The tactics behind DR Congo's mutiny

Col Makenga (centre) commander of the M23 rebel movement, stands on a hill overlooking the border town of Bunagana, DR Congo, Sunday 8 July 2012

As with most mutinies, the turmoil now spreading across the lush green hills of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is, despite appearances, a calculated and calibrated affair.

Its ultimate purpose is not to conquer territory or defeat enemies but to strengthen a negotiating position and to win, for its various partners, a bigger slice of power or money or security.

In this case, all of the above.

And as usual in DR Congo, it is the civilian population - on the move in huge numbers once again - that is paying the heaviest price for the monstrously casual violence meted out by the various armed groups still vying for control over in the mineral-rich east of the country.

Although it is only now making the headlines, the mutiny began in a desultory fashion back in April.

It is led by a group of ethnic Tutsi soldiers who used to be rebels in DR Congo's endlessly complicated conflicts, but who were, in a spirit of weary reconciliation, eventually amalgamated into the Congolese government's armed forces back in 2009.

'Bunch of thugs'

The soldiers are commanded, from behind the scenes, by Bosco Ntaganda - a man indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes.

Troublesome neighbours

  • April-June 1994: Genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda
  • June 1994: Paul Kagame's Tutsi rebels take power in Rwanda, Hutu fighters flee into Zaire (DR Congo)
  • Rwanda's army enters eastern Zaire to pursue Hutu fighters
  • 1997: Laurent Kabila's AFDL, backed by Rwanda, takes power in Kinshasa
  • 1998: Rwanda accuses Kabila of not acting against Hutu rebels and tries to topple him, sparking five years of conflict
  • 2003: War officially ends but Hutu and Tutsi militias continue to clash in eastern DR Congo
  • 2008: Tutsi-led CNDP rebels march on North Kivu capital, Goma - 250,000 people flee
  • 2009: Rwanda and DR Congo agree peace deal and CNDP integrated into Congolese army
  • 2012: Mutiny led by former CNDP leader Bosco "Terminator" Ntaganda

His colleagues - "a bunch of thugs" according to one experienced Western observer - also include a number of other figures allegedly linked to atrocities.

The mutineers were for several years involved in a government-backed military campaign called "Amani Leo", aimed at pacifying the turbulent region.

Amani Leo was not only moderately successful but also gave its commanders power, patronage, and control over lucrative mines and trade routes.

Two things seem to have triggered this latest mutiny - firstly a move by the Congolese government to reign in, and perhaps even redeploy, those in charge of Amani Leo; and secondly the uncomfortable news that another notorious local militia leader, Thomas Lubanga, had been convicted by the ICC.

The curious and telling thing is that over the course of the last few days, the rebellion has been transformed from a fairly minor and contained irritant into something that now threatens the city of Goma and the security of the region.

Surely, you might think, the Congolese army - totalling some 150,000 men - could easily crush a mutiny involving no more than a few hundred soldiers.

The reason they cannot - a reason confirmed in exhaustive detail by UN investigators, human rights groups and defectors - can be summed up in one word: Rwanda.

Bargaining chips

Naturally, the government of the tiny neighbouring state of Rwanda emphatically denies any involvement in the current rebellion, a line it has repeated stolidly over many years and many similar episodes.

But the evidence on the ground - and again this is coming from UN sources and reports and other credible organisations - seems conclusive: that Rwandan soldiers have been actively involved in supplying guns, other military equipment, recruits, and perhaps even fighting alongside the M23, as the mutineers now call themselves - and that Rwanda's intervention has been a game-changer.

Refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo prepare to board buses at Nyakabande refugee transit camp in Kisoro town 521km (312 miles) south-west of Uganda's capital Kampala, 10 July 2012 Tens of thousands have fled their homes in the most recent violence

The origins of all this go back to the 1994 Rwandan genocide, and the subsequent flight of Hutu civilians and militias into DR Congo.

Ever since, the Rwandan government has sought to crush the Hutu fighters responsible for the genocide, and to prevent them returning to undermine Rwanda's hard-won stability and economic growth.

And so for years Rwanda has been accused of supporting various proxy armies in the eastern DR Congo, with or without the agreement of the Congolese government.

Given the rampant and enduring corruption and chaos within the Congolese armed forces and government, Rwanda wants and - you could argue - needs its own loyal commanders in key positions of operational control in the eastern DR Congo in order to protect its own borders, its legitimate security interests and its far less legitimate economic interests.

So once again Rwanda has, presumably, calculated that any international criticism will be outweighed by the benefits of shoring up its local allies across the border.

As for what happens next, there is a real danger that the mutineers could try to seize the city of Goma. Certainly, more military muscle flexing is almost a given.

But Rwanda, if it can control M23, may be reluctant to allow the rebellion to go too far.

Of course the mutineers will want amnesties, and job guarantees from the Congolese government, and they now have plenty of bargaining chips.

They do not appear to care that their cynical negotiation strategy has pushed hundreds of thousands of civilians out of their homes once again.

Andrew Harding Article written by Andrew Harding Andrew Harding Africa correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Freddie- You are entitled to your opinions and clearly your openions in this instance are misinformed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Most of you are missing the point. The man behind all this mess is Paul Kagame. What is sad is that the so-called 'International Community' only uses rethoric instead of taking action. After all it's only few thousands african women being raped including babies... But when Gaddafi killed tens of Lybian they had to send all their armies, they intervined in Bosnia which was a similar situation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Human rights abuses are not being committed by the M23 by the way but by the FARDC and their abuses and crimes are ignored by the media including the BBC and the international human right organisations such as HRW and Amnisty International and why this is the case? Difficult to give an answer right now! The focus is on demonising M23 and any one in the region who does not wish ill to Rwanda.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    In close coordination with FARDC, MONUSCO's armed helicopters have been used for civilian protection, aim: impede M23 advance.
    Why is all this happening: Broken promises, artificial borders imposed by foreign countries, failure of negotiation...(& likely something about all those minerals!). What have we done cutting Africa up into artificial areas, except caused endless war?

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Witnesses say rebel gains has panicked residents. Congolese "anti-Tutsi mobs" took to Goma's streets on July 9 to protest against insecurity. Rwandan students have reportedly evacuated Goma, fearing reprisals for their links to rebel army. MONUSCO, UN peacekeeping mission in DRC, expressed concern about rebel advances, & reiterated allegations human rights violations in M23-controlled areas.


Comments 5 of 39


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