The emergence of the M23 rebellion in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in April 2012 has refocused international attention on a complex regional conflict. The M23 is latest in a series of armed groups to emerge in the Kivus region in recent years and should be seen in this historical context. It stands at the nexus of local and regional forces, propelled by a powerful mixture of elite interests, state weakness, and local conflicts. Yet there is no political strategy, either in Kinshasa or among donors, to deal in a comprehensive way with the deep-rooted causes that help foster such rebellions. While many within and outside the region feel that the Rwandan government deserves censure for its alleged backing of M23, the lack of an action plan to channel international pressure—combined with a steady deterioration of relations between Kigali and Kinshasa—means that criticism has failed to produce tangible results.
To chart a path forward, all parties need to engage in a political process to find a compromise, not only to deal with the M23 but also to address the root causes of the crisis in the Kivus. The Rwandan government will have to accept the dilution, if not total dismantling, of M23 networks in the eastern DRC. For its part, the DRC’s government will have to rebuild badly damaged community relations, reach out to bring Congolese Tutsi refugees back home, and agree to help Rwanda defeat remaining pockets of the Forces démocratiques pour la libération du Rwanda (FDLR, Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda). These measures however need to be linked to long-term shifts in attitudes and incentives. While the establishment of a reliable state apparatus in the DRC––army, judiciary, and an accountable political executive––is still a long way off, it is only alternatives to the creation of violent armed militias that can assuage community fears, guarantee basic security and protect property. This report, the first in a series of papers on the warring factions in the eastern DRC, aims to inform these solutions by illuminating the conflict’s main actors and their interests. Understanding the M23 and its direct predecessor, the Congrès national pour la défense du peuple (CNDP, National Congress for the Defence of the People), will help explain why violence has persisted in the Kivus region since the 2002 peace deal united the country and brought a devastating war to an end. The main force driving the rebellion is the belief, held in Kigali as well as among Tutsi businessmen and military commanders in North Kivu, that the dysfunctional Congolese government will not be able to protect their varied interests––their security, investments, and political power. In order to safeguard these assets, they have backed armed groups: the CNDP between 2004 and 2009 and, since April 2012, the M23. Virulent ethnic divides have exacerbated this mistrust. The Tutsi community, out of which these armed groups have emerged, occupies a precarious position in North Kivu, between privilege and ethnic discrimination. A final source of insecurity is the Congolese state itself. Its inability to enforce the rule of law, coupled with insufficient military strength to suppress armed rivals, encourages a belief that the only way of ensuring a modicum of security—protecting both property and individual freedoms—is through armed force. Long-term solutions to this cycle of violence include comprehensive institutional overhaul, substantial decentralisation, land reform, and fundamental changes to regional relations, in particular between Rwanda and the Congo. Such solutions cannot be imposed from the outside; a high-level panel convened by the African Union and United Nations could propose new policies for governments, senior military officers, and community leaders in the region. This could start debate and feed into a new political process.