Rebel fighters from the M23 group in the Democratic Republic of Congo have pushed past Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, to the town of Sake, 20 km to the west, and claim they plan to march to Kinshasa, the country’s capital.
But Natznet Tesfay, head of Africa forecasting at Exclusive Analysis, a consulting group, thinks it’s more likely the rebels will consolidate their stronghold in North Kivu first and argues they lack the resources to make the logistically challenging 1,600-km journey to the country’s capital on the Congo River.
“They don’t have the capacity to get to Kinshasa,” she explained in a telephone interview from London. “They don’t have the manpower or the food and water to maintain that march. It would take weeks and weeks to get there.”
Instead she says the rebels are likely to consolidate territory in the Rutshuru-Goma-Masisi triangle of North Kivu, a traditional stronghold of the CNDP, from which the M23 was largely formed. “It looks like they’re moving out of Sake but they’re not moving south, they’re moving west and north,” she says.
And they will be looking for sources of funds — primarily from minerals.
“In the areas where the group has unilateral control it is likely that they will extort mining operations and there is a risk of theft of minerals as they look for alternative sources of revenue for the group,” she continues. “That is their main source of revenues. For the most part they control artisanal mining sites.”
She also noted that a successful counteroffensive by the national army or FARDC “would only be likely with support from rival armed groups or the United Nations MONUSCO mission, or alternatively if Rwanda suspends military support to M23,” adding that both scenarios are very unlikely.
“If the FARDC does not retake Goma within two weeks, or if M23 continues to expand its territory, the risk to President Kabila’s government will become severe,” she said. “Mass demonstrations in major cities and mutinies at military barracks would be key indicators for the ousting of President Kabila.”
The M23 rebellion started in March when General Bosco Ntaganda led troops (who were formerly CNDP) to mutiny from the FARDC.
It is widely believed that the M23 are backed by Rwanda.
Mark Schroeder, vice president of Africa analysis at Stratfor, an intelligence company based in Texas that publishes geopolitical analysis for its clients, says Rwanda never really left the Eastern Congo when it chased Hutu fighters there after the 1994 genocide.
“It’s the Rwandan forces who first went into East Congo after the 1994 genocide and never really left, but they’ve done a good job of reducing their official presence and relying on indigenous or proxy forces, and hiring some Congolese, so they have a measure of cover, beyond Rwandan officers and Rwandan trained forces,” he explains. “That’s kind of how Rwanda operates and you can say 18 years later these fighters in the Eastern Congo are Congolese, but you know effectively that they still get a lot of support from Rwanda.”
Schroeder does not believe the current rebellion will lead to a brand new civil war on par with what happened from 1997-2003 when forces from the East backed by Rwanda and Uganda intervened and invaded not only the borderland with their countries but went all the way across to overthrow the government in Kinshasa.
“This current kind of rebellious activity involving M23 or its predecessor CDNP, they have been fighting there for several years and have not really expanded,” he says. “And they have no big interest to do that. This is not a fight against the government of Congo, it’s a fight to make sure they have the superior armed group in the Eastern Congo, and the fact of the matter is that the government of the Congo doesn’t have the ability to be that [superior] group.”
Ultimately, Schroeder says, Rwanda and Uganda to a lesser extent will both maintain their forward deployed positions in the Eastern Congo, both for national security reasons as well as for extracting the country’s mineral wealth, no matter how much Congo complains.
“When you see the Mai Mai or the FDLR, these are guys who fled to the Congo in 1994 after the Rwandan genocide, and Rwanda has felt it had to take a forward presence in the Congo so that these guys never think of regrouping or fighting their way home. Rwanda will never permit that to happen. And because the Congo is unable to do anything about it, Rwanda is just demonstrating that they are taking it very seriously.”
“It’s not a case of a civil war or an invasion across the country to overthrow the government seated in Kinshasa,” he continues. “It’s a longstanding unstable area with a lot of armed groups with a mixture of interests ranging from legitimate national security concerns to some very lucrative mining opportunities and the Congo is just in the middle of that Wild West type of environment…The government is not capable of asserting sovereignty in the Eastern Congo — they don’t have the manpower, the weapons, or the training, and so the result of their weakness is that the Eastern Congo is a wild west area with a bunch of armed groups, loose weapons, and they’re able to finance themselves through illegal mining and smuggling.”
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