From Mutaho to Kampala––What’s next?

For weary observers of the M23-FARDC standoff, the cycle of events is becoming all too predictable. Every week, dozens of rumors are spread via SMS, the web, and word-of-mouth about cross-border infiltrations from Uganda and Rwanda––most of them false, but persistent enough for it appear to be an orchestrated campaign of misinformation. Some MONUSCO officers spend many of their waking hours just hunting down the latest canard, usually to come up with nothing.

Then the fighting: in past weeks, a variety of militia loosely allied to the Congolese government have launched attacks against the M23. Last week, a small bunch of APCLS Mai-Mai somehow made their way to the north of Goma to harass the M23; before that, it was the MPA and FDLR-Soki to the northeast of Rutshuru. And now it is the M23’s turn again to strike against the FARDC, attacking Mutaho, a village overlooking Goma from the north.

The backdrop of this fighting is provided by the Kampala talks. Here, too, there are patterns: both parties deploy large delegations to the Ugandan capital, where they spend weeks at a time without meeting each other. The Congolese prevaricate between a refusal to negotiate, an ultimatum for the M23 to sign a proposed deal (several of these have come and gone), and more a more flexible stance.

What is the current status? On Monday, July 8 the Ugandan facilitator put a new deal on the table, following a revised proposal by the Kinshasa delegation. The facilitator’s deal would provide for an amnesty for everything but violations of international law, the integration of M23 officers and political cadres, a concrete plan for refugee return, the creation of a National Reconciliation Mechanism, and the declaration of a state of disaster for the East. The follow-up would be largely provided by the ICGLR, but would be integrated into the Framework Agreement, thus allowing UN Special Envoy Mary Robinson and the various oversight mechanisms to weigh in.

This is more than the Congolese wanted––most notably, they didn’t want to integrate M23 politicians, and suggested that national reconciliation be spearheaded by the National Oversight Committee for the Framework Agreement (comité de suivi). Moreover, they will probably shirk at declaring the East a disaster area, which would commit them to legal and financial obligations toward provinces in the East (although the government had done this in 2009).

But the deal is a much bitterer pill for the M23 to swallow. It would basically require them to disband their movement, accept the deployment of their officers anywhere in the country, and receive little in return. For some of their leaders, in particular Makenga and Kaina (as well as some of those in Bosco’s wing, currently in Rwanda), the sentence “promulgate legislation granting amnesty…taking into account international law,” will leave their personal future in suspense.

So will fighting continue? Will the M23 or the FARDC escalate? Anything is possible, but I would imagine the Congolese army would wait for the Intervention Brigade (FIB) to fully deploy, and for the army to carry out its ongoing restructuring before making a move––and that could take at least another month. The M23 would have a greater interest in escalation, perhaps in order to preempt the FIB from deploying or improving the deal on the table. But their problem continues to be a lack of troops. With only 1,500-2,500 troops, they have to protect an area 100km long and some 20-50km wide.

So taking Goma would leave a considerable vacuum along the Rwandan border, and would probably only be possible with backing from the Rwandan army––would this once again be forthcoming?