The M23 rebellion: Leading with the chin

Since the beginning of the M23 rebellion in late March, the mutiny has appeared rushed and ill-planned. “Something was indeed in the works,” one of the M23 supporters told me, “but it was not yet ready.” This may explain why the initial wave of defections between March 31 and April 7 was quickly brought under control, many of its protagonists arrested and the rank-and-file troops re-defected back to the national army. According to this theory, Col. Makenga and Gen. Ntaganda had panicked after it appeared the Congolese government might try to arrest Bosco and break up the ex-CNDP parallel chains of command in the eastern Congo.

While the M23 has since gained military momentum with a new wave of defections, it has lacked a political base.

Enter the political wing. Its embryo became visible on May 6, when the CNDP’s media arm was revived in a press statement. There have also been a series of declaration by members of the Congolese Tutsi community (see here and here), reporting an alarming spate of abuses against its members by the Congolese security services.  The movement’s backers have also been reaching out to Hutu and Tutsi leaders in an effort to bring together the two communities behind M23. “Given the track record of the AFDL, RCD and CNDP here,” one Hutu chef de poste who had been contacted told me, “they know they can’t succeed without bringing our communities together.”

It was little wonder that, given this context, the arrival of former North Kivu Governor Eugene Serufuli – who wields huge influence in the Hutu community – in Goma ten days ago sparked debate. Rumors began making the rounds that he had come to throw his weight behind the M23 mutiny; the fact that he passed through Kigali to reach Goma whipped up further banter. Nonsense, Serufuli and his allies demurred. “We have nothing to do with this rebellion, for which we were never consulted,” one of his associates told me.

The movement is apparently trying to
create a political and social foundation for itself to bolster its
military ambitions. What are these exactly? While it is seems that the initial aim was to defy Kinshasa’s attempt to break up CNDP networks in the East, that ambition has evolved as the mutiny has suffered setback after setback. Some officers now speak of taking Masisi and the official stance is to achieve the implementation of the March 23 Agreement, still others wax lyrical to their troops about federalism or even autonomy. While no one in the rebellion seems very sure of
what the ultimate objective is, it will inevitably involve negotiations with the government at some point.