As We Play Same Old Tune, M23 Has a Point But Who is Listening?

M23 rebels prepare to leave after ceremony to mark the withdrawal from their positions in the town of Kibumba, eastern of Democratic Republic of Congo, Dec. 2022 - Copyright © africanews Moses Sawasawa/Copyright 2021 The AP. All rights reserved.

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M23 is an abbreviation of the March 23 movement or in French (Mouvement du 23 Mars.) also known as the Congolese Revolutionary Army. The M23 is comprised mostly of ethnic Tutsis based in Eastern DRC in North Kivu province. At the heart of military confrontations lies a genuine aspiration for self-identity and determination that regional and global powers have intentionally misdiagnosed and ignored the harsh fact that the people of the Eastern DRC are the victims of geopolitical exploitation and degradation.

This discourse revisits the real issues behind the military conflict and suggests that military solutions are ill-fitting to resolve the problems that have provoked this civil war.

M23 bone of contention is marginalisation of the minority Tutsis also known as Banyamulenge in a broader context of governance of the DRC. For sure, such genuine aspirations cannot be silenced by the sound of gunfire but by a consensus that will recognize and address those long-held grievances of the Tutsis.

Over years, the UN has established a peace keeping mission that never attempted to live up to its banner, as the peacekeepers were caught time and time again robbing the DRC of her precious minerals. The UN peacekeepers were eventually kicked out for incompetence and looting. The EAC that is a talking shop and a photo taking opportunity for our telegenic leaders repeated the same mistakes committed by the UN of dispatching peacekeepers who were forced to depart in shame.

Now the SADC under the unsteady leadership of the South Africa is dipping her hand in a matter that has nothing to do with military brawn but everything to do with diplomacy to resolve the real grouses stoking the internal conflict.

Read related: How Tshisekedi Victory in DRC Will Make or Break EAC.

The problem Defined

The DRC is a large country, and governing it from Kinshasa is what is brewing this armed conflict. Post independence DRC has been embroiled in leadership duels that have nothing to do with addressing the plight of the people of the DRC but to enrich colonial powers in particular Belgium and France, and their African puppets masquerading as the legitimate representatives of the people of the DRC.

After gaining independence, Zaire now renamed the DRC, was trudging the path of self-governance until Western powers intervened to stop it from benefiting from her enormous natural resources. The Western powers granted independence to the DRC on condition it will remain their satellite colony that is nominally independent but was serving colonial interests as a source of cheap labour and raw materials in particular minerals.

The Belgians keen to continue looting the DRC minerals left it with a top heavy, central government that was ill fitted to address a multitude of complex issues arising from her vast geographical size, multiethnic heritage and maldistribution of her natural resources. For those who have ever been in the DRC one thing stands out is the sheer negligence in terms of development of the Eastern Congo despite sitting on the largest sources of precious minerals and glittering gems.

There is no acceptable formula of sharing natural resources between the central and provinci governments as very venal politicians dwelling in the Capital Kinshasa milk dry natural resources while leaving the rest of the country marginalized. This is where the civil war was ignited.

Also, read Will Military Coups Continue to Plague African Politics? We’re Far Away From the Real Democracy.

Looking at the fountains of anger and frustration that the M23 harbour, it is clear military solution coming under any lexicon whether as a peacekeeping mission or a deterrence force or a conflict ending one will not be self sustainable since the real angst is a political one. Military solutions rarely solve political problems as the South African apartheid vexing internecine amply encapsulated this.

It is perplexing to see South Africa who are de facto leaders of the SADC succumbs to solving a political problem with a military gratuitous force! Gunshots did not end apartheid despite both sides of the conflict advocating it, but a deeper suspicion it was a wrong prescription. Even those who lauded the international economic sanctions erroneously claiming were the last straw of the Boer regime from hanging unto power hardly knew what they were talking about. The truth was, Boer regime was neither moved by economic sanctions nor the uMkhonto we Sizwe but rampant pragmatism.

uMkhonto we Sizwe is defined as (Xhosa, Zulu and Ndebele ethnicities meaning Spear of the Nation; abbreviated MK) was the paramilitary wing of the African National Congress (ANC), and was founded by Nelson Mandela in the wake of the Sharpeville massacre. Its mission was to fight against the South African government.

Solution Proposed

DRC needs devolution in a manner that the control of natural resources will be vested in the regional governments. The central government in Kinshasa should not be the one that makes decisions over natural resources but will receive a third of the taxes collected to tackle foreign affairs, security, defence and infrastructural investments that surpass regional authorities.

Some argue that stronger regional governments will undermine the central government paving way for disintegration of the DRC but this is far from the reality. A stronger central government that is not accountable to the people of the DRC poses a much more threat to the unitary government through permissive lack of accountability.

As the DRC central government is challenged from all sides, we can easily see history repeating itself. Just remember president Mobutu Seseko was ousted because the strong central government had failed to serve the people in the Eastern Congo leading to the rise of Laurent-Désiré Kabila. Even the fall of the Mobutu successor, Laurent-Désiré Kabila, was also due to reneging on the promise to empower regional governments after he was sworn in office.

President Laurent-Désiré Kabila was assassinated while in office. Surprisingly, Mobutu Seseko as he was frantically leaving Kinshasa for the last fleeing Kabila military onslaught, he falsely attributed his fall to his prostrate cancer. At the same time, it had nothing to do with it. It was the looting of natural resources and enriching colonial masters that terminated his presidency.

African armies in the DRC at best are protecting ex colonial masters and their ilk to continue exploitation of the DRC rich natural resources at worst are prolonging the pain of the people in the Eastern DRC. This is the right time to begin interrogating the validity of the post colonial governance structure that has served neo colonial powers religiously well while assiduously impoverishing the people of the DRC.

Read Tanzania’s Unyielding Resolve: Empowering Peace in the DRC.

Can the DRC rise to the occasion, be counted among the nations that rose from the ashes, and rebuild? The jury is still out there, but more damning is when will the international community begin to appreciate the challenges the DRC is accosting have nothing to do with a boxing match but constitutional engineering for the betterment of the people of the DRC rather than the imperial powers together with their local puppies posing as people’s representatives?

Can the SADC military force solve political problems? We answer that they cannot. So, why play the same old tune that has shown it cannot resolve entrenched geopolitical interests that sparked the civil strife? Unless, of course, the major players are the ultimate beneficiaries, and henceforth, are not willing to flip the scales to benefit the have not in the Eastern DRC.

The author is a Development Administration specialist in Tanzania with over 30 years of practical experience, and has been penning down a number of articles in local printing and digital newspapers for some time now.

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