M23, the 23 March movement, is the fourth incarnation of Paul Kagame's proxy group for Rwanda's territorial expansion and looting the natural resources of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The wily Rwandan strongman has perfected this game, first posing as Congo's liberator from the Mobutu dictatorship through the Alliance des Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Congo in 1996-97 under Laurent-Désiré Kabila, and then establishing the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie in 1998 to fight Kabila when he did not turn out to be the kind of puppet president Kagame wanted in Kinshasa.
Unlike these groups, however, which were established out of the blue by Rwanda and Uganda as rebel groups against the Congolese state, M23 emerged as a Tutsi unit within the Congolese army this year, as its predecessor, the Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple (CNDP), did in 2006. Since the outbreak of the inter-African war for DRC resources following the invasion of the Congo by Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, Kagame learned it would do no good for Rwanda to be so openly involved in invading, occupying and looting its giant neighbour.
The very name M23 is a clear indication of the umbilical cord tying it to the CNDP, since the group claims its rebellion is in retaliation to the non-respect of the peace agreement between Joseph Kabila – Laurent's son and president of Congo since 2001 – and the CNDP on 23 March 2009. Despite its diplomatic language, that agreement represents the capitulation of the Kabila government to the strategic interests of Rwanda, incorporating into the Congolese army a militia group composed of Congolese Tutsi and Rwandan soldiers, and loyal to a foreign army.
While renegade general and CNDP founder Laurent Nkunda was placed under house arrest, his deputy Jean-Bosco Ntaganda was named a general in the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo, a fifth column within the Congolese army, despite an arrest warrant issued by the international criminal court (ICC). In March, President Kabila gave indications of succumbing to the pressures of his western masters who, having allowed him to remain in power despite a presidential election that he clearly lost in November 2011, insisted that he deliver "the Terminator" (Ntaganda's nickname) to the ICC. Thus began the newest "rebellion" under the CNDP's new name, the M23.
Three lessons are to be drawn from this latest episode of Rwanda's aggression against the DRC. First is that the root cause of the unending crisis in Congo is the absence of a legitimate government and a viable state. A weak and extremely unpopular leader, Kabila is a usurper who has no legitimacy and is incapable of discharging the duties of chief executive in a strategically important country such as the DRC. During nearly 12 years in power, he has squandered the country's wealth and failed to build effective state institutions, particularly the army, police and civil service. If he has any respect for himself and love for a country he considers his homeland, he ought to resign.
Second is that Kagame and Uganda's Yoweri Museveni will not stop their attempts to control and loot North and South Kivu (for Rwanda) and the Ituri district of the Eastern Province (for Uganda) as long as Kinshasa is unable to protect its borders. As strong allies of the US in the "war against terror" in the region, and particularly in Sudan (where Rwanda has an important contingent in the UN/African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur) and in Somalia (where Uganda is leading the fight against the al-Qaida-affiliated al-Shabaab), they can count on US and UK support. Witness the major powers' failure to impose sanctions on both countries in the face of numerous reports implicating them in human rights violations and the looting of DRC natural resources. Most shocking in this regard is the international community's silence on the 2010 mapping report of the UN high commissioner for human rights on crimes against humanity, war crimes, and possibly crimes of genocide committed by the current Rwanda regime within the Congolese territory between 1994 and 2003.
The third lesson is that, under the circumstances, the people of Congo would be fooling themselves to believe that they can count on the international community to deliver them from Kigali, Kampala and their external backers. If 13 years of UN peacekeeping and $1.5bn spent each year for the UN mission cannot deliver peace and stabilisation, what can other "neutral" forces from Africa or elsewhere do to change the situation? The salvation of Congo lies in the hands of her own sons and daughters.