Defeat Of The M23: First Thoughts

BMI View: The crushing defeat inflicted by UN-backed Congolese troops on the M23 rebels offers hope that Kinshasa may succeed in imposing government control over the chaotic province of North Kivu. It remains to be seen, however, whether President Joseph Kabila's unpopular government can enact the sweeping political and economic reforms necessary to address the underlying causes of conflict in the war-torn region.

The success of UN-backed government troops against M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has substantially changed the political landscape in the province of North Kivu. Hundreds of rebel fighters have fled into Rwanda and Uganda, while citizens of the town of Rutshuru were treated to the sight of the UN's local head of mission - a usually sombre German diplomat - celebrating the victory by dancing in the streets. A formal peace agreement with the Congolese authorities is expected shortly, while billboards celebrating the government's victory are already appearing across Kinshasa.

BMI believes that the government's success in defeating the rebels marks an important turning point in North Kivu's long-running conflict, signifying that recent reforms to both the Congolese army and to the UN forces in the country may allow Kinshasa to impose tighter political control over the chaotic region. Even so, we stress that a long-term solution to persistent instability in the region would require significant political reform, as well as a political settlement with Rwanda.

Pushing Them Out
DRC - Government And UN Offensive

BMI View: The crushing defeat inflicted by UN-backed Congolese troops on the M23 rebels offers hope that Kinshasa may succeed in imposing government control over the chaotic province of North Kivu. It remains to be seen, however, whether President Joseph Kabila's unpopular government can enact the sweeping political and economic reforms necessary to address the underlying causes of conflict in the war-torn region.

The success of UN-backed government troops against M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has substantially changed the political landscape in the province of North Kivu. Hundreds of rebel fighters have fled into Rwanda and Uganda, while citizens of the town of Rutshuru were treated to the sight of the UN's local head of mission - a usually sombre German diplomat - celebrating the victory by dancing in the streets. A formal peace agreement with the Congolese authorities is expected shortly, while billboards celebrating the government's victory are already appearing across Kinshasa.

BMI believes that the government's success in defeating the rebels marks an important turning point in North Kivu's long-running conflict, signifying that recent reforms to both the Congolese army and to the UN forces in the country may allow Kinshasa to impose tighter political control over the chaotic region. Even so, we stress that a long-term solution to persistent instability in the region would require significant political reform, as well as a political settlement with Rwanda.

Pushing Them Out
DRC - Government And UN Offensive

An Uncharacteristic Show Of Strength

The most recent round of fighting between M23 fighters and UN-backed Congolese troops began on October 25, with pro-government forces capturing the rebels' key bases at Rutshuru on October 27 and Bunagana on October 30. Local observers reported that the group offered little resistance and abandoned key towns it had held for 18 months.

The contrast with 2012 could not be clearer; in November of last year M23 captured the provincial capital of Goma while government forces fled the field and UN troops refused to intervene. This is the first time since the 1998-2003 Second Congo War that the Kinshasa-based national government has militarily defeated a rebellion in the eastern DRC (see ' M23: The Beginning Of The End', October 28).

The Anatomy Of A Victory

BMI believes that there are three key reasons for this change of fortunes; reforms to the DRC's ramshackle military, the deployment of a UN intervention force, and foreign pressure on Rwanda that convinced Kigali to accept the defeat of its M23 allies.

The armed forces of the DRC are poorly trained, infrequently paid, and have traditionally been ineffective in preventing rebel groups from controlling large areas of North Kivu. The army is itself made up of a patchwork of former rebel groups integrated by a series of peace deals: the recently defeated M23 fighters were on the government's payroll from 2009 to 2012. Recent reforms, however, have simplified the chain of command and improved training. Many local observers credit General Lucien Bahuma with improving logistics and boosting morale by ensuring that soldiers are paid on time and provided with sufficient ammunition.

The Congolese army has also been ably supported by troops from the UN's revamped peacekeeping mission. The world body deployed a 3,000-strong offensive 'intervention brigade' in March 2013, authorising it to use deadly force against armed groups deemed to pose a threat to regional security. Recent fighting saw the brigade deploy hundreds of troops, as well as armoured vehicles and South African attack helicopters in support of Congolese advances. This more aggressive stance is a controversial step for the UN, which traditionally seeks to separate warring sides rather than become directly involved, but BMI believes that it was crucial in ending the M23 rebellion.

Finally, we highlight Rwanda's decision to abandon M23 as a key factor in the group's defeat. Paul Kagame's government has a long history of supporting armed groups in the eastern DRC - a region to which it has close political, ethnic, and economic ties - and Rwandan support was crucial in building up M23's military capabilities. BMI has long believed, however, that Kigali would eventually abandon M23 rather than become involved in direct clashes with a UN force (see 'Kigali Likely Ending Support for DRC Rebels', June 12). Diplomatic sources report that tense calls from British and American officials convinced Rwanda not to step in during the recent fighting. Only days later a senior American diplomat publically discussed dropping US sanctions against Rwanda.

...But Is Peace Secured?

BMI stresses, however, that the defeat of M23 rebels does not address the key causes of instability in North Kivu; significant steps will have to be taken if Kinshasa is to win the peace as well as the war.

First, it is important to note that M23 is only one of the dozens of armed groups active in North Kivu. A UN campaign against every militia in the province could be a never-ending task, while targeting only a few groups leaves the body open to allegations of bias. It is also not clear whether UN troops who succeeded in capturing the M23's fixed positions would succeed in guerrilla combat against less formal militias that are dispersed among the civilian population.

Second, BMI believes that local governance in North Kivu must be reformed. More transparent local elections, better policing, and a reliable justice system would go a long way to defusing many of the ethnic grievance and land disputes that escalate into armed conflict in the province. Fair and open trials for captured M23 leaders would be a positive step in the fight against impunity and would win popular support from locals who often see the government in distant Kinshasa as an oppressor rather than a protector. Effective policing might reduce support for the dozens of local 'self-defence' militia that have militarised politics and which allow local disputes to escalate violently.

Third, a lasting and durable political settlement between the DRC and Rwanda is a necessary precondition to a lasting peace. Rwanda's recent decision to abandon the M23 rather than risk an international crisis is a positive sign of rationality from Kigali. France's suggestion that the UN force should now target militias implicated in the 1994 Rwandan genocide should please Kigali; the government often used the DRC's failure to clamp down on anti-Rwandan rebel groups active in North Kivu as a pretext for intervention in the province.

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Sector: Country Risk
Geography: Congo, Rwanda, Uganda
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