M23 in context

10 December 2012 | ResolutionPossible

Recent coverage of events in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo has focused mainly on the M23, also known as the Congolese Revolutionary Army. UN reports have accused Rwanda and Uganda of supporting the armed movement, formed in April 2012 when a group of soldiers mutinied from the Congolese National Army (FARDC). The M23 are not new and violence in the east of DRC (in particular North and South Kivu) has been going on for years.


Not too long ago when you searched ‘M23’ you would get motorways, now with the increase of media coverage of the M23 they are on top of searches.

So why are people are talking about this now? And why focus on M23 above all the other groups in the region? We are not looking to take sides, but to encourage us all to think more deeply and critically about what we’re hearing in the media. Below are some questions that we hope will get you thinking and spark interesting discussions. Whether you disagree or have something to add, we want to hear from you! Comment below or email us your thoughts at info@resolutionpossible.org.

Why is it relevant to us?

News about violence in remote parts of the world can often seem very far away and irrelevant to our daily lives, something which we aim to explore through our Connections section. Uganda and Rwanda, both receiving budgetary support from countries such as the UK, are accused of supporting the M23. So potentially our taxes could be traced all the way to uniforms or ammunition for M23 soldiers. Is this what makes people, and the media, take notice?

Until recently the Presidents of both Rwanda and Uganda were hailed as a new generation of African leaders and have been ‘donor darlings’, with former US President Bill Clinton describing Paul Kagame of Rwanda as “one of the greatest leaders of our time” and Clare Short (former UK Secretary of State for International Development) calling him “such a sweetie”. Rwanda especially has received substantial foreign aid, and is often used as an example of how African countries can use financial support successfully.

Now donor countries including the UK have suspended aid to both Rwanda and Uganda in the wake of these allegations. But is it right that donors put conditions on their aid, essentially holding recipient governments to ransom?  This is not the first time that Rwanda and Uganda have been implicated in violence in the DR Congo, with involvement in both Congo Wars, so why is aid being suspended now? Rwanda was elected into the UN Security Council in October, right after the release of a UN report critical of Rwanda’s interference in the DRC; does that mean the Security Council is not taking this report seriously?

Both the Ugandan and Rwandan governments have stood firm, denying involvement with M23. Following the allegations and subsequent suspension of aid, Uganda threatened to pull out of the African Union’s AMISOM mission in Somalia and place its troops on the border with DRC instead. An empty threat, or confirmation of his guilt?

The ‘Kivu State’ and the East African Community

One potential outcome of the current violence is an independent Kivu state (an area of eastern DRC bordering Rwanda and Burundi). There are Rwanda-phone people within this region of DRC who feel more aligned with people in Rwanda, Burundi and parts of Uganda, than they do with people in central and western DRC, and they feel ignored by the central government in Kinshasa.  The region is extremely mineral rich, and worth a lot of money to those controlling it.

The East African Community (Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and potentially South Sudan) is growing stronger, particularly in terms of trade links. Does the EAC have an interest in the economic potential of an independent Kivu state joining the community? Given the poor governance of the DRC, would investors interested in the mineral wealth of the region find the potential stability of a smaller independent Kivu appealing, or is instability in the Kivus useful for these companies?

Good versus bad

When the media reports on certain issues such as the recent violence involving M23 there is a tendency to oversimplify and condemn groups entirely without giving a fair account on their aims, objectives and reasons.  Stories about armed conflict often look for one side to blame atrocities on, absolving the other side.  We do not really know the full story of what is happening in the deep forests of the Kivus, and which groups are responsible for what crimes. It is not unusual for a particular group to take the blame for harm caused to people when the reality is not as simple as that.

The bad guys: Easily disliked, easily dismissed as ‘evil’. Did we ever wonder why they are portrayed like this? And how did they end up this evil?

It takes years even to get somewhat close to truly understanding complex situations, like violence in eastern DRC. The media and campaigns need to spark people’s interest, so they pick out elements within a story to draw attention to. The ‘good versus evil’ framework is a classic example. By focusing on the chosen ‘bad guys’, in this case M23, the world has someone to be upset with. Using devices such as ‘The Terminator’ nickname for Bosco Ntaganda, the alleged leader of M23, help get people interested.

The problem with condensing real life situations into digestible stories is that we lose many crucial facts and nuances. This can lead to pinning blame on the wrong people, or allowing people who are equally guilty to quite literally get away with murder. It also makes it harder to address root causes of a conflict and find fair and sustainable solutions.

What now?

We don’t have the answers. We know that the ins and outs of the problems in the DRC cannot be explained in news bulletins and we realise that most people don’t have time to dive into all the complexities. So what can we do if we want to explore beyond the mainstream narrative? We believe that constructive discussions will help us all achieve better understanding and come closer to finding resolutions. We won’t tell you what to think, we ask questions so we can all hear what you think, whatever viewpoint you hold. Agree, disagree, comments, suggestions – please share your thoughts with us.

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