The Elusive Quest for Peace with the M23 in the DRC

This post is part of our International Relations & Security coverage.

M23 rebels on a truck in the streets of Goma

M23 rebels on a truck in the streets of Goma (November 29, 2012) VOA via Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

The current conflict in the Kivu Region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) threatens to linger on despite an international effort to broker a truce between the M23 rebellion and the Congolese government. The 2012 version of this conflict is difficult to grasp, particularly because the M23 is a shifting armed movement, both geographically and politically. Its leadership is interchangeable among commanders, and the movement is supported by foreign influences with an eye on the geological riches of the region.

The evolution of the M23 Rebellion

Who exactly are the M23 rebels? This is the question the Rift Valley Institute’s Usamala Project tries to unpack in its recent report “From CNDP to M23: The evolution of an armed movement in Eastern Congo” (PDF). While the armed branch of the rebellion is easy to define, its political leadership is more elusive. The report explains further:

The M23 political leadership was made up mostly of former CNDP [National Congress for the Defence of the People] loyalists, with Jean-Marie Runiga Lugerero, the CNDP’s representative in Kinshasa, as political coordinator. However, there were also some new names, allegedly appointed after pressure by Rwanda (…) Between May and August 2012 the M23 also began to beef up its political wing. It named several new local chiefs, set up a tax collection network, and established a formal liaison office for humanitarians working in the area––structures reminiscent to those of the CNDP era. They also established two websites ( and, a Facebook fan page and several Twitter accounts run by them or people close to them. On 20 October, in a move to further boost their legitimacy, they renamed their armed wing the Armée Révolutionaire du Congo (ARC, Congolese Revolutionary Army).

Indeed, while rudimentary at first, the public relations strategy of the M23 rebels has grown increasingly sophisticated in order to garner the public support. On Jeune Afrique, Trésor Kibungula illustrates the evolution of M23 on Facebook [fr], from a timid start back in July, to a media platform sufficiently controversial that Facebook eventually had to shut it down.

An interview with the M23’s Bertrand Bisimwa on the Congo Siaisa blog helps to explain the genesis of the movement and its alleged overarching goals:

The M23 is made up of armed groups that signed the March 23 agreement. We started by asking for the implementation of that deal. The government fought us, saying we didn’t have the right to demand that [..] Today, in addition to the March 23 agreement we want good governance in the country and a legitimate government. You have to realize that not all ex-CNDP joined the M23. In fact, most didn’t. It was these others, those who didn’t join, who helped rig the elections in [Jospeh] Kabila’s favor in Masisi.

General Sultani Makenga, the military leader of the M23 also gave an interview recently where he speaks about the fluid leadership of the M23 movement [fr], giving updates on the status of former CNDP leader Laurent Nkunda and arrested general Bosco Ntaganda within the movement.

Aside from its shifting leadership, Melanie Gouby in Newsweek Magazine explains that the movement does not seem to have a defined political ideology and seems mostly driven to protect the economic and political interests of neighboring nations.

Involving all players in the quest for peace

The two nations with most economic and political stakes in the conflict are Rwanda and Uganda. According to the United Nations, Rwanda has been tied to the conflict in Kivu for a long time, despite denials from President Paul Kagame’s administration. Yet, there is little uncertainty about the Rwandan support as the Usamala project report explains:

Rwandan support for M23 has now been well documented, in particular by the UN Group of Experts. Their conclusions have been confirmed by Human Rights Watch, by MONUSCO, and by at least three embassies in Kigali through internal investigations [..]

With regards to Rwanda’s role in the crisis, the U.S. policy to minimize sanctions against Kagame’s administration is perplexing to many observers.

The Ugandan government is also suspected of providing logistics support to the latest M23 offensive. In the following video, Ugandan lawmakers ask the president to explain the relation to the Congo M23 rebels:

With so many players involved in the crisis, what’s in store for the region is still very unclear. Is the Goma withdrawal definitive for the M23? Some M23 fighters seem to firmly believe they will soon be back in the city. Observers do not seem to expect much from peace talks.

Gérard Prunier, a French academic and author, argues that Congo and Rwanda are “just playing a waiting game until the situation on the ground gets sorted out.” He believes there could be an escalation of the crisis:

If tomorrow you could have the secession of Katanga (ed’s note: a Congo region rich in minerals) back on the books, I wouldn’t be surprised

Meanwhile, the local population bears the main burden of this never ending war. The World Food Programme reports that at least 80,000 people are displaced in the region:

ISN logoThis post and its translations to Spanish, Arabic and French were commissioned by the International Security Network (ISN) as part of a partnership to seek out citizen voices on international relations and security issues worldwide. This post was first published on the ISN blog, see similar stories here.


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