Rwanda behind M23 ‘rebellion’ in DRC

Soldiers on patrol in DRC

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is strategically placed, sharing common borders with nine sub-Saharan African countries. and has the world’s largest deposits of ‘critical minerals’ vital for electronic communication, aviation and nuclear energy. DRC owns one tenth of all copper deposits, a third of cobalt reserves, and 80% of reserves of coltan, in addition to significant deposits of cadmium, oil, gold, uranium, tungsten and diamonds. The imperialist countries are moving to cleaner energy sources to decarbonise – known as the ‘energy transition’ – which needs increasing amounts of critical minerals, hence weakening and plundering DRC has been key to acquiring them.

Violence is escalating in the eastern part of DRC. About 1 million people have been displaced from the front lines. Almost 7 million people in total are currently displaced in what UN official Ramesh Rajasingham, Director of OCHA Coordination Division, calls an ‘unprecedented humanitarian crisis’. Fighting is raging between over 120 armed groups, the DRC and Rwandan armies, and troops from a South African led mission (SAMIDRC). The March 23 Movement (M23) is the most dominant armed group and is backed by Rwanda. M23 is now closing in on regional capital city Goma in North Kivu province, a mineral rich region. M23 is only the latest iteration of front groups created and directed by Rwanda inside DRC with the purpose of weakening, destabilising and ultimately looting DRC of its mineral resources, with the active support and collusion of British, EU and US imperialists, since at least 1996. Rwanda permanently occupies eastern DRC in one guise or another.

DRC’s strategic geographic location, advantageous investment rules, and abundance of minerals has made it a key target for the imperialists. Meanwhile neighbouring Rwanda is tiny, landlocked, with very few resources and heavily dependent on foreign aid. Aid (13%) and loans (24%) contribute almost 40% to its national budget. At over $1.6bn a year, if aid were curtailed substantially, the Rwandan economy could collapse. Rwanda is hence also dependent on looting resources from DRC which it sells on as its own. The US, EU and Britain are the main aid donors to Rwanda.

Central Africa map

The fighting is over the enormous mineral resources that eastern DRC is known for. Capitalists including South African, Chinese and British hope these resources will power the ‘new green industrial revolution’ based on electric vehicle (EV) batteries. Cobalt and lithium are key raw materials for EV batteries which are the largest single use for cobalt (40%). 73% of global cobalt was mined in the DRC in 2022. The largest cobalt miner in the world is Anglo-Swiss corporation Glencore.

M23 ‘rebellion

The M23 is an armed militia, formed in 2012. M23 leaders were formerly in another Rwandan-backed rebel militia the CNDP, composed of former DRC army officers who had been integrated into the DRC army following a 23 March 2009 agreement. They demand the DRC government ‘fully implement’ this agreement, hence the name M23. Like the CNDP, M23 is also composed of former Congolese army officers. M23 was organised, armed, and supported by Rwanda and Uganda. They mutinied in April 2012, and took over Goma in a 19-month insurgency marked by horrific brutality. In June 2012, UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, identified five of the M23’s leaders as ‘among the worst perpetrators of human rights violations in the DRC, or in the world.’ They included General Bosco Ntaganda and current M23 leader Colonel Sultani Makenga, who is implicated in the ‘recruitment’ (kidnapping) of child soldiers, and several massacres and rapes.

Rwandan support for M23

A June 2012 UN report cited defecting soldiers, recruited as early as February 2012, who had been trained in Rwanda, before invading DRC two months before the ‘mutiny’. Another report in October 2012 by the UN Security Council’s Group of Experts showed M23 leaders ‘receive direct military orders’ from Rwanda’s chief of defence staff, General Charles Kayonga, [and] in turn from the minister of defence General James Kabarebe’. With support from neighbouring countries and South Africa, the M23 were defeated in 2013 and fled to Rwanda and Uganda. Predictably, in 2021, Rwanda simply reactivated the M23, keeping the name. In August 2022, the UN Security Council Group of Experts found Rwandan troops launched joint military interventions inside Congolese territory since at least November 2021, providing ‘troop reinforcements’ and weaponry for specific M23 operations. People living live near the Rwanda-Congo border have reported frequent troop movements of Rwandan soldiers in and out of Congo.

The M23 is now stronger and better armed with sophisticated weaponry such as surface-to-air missiles, as well as receiving direct support from the Rwandan army. M23 controls about half of North Kivu. They have again committed appalling documented crimes such as murder, rape and use of child soldiers. In May 2023, Human Rights Watch uncovered 14 mass graves in Kishishe and Bambo, in Rutshuru territory in North Kivu, where 171 people were massacred and 66 women were raped by M23 on 29 and 30 November 2022. Just like its M23 successor, the CNDP also committed war crimes in Kiwanja, in North Kivu in November 2008 when they massacred about 150 people, including 14 children. They were never held to account for these crimes but under pressure from the imperialists to reach a ‘peace agreement’, the former ‘rebels’ were reintegrated into the DRC army and given top positions. This was a deliberate strategy to weaken the DRC and breed impunity for Rwanda and its militia.

Both the US and Belgium have hypocritically called on Rwanda to ‘immediately cease support for the UN- and US-sanctioned M23’. No meaningful sanctions have been imposed. The US has suspended military aid and sanctioned a Rwandan general – a cosmetic action. Meanwhile the EU is investing over €900m in Rwanda under its Global Gateway, Europe’s investment programme, and in December 2023, signed a Joint Declaration on Critical Raw Materials Value Chains between Rwanda and the European Investment Bank. In December 2022, the EU gave €20m to Rwandan troops fighting in Mozambique to protect TotalEnergies’ oil installations. Britain has given over £300m to Rwanda to implement its Rwanda deportation plan as a dumping ground for ‘illegal’ migrants. Britain and the EU are funding the crimes of M23 by their support for Rwanda, making the British imperialist state complicit.