Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Fact-checking the recent M23 escalation

After a month of relative calm, fighting resumed between the M23 and the Congolese army on August 21. The fighting took place around 15km north of Goma, around the town of Kibati. The M23 held the high ground on either side of the road going north from Goma toward Rutshuru. Yesterday, August 30, the M23 announced that they were withdrawing their troops from the frontline toward Kibumba to the north.

Who started the fighting and why?

According to United Nations and diplomatic sources, the M23 launched the attack against the Congolese army. This is based on reports provided by United Nations troops, who are on the frontline. But fighting has been ongoing north of Goma since at least July, when the M23 attacked the outskirts of this town of half a million, and throughout the past eight months of peace talks in Kampala the Congolese army has continued to nettle the M23.

The reason behind the escalation is more difficult to parse. Most likely, the M23 is worried about the lack of progress in peace talks in Kampala, which have been stalled for many months now. There is a certain urgency about the fighting, as well: the UN Intervention Brigade is almost fully operational, and the UN drones will soon be patrolling the skies, as well. So the best guess is that the M23 is trying to force a compromise in Kampala. If that is true, then their withdrawal to Kibumba is a blow to them––as long as they threatened Goma directly, the M23 had real leverage.

Who has been shelling Rwanda and Goma?

Since August 22, a series of artillery shells have fallen in Goma and Rwanda, killing civilians on either side of the border. (The Rwandan government chronology of events is here.) The UN has now told the press that at least some of the mortars that fell in Rwanda came from M23 positions. According to one UN official in Goma I spoke to, their troops could observe the trajectory of the mortars.

Given that some of the fighting at Kibati took place within one kilometer of the Rwandan border, it is possible that other mortars were Congolese army mistakes. For the mortars that fell in Rubavu town in Rwanda, however, that would be unlikely, as these landed behind FARDC positions. Here, it was either a case of FARDC firing into Rwanda on purpose or they came from M23 positions.

In the case of Goma, where the majority of the fatalities have occurred (seven compared with one in Rwanda), most accounts from the UN suggest that these were M23 mortars––some UN troops have seen or heard the mortars flying overhead. In some of the cases, it is difficult to imagine that the M23 mistakenly hit populated areas, as there were no military installations in the line of fire.

What has the UN been doing?

In the past week, there have been many mentions in the press of "the UN's most robust peacekeeping mandate." While this is to a certain extent hyperbole––the UN blue helmets in the Congo have always had part of a Chapter VII mandate, and have always been able to use deadly force to protect civilians in imminent danger (and in the case of Ituri in 2005 the UN has gone on the offensive in the past); the current mandate just makes it explicit that that means taking offensive action.

But the UN force certainly has a lot of expectations weighing on it, in particular on the 3,000-strong Intervention Brigade. After fighting began and mortars hit Goma, the population took their anger out on the UN, trashing vehicles and claiming the UN was idling standing by while civilians were being killed. One demonstration on August 24 turned violent, and two protestors were killed––some claim the UN is responsible for this.

This is certainly a low point of UN popularity in the Congo, but the recent fighting may change this. Over the past ten days, the UN has engaged its air force, artillery, and infantry in the fighting against the M23. The Intervention Brigade did much of the fighting, but other contingents (Egyptian, Jordanian, Indian, Nepalese) were also involved. There is a good UN summary posted here (h/t Timo Mueller). To give an idea how heavily the UN stepped in, on August 24 UN attack helicopters fired 216 rockets and 42 flares on M23 positions in Kibati. Meanwhile, South African snipers have killed at least six M23 rebels, according to the South African government. The UN also suffered their first casualty at the hands of the M23, a Tanzanian peacekeeper killed by a mortar shell.

The UN's robust response is in part due to the new mandate and the Intervention Brigade. In part, it may also be due to the new leaders of the UN mission. The new Special Representative of the Secretary-General (i.e. the head of the mission) Martin Kobler (Germany) arrived in the country in August and has distinguished himself already by visiting an FARDC field hospital close to Goma. A new Force Commander, General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz (Brazil) also recently arrived.

Has Rwanda supported the M23 in the fighting?

Rwanda's support to the M23 had decreased early this year, leading the UN Group of Experts to issue much milder criticism of Rwanda in its interim report in July, and foreign donors had unfroze most of the aid suspended last year. However, recruitment by the M23 in Rwanda has continued throughout, as evidenced by Human Rights Watch and UN reporting.

The most recent fighting appears to have triggered renewed Rwandan support to the rebels, according to UN and diplomatic sources. According to one such source, the M23 launched an attack on FARDC positions in the night of August 22/23, leading UN military observers to believe that the M23 had night-vision equipment. The UN mission has also reported to the Security Council that Rwanda has provided such support. A diplomat told me that his country, a Security Council member, had also confirmed Rwandan support to the M23 in the recent fighting and had spoken with authorities in Kigali about this. According to the same source, most important donors in Kigali were on the same page in this regard.

This means that Rwanda's recent threats to invade the Congo (tanks and troops were deployed on Friday to the border) due to the cross-border shelling is not likely to receive much sympathy from their donor allies. Whether these donors, however, will act on their beliefs, however, is another matter. Given that the M23 has now withdrawn to the north and fighting has at least temporarily ceased, that escalation is unlikely to take place.


bfhend said...

Jason, Many thanks for this insightful update.


Unknown said...

I will keep coming back to the same thing we need to face up to in Congo: what we see happening in our country can only happen in and to a weak nation. What we need to do is to work out why we are a weak nation, and, what to do so that what we see in Kivu no longer happens.

congo man said...

why are we still asking if Rwanda has been supporting the M23?the M23 are in majority ,at least 60% Rwandan soldiers and the remaining 35 % are child soldiers...recruited inside Rwanda and in some Kinyarwanda speaking areas of North kivu(DRC). the M23 is being armed and are getting all their supports( food,uniforms,salaries etc) from the Rwandan much more evidence does the so called international Community need to confirm this Rwandan aggression?

tresor said...

@Congo Voice, given the perfomance of our army in the past few month I think we are on our way to building a stong nations. I think the leadership in Kinshasa have acknowledge the poor state of our security cluster and are determine to fix the matter, already they have started by getting rid of the infiltrators within the army, obviously given Congo's many challenges the is a long way to go but the steps which has been taken so far really gives the congolese people much hope

Rich said...

Jason -

Thanks for a balanced insight as always.

Based on what I would call Kigali "irrational" moves in the last few weeks and M23 voluntary retreat or forced retreat from Kibati, I wonder how much of this strategy may be linked to the buildup for the Syria "intervention".

From what I can see it all looks like the regime in Kigali maybe timing it's strategy in EDRC following the pace and tone of the US assessment of the Syrian situation. This can also been seen in the language full of threats used by rwandan diplomat when referring to "a line has been crossed" Olivier Nduhungirehe at the UNSC or again "rwanda is not yet in the DRC..." Mushikiwabo on twitter...

To conclude, I think the regime in Kigali is more likely to bank on the fact that the big dogs may be distracted by the Syrian intervention to try and do something in EDRC hence the withdraw of M23 from Kibati frontline may just be part of a big strategy geared to play on the back of the distraction from the int'l when drawn to deal with the Syria case.


Unknown said...

rich u couldn't say it any better than this its like u reading kagame's mind. withdrawing from kibati was part of strategy not defeat

congo man said...

@kizza and Rich, the m23/RDF was forcefuly pushed out of Kibati and other strategic areas. With all their spies and infiltrators out of the FARDC and our troops morale very high, I don't care what Mushikiwabo says or does. They can bring all their tanks to the boarder but believe me ,this time those thanks are going to be destroyed . They tried their usual nightly attack on the FARC but they where surprised by the quick reaction and response from the FARDC and allied .they got pushed back and they abandoned all their equipment including food and ammunitions. The FARDC and their allied are not yet using their elite forces in this fight ,and the South Africans still arriving and shipping more attack helicopters etc....the unmanned drones have not yet arrived ,and most elite forces did not participate in this fight that was provocad by Rwanda in order to force the resumption of the so called Kampala negotions ( the only hope for Rwanda to again infiltrate the FARDC with spies and terrorists. This time they will be no such deal.and without those spies and infiltrators the FARDC and allies have the capacity to crash any reinforcement that PAUL KAGAME and His Junta are planning for their M23 terrorists.

congo man said...

I meant allies... Sorry for the typo .

congo man said...

@ tresor, i completely agree with you.

Unknown said...

Many have talked of lack of a strong strategy from DRCgov or JK on this crisis. But few have noticed the lack of a coherent strategy by Kagame and his int’l backers on this crisis. It seems to me that blinded by “their invincibility myth”, they could only work on one scenario: “innate disorganisation of FARDC and eternal apathy by IC”. They had, when it lasted, tactical battles wins, but not a strategy for peace. Then things started changing. Their unexpected “correction” by FARDC in Mutaho and Kibati has spooked them out of their naivety. Remember how Kaberebe smilingly bet that the FIB was an impossibility, how he joked that FARDC could never kill a rat (well from Mutaho and Kibati, he now knows that they may not kill a rat but they can an entire RDF so called special forces). Remember how Museveni and Kagame “publicly and with irony” called on “fellow Africans” to contribute troops to the FIB, convinced that there would be none. SA,TZ, MLW (many more in the offing) willingly put their hands up. Why are they now vilified by Kagamists?

Talking about the impending RDF attack on Goma, I just don’t understand this widespread certainty that Kagame will win against the new decontaminated and determined FARDC backed by TZ and SA MONUSCO! Someone once said that you can start a war at will but you will never know which way “flare away”. I predict that Kagame will make the same suicidal blunder that all megalomaniac tyrants invariably make: crossing the rubicon like Hitler into Poland, IdiAmin into TZ or S Hussain into Koweit. He will assassinate more TZ and SA peacekeepers. Good news is the consequence will be the end of “God of Kigali”. TZ,SA,DRC are proud nations, they will fight to prove that.

Also more important is that the context and contingencies of this conflict have changed, are now new and unpredictable. The contiguity of the frontline is such a beautiful dynamic (Goma vs Gisenyi), mutual destruction guaranteed: beautiful! In recent times, Congolese know what HELL feels like, maybe my Rwandan friends shall feel that too!

As for Congo, FARDC Col. Hamuli assured that if Rwanda crosses into Congo we will cross into Rwanda. That should not be a slogan. They have to work on that eventuality. I agree with many Kagamists on this forum, that for Kagame this is a “zero-sum game”. He is confused now and will attempt any desperate act. AND THATS HOW ALL RECKLESS TYRANTS END.

The question is what are Tutsis people(those in Congo) saying to Kagame cannibalising them for ever in Congo's battlefields?

God bless valiant FARDC!
God bless valiant MONUSCO!


Unknown said...

To reply to Tresor, I am sure that Congo will rise to fulfil its destiny. Congo is a sleeping giant who will one day, maybe not in our lifetime, wake up. The challenge we have is to avoid what seems to be our downfall: we make one or two steps forward only to go three, four, five steps backwards. Congo na biso e ko bonga.

Unknown said...

congo man or muana congo don't get too excided the war is not over yet once you reach kibumba,ruchuru and bunagana then you can celebrate victory of your FARDC.i've told you this b4 the defeat of m23 in eastern congo will be the end game of kagame regime. therefore m23 defeat woun't come anytime soon coz kagame wount allow that no matter how many south Africans n Tanzanians you bring to your rescue the worse is not yet to come

tresor said...

Kizza brown, what is it that Kagame can really do? he does not have a strong army, especially now that the Congolese army is organising itself. Kagame really beleive he can come up with a master plan to take control of all the Kivu. Many of the Rwanda special forces mascarrading as the M23 have died

congo man said...

@kizza,my friend if the defeat of KAGAME's M23 terrosts means the end to his 2 decades destructive ,barbaric and bloody reign ,then you and other Kagamists need to start looking for leadership somewhere else because the M23 terrosts are being defeated and the few dozen tanks that Their bloody leaders; Paul KAGAME and James Kabarebe are massing around the rwandanda /DRC boarder are not going to save them. Just like his so called elite special forceses where destroyed last week,those few dozen tanks that make up the RDF tribal militia's hardware are also going to be destroyed alongside his remaining M23/RDF brother ,I will advice you and your fellow compatriots to start listening to people like Kayuma Nyamwasa etc if you want a future inside the great lakes region. The Survival of Rwanda is going to depend on its good relationship with the DRC and there no other way around it. It's time for your Country man and woman to start looking for a leader who will repair all the damages and destructions caused by the 2 decades destructive reign of Paul KAGAME and his Junta.a leader who will start real reconciliation in RWANDA ,and who can put an end to the tyrannical apartheid system of the KAGAME junta,repair and improve relationship with the DRC etc,other wise you are doomed. Believe me .when doomsday comes our boarders will be closed .all bloody tyranny ends in a sea of blood unless the tyrant changes his way before doomday comes.knowing Paul KAGAME aka African hitler ,a dictator who has broken the record of psycho-maniac murderers( 6million dead and 10 million displaced ),I don't see any good end for that tyrannical dictatorship.

congo man said...

@kizza, now that the m23 terrorists are being destroyed.what's your plan B?do Kagamists really have any plan for the future?can you respond to my brothers muanacongo and tresor ?do you have any plan for peace or for the future? Can you see beyond theM23 terrorists ?what's next? a Decade ago we where comfronting you 5 thousand miles away at Kinshasa's door steps ,after that we spent over 10 years feeding you all our carrots but you did not appreciate .now that we have run out of carrots ,and we are now confronting you at your door steps you still can't think of making peace.instead of making peace ,you'r again putting all your hope on your jihadists .why can't tyrants think ?Let's wait and see what will be the end game.believe me ,that end game is getting more and more closer to Kigali town.

tresor said...

I think people gave Kagame a lot of credit. He was potrayed as this untouchable leader whose army can crush any other army that comes it way.

Unknown said...

Plz stop talking about Rwanda, Kagame, m23, and other rwandese, they are just being manipulated by imperialist businesses and gangsters. Shame on them! They should have much more to worry about in their own country, I do not see a real reconciliation between tutsi and hutu in the near future. Tutsi trying to survive at any cost (seeing themselves as a minority, victims and destined to rule that side of great lake) and in the other side their relatives the hutu fighting for their emancipation (considering themselves as citizens of the second class, servants, ...). They will continue to kill each other, and a nth genocide is inevitable.

Now congolese people are letting themselves in middle of that historical mess between ethnically related folks tutsi and hutu. Let us make it clear that this is not our business, let them clean their own differences. Le "chef du village Pumbu" must show clear leadership in rebuilding congolese army and other security forces thorough the country. We must stop complaining like babies about Rwanda, Kagame and cie sick sellouts. We should have more important things to worry about in Congo.

Unknown said...

“On the Congolese holocaust and the int’l Congo-punditry”

I could not resist to recommend to Congo-siasa readers this most eloquent Foreign Policy article by Congolese academic Mvemba Dizolele versus anti-Congo campaigners Jeffrey Herbst and Greg Mills ( Dizolele is so good as to obtain a retraction from these two well-known Apartheid-supporters, white-supremacists and Kagame apologists in their reply. Now they claim to have never called for balkanisation of Congo but governance/democracy… blah…blah... Go hang! Longonia ndeko Mvemba!

I guess Herbst and Mills got demystified by latest street marches by Congolese in Goma or Beni. Now they know that “Weberien theory of the State” is just that, a “theory”. “A nation is made by people who claim it”. They can convince themselves that Congo doesn’t exist, but they can’t deny that Congolese people exist. We are Congolese and Congo lives in us. Congo doesn’t depend on bogus rankings and statistics, malicious academic speculations or media Congo-bashing headlines! Congo depends on Congolese, and the current generation of Congolese is ready to rebuild Congo!

But “Dizolele versus Herbst & Mills” elicits a much bigger sinister: the inaptitude of agenda-laden solutions concocted by aliens (int’l pundits and experts) to African/Congolese challenges. These folks have never given us a chance. It is just so dehumanising how they claim to know better what is good for us. Remember how in early 1990s, int’l experts predicted with sophisticated models and statistics that by 2000 the African population would be “halved” by HIV/Aids. But now they claim that it has rather grown exponentially, and birth control is needed in Africa! There is not enough room to talk about the surprising economic emergence of Africa/Congo that is based on “novel models” and not the malevolent ones that the usual experts used to ram down our throats.

Now, it is the Kampala presidential ritual again for a nth summit. To all people of good will (Sec. Kerry, Mrs Robinson,amb. Thomas-Greenfield, amb. Feingold), experts’ solutions have failed. Please let’s listen to the people in Goma: an immediate disarmament of M23 terror outfit is the only solution. However that should happen, political solution or military action! A timetable to this end should be demanded of Museveni, Kagame and JK. No more delaying games!

Congoman and Tresor, bien dit, rien a ajouter!


bfhend said...


I can't help but wonder if Herbst and Mills are even aware of the implicit racism embedded in their argument: to wit, Belgians could effectively administer a huge geographic space the size of Congo but Congolese cannot. I've heard this fallacy put forward all my life - by some.

Herbst and Mills demonstrate an appalling ignorance of Congolese history in that they seem to ignore that every conflict in Congo from the Katanga secession at independence forward has been instigated by external forces and some aspect of geopolitics. The scholars I read as a student like M. Crawford Young, Thomas Turner, or Rene Lemarchand have never, to my knowledge, endorsed Herbst and Mills.


Unknown said...

I don't think so that Rwanda in the coming years or in the distant future will ever invade Congo. No way. It is a very unlikely scenario because the dynamics of the international and regional politics wouldn't let it happen.

Unknown said...


Thanks a lot for those references, any counter-argument to the global anti-Congo punditry is always the most welcome. But it is just such an indictment on the “single story narratives” society we now live in. Peeling away alternatives, ideas are sought or engineered, ”made paramount and then reinforced” to conveniently explain situations, events or crises. Maybe for sake of simplicity in this information-overloaded society but often for propaganda reasons. So, Herbst & Mills’ conjectures are widely publicised as “sole and irrefutable truth” unlike such so compelling counter-analyses. In fact, it has been the major reason this conflict has taken so too long. Unchallenged, the global anti-Congo punditry concocted “meta-narrative” that many (decision-makers included) in the world could only take for truth.

But, once a counter-argument is presented, these lies about Congo always melt away in face of truth. Can we forget the decade-long “rape weapon of war theory” championed by Margot Wallstrom (she gave us the world capital crown) and many acadenics. But it took one courageous scholar Prof. Maria Eriksson Baazcounter’s research based on truth for the charlatans to go quiet forever. Shall I add, Wallstrom resigned her post as UN SRSG just as quietly?

It can be despairing to see how today increasingly, the demarcation between scholarship-journalism-activism-propaganda is blurred. But you can always bet on Humanity to triumph against the enemies of freedom and truth, even when loneliness is the fate. The brave Mr Hege comes to mind; they chased him for telling the TRUTH about Kagame!


Kampala gimmick:14 days! the bastards just gave the M23 terrorist militia some breathing space and Kagame time to regroup.


Rocky Mbaya said...

Greg Mills is the head of Brenthurst Foundation in Johannesburg, a foundation belonging to South African diamond company DeBeers. History now tells us that DeBeers was also behind diamond rich South Kasai province secession from Lumumba's central government in the 60s...Mills lost all credibility the day history exposed the fact that the company that has once supported the division of Congo signs his paycheck. Well done Mvemba for the article in Foreign Policy!

Unknown said...

Yes your are wright and thanks for post a good topic . your post is

top most in related post of Fact-checking the recent M23 escalation.

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