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DR Congo: Vague prospects for peace

Martina Schwikowski | Abu-Bakarr Jalloh
December 15, 2022

The M23, a key rebel group in the eastern Congo, says it has agreed to a ceasefire but experts are skeptical. The European Union has meanwhile imposed new sanctions on M23 commanders.

Women in DR Congo holding weapons
Prospects for a lasting peace in DR Congo are slimImage: Benjamin Kasembe/DW

In a statement posted on Twitter, M23 rebel movement has said it has offered to withdraw from the areas it occupies in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. 

The group said it had met with representatives of the Congolese armed forces, the East African Regional Force, the UN mission to Congo (MONUSCO), and the East African Community (EAC) on December 12.

"The M23 renews its appeal to the international community by sounding the alarm on the ongoing genocide and to the selective nature of humanitarian organizations that do not assist victims of Bwiza and its surroundings," the M23 added.

The rebels have advanced across North Kivu Province, defeating the Congolese army and other militias. The government has accused neighboring Rwanda of arming the rebels. UN experts and US officials have agreed with Kinshasa but Kigali denies the allegations.

Congolese youth join the army to fight rebels

The tensions escalated pressure on Congolese Tutsis, many of whom are perceived as Rwandan implants rather than native Congolese.

The M23 was absent from peace talks that were convened by the EAC and ended this week. Kenya's former President Uhuru Kenyatta had led the talks and announced a nine-point plan to end the fighting

M23 denies massacre of civilians

As the talks were under way in Nairobi, MONUSCO reported that M23 fighters killed 131 people in two towns in North Kivu.

The attacks, the UN mission to Congo said, were retaliatory campaigns. Congo's Industry Minister Julien Paluku, who is a former governor of North Kivu, told DW that the attacks were part of a "planned genocide."

The M23 denounced the MONUSCO report at its first press conference in Bunagana, a town in Rutshuru Territory of North Kivu. 

"The report falls far short of the quality and professionalism traditionally required of a UN mission in the DRC," M23 leader Bertrand Bisimwa said. "It is the result of propaganda to tarnish the image of our struggle,"

Last week, the European Union imposed sanctions on Bisimwa and other M23 commanders. In response, Bismwa said: "When they impose sanctions on you, don't be afraid, it shows that you are on the right track to free your people." 

A woman holding a weapon
The Congolese government has mobilized women to take up arms against the M23Image: Benjamin Kasembe/DW

Rutshuru civil society leader Jean Claude Bambaze told DW that he was appalled by the M23 leader's denial of the massacre.

"This does not surprise us. We have understood that they are on the run after committing these massacres, they are trying to deny them while the facts are there," Bambaze said. "The international community must understand that these people are stubborn and they must be severely punished."

A 'bumpy' peace process

The talks in Nairobi were a second attempt by leaders from the EAC in matter of weeks to defuse the conflict in Congo. The first round of talks was mediated by Angola's President Joao Lourenco in Luanda in November and saw an agreement between Congo's President Felix Tshisekedi and his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame. Days later, renewed clashes were reported near Goma, the capital of North Kivu. 

"The Congo peace was part of a process that was very bumpy in 2022," Alex Vines, Africa program director at the London-based Chatham House think tank, told DW. Despite the nine-point Nairobi peace plan, the prospects remain vague, he said. 

A crowd of women women waiting for humanitarian aid
M23 attacks triggered a massive refugee crisis in eastern DRCImage: Guerchom Ndebo/AFP

Kenyatta, the chief mediator appeared optimistic the pathway to peace in Congo is imminent.

Vines however believes that only concrete agreement under the plan is the continued dialogue between the Congolese government and local communities.

The rebel's offer of peace and continuation of talks amounts to mere political rhetoric, according to Vines.

 "The Luanda peace process was linked to the demand for a ceasefire, which did not work," Alex Vines said. "The DRC is now part of the EAC, but the politics are very poisoned, so I'm not optimistic that the security situation in Congo will improve." 

Crisis could delay elections

M23 had emerged as the most powerful group in the decades-long conflict in eastern DR Congo. The ethnic Tutsi militia originated after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda to hunt down Rwandan ethnic Hutus, who had fled to eastern DRC after Kagame's Tutsi militia had seized control of Rwanda.

Kagame has accused Tshisekedi of not being interested in peace in the region. He said Tshisekedi was using the DRC crisis to delay elections scheduled for 2023.

Bob Kabamba, a political science professor at the Belgian University of Liege fears the rhetoric between the two leaders could result in a military confrontation.

"These kinds of speeches will increase and each time it will be a kind of ping-pong game that can escalate and lead to a direct military confrontation," Kabamba told DW.

"Then, instead of going through proxies like the M23, we would be talking about an interstate war."

Zanem Zaidi in Goma contributed to this report.

Fighting in eastern DRC intensifies

Edited by: Benita van Eyssen