New spate of violence does not bode well for regional diplomatic efforts, say analysts
Recent renewed fighting between Congolese government forces and M23 rebels demonstrates the continued worrying threat posed by insecurity in the east, according to analysts.
It comes at a time when the main thrust of political activity in Congo is focused on general elections scheduled for December.
The clashes involve the M23 rebels on one hand, a pro-government armed group calling itself, Wazelendo, and the Congolese army on the other.
Since 2021, the M23, one of several armed groups fighting in eastern Congo, captured swathes of territory in North Kivu province.
In the latest clashes, fighting has been reported in and around the M23-controlled area of Masisi Territory of North Kivu Province near the border with Rwanda and Uganda, after six months of fragile calm.
The East African Community Regional Force has urged the warring parties to revert to a cease-fire agreement brokered by regional leaders.
Col. Guillaume Ndjike Kaiko, spokesman for the governor of North Kivu province, claimed that the Congolese army continues to observe the cease-fire on the instructions of the heads of state of the sub-region, but “it has a duty to protect its initial positions and to protect the population.”
Two protagonists hold the key
Political observers and analysts said the renewed clashes present a deeply worrying development, which does not bode well for regional diplomatic efforts to resolve the long-running conflict.
“The chances of peaceful resolution of this conflict remain in the hands of the two protagonists, and this needs to be resolved through a sincere dialogue between the two belligerents, but also through genuine political will by Kinshasa and its neighbors to de-escalate the conflict and to address all the root causes of the conflict,” Louis Gitinywa, a Rwandan-based political analyst told Anadolu.
Within the framework of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), Angola has been facilitating talks between the parties that allowed the adoption of the Luanda Roadmap on the pacification process of eastern Congo.
Under the framework of the Luanda Roadmap, the M23 rebels were ordered to withdraw from occupied areas to the camp and start a disarmament and reintegration process.
Angola is the African Union mediator on M23 committed to deploying a contingent of troops to ensure the safety of M23 elements in the cantonment centers.
While it is unclear how the peace process will play out, Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi’s recent remarks about the rebellion suggest the government is getting ready for a military solution.
Almost 200,000 residents have been driven out of their homes since Oct. 1 in Rutshuru and Masisi territories, north of Goma, according to the UN.
Optimism about peaceful end
Angolan Foreign Minister Tete Antonio said renewed fighting “complicates the peace process” but there is still hope for the restoration of peace through a dialogue process led by Angolan President Joao Lourenco.
“It is a complicated process, but there is hope and optimism about finding peace in the DR Congo and the entire Great Lakes region through dialogue,” Tete told Anadolu.
Leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are expected to meet at an extraordinary summit Nov. 4 in Angola to assess the security situation in eastern Congo.
Gitinywa, a constitutional lawyer, believes a lack of honesty by the Kinshasa government presents a challenge to the conflict.
“I think the major challenges remain Kinshasa’s ‘war mongering’ approach to the conflict that has created a long and deep distrust amongst the belligerents even across its regional partners,” he said.
“Kinshasa never demonstrates a sincere political will and willingness to resolve this crisis through dialogue, as it has always tried recourse to military solutions as well as putting the blame either on the UN mission (MONUSCO) or on regional partners (Rwanda and Uganda).”
The government in Kinshasa accuses Rwanda of backing the M23, a charge Kigali denies.
David Egesa, a security analyst based in Uganda’s capital Kampala, warned that if armed groups back Kinshasa against M23, it might help in the short term but could also strengthen militia groups.
“DR Congo might discreetly allow the militia to work together against M23. But such a twisted game could, in the longer term, embolden the militias … it’s a dangerous situation,” he said.
Egesa believes Kinshasa’s talk of pursuing military action will only go so far as prolonging the conflict and will have a greater effect on the civilian population than the M23.
Gitinywa said Kinshasa should address the root causes of the conflict by uprooting and demobilizing the different armed groups that have been operating in eastern Congo.
He also urged the government in Kinshasa to “ensure free, fair and non-violent elections, reform the DRC security and justice sector, and tackle the endemic corruption.”
The renewed fighting should “certainly cause deep concern for the region which is playing a lead role in efforts led by Angola to restore peace through amicable resolution of conflict,” said Raphael Nkaka, a governance expert based in Rwanda’s capital of Kigali.
“It is worrying that people have to die whenever politics fails to settle differences,” he said.
Gitinywa sees the recent escalation of the conflict and violations of the cease-fire between M23 and the Congolese army as “provoking a tactical move” by Tshisekedi to postpone general elections on grounds of insecurity across several regions of the country.
But Tshisekedi assured that the election in December would have to take place.
The clashes in eastern Congo come after Tshisekedi called for a speedy withdrawal of the UN mission in the country.
On Oct. 30, the UN said the number of internally displaced people within Congo had reached a record 6.9 million due to escalating violence.
In North Kivu, up to 1 million residents have reportedly been displaced due to the conflict with the M23.