Democratic Republic of Congo: Powerless against rebels


Angola is also sending troops: the Congo wants to militarily stop the violence in the east with ever new alliances. Instead, the massacres increase. Supply bottlenecks and a new mass exodus are the result.

The M23 rebels still control parts of eastern Congo

In order to understand the extent of the crisis in Congo, it is worth taking a look at neighboring Tanzania: 300 to 600 Congolese refugees have been arriving there every day since the beginning of March, according to the refugee office of the Tanzanian Ministry of the Interior. The people would be accommodated in the Nyarugusu camp in western Tanzania, said the head of the refugee agency Sudi Mwakibasi in a DW interview – and emphasized: “We are thus fulfilling our fundamental obligation to protect refugees worldwide.”

People are afraid of attacks by various rebel groups in North Kivu, such as the M23. So says Selemani Malembe, who fled to the town of Kigoma on the shore of Lake Tanganyika. “We are asking the government to help us. Many families are being killed.” He himself doesn't know where his wife and children are, he says, and his voice breaks.

Refugees reach Tanzania via the town of Kigoma on the shore of Lake Tanganyika

The M23 rebel militia, founded in 2012 as the “23 March Movement”, began a new advance in North Kivu last year. Negotiations have been going on for months, and several ceasefire agreements have failed.

Massacre around Beni – and a lot of ambiguity

Another threat has also come to the fore in recent weeks: around the city of Beni, in the north of the Kivu region, fighters for the ADF militia, which is part of the terrorist group Islamic State, have carried out several massacres and shot or killed dozens of people machetes murdered. “Operation Shujaa”, a joint military operation by the Congolese and Ugandan armies, has been in existence since 2021. More than a year later, however, it is questionable how much the operation can achieve – especially since attacks have increased since it killed one of the ADF leaders in late February.

Uganda soldiers have also been deployed against ADF rebels in Congo since the end of 2021

Adolphe Agenonga Chober of Kisangani University regrets that peacekeeping is increasingly being left to this joint force. “They don't control the entire area in which the ADF is active,” the conflict researcher points out in a DW interview. There has also been confusion since citizen militias were recognized as auxiliary forces of the army under the traditional collective term Mai-Mai: “Sometimes it is difficult to say whether an armed group is an ADF fighter or a recognized Mai-Mai self-defence group .”

International troops and no end

Even in the distant capital of Kinshasa, frustration is growing – once again. For recently, attempts have been made to form an alliance with troops from the East African Community (EAC) in order to counteract the continuing insecurity and the massive threat, in particular from the M23. But that doesn't really want to work. Buffer zones set up by the EAC forces to secure the ceasefire, Kinshasa said, would leave Congolese troops out while the M23 rebels could continue to move freely there.

Angola's President Joao Lourenco (middle) mediates between his counterparts from Rwanda and Congo (from left)

In a new step, the focus is now on the southern neighbor Angola. On Friday, parliament unanimously decided to send up to 500 soldiers to the region. In fact, Angola's President Joao Lourenco positioned himself as a mediator in the conflict and brought about a ceasefire agreement that should have come into force on March 7th. “The main purpose of this military unit is to secure the zones where M23 is stationed,” according to a press release from the Angolan government. In addition, forces are to be protected that monitor the ceasefire.

The traces of a decades-long conflict

Etienne Tshisekedi's Congolese government's confidence in Angola is based on developments in the 1990s, when what was then Zaire re-established itself as the Democratic Republic of the Congo after the fall of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. Angolan troops saved the new government under Tshisekedi's predecessor Laurent Kabila in 1998 from being overthrown by rebels from the east – supported by the neighboring countries Rwanda and Uganda, among others.

The memory of that is still alive, says Juvénal Munubo, rapporteur for the parliamentary commission on security and defence: “Kinshasa seems to have a little more trust in Angola and in the countries of the South African Development Community than in the countries of the East African Community, because these countries are actually are themselves parties to the conflict.”

Nevertheless, it remains questionable how much the new commitment can contribute to solving the conflict. “The fact that troops are being sent from a country that has acted as a mediator to this day only increases the complexity of this crisis,” emphasizes Reagan Miviri of the Congolese research institute Ebuteli. “It is not certain that [Angola] will achieve more than all the foreign armies that are already present in the Congo – especially if it is also unwilling to take military action against the M23.”

Congo humanitarian crisis intensifies

The people of North Kivu now have to wait and see what the Angolan troops can do on the ground. Meanwhile, the need for the population, who are increasingly fleeing in the Congo, is growing. Speaking to DW, Dottie Adam Coulibaly, deputy head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in North Kivu, reports that there are more than 300,000 internally displaced people in Goma and more than 60,000 in the city of Kanyabayonga further north. 

Many internally displaced people – here in December 2022 – are fleeing to Goma

The Red Cross is helping out on site, among other things Phone booths in the camps to help broken families stay in touch. “The big challenge for us remains to enable access to humanitarian aid,” said Coulibaly. With the spread of the conflict to different areas, it is essential to guarantee access for aid organizations. Coulibaly appeals to all parties to the conflict to respect and protect humanitarian actors and the civilian population.

Collaborators: Wendy Bashi, Georges Ibrahim Tounkara, Prosper Kwigize (Kigoma)

Fighting in eastern Congo is driving hundreds of thousands away