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Attempts to spread the M23 rebellion

The de facto ceasefire between the M23 and the Congolese government continues to hold. When asked why a senior Congolese operational commander said simply: “We have not received orders to attack.” However, several thousand troops have been sent to the East in the past two months, along with heavy weaponry and tanks, and there are signs that the government could attack soon.

In the meantime, the M23 is sitting tight, recruiting and training soldiers and working on its ties with other groups. While it has been able to make tentative alliances in some unexpected quarters – the Raia Mutomboki in southern Masisi, for example, or with Albert Kahasha’s UPCP in southern Lubero – it has not had much luck with its more traditional allies in the Hutu and Banyamulenge communities. Those alliances, which had formed the backbone of the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) between 1998-2003, began fraying during the early days of the CNDP and have never recovered. The Hutu leadership around former North Kivu Governor Eugene Serufuli, for example, is viewed with mistrust in Kigali and by the M23, as they had defected from Laurent Nkunda’s CNDP in 2005-2006, hamstringing his movement. Until now, the M23 has only included minor members of the Hutu military and political elites – Erasto Ntibaturana (a local chief from Masisi), Col. Edmond “Saddam” Ringo (a former PARECO commander), Sendugu Museveni (the disgraced former PARECO president), Lt Col Vianney Kazarama (the former military spokesperson of South Kivu).

In the Banyamulenge community, the M23 have been even less successful. Until recently, there were only several, relatively unknown Banyamulenge officers in the M23. The few senior Banyamulenge who had been in the CNDP – Col Eric Ruohimbere, Col Eric Bizimana were the highest-ranking – are dismissive of the M23, and there never were any respected civilian leaders from their community who had joined.

That may be changing slowly. On September 17, a small
coalition of Fuliro and Banyamulenge soldiers, some of whom had just been
recruited in Rwanda, attacked the Luberizi army camp south of Bukavu, making
away with a sizeable stash of weapons and ammunition. The attack was carried out by Lt Col Bede Rusagara, an ex-CNDP officer from the Fuliro community, who has been bolstered by a succession battle surrounding the customary chiefdom of the Rundi in the Rusizi Plain. But Bede was accompanied by Nkingi Muhima, a Munyamulenge commander (and former assistant to Col Michel Rukunda) who defected from the Congolese army in July, as well as several very young Banyamulenge who had just been recruited in Rwanda. According to numerous sources in this community, pressure is increasing on youths, especially those living in Rwanda, to join this new rebellion. In mobilization meetings, they are reportedly told that their community is in danger, that massacres are being committed against their relatives in the Congo.

While for the most part, the Banyamulenge community in the Congo appears reluctant to join another armed insurrection – the past AFDL and RCD rebellion have brewed distrust against Rwanda, which many believe is behind the M23 rebellion – it has also suffered several attacks by Mai-Mai militia in recent months, costing hundreds of head of cattle and several lives. While some of the Banyamulenge leaders conspiratorially told me they think these attacks are supposed to drive them into the arms of the M23 rebellion, at the end of the day, the logic of fear could trump distrust toward Rwanda. It is too soon to tell, and Nkingi’s group is still very small, but time is on the rebels’ side. The longer the ceasefire lasts, the weakener and more indecisive Kinshasa will look, and the more time the M23 rebels will have to rally more soldiers and politicians to their side.

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