From the CNDP to M23

Last week, we published a report on M23, tracing its roots back through the CNDP to deeper history. What is the take home message from the report?

The CNDP (2004-2009) and the M23 (2012-) emerged out of the failures of the Congolese peace process. The negotiations that began in Lusaka in 1999 and culminated in the Accord global et inclusif in 2002 succeeded in unifying the country, but also disadvantaged one of the strongest belligerents. The Rwandan-backed RCD went from controlling a third of the country to 2-4 per cent representation in national institutions. In response, elites in Goma and Kigali created the CNDP, led by Laurent Nkunda, to maintain leverage on Kinshasa and to protect their interests in the East. These interests are varied, and include economic investments, security fears, and the general perception that North Kivu lies within Rwanda’s sphere of interest.

These movements draw on deep historical grievances, but are propelled mainly by military and political elites. The CNDP and M23 are led mostly by Congolese Tutsi and have deep roots in this community. Especially during CNDP times, there were mobilization cells across the region, and even in the US and Europe, that gathered funds and represented the movement. There is no doubt that many in this community saw the CNDP as a vital protection against an abusive and often xenophobic state. However, the main instigators were Congolese Tutsi officers––people like Nkunda, Bosco, and Makenga––and, in particular, the government in Kigali. Interviews with dozens of ex-CNDP officers show clearly that, while the CNDP maintained a large degree of autonomy from its Rwandan allies, Kigali was crucial in the creation of the group in 2004-2006 and then in leading it to the gates of Goma in October 2008. During the M23, this influence has become even more decisive, as Kigali stepped in to prop up a foundering mutiny in April 2012 and has been a key factor in all its military offensives.

The CNDP and M23 are Tutsi-led movements; this does not mean that community is united or a puppet of Rwanda. Many Congolese lump all Tutsi together, from both sides of the border. It is true that many Congolese Tutsi fought for the RPF’s in Rwanda’s civil war (1990-1994), and have featured prominently in all Rwandan-backed rebellions in the Congo. But deep tensions have emerged between Congolese Tutsi and the RPF. Many of the former have a deep sense of belonging in the Congo, and feel that the RPF has not looked after their interests. An example of this was the Murekezi mutiny of 11 November 1997 (exactly 15 years ago), which pitted Congolese Tutsi against the RPF, as well as similar mutinies in South Kivu. These tensions have grown, and the M23 seems to be a turning point in relations. A majority of Congolese Tutsi officers have refused to join the mutiny, and have been used by Kinshasa in the front line against the M23. Even those who have joined the M23, such as Sultani Makenga and even Bosco Ntaganda, often have difficult relations with Kigali––the arrest of Nkunda by the RDF in 2009 created mistrust among top CNDP officers, especially the Makenga wing.

The M23 has a much narrower social base than previous movements. The cornerstone of Rwanda’s strategy between 1998-2003 was to create a communal alliance between Banyarwanda in the eastern Congo, if possible extending it to other groups, as well. Thus, Congolese Hutu and Banyamulenge (Tutsi from South Kivu) featured prominently in the RCD. When the CNDP was created in 2004-2006, Rwanda and Nkunda tried to revive this alliance. This strategy, however, failed, with Hutu strongman Eugène Serufuli leading the defection of several thousand Hutu soldiers from the CNDP in 2005-6. The M23 has an even narrower base––aside from a few officers, the military leadership is almost entirely Tutsi, with very few Hutu or Banyamulenge joining. (The group has a very multi-ethnic political wing, but few of these leaders have much legitimacy in their communities, with the somewhat bizarre exception of the Nande).

The group’s strategy relies more on creating instability than on taking and controlling territory. Precisely because the group has a narrow social base, it has been hard pressed to take much territory. Besides the lack of cross-ethnic alliances, the group had a manpower problem––they started off with 300–700 men, and have since grown to 1,500-2,500. Despite military backing from Uganda and Rwanda (whose troops do not want to venture too far from their borders), this makes conquering and holding territory difficult. The group has therefore relied on a web of alliances with other Congolese groups. But, since their historical Hutu and Banyamulenge allies have refused to go along, the M23 have sought out more opportunistic alliances, often among communities that are historically deeply anti-Rwandan. These alliances––the Raia Mutomboki, Sheka’s group, the FDC, Bede Rusagara, Mbusa Nyamwisi––are volatile, as many of the groups have no love lost for the M23 or Rwanda, but their interests (fighting against Kinshasa) happen to converge for now. The M23 will not be able to use these alliances to conquer territory, but rather to highlight the derelict nature of the Congolese state and the need for a change of leadership in Kinshasa.

Absent a credible political process, there is likely to be further escalation. The only political channel currently open is through the ICGLR, chaired by Uganda, and which is proposing the deployment of a neutral force to ‘eradicate’ the M23 and FDLR. Since the Ugandan government, however, has backed the M23, and few countries seem willing to staff or fund the neutral force, this initiative is unlikely to succeed. Kinshasa’s strategy, on the other hand, relies on donors putting pressure on Rwanda and Uganda––but donors are reluctant to do so without channeling their pressure into a larger political process. Since the sticks available are limited––the Congolese army is weak and donors are unlikely to lead––the solution will have to pass, at least in part, through negotiations.

A long-term solution will have to grapple with systemic issues. In order for this kind of compromise to be successful, and not to return us to a volatile 2009-style agreement, systemic issues will have to be dealt with. Kigali will have to accept a much-diminished ex-CNDP force
in the Kivus, while Kinshasa will have to strengthen its institutions and reassure the Tutsi community. Various policy options should be considered––none of them easy or straight-forward––including decentralization, cross-border economic projects, land reform, and the complete overhaul of the stabilization program for the Kivus. Donors, on their part, can no longer separate Rwanda’s admirable development successes from its interference in the Congo. (I will be blogging more in detail on these policy options).