Why Congo’s M23 Crisis Lingers On

M23 rebels pictured withdrawing from Kibumba, North Kivu province, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo on Dec. 23, 2022, following a ceasefire agreement reached in Luanda, Angola the previous month. (GLODY MURHABAZI/AFP via Getty Images)

In October 2021, the March 23 movement (M23) rebooted its insurgent campaign in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a country that for 30 years has cycled through iterations of conflict with armed groups. Defeated in 2013, a reconstituted M23 rapidly made landslide territorial wins across the east of the country which borders Rwanda and Uganda. The ensuing crisis has been fuelled by long-standing geopolitical tensions between the DRC and Rwanda and has displaced over 900,000 people, causing a dire humanitarian situation.

In parallel to the M23’s sudden rise, diplomatic relations between Kinshasa and Kigali have reached a historic low. Since January, Rwanda has issued veiled threats to officially intervene on Congolese soil and shot at a Congolese fighter jet, while the DRC has contracted eastern European mercenaries, enlisted a “reserve force” consisting of militias, and rallied armed groups as auxiliaries.

The regional organization East African Community (EAC) has been spearheading efforts to end the crisis, alongside Angola (the DRC joined the EAC in March 2022, becoming its seventh member). Yet the various ceasefires it has brokered were violated almost immediately after they were announced. Also hampering the effort was the months it took for the EAC to field an announced military force, which was finally deployed in April this year and is mandated to observe respect for the latest ceasefire and oversee the M23’s promised withdrawal from certain areas.

While the military situation has abated somewhat, the political stalemate drags on. The conflict has been propped up by blame games, ineffective diplomacy, and the neglect of structural conflict dynamics—specifically, recurring geopolitical tensions and proxy warfare in the Great Lakes region and the Congolese state’s weak commitment to addressing the grievances and elite manipulation that drive armed group proliferation. The current impasse is marked by radically different narratives about the origins of the conflict being spread by the M23, Kigali, and Kinshasa and their respective supporters. Read more