The M23 rebel group announced on November 5 that it will disarm and “pursue by purely political means the search for solutions” to the root causes of the conflict. This announcement comes as a victory for the 18-month effort to defeat the M23, led by the Congolese army and the U.N. Intervention Brigade, and supported by a vast network of Congolese and international civil society groups and activists.
In April 2012, a group of officers, led by Bosco "The Terminator" Ntaganda, mutinied from the Congolese army and soon thereafter launched the M23 rebellion. Named in commemoration of a failed peace treaty signed by the Congolese government and the CNDP rebel group on March 23, 2009, M23 committed atrocities across eastern Congo – kidnapping, enslaving, raping, and murdering civilians. Largely fueled by alleged direct support from neighboring Rwanda, according to the UN Group of Experts, U.S., and other government intelligence reports and by their control of conflict gold, M23 posed a serious threat to the people of Congo and broader regional security. They displaced 800,000 people from their homes, abducted children, raped hundreds of women, and executed civilians. The U.N. Group of Experts and Human Rights Watch brought the issue to light by citing the atrocities, confirming Rwanda’s financial support, and calling for international attention on the issue.
The Search for Solutions
An impressive effort from Congo’s army, as well as critical support from the United Nations and pressure from the U.S. government and European governments, have made a huge impact. These efforts had the important backing from the activist community, including Raise Hope for Congo. Immediately following the rebellion, Raise Hope for Congo launched a campaign urging then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to call for the arrest of M23 leader Bosco Ntaganda. When the U.N. published evidence of Rwanda’s military and financial support for M23, RHFC activists called on the World Bank to withhold a $135 million blank check from the Rwandan government until it ended its support for M23. With heightened stakes and an increased threat to their survival, M23 redoubled its efforts and took eastern Congo’s capital city of Goma in November 2012.
Regional Dynamics Require Regional Solutions
Immediately following the fall of Goma, we supported the successful grassroots Congolese campaign calling on the U.S. to appoint a Special Envoy to address the conflict’s core drivers and account for the regional dynamics that prevent peace. With each action, op-ed, and television appearance, activists contributed to increasing pressure that began from within Congo, and led to the appointment of U.S. Special Envoy Russ Feingold. This cooperative effort from the U.S. advocacy community created key policy shifts and more direct U.S. engagement in the region.
Success and A Call to Action
After more than a year of increasing local, regional and international pressure, and visits by newly-appointed U.S. Special Envoy Feingold, M23 announced its commitment to disarm. While this news is a step towards peace, we must not forget that several key armed groups, such as the former Rwandan genocidaires, the FDLR, as well as the alleged mastermind of the rape of over 300 women, children, and men, Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka, are still at large in eastern Congo. Moreover, many actors involved in M23 and FDLR gold smuggling networks are still active, undermining the security and rule of law necessary for peace to take hold. Several of the root causes of the war have also not been addressed, and they must be in a real peace process.
With this new shift in dynamics and an opportunity for lasting change at hand, Raise Hope for Congo activists can continue to work alongside actors on the ground to help bring the individuals most responsible for fueling and committing atrocities to justice, while maintaining direct engagement with U.S. Special Envoy Feingold to support a regional process that will spur lasting peace.
Watch Senior Policy Analyst speak on CNN about what the M23 disarmament means for Congo and the future of a regional peace process: