Diplomatic push offers little hope of ending insurgency in DR Congo

Another failed ceasefire, a UN call for talks that no one seems to want, and a new influx of foreign soldiers: despite a flurry of diplomatic efforts, there is little chance that the new insurgency in eastern DR Congo will end anytime soon.

International envoys, as well as the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, say they want to give peace efforts a chance to end the M23 insurgency in North Kivu province.

Kinshasa and several Western governments say the rebels are backed by Rwanda, which is eyeing natural resources abroad, but Kigali angrily denies the claim.

Relations between the two neighbors have long been tense. The M23 movement, which is affiliated with the Tutsi ethnic group, says it is partly fighting to protect Tutsis from rival Hutu extremist groups.

M23 also alleges that the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo broke a promise to include fighters in the national army.

The UN ambassadors to France and Gabon, wrapping up a three-day visit to the area, on Sunday underscored the political decision to end the fighting, which the UN says has displaced more than 800,000 people.

But the DR Congo government wants the international community to impose sanctions on Rwanda and rules out negotiations with M23.

“Let’s get serious! M23 is a terrorist movement,” Foreign Minister Christophe Luthundula said late Monday evening.

Mami Asumini Kayumba, a resident of Goma, a city of more than a million people increasingly threatened by the onslaught of M23 militants, says talking does not solve the problem.

M23s had previously captured Goma in 2012 before being driven out by a joint Congolese-UN offensive.

“We have been living with these atrocities for 30 years, it is time to put an end to this,” Cayumba said.

According to Placide Nzilamba, a civil society activist in Goma, the UN Security Council “should instead go and tell the Rwandan government to withdraw its soldiers who are killing Congolese and shelling cities.”

“Difficult position”

But faced with rebels who are gaining strength and see no benefit in a truce, “DR Congo is in a difficult military situation,” said Reagan Miviri, a researcher at the Ebuteli think tank in Kinshasa.

As for negotiations, “it’s very difficult to offer anything to M23 at all in an election year,” given that President Felix Tshisekedi is expected to run for re-election in December, Miviri said.

According to him, officials seem to have ruled out the possibility of accepting M23 fighters into the army, and giving them government positions “would be unpopular.”

Tensions exacerbated a weekend move by Angola, which helped secure a ceasefire that broke last week by sending a military unit to North Kivu.

The announcement revived memories of the 1998-2002 Second Congo War, which involved nine African nations and nearly tore apart Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest nation.

The East African Community has already deployed a regional force made up of Kenyan and Burundian troops to oversee the theoretical retreat of the M23 fighters.

Kinshasa wants the force to have an “offensive” mandate to push back the M23 fighters.

But local resentment against the forces is already growing, similar to the frustration seen with UN forces that have been unable to stop the fighting despite being in the country for the past 23 years.

Luthundula, the DRC’s foreign minister, said the Angolan soldiers were not there to “strike, but to see how things were on the ground.”

“There is no ambiguity, Angola is included in his terms of reference,” he said.