The rebel group, the March 23 Movement (M23) made advances toward the eastern Congolese city of Goma during the week of November 11, says Al Jazeera. Clashes picked up after a week of relative calm, with fighting erupting in the villages of Kibuma, Rugari, and Tongo according to the army spokesperson Guillaume Ndijke. Kibuma is located only 20 kilometers from Goma.
Residents reported that the army had left the villages of Kibuma and Tongo and people are continuing to flee. This will lead to the worsening of an already existent humanitarian crisis in Eastern Congo where many people are living in tent cities with little access to food. The city of Kibati already has three refugee camps and many families occupying abandoned homes as hundreds more refugees flood in, says Al Jazeera. According to community leaders, 60,000 people are still stuck behind rebel lines and they are asking for a humanitarian corridor to be opened. At this point, at least 188,000 people have been displaced in the North Kivu province.
M23 is a mostly Congolese, Tutsi-led insurgence group that first appeared in 2012. They briefly took over Goma in 2012, but the city was taken back by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) ten days later. A peace deal was reached between M23 and the DRC in 2013 the conflict was relatively calm until fighting resumed in late 2021. M23 claims that the Congolese government failed to uphold their end of the peace agreement, according to Deutsche Welle. M23 leaders say the DRC started the war and claim that the Congolese army is fighting alongside other militia groups, according to Al Jazeera.
M23 has cut Goma off from the upper half of North Kivu province. The DRC blamed Rwanda for supporting M23 and responded by expelling the Rwandan ambassador, Vincent Karenga, and calling back the Congolese ambassador to Rwanda, Kigali. The African Union called for a ceasefire between DRC and the rebel group. Thousands of anti-Rwandan protestors marched through Goma demanding weapons to fight, says Deutsche Welle. M23 also wounded four UN soldiers during the recent attacks.
Tensions between the DRC and Rwanda date back to the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, when around one million Tutsis, and Hutus who supported them, were killed. Rwanda believes that the DRC accepted the perpetrators of the genocide and continues to provide refuge for them. Both countries are vying for influence and resources in the region making them natural regional competitors, according to The Conversation. Rwanda has accused the DRC of helping a rebel group that aims to overthrow the Rwandan government, and the DRC has accused Rwanda of backing M23. The Conversation reports that DRC has released a 131-page report accounting all the evidence that Rwanda is supporting M23, which has been recognized as a legitimate accusation by the UN and the U.S., according to AfricaNews. Rwanda denies this claim, however, according to Reuters. The DRC and Rwanda have had two major wars and multiple smaller conflicts since 1994. According to The Conversation, these recent tensions threaten the stability of the entire East African region, which could disrupt trade routes and open opportunities for paramilitary groups to gain power.
Peace talks in Nairobi were pushed up in response to the recent M23 advances, says Al Jazeera. On November 21 an agreement was reached for an “immediate ceasefire” in the eastern DRC, says AfricaNews, as announced by the Angolan Foreign Minister, who was appointed as a mediator by the African Union. Congolese president, Felix Tshisekedi, met with the Rwandan Foreign Minister to try and resolve recent tensions after the summit between the two countries earlier in July saw little results. They also agreed to demand “the immediate withdrawal of M23 rebels from occupied areas.”
Although the Rwandan president was absent from these talks, former Kenyan leader, Uhuru Kenyatta, has been acting as a mediator and says that the Rwandan president is ready to encourage a ceasefire and pull back from captured territory, says AfricaNews.
Image courtesy of MONOSCU Photos