M23: Today’s Doomed Rebels or Tomorrow’s Revered Revolutionaries?

M23 Rebels or Revolutionaries

General Sultani Makenga enters Goma, by M23/CRA

“And so I have studied, I have to tell you, revolutions and uprisings for a long time. They are all slightly different, but what they all look for is some kind of a mechanism to go from an authoritarian system to an open, democratic system.”– Madeleine Albright, Former Secretary of State

FLASH UPDATE: M23 reports to OEN News and the LA Progressive today that 95% of the M23 soldiers are now with General Sultani Makenga. “Ntaganda  (ICC wanted warlord)  is only with his body guard without weapon. He has been defeated, we are following him, he is heading to Nyiragongo mountain.”

For the past year, with the exception of a few analyses, like this one from Bloomberg News, the foreign press has generally vilified the M23/CRA revolutionary movement in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo; accusing them of supporting ICC wanted warlord, Bosco (The Terminator) Ntaganda. A complete understanding of what is happening in Congo regarding the current “split” within the ranks of the M23/CRA requires a complex interpretation of history. 24-hour information cycles do not take this into account as media rushes to put out “news” for quick consumption. In the face of vehement denials that Ntaganda has been running the M23/CRA, the press continued to report Ntaganda’s involvement. All that may change today with the report that M23/CRA is on the verge of capturing the warlord.

For the uninitiated, a partial timeline of the evolution of the M23/CRA (Congo Revolutionary Army) can be found at the end of this post for reference.

An analysis of reports on the Congo peace process and the influences of the M23/CRA finds mostly half-truths, some outright lies, and plenty of distortion that serves the geo-political interests of the powerful and completely ignores the problems that have plagued eastern Congo since the days of King Leopold and Mobutu. Corruption and ethnic hatred find sustenance in the lies told by the powerful. It is surprising that the progressive press, which prides itself on “speaking truth to power,” has completely bought into the distortions.

Notice how many reports subtly refer to an “ethnic Tutsi” connection.

There are many Congolese whose native language is Kinyarwanda. Kinyarwanda is a dialect spoken by some 12 million people in Rwanda, and is also spoken by many in parts of Uganda. The political boundaries between countries in central Africa were literally lines drawn on the world map by the during the 1885 Berlin conference. References to the M23 as a “Tutsi” group is misleading. If you live in Congo and your native language is Kinyarwanda, it does not make you Rwandan. You may be Tutsi, you may be Hutu, or you may be Pygmy. In addition, some of M23 leading figures, such as its spokesman Bertrand Bisimwa, are not Tutsi and do not speak Kinyarwanda. In fact people will be surprised to know that most of M23 fighters are not from the Tutsi community, albeit its military leadership is.

In a fair world it would make no difference what language you spoke, but the world is not fair, nor is it kind.

There is no doubt that Kinyarwanda speakers in eastern Congo have been historically persecuted and denied citizenship, and that the government of Congo is supporting the FDLR and at least two dozen Mai Mai militias whose mission remains to remove Tutsis from their ancestral lands in the Congo.

Ethnic references obscure the more salient point that the M23/CRA evolved as a reaction to failures by the Government of Congo under the leadership of President Joseph Kabila to implement a peace accord, signed in March 2009, which guaranteed political change in eastern Congo.

Let’s face it. Most American readers are not interested in an in-depth understanding of history, and very few care one wit about central Africa unless the “news” is bloody. But truth resides in historical minutiae, while lies thrive in the portrait painted with the broad brush favored by news analysts. The spectacular event and the heinous crime provide compelling images.

When the M23/CRA revolutionary movement captured the provincial capitol of Goma and then withdrew in the interests of promoting a peace process with the African Union, the focus was on the event and not what led up to it. The ideals, hopes, and dreams of the good men and women who support the principles behind M23/CRA were almost completely ignored. And there are good men and women in this movement. I met some of them back in 2009 when I was fortunate enough to interview  General Laurent Nkunda before he was put under house arrest by the government of Rwanda.

The fact that Goma was taken peacefully in late November 2012 was a footnote. AlJazeera reported abuses committed by the Congolese Army, while most international press reports looked away. The true story did not fit the narrative developed by the powerful.

And the complete story is yet to be told. It may take twenty years or more to sort this out, but there are some reports that can be corrected now.

The first correction involves a recent Voice of America posting. Propaganda is subtle and this anaylsis is presented as only one example of misinformation.

The lede paragraph from the VOA article is offered here:

A rebel group in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has split into rival factions, which engaged in their second day of fighting Friday. An aid worker says many civilians are caught in the crossfire.

Anonymous “aid workers” who are dependent upon international good will and monetary support are often quoted in these reports. “Civilians caught in the cross-fire” is a standard quote, used to generate sympathy. Of course the reader will be outraged about “innocent civilians.” The propaganda stage is now set. Someone must be blamed for this outrage.

M23 Rebels or Revolutionaries

Bishop Jean Marie Runiga

The next sentence in this VOA report is almost gleeful.

“The rebel movement M23, which three months ago routed government forces at Goma, now seems to be imploding.”

This is exactly what the international community, with support from the United States, has been hoping for. After the M23/CRA captured the provincial capitol of Goma and forced peace negotiations, the world was dumbfounded and concerned at its spectacular military success. Rwanda became the scapegoat for what was really a revolutionary movement. A deluge of “sanctions” descended upon Rwanda and finally the social networking capabilities of the M23/CRA were suspended. Twitter and Facebook accounts went dark and any American offering support, whether by web hosting or undefined “aid,” was put under threat of sanctions by the Treasury Department and Homeland Security.

Civilians were now blindfolded by media blackouts and the M23/CRA movement was gagged by powers that control the Internet.

The VOA report feigns ignorance of what is happening on the ground. Remember that VOA is the mouthpiece for the State Department. It has the full resources of the CIA and FBI behind it.

So why the incomplete report?

No one can ascertain the reasons with assurance, but what is certain is that the United States government is not blind to reality.

M23/CRA has offered regular press releases since its inception. These attempts at communication with the international community are seldom quoted or analyzed.

Here are some excerpts from the latest M23/CRA press release. It is offered here as information that is not reaching the world, and can be supported by other source material from the United Nations mission in Congo, MONUSCO. But the UN source material has also been hidden by design, since it reflects the failure of the UN mission to complete its peacekeeping mission.

First consider this response from M23/CRA regarding civilians caught within the conflict. Evidently, MONUSCO is standing by, doing nothing. The same thing happened in 2008 when there was a massacre at Kiwanja, led by warlord Bosco Ntaganda, who also figures prominently in the current divisions within the M23/CRA.

The March 23 Movement regrets that after the withdrawal of its forces from MABENGA, KITAGOMA, KIWANJA, RUTSHURU and RUGARI to avoid military confrontation and endangering lives in those densely populated cities, these entities are now under the control of the FDLR-FARDC coalition-MAI MAI who continue to commit violations and abuses against the civilian population in the presence of a large contingent of MONUSCO positioned in KIWANJA. The M23 pledges to regain control of all of these entities with a view to ensure the safety and security of the civilian population. Meanwhile, the Movement expects that the National Police will maintain order and security within the said entities

This statement, Official Communique No. 0035/M23/2013, by the M23/CRA, is supported by unreleased material from sources within the UN. In order to protect the sources, the following is a synopsis and does not reflect the exact wording of the UN document.

(Synopsis) The internal fighting within the ranks of the M23 in Rutshuru has contributed to insecurity within the civilian population in Kiwanja. United Nations sources in Kiwanja said that after the M23 left on February 27 at 23:00 hours and moved towards Jomba, FDLR (Hutus responsible for the 1994 Rwanda genocide) filled the void. The consequences have been dire for civilians left without protection. Elements of the FDLR are shooting at random to express their “happiness” at controlling Kiwanja. Civilians are seeking protection at the local MONUSCO base.

It is within the realm of possibility, if not certainty, that the United States government has this information. But it will not share the complete story with you. The VOA reporting is vague — “But civilians are also fleeing from the north of Rutshuru territory, where other armed groups have moved in to the fill the gap left by the M23″ — and completely omits information that M23/CRA offers the international community regarding concern for the civilian population.

A mall example, but it is indicative of the distortions present in media accounts.

M23/CRA seems willing to hand over Ntaganda, who, up until now, has been protected by the government of Congo.

“If the international community supports us, I guarantee you that in one week Bosco Ntaganda will be before the ICC.” M23/CRA spokesman Colonel Vianney Kazarama told the reporter from Blomberg News.

If only the international community would support M23/CRA and remove the threat of Bosco Ntaganda once and for all. If today’s flash report to OEN bears fruit, the hunt for Ntaganda will finally end without international support.The revolutionary movement will move forward on the strength of its own resolve.

Timeline

In 1998 Congolese President Laurent Kabila broke with his Rwandan allies and ordered the Rwandan army out of the country. Congolese Tutsis who were in the army were considered foreigners and ordered to leave with the Rwandan army. This resulted in the creation of RDC Goma (Congolese Rally for Democracy)

A 2003 peace agreement between RDC and the Congolese government failed to address and resolve the issues that were the underlying causes of the recurrent wars in the country; the continuous persecution of Congolese Kinyarwanda speaking people. These unresolved issues led to the creation of CNDP (National Congress for the Defense of the People) lead by Laurent Nkunda.

In 2009 General Laurent Nkunda, leader of the rebel National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), was ousted in a bloodless coup perpetrated by Bosco (The Terminator) Ntaganda, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes. Ntaganda was paid $250,000 by the governments of Rwanda and Congo to marginalize Nkunda, who now languishes in a no-man’s land of detention without criminal charges in Rwanda.

The elevation of Ntaganda to General in the Congolese army coincided with the signing of a peace accord between the Congolese government and the CNDP that promised status as a political party. The agreement was never realized beyond signatures on a piece of paper. There were, in effect, two CNDP organizations; those who remained loyal to former commander Nkunda and those who accepted the military authority of Ntaganda. It is a significant and critical distinction and offered severe consequences.

Sultani Makenga, the current military leader of the M23/CRA joined the CNDP in 2005 and remained loyal to Nkunda even after Nkunda was detained in Rwanda and placed under house arrest in 2009.

The Goma Peace Accord was signed in March 2009 in response to the ouster of Nkunda and the persecution of Tutsi soldiers within the ranks of the Congolese army.

The failure of the Congolese government to implement the tenets of the Goma Peace Accord, led to the formation of the M23 political movement in April 2012.

Last week, interim spokesman Bertrand Bisiimwa of the M23/CRA confirmed that the M23/CRA military High Command under Makenga had relieved political spokesman Bishop Runiga of his duties after finding him guilty of high treason, embezzlement of the movement’s funds, divisions, ethnic hatred, political immaturity and the inability to “define and provide general policy guidance to the different structures of the Movement.”

In response, Bishop Runiga fled the charges of high treason and joined forces with war criminal Bosco Ntaganda.

georgianne nienaberToday, Saturday March 2, the London Evening Post reports that Ntaganda has fled to the forests of Virunga National Park.

Ntaganda’s soldiers attacked General Makenga’s residence in Icyanzu near Bunagana but were unaware that the M23 had already received prior information about the planned attack and staged an ambush for them. A battle ensued and Ntaganda’s soldiers were pursued up to Virunga National Park where Ntaganda has now gone into hiding. The M23 then took over control of Ntaganda’s residence in Runyoni. Throughout the day yesterday, small groups of Ntaganda soldiers were fighting to regain control of strategic locations surrounding Runyoni and Rutshuru centre.

Georgianne Nienaber

Saturday, 2 March 2013

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