Both sides of DRC conflict should come to negotiating table soon

DR Congo  President Felix Tshisekedi. [File, Standard]

Escalating violence in eastern DRC has displaced at least 150,000 people, more than half of them children, aid groups say.

According to Al Jazeera, aid organisations have again sounded the alarm over the impact of escalating violence in eastern DRC, where fresh fighting erupted on February 7. 

The fighting sparked massive displacement, exacerbating the vulnerability of the people forced to flee and the host communities. Fighting resumed around Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, after a lull during the December 20, 2023, election, which returned President Felix Tshisekedi to power for a second term.

However, what the aid groups do not say is the root cause of the escalating conflict, or who should be blamed for it. The blame is on the Congolese government which has, for long, prioritised war over peace. 

Eastern DRC has more than 260 armed groups that have made the region ungovernable for decades, but Kinshasa only focuses on M23 rebels as the problem.

Clashes between M23 rebels and a pro-government coalition that includes Rwandan genocidal forces, the FDLR, a host of local armed groups called Wazalendo, European mercenaries, and Burundian and SADC troops, now on for more than two years, have intensified because, among others, Kinshasa decided to form an evil alliance with a genocidal force.

The Congolese government’s refusal to recognise M23 as legitimate Congolese, branding them as “terrorists” blocked all avenues for a peaceful and negotiated resolution of the conflict in eastern DRC. A decade ago, in 2013, the Congolese government signed a peace deal with the M23 rebels in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, which it has never honored.

The fact that M23 rebels speak Kitutsi does not make them Rwandans. DRC and Rwanda, like the rest of Africa, have several ethnic communities that live on both sides of their borders which were drawn by the Europeans.

Shelling of unarmed civilians

The aid groups have not sounded the alarm over the fact that the DRC army and its coalition of allies have been and continue to shell areas inhabited by civilians indiscriminately, injuring and killing many unarmed innocent people.

The Congolese army sent reinforcements, including the South African military, as part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Force, which deployed combat vehicles to populated areas.

The Congolese army and its allies have been positioning weapons in populated areas such as Munigi near Kanyarucinya Internally Displaced People (IDP) camp, not far from another IDP camp in Mugunga and Sake trading centre.

Worse still, from the air, Congolese army planes continue to bomb areas where civilians live, claiming to be bombing the positions of the M23 rebels while unleashing terror among the population. 

Airstrikes have terrorised civilians in several areas of Masisi territory, in North Kivu province, including the localities of Karuba, Mushaki, Kitshanga, Kilorirwe and Mweso, with the most recent airstrike being in Kimoka and Malemo areas.

Nyongera and Kiwanja were shelled from the air on January 6 and Mweso centre on January 24-25.  

Burundi President Evariste Ndayishimiye’s support for Tshisekedi is contributing to the escalation of the conflict. Ndayishimiye’s decision to take sides in the conflict – especially by sending hundreds of troops to prop up the Congolese army – is an enabler of Kinshasa’s preference for war over peace. 

Instead of working to put an end to hate speech and incitement to violence, the two leaders amplify it. 

The silence over the ethnic killings targeting Congolese Tutsi is worrying.  

The militarization of the region only reinforces Tshisekedi’s confrontational posture as he remains adamant and refuses to talk about peace.

The writer is a security and investigations journalist.

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