Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire)
January 6, 2013: The government and the M23 rebels resumed peace talks. Two weeks of such talks last month accomplished little. The M23 uprising was all about corruption, and the rebels are particularly angry about the rigged 2011 Congolese presidential elections. That was not supposed to happen. M23 had agreed to disband in 2009, as part of a peace deal in return for promises of clean government. The current unrest is taking place in North Kivu province, which is on the borders of Rwanda and Uganda. The population of six million is similar to that found in South Kivu (population five million) to the south. The M23 rebels have about 5,000 armed men and are faced by 9,000 army troops and 6,700 UN peacekeepers. The problem is that the Tutsi are much better fighters and the government/UN force is not strong enough to destroy M23. Corruption is a major problem in Congo and that is what M23 is so upset about. M23 is a small group representing a few hundred thousand Tutsi in a nation of over 71 million. But so debilitating is the corruption and ethnic disunity that the national government is unable to cope. Rwanda is accused of supporting M23 or even plotting to annex North and South Kivu. Rwanda, a nation of 5.7 million dominated by its Tutsi (about 800,000) minority, is interested in protecting the Tutsi minority in Congo but denies secret support of the Tutsi rebels or plans to annex Kivu. The problem here is that the Tutsi are, by most measures, the good guys. There are only about 2.5 million Tutsi (in Rwanda, Burundi, Congo, and Uganda) and they represent a distinct culture in the region. The Tutsi are more disciplined, better educated, wealthier, and less corrupt. The Tutsi also dominate local governments, if only because they are better administrators and, when armed and organized, more effective fighters. Most other ethnic groups in the area are jealous, hostile, or just afraid of the Tutsi.
The Tutsi problem goes back over 600 years. In the 1500's the Tutsi (plural- Watutsi) nomads moved south from their ancient home in the semi-desert Sahel. With a different complexion (an important point for the Tutsi) and a foot taller than the local Hutu, it did not take long for the Tutsi to take over and install their own brand of Apartheid. The area eventually evolved into two Tutsi ruled empires, each roughly covering the territory of modern Burundi and Rwanda. In 1899, the Germans moved in and made both areas colonies. The British replaced the Germans in 1916 and passed the area over to the Belgians in the 1920's. It was assumed that, when the areas became independent nations, the Hutu (over 80 percent of the population) would run the place. The more aggressive and warlike Tutsi had other ideas and the Hutu knew it. In 1959, the Hutu of Rawanda rose up against the Tutsi (who held most positions of local power), slaughtered thousands of them, and drove several hundred thousand into exile (mainly in Uganda). Several thousand of these exiles formed an army and attempted a comeback in 1990. This comeback waxed and waned until the Hutu of Rawanda struck back in 1994, slaughtering nearly a million people (Tutsi and Hutu "sympathizers"). The Tutsi rebels, better organized and trained than the Hutu dominated Rwandan army, took control of the government as most of the Hutu killers and their families fled to refugee camps in Congo (then called Zaire) and other neighboring countries. In Kivu the Hutu killers organized militias and continued raiding into Rwanda, as well as attacking the Tutsi minority in eastern Congo. Rwanda sent troops across the border to shut down the Hutu militias. This caused a Tutsi led general inspired uprising there against the corrupt and inept Mobutu government of Congo. That led to the removal of Mobutu after 26 years in power. The newly elected government turned out to be as corrupt and inept as Mobutu. The UN was less concerned with this than the need to stop the fighting in eastern Congo. This was accomplished in 2009, but the peace deal assumed the corruption and misgovernment problem would be addressed. This would include disarming all the militias, especially the ones composed of Rwandan Hutu exiles. None of that happened and nine months ago the Congolese Tutsi began to rebel once more. Most of the Congolese Tutsi who had quite M23 to accept the amnesty and join the army deserted and rejoined M23.
What is often missed in all this is that the Tutsi, Hutu, and most other tribes in this part of Africa are variations on the ancient Bantu people (from West Africa). The Tutsi, like several other of the hundreds of different cultures in Africa, simply developed a superior skill set. That is a common pattern throughout human history. Since the differences were cultural, not genetic, many of the non-Tutsi tribes the Tutsi came into contact adopted Tutsi ways and, in effect, became Tutsi. When European nations moved in and turned Central Africa into colonies in the 19th century, they noted the superior habits of the Tutsi (and the fact that they ran much of the area and dominated the economy) and used a lot of Tutsi to staff the colonial administration. Yet the Tutsi remained a minority and resented for their success. At the same time, the Tutsi will defend themselves and continue to fight corruption and bad government. Normally this would be considered commendable. But the world wants things to quiet down in Africa, especially in the Congo. As long as the Tutsi are around this won’t happen because the continuing chaos in eastern Congo is a direct result of Tutsis trying to defend themselves against genocide. A simple solution would be for the Congolese Tutsi to move back to Rwanda and Burundi. But those nations are already overcrowded, so the Tutsi continue to push for clean government in Eastern Congo.
Finally, there is the money issue. Eastern Congo is full of valuable natural resources (especially rare minerals essential to modern electronics). These are largely extracted illegally, under the protection of various militias and government officials. This is what finances M23 and many of the other militias as well. But most of the profits end up with government officials (especially president Kabila) and the foreign entrepreneurs who put up the money (billions of dollars) and expertise to build the mines in the middle of nowhere and arrange to get the minerals and diamonds out. The Tutsi would prefer to see all this done legally but there is no law in Kivu.
While the Tutsi have been in Eastern Congo for centuries, most arrived in the 20th century and are considered foreigners: aggressive and capable foreigners. The Congolese Tutsi are too capable to be eliminated but too few to take over. The U.S. goes along with condemning the violence in Eastern Congo but recognizes the good intentions of the Rwandan Tutsi and is reluctant to join in the UN consensus that the Tutsi are the cause of all the problems in Congo. The Tutsis have one ally in the region, Uganda. This is largely because Tutsi refugees in Uganda helped the present government overthrow former dictator Idi Amin and the Tanzania backed government that succeeded Amin.
In Goma there continues to be disorder because the city government was not fully reconstituted after M23 left on December 1st. In particular there’s a lot of popular unrest against the 1,100 criminals who escaped from the city prison after M23 entered the city. Many of these men are still at large and local vigilante groups have lynched at least nine of them. The vigilante groups try to provide local security in the absence of adequate police or soldiers to do that.
Over 25,000 people fled the fighting around Goma. At least 2,000 Tutsi civilians fled to nearby Rwanda. Over 400,000 people fled their homes since last April, when M23 began recruiting Tutsi who had joined the Congolese Army. These army deserters were often former M23 members dissatisfied with the corruption and inept leadership in the Congolese Army. Most of those who fled their homes later returned after M23 drove away the Congolese soldiers. This large movement of people led to massive looting of homes and public buildings. Over 250 schools were looted or damaged along with many more government buildings and businesses.
January 3, 2013: The U.S. has imposed more sanctions on the M23 (Tutsi) and FDLR (Rwandan Hutu) militias in eastern Congo.
December 28, 2012: The UN has warned M23 members that they will be prosecuted as war criminals if they continue firing on UN helicopters. This new hostility towards UN helicopters comes from the UN use of armed helicopters to try and stop the M23 advance on Goma last November. The helicopter machine-guns killed or wounded dozens of M23 men and M23 has not forgotten.
December 23, 2012: The UN has sent several hundred peacekeepers into Goma to try and deal with the crime situation (which is out of control in the absence of adequate policing).
December 21, 2012: The UN has accused M23 and the Congo Army of war crimes during the fighting around Goma. Congolese soldiers are accused of looting and raping as they retreated from Goma. The soldiers and bandits have also been looting and raping in refugee camps. This is pretty standard practice with the army and most of the militias. M23 was accused of summarily executing people in Goma. M23 said it was punishing corrupt officials and other criminals. M23 was also accused of seizing vehicles and other goods inside Goma.
December 14, 2012: The UN has agreed to review its rules of engagement in the Eastern Congo, where they have 20,000 peacekeepers. Congolese complain that the peacekeepers rarely do much. This was very obvious during the current M23 uprising. The UN had more armed men (peacekeepers) in North Kivu than the M23 had, yet the peacekeepers refused to intervene. The Congolese Army was no match of M23 and the UN force might have been. Peacekeeper commanders explained that they did not engage M23 because they wanted to avoid civilian casualties. In general, UN peacekeepers tend to be peaceful. The UN makes a distinction between peacekeeping (lots of guard duty and “show of force” operations) and peace making (actually fighting those who disturb the peace). The UN has a more difficult time getting nations to contribute troops to peacekeeping operations if too many of those troops are killed or wounded. That would be the case if the UN peacekeepers took on the Tutsi fighters of M23. It’s no secret that the Tutsi are, by African standards, very effective soldiers. Even when organized as militia forces (little training and few experienced leaders) the Tutsi are formidable. The UN knows that taking on the Tutsi would cause a lot of peacekeepers casualties, something that the UN cannot tolerate.
December 9, 2012: The government began peace talks with M23. But after ten days little was accomplished except an agreement to resume negotiations in early January. The M23 wants an official ceasefire, signed by president Kabila. Congo is not willing to do that, believing that they might be able to muster enough military force to crush M23. The government also accuses M23 of not withdrawing 20 kilometers from the city limits, as they had agreed to.
December 8, 2012: Uganda proposed that a new peacekeeping force, composed of African troops, be organized (and paid for by the UN) for service in Congo. This force would be allowed to fight and maintain order.
December 1, 2012: M23 rebels pull out of Goma, leaving the government and the UN to deal with the chaos inside the city of one million. M23 fighters still control the less populous areas around the city. M23 had captured Goma on November 20th but quickly found that it did not have enough manpower to police the city and control other parts of North Kivu.