DR Congo’s Goma: Avoiding a New Regional War
DR Congo’s Goma: Avoiding a New Regional War
Tensions dans la région des Grands-Lacs | Turmoil in the Great Lakes
Tensions dans la région des Grands-Lacs | Turmoil in the Great Lakes
Alert / Africa

DR Congo’s Goma: Avoiding a New Regional War

The east Congolese city of Goma and its key airport have reportedly fallen after heavy fighting to the M23 rebel group. Regional and international actors must now prevent this turning into a new regional war.

The past week has shown history repeating itself in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with the same tragic consequences for civilians in the region.[fn]See Crisis Group briefing, Eastern Congo: Why Stabilisation Failed, 4 October 2012.Hide Footnote

On 15 November 2012, the M23 rebel movement, with – according to the DRC – the backing of Rwanda’s armed forces, broke the 25 July de facto ceasefire observed with the Congolese army (Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo, FARDC) and launched an offensive against Goma, the capital of North Kivu province.

Unable, despite numerous attempts, to extend its control over the resource-rich Masisi territory, constrained by Uganda’s closure of its Bunangana border with the DRC and frustrated by the decision of the UN Security Council to place its main leader, Sultani Makenga, on the UN sanctions list, the M23 had finally decided to make real its threat to attack the city. On 18 November, following three days of fighting, the movement broke the FARDC’s resistance and tried to force the government of President Joseph Kabila to negotiate.

On 19 November, after several fruitless attempts at talks and an ultimatum from the M23 to the government, fighting broke out inside Goma, a city under the defence of the FARDC and UN peacekeepers (MONUSCO). The M23’s ultimatum had demanded the FARDC’s withdrawal from, and the demilitarisation of, Goma and its airport; the reopening of the Bunangana border post; and an inclusive negotiation process to bring in the unarmed Congolese political opposition, civil society and the diaspora. By making this demand, the M23 aimed to reduce the crisis to a domestic affair, thereby preventing Kinshasa from internationalising it in order to negotiate a solution at the regional level through the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) with those neighbouring countries that allegedly support the M23 rebellion.

While negotiations were on the verge of starting in Goma, President Kabila ultimately refused to recognise the M23 as a legitimate interlocutor, and clashes broke out inside the city. The rebels entered Goma on 20 November, forcing the Congolese army to retreat to Sake.

The new offensive is a tragic repeat of the threat by Laurent Nkunda’s Conseil National de Défense du Peuple (CNDP) to take Goma in 2008. Once again, the civilian population is paying a heavy price. As in 2008, the same causes could produce the same fearful effects:

  • the fall of Goma could lead to serious human rights abuses against civilian populations;
  • the settling of accounts or even targeted extrajudicial executions against authorities and civil society activists who have taken a stance against the M23 since the beginning of the crisis in March could raise the death toll and fuel more violence;
  • Kinshasa’s capitulation to the M23 could send shock waves throughout the Kivus and relaunch open warfare between the DRC and Rwanda; and
  • the UN and the ICGLR, both responsible for conflict management in the region, are being discredited.

As immediate steps, regional and international actors must secure: 

  • an end to fighting inside Goma;
  • M23’s commitment to respect MONUSCO’s mandate to fully protect civilians;  and
  • M23’s concrete assurances, visible on the ground, to respect civilians and property in areas under their control, and prevent further human rights abuses.

To avoid a regional implosion, the following steps are also necessary:

  • explicit condemnation by the UN Security Council, African Union (AU) and ICGLR of external involvement in the fighting;
  • immediate efforts by MONUSCO’s leadership to seek to negotiate and secure a formal ceasefire, as well as accelerate the deployment of the Joint Verification Mechanism and the Neutral Force agreed by the ICGLR; 
  • sanctions by the European Union (EU), UN Security Council, and especially France, the UK and the U.S., as well as the AU, not only against the rebellion’s leaders, but also against their external supporters;
  • an investigation by the International Criminal Court into the actions of the M23 and new armed groups, and the request by the court that MONUSCO transfer its files concerning M23 leaders; and
  • the immediate establishment of a joint fact-finding mission in the region by the AU, EU, Belgian, South African and U.S. special envoys for the Great Lakes to determine the best course for arriving at the long-term resolution of this crisis.

The immediate priority is to stop the current fighting and protect civilians.

Long-term solutions will require that the UN Security Council, AU and ICGLR ensure that peace agreements and that stabilisation plans no longer remain empty promises. To achieve this, coordinated and unequivocal pressure on the Congolese government and the M23 rebel movement, as well as the latter’s external supporters, is required from international donors and regional actors. 


Video / Africa

Tensions dans la région des Grands-Lacs | Turmoil in the Great Lakes

English version below / English subtitles available

FRANÇAIS: Depuis 25 ans, l'est de la République démocratique du Congo est devenu une zone de non-droit où opère une multitude de groupes armés locaux ou originaires des pays voisins. Les civils sont les premières victimes des violences dans cette région riche en ressources naturelles. 

Depuis fin 2021, avec l'accord de Kinshasa, l’Ouganda maintient une présence militaire dans l’est de la RDC pour combattre les Forces démocratiques alliées, un groupe armé aux origines ougandaises. Cette présence n’a toutefois pas permis d’endiguer les attaques. Dans le même temps, un groupe armé congolais que l’on croyait moribond, le Mouvement du 23 Mars, a refait surface sur fond de tensions entre les pays des Grands Lacs.

Pour amorcer une sortie des cycles de violence dans la région, notre analyste pour la RDC, Onesphore Sematumba, nous explique que le gouvernement congolais devrait à la fois tenter de mettre en place une diplomatie régionale pour apaiser les tensions entre pays des Grands Lacs et se concentrer sur l'adoption de mesures visant à résoudre les causes profondes de la violence dans l’est de la RDC.

ENGLISH: For the past 25 years, the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo has been a lawless zone where a multitude of local and foreign armed groups operate. Those who bear the biggest brunt of the violence in this resource-rich region are the civilians.

Since the end of 2021, Uganda has had a military presence in the eastern DRC, as requested by Kinshasa, to fight the Allied Democratic Forces, an armed group originating from Uganda. However, this intervention has not been able to put an end to the attacks. Meanwhile, a Congolese armed group thought to be no longer active, the March 23 Movement, has resurfaced against a backdrop of tensions between the Great Lakes countries.

Our DRC analyst, Onesphore Sematumba, explains that in order to break out of this cycle of violence, the Congolese government should attempt to implement regional diplomacy to ease tensions between Great Lakes countries, while simultaneously placing greater emphasis on measures to address the root causes of the violence in eastern DRC.


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