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Analysts: Rwandan Support for Congo’s Rebels Waning

General Sultani Makenga, military leader of the M23 rebels, distributes snacks to children during celebrations to mark the Day of the African Child, at the Catholic church in the town of Rutshuru, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, June 16, 2013.
United Nations experts say support for the M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo is waning, but that the group is still getting some help from Rwanda.

The United Nations Security Council appointed a group of experts some years ago to report on rebels in eastern Congo and on their sources of arms, recruits and funding.

The experts’ report at the end of last year caused diplomatic uproar as it accused Rwanda’s defense chief of giving orders to the M23 rebels and of sending Rwandan army units to support it. Rwanda denied the accusations.

The experts' latest report that was made public at the weekend, although it has not yet been officially released, will be less damaging for Rwanda’s image. The report says the M23 is still getting some support, however, from that country.

Analyst Timo Mueller studies conflict in the Great Lakes region for the research organization the Enough Project and has been examining the experts’ findings.

"The group of experts documented that the M23 enjoys continued, but has limited support from Rwanda. In particular, [General Sultani] Makenga, the current military commander of M23, has been able to recruit demobilized Rwandan soldiers," said Mueller.

The experts report “no evidence of full Rwandan army units supporting M23" since November, however, when the rebels briefly occupied Goma. They also say there are “no current signs of Ugandan government support for the rebels," whereas last year they reported some Ugandan help for the movement. The Ugandan government denied those allegations.

Division within M23

The experts say that earlier this year Rwandan officials intervened in an internal struggle between two M23 factions, led by Bosco Ntaganda, a former Congolese army general who has since been transferred to the International Criminal Court at the Hague, and former Congolese army colonel Sultani Makenga.

"According to the group of experts Rwandan officials could no longer control Bosco and his extensive network in Rwanda, as well as his actions in DRC, and given that, they decided to sideline Bosco inside the M23 movement and team up with his rival Sultani Makenga and attempt to neutralize Bosco," Mueller said.

Part of the reason for the rivalry between Ntaganda and Makenga, according to the experts, was that Ntaganda wanted the M23 to stay in the city of Goma last year after the rebels had seized it. There was heavy international pressure for them to leave. Makenga was in favor of leaving and appeared more willing to negotiate with the DRC government.

Rwandan officials’ backing for Makenga suggests they were a moderating influence on the M23 at that point.

Rebels remain a factor

Makenga won that struggle. But the experts say that has left M23 weakened, as it has lost the support of Ntaganda’s network.

M23 attacked the Congolese army in May, but failed to take its objectives, leading the experts to conclude that it is unable to carry out large-scale coordinated military operations.

Mueller thinks it’s too early, though, to write the rebels off.

"According to current estimates Makenga has 1,500 men. The movement suffers from defections, yet he’s still able to recruit, often forcibly," he said. "According to the group of experts, the M23’s main source of revenue is taxation - they make about $180,000 every month, and on that basis I wouldn’t necessarily believe that the M23 is finished."

The experts also report that Congolese army units have been collaborating with the Rwandan rebel group FDLR. Some of that group's members took part in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

They have written to the Rwandan and Congolese governments asking for clarification about the alleged collaboration, and they say they are looking forward to a reply.