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Disarray in Congo's Armed Forces Amid Rising Conflict with M23 Rebels

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Ayize claire

Jul 4, 2024

Disarray in Congo's Armed Forces Amid Rising Conflict with M23 Rebels

Military officers attend a court martial in Goma, DRC, where eight officers were sentenced to death for cowardice and other crimes amid ongoing conflicts with M23 rebels.

In a dramatic turn of events, soldiers from the Democratic Republic of Congo's 223rd Battalion were dispatched to the verdant hills near Lake Kivu to thwart a rebel advance threatening Goma. This city, the largest in the mineral-rich east, houses 2 million people. However, last December, as the M23 movement advanced, the battalion's commander fabricated a medical note to return to Goma. In his absence, his troops deserted without a fight, according to military prosecutors at his court martial.


In May, eight officers were sentenced to death for cowardice and other crimes, highlighting the disarray within Congo's armed forces as they struggle against a two-year uprising in the eastern borderlands with Rwanda. The officers are appealing their convictions.

The conflict in North Kivu province has displaced over 1.7 million people, pushing Congo's total displaced population to a record 7.2 million, according to U.N. estimates.


President Felix Tshisekedi accuses Rwanda of backing M23, a group formed to defend the interests of Congolese Tutsis. He has threatened war against Rwanda, raising fears of a broader conflict in Africa's Great Lakes region, reminiscent of the wars between 1996 and 2003 that claimed millions of lives. A U.N. Security Council-appointed group of experts claims to have "solid evidence" of Rwandan soldiers fighting alongside the rebels, supported by drone footage and photographs.


Rwanda has deployed over 3,000 troops in North Kivu, surpassing M23's own fighters, according to U.N. sources. This support has been crucial to the rebels' rapid gains. Reuters spoke to senior members of Congo's armed forces and Western diplomats, who pointed to internal mismanagement, inexperienced troops, and over-reliance on proxy forces as major factors in M23's successes. Despite increased defense spending and support from regional allies, Congo's military remains plagued by internal divisions, inadequate resources, poor logistics, and widespread corruption.


Colonel deployed against M23, who was not authorized to speak to journalists, lamented the lack of clear command and field presence of leaders. The Congolese government and army did not respond to requests for comment. Army spokesperson Sylvain Ekenge attributed the difficulties to Rwanda's direct involvement but mentioned ongoing military reforms, including the recruitment of 41,000 soldiers and new weapons acquisitions.


Rwanda has consistently denied supporting M23, with government spokesperson Yolande Makolo stating that the DRC has the power to deescalate the situation but has chosen not to. Rwanda accuses Congo of collaborating with the Hutu rebel group FDLR, which has targeted Tutsis in both countries.


Despite Congo's military's November statement to arrest any soldiers cooperating with FDLR, some collaboration persists, according to U.N. sources and a Congolese officer. Both M23 and FDLR deny collaborating with either government. M23 spokesperson Willy Ngoma noted that some rebels speak Kinyarwanda, Rwanda's main language, leading to mistaken identities.


FDLR spokesperson Cure Ngoma accused Rwanda and M23 of using accusations of collaboration as a pretext for invasion, asserting that both sides are merely defending themselves.

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