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Escalation of DRC Conflict Threatens Regional Stability

Protesters interrupted proceedings at the 37th African Union (AU) Summit on 18 February in Addis Ababa calling for an end to decades-long conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).


Violent confrontations have intensified between the army of the DRC and the M23 rebels, who are Tutsi-led and backed by Rwanda, in eastern Congo. These clashes have resulted in numerous casualties and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people.

Demonstrators carried placards, reading: ‘Stop the massacres in the DRC’, ‘France = M23/Rwanda’ and ‘To be silent is to be an accomplice.’ [Guerchom Ndebo/AFP]

This escalation in fighting, occurring within a long-standing conflict spanning decades, heightens the potential for a full-scale war between Congo and Rwanda, which could involve neighbouring countries and regional forces such as South Africa, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania, and Malawi.

Protestors in Kinshasa have accused the International Community of ignoring the plight of the Congolese owing to the endless conflict.

Demonstrators in Goma denounce the International community’s silence in the face of the unending crisis in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. [Guerchom Ndebo/AFP]


The M23 got its name from a deal made on March 23, 2009, which ended a previous rebellion by Tutsi people in eastern Congo. It’s the latest of several military factions led by the Tutsi people opposing the government in Congo.

The group says the Congo government has not kept its promise to include Tutsi people fully in the army and government. They also promise to protect Tutsi interests, especially against Hutu militias like the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). The FDLR was started by Hutu people who left Rwanda after being involved in the 1994 genocide, where over 800,000 Tutsis and Hutus were killed.

Read: Tensions Rise as UN Peacekeepers Exit, DRC President Seeks Second Term

In recent weeks, the rebels have been advancing towards Goma and are currently positioned in the hills near Sake, approximately 25 km away from Goma. They have cut off the main roads leading to the north and west of the city. If they do capture Goma, it would mark their most significant military achievement in over a decade.

People carry their belongings as they flee from their villages around Sake in Masisi territory, following clashes between M23 rebels and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC); towards Goma, North Kivu Province, DRC on February 7, 2024. PHOTO | REUTERS

Regional Troops

East African Community Regional Force soldiers patrolling Kibati, DRC on April 18, 2023. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NMG

Fighting has continued despite many attempts to stop it with ceasefires by leaders from nearby countries in 2022 and 2023. Congo got frustrated because coalition forces from Kenya and other nearby countries could not thwart the rebel groups’ advances in their peacekeeping missions, which halted in December. In May, 16 countries from southern Africa agreed to send troops to eastern Congo to help stop the fighting and deal with armed groups.

Newly displaced Congolese have settled next to the Bulengo camp, a few kilometres from the centre of Goma. [Guerchom Ndebo/AFP] In Pictures

The government of Congo, along with UN officials and Western countries have accused Rwanda of supporting the M23 rebels by giving them weapons and soldiers, even though Rwanda denies claims. Rwanda and Uganda have a history of sending their armies into Congo. They did this in 1996 and 1998, saying they were protecting themselves from local armed groups. The US has requested Rwanda to take its soldiers out of Congo and get rid of missile systems.

Rwanda says Congo’s decision to send away regional peacekeepers caused the fighting to get worse. Rwanda says it acted in self-defence following security concerns emanating from Congo and its borders.

The DRC harbours close to 7 million displaced individuals within its borders due to the looming threat of violence, severe poverty, and the expansion of illegal mining activities. These displaced individuals are in dire need of immediate security, medical support, and other essential needs.

Additionally, approximately one million Congolese citizens have fled across the country’s borders in search of refuge.

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