Reporting for Reuters, Djaffar Sabiti and Justin Makangara write that M23 rebels are fighting about 12 miles north of the Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R.C.) city of Goma causing hundreds of people to flee south. A spokesperson for the North Kivu army is reported to have said they were “containing” and working to “push [the rebels] back” as other leaders in the East Africa region are planning peace negotiations. Reuters further reports that M23 blames the D.R.C. army for instigating the violence. Meanwhile, over 188,000 people have been displaced since the violence that broke out in October 2022.
According to Al Jazeera, the ethnic-majority Tutsi M23 rebel group originated to fight Hutu militias that escaped during and after the Rwandan genocide. A brokered peace deal in the 2000s included an agreement that would have the D.R.C. absorb the M23 fighters into the national army but ultimately failed a few years later with the M23 rebels claiming the original terms had been broken. The new violence comes amid tensions between Rwanda and the D.R.C. as the UN and the D.R.C. accuse Rwanda of backing the M23 rebels.
In a joint statement, the U.S., Belgium, France, and the U.K. “promote de-escalation,” “encourage renewed dialogue,” and “urge an immediate cessation of hostilities,” including ending all “external support to M23.” Similarly, in a report from Reuters, ex-Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Rwandan President Paul Kagame “agreed on the need for M23 rebels to cease fire and withdraw.” Prolonged conflict can lead to long-term destabilization by disenfranchising the populace, destroying infrastructure, opening the door for bad governance, and more. This can occur through enduring psychological and physical trauma, desecration of important buildings/roads/systems, and desperation to remain safe and maintain power. Therefore it is no surprise that the UN special envoy to the African Great Lakes region and other local regional leaders have come forward with statements and suggestions to end the violence. They fear the conflict and tensions will cause spillover and negatively impact East Africa.
But as conflict, peace, and justice researcher Felix Ndahinda explains during a panel session with Al Jazeera, international efforts to create sustained peace lack action. He continues to say that the D.R.C. and the Great Lakes region have problems at all levels of society that need to be addressed together otherwise the cycle of conflict continues to repeat. In the same panel discussion, fellow researcher Kambale Musavuli and political commentator Gatete Nyiringabo Ruhumuliza touch on some of these problems including militant exploitation of natural resources. A UN report from 2019 cites disease, displaced peoples, and malnutrition as other problems plaguing the country.
Naturally, the next question is how can all of these problems, and more, possibly be fixed at once? The answer is, who knows? International condemnations and words of support go hand-in-hand with inaction as they leave the dangerous cycle intact. Resources can be exploited to fund militias, other countries can actively fund and support rebel groups, and aid for civilians is still underfunded. Sending more peacekeeping troops increases the security as well as the number of arms in the country which has the potential to espouse more fighting. But again, civilians will continue to go hungry, make-shift hospitals will lack supplies, and the armed groups will still receive funding for their violence. Sanctions can be placed on Rwanda and other countries supporting the militants, but the issues that give rise and ground to rebel groups will persist.
The common theme is that most typical non-military interventions do not address the underlying problems that pave the way for violence. The first step that should be taken to aid in the de-escalation of conflict and the road to peace is the development of better governance and infrastructure. More organized and efficient systems that protect displaced people can help prevent people from becoming disenfranchised and desiring to take up arms. Better governance can help create fairer and more secure peace negotiations with better control over key resources, borders, soldiers, and more to create a stable path toward peace. In short, the D.R.C. needs to establish the correct governmental infrastructure that will lay the foundation for a prosperous and healthy society to build lasting peace, despite how difficult that may sound.
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