Is there a "Kivu conspiracy" to undermine Congo? Hardly

Guest blogger Laura Seay, during visit to the Congolese city of Goma, looks into allegations that the ongoing rebellion of Bosco Ntaganda is a conspiracy to undermine Congolese control.

Siegfried Modola/REUTERS
A Congolese government soldier stands guard at a military outpost between Kachiru village and Mbuzi hill, in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, May 25.

•  A version of this post appeared on the blog "Texas in Africa." The views expressed are the author's own.

A new rebellion is underway in Congo's North Kivu province, and while most of the actors are familiar, the story is slightly different. Two months ago, groups of soldiers in the Congolese national army, the FARDC, began to defect from the ranks. These soldiers are all former members of a rebel-movement-turned-political-party called the CNDP. The CNDP is notorious for having been led by warlord Laurent Nkunda, who, with backing from Rwanda, almost took over the province a few years ago. Rwanda, however, arrested Nkunda, made an agreement with the Congolese president to stop backing the movement, and CNDP forces were integrated into the FARDC. Nkunda's former second-in-command, Bosco Ntaganda, took over the military leadership of the movement, which maintained parallel chains of command within the FARDC ranks. Ntaganda became a warlord and amassed large quantities of wealth as a result of this arrangement; his ability to operate despite being wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court was taken by many as evidence that he was the lynchpin of regional stability, likely because his role in controlling cross-border trade between North Kivu and Rwanda maintained Rwanda's ability to benefit from Congolese mineral resources without maintaining a formal military presence in the province. Ntaganda, like many of his ex-CNDP counterparts, is a Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese Tutsi, and Tutsis and Hutu Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese are at the forefront of the mutiny, which has christened itself M23.

There is no such thing as a unified "Tutsi position" on M23, Bosco Ntaganda's leadership, or the RPF government in Kigali. This is a common misconception that is sometimes glossed over in media reports from the region, but it's an important one. While many non-Rwandaphone Congolese are convinced that there is a "Tutsi project" - that is, a conspiracy  to take control of the Kivu provinces under Kigali's rule - there is actually wide variation of opinion in the Rwandan and Congolese Tutsi communities, as well as among Congolese Rwandaphone Hutus

(To read more about what precipitated the M23 mutiny, click here to read a new piece on the M23 rebellion up at Warscapes this week.)

This is not an accurate reflection of current reality. While we know that during the war some Tutsis apparently had the idea of expanding into a "greater Rwanda" (most famously expressed through the publication of a map of said territory in the Rwandair Express inflight magazine during the war), today, there is a high degree of tension in relationships between and among the Anglophone Tutsi leadership in Kigali, other Tutsis in and exiled from Rwanda, and Congolese Tutsis and Hutus. This variety of viewpoint extends through civilian and military life and is present within the ranks of the ex-/CNDP's military and political leaderships.  For example, some ex-CNDP soldiers remained loyal to Nkunda over the course of the last three years, while others have more confidence in Ntaganda's leadership.

Now that the mutiny is in full swing, opinions vary even more widely. Rumors are flying that Nkunda is directing M23's movements by telephone. Some Tutsi civilians in Goma are enthusiastically supporting M23. Others are less excited, but see it as a necessarily evil means of protecting their interests in the region. Some are afraid that if they don't support M23, they will not have anywhere to live anymore; this logic suggests that fighting is the only way to ensure that Rwandaphone Congolese aren't driven away from the land for good. Other Tutsis are furious; they view the M23 as having upset the delicate balance of peace that enabled Goma to prosper and themselves to live in relative peace in recent years. As Jason Stearns notes, there are meetings happening within the Tutsi and Hutu communities in eastern DRC in an attempt to rally more members of the communities behind the M23 cause. But as of now, their views are hardly unanimous.

Then there is Kigali, whose role in this situation is very unclear. In the past, it would have been unthinkable that if a Rwandaphone-dominated movement like M23 were pushed back against the Rwandan border that it would not be receiving direct support from Kigali. Human Rights Watch believes the Rwandan government is in fact aiding M23 by providing troops, weapons, and ammunition, as well as allowing Ntaganda to move freely between Rwanda and DRC. Rwanda's government denies these claims. What's the reality? I have no idea.

Regardless of what is going on in Kigali, it is a very dangerous time to be a Kinyarwanda-speaker in North Kivu. Since the FARDC's attention is on defeating M23, who are holed up in a corner of the province's eastern border with Rwanda, they have fewer troops in Walikale and Masisi. Not surprisingly, as soon as the FARDC presence scaled back in Walikale, the FDLR moved in to take control of several towns.  In Masisi, two Mai Mai militias have been engaged in the wholesale slaughter of Rwandaphones.IRIN notes that one local leader has tallied 120 deaths since mid-May.

Another misperception about the crisis is the idea that it was caused by the perception that Kabila's government had decided to arrest Ntanganda, who is wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court. This line of thinking reasons that the international community's pressure on Kabila to arrest Ntaganda in exchange for not making more of a fuss about the contested 2011 presidential elections caused Kabila to take the arrest more seriously.

Don't give the international community too much credit. This was probably the immediate precipitating cause as to why the mutiny happened when it did, but the actual reason for the rebellion was much deeper and is based in longstanding resentment within the FARDC ranks and the view of ex-CNDP officers that the status quo was unsustainable.

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As Stearns notes, there were apparently already plans underway within the ex-CNDP ranks that were sped up without warning when the rebellion broke out. 

What's next in the Kivus? Who knows? It's very clear that M23 is weak, and they will not be able to hold out for long under heavy shelling without reinforcements, which at this point can only come from Rwanda.  I sincerely doubt that Kigali believes a full-scale backing of the movement is in its interest; both countries have benefited and prospered under the 2009 rapprochement. Kinshasa also has a strong interest in maintaining the peace, which likely explains the Kabila administration's high level of engagement in attempting to resolve the crisis.  As always, though, if the status of Rwandaphone Congolese and the question of land rights isn't resolved at the grassroots level, we're not going to see a lasting peace in the region. It's only a matter of time before the next M23 arises.

– Laura Seay, a professor of political science at Morehouse College, blogs at Texas in Africa.

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