Kabila and his regime must seize this moment to change the culture of violence in the DRC, particularly in the mineral-rich but volatile eastern provinces, which lie thousands of miles away from the DRC capital of Kinshasa. There has been almost continuous violence throughout the country since war erupted in the mid to late 90s following the fallout from the Rwandan genocide. Kabila must not be satisfied with this victory over M23. Another violent militia group, Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR) have plagued eastern DRC since their formation in 2000. This group is compiled of the remnants of Hutu Interahamwe militia groups that were the main perpetrators who carried out the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, massacring 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 100 days. Kabila must deal with this group next.
One of the primary problems that has caused unrest in the region is the presence of Hutu FDLR troops. They continue to seek the removal of Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, a Tutsi, and they carry out regular raids across the border into Rwanda to terrorize the Tutsi population. In response, Kagame often sanctions cross border operations by Rwandan troops, or provides support for Congolese Tutsi rebel groups such as M23 to help counter the FDLR rebels. If Kabila can mobilize his FARDC troops with the backing of the U.N. forces to destroy the FDLR soldiers, then true peace building can finally begin.
With the two largest rebel groups in the region ousted, a true post-conflict reconstruction plan can ensue. However, the DRC, long known for its corrupt political elite, must reform and allow for much needed funds to be utilized to rebuild the war torn eastern provinces and allow for valuable infrastructure, such as roads and healthcare facilities, to be constructed. In addition, the pattern by the DRC government of ignoring the eastern provinces must stop. With a estimated mineral wealth of US$ 24 trillion, proper appropriation of funds to expand development projects can be funded by mining enterprises.
Too many times over the last two decades has the DRC seen a brief window of peace, only for policy to return to its corrupt and unconcerned roots, leading to yet another rebel movement. With the lowest per capita GDP in the world and 71 percent of the population below the poverty line, there is often little choice then for young men than to be swept up in the various rebel movements. This is the only way they can eat on a regular basis and with their Kalashnikov in hand, garner respect and fear from the local inhabitants. This pattern must be eradicated through sustainable development. With this seemingly endless array of violence throughout the country, an end to the bloodshed is the first step for the DRC to change its contentious past. Putting down the M23 rebels is a victory, but they must not stop there. Once peace is achieved and corruption lessened, then the county can finally start utilizing its mineral wealth to rebuild and emerge from the ashes of war. While this has been said so many times in the past and failed so many times in the past, hopefully, this time the Kabila regime recognizes this golden opportunity and seizes it.