M23: Split and join?

Things have been topsy-turvy in M23 land. First, the dramatic and bloody internecine fighting between factions loyal to Gen Bosco Ntaganda and Gen Sultani Makenga, beginning on February 24 and escalating four days later, when Bosco-loyalist Gen Baudouin Ngaruye launched an all-out attack on Makenga’s base in Tshanzu. The attack failed, although several high-ranking officers died there and in fighting in Kibumba. While fighting since then has subsided, there is little hope of reconciling the two factions, with Bosco’s group still camped out between Kibumba and the Nyamulagira volcano, and Makenga retrenched in the hills between Rumangabo and Bunagana.

While this rift has existed for a long time, the split seems to both have been prompted by and catalyzed the chances of a deal with Kinshasa. Ntaganda has been worried about a possible deal for some time––the ICC-indictee has no future in the Congolese army, and knows that he could be easily sold down the river at an opportune moment. A similar logic goes for Ngaruye and several other officers in the Bosco camp (most notably Col Innocent Zimurinda, who is under UN sanctions), for whom the Congolese government has reportedly been preparing arrest warrants.

Whether this was paranoia or well-sourced information, this fear of a peace deal may have been a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Congolese government has been preparing a formal deal for the M23 for some time, and the internal M23 split may have provided the break they needed to make the deal acceptable for the rebels. Last Saturday, President Kabila flew into Kampala to meet with his Ugandan counterpart to express his condolences over the death of Museveni’s father. According to a member of the Congolese delegation––as well as reports by Radio Okapi and RFI––a peace deal was also discussed.

The contours of the peace deal, which could be signed on March 15, are similar to past proposals by the Congolese government (see this post from February 9): reintegrate the rank-and-file and officers up to the rank of lieutenant, and condition the integration of more senior officers on their individual records, although many of them might just receive a demobilization package. For the top M23 brass, an amnesty would have to be issued and confirmed by parliament; Kabila is reportedly in favor of an amnesty for Makenga. All the officers would have to accept redeployment elsewhere in the country.

This deal begs the question: What’s in it for Makenga? Yes, the rebel commander has been weakened, but there is little in this deal––unless there are other clauses or incentives that have not been reported––to make it attractive for the M23, it boils down to: ‘Reintegrate, and if you are lucky we won’t arrest you.’

As it now stands, the deal is merely a tentative proposal––I don’t think its final version has been signed off on by Kabila, let alone by the M23. Makenga has reportedly given contradictory views on the deal, telling colleagues that he wouldn’t accept it, but alerting his troops to a possible integration in coming days.