The Democratic Republic of Congo seems to be on the verge of another deadly civil war. The large African nation is home to over 70 million people and has experienced decades of turbulence, following its independence from Belgium. A rebel group called the M23 now appear poised to seize control of the North Kivu capital of Goma, and have announced plans to attack neighboring regions. The conflict is already displacing tens of thousands of people and has resulted in thousands of casualties.
With a per capita GDP of only 216 dollars per person per year and a Human Development Index score of .286, the country is already one of the most destitute in the world. Civil war will only worsen conditions for the impoverished nation and already thousands of people are fleeing their homes and crowding into refugee camps in the North Kivu province and surrounding areas.
A rebel group known as the M23 is now closing in on the provincial capital of Goma. Concrete reports are hard to come by, but it is believed that the rebels are either on the outskirts of the city, or have in-fact taken control of the provincial capital entirely. The rebels have advanced in-spite of the intervention of U.N. helicopters and resistance from the DRC’s national army.
The M23 was preceded by National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), who launched a civil war in the North and South Kivu provinces in 2004. Fighting lasted for several years, but was limited mostly to small scale skirmishes. It is believed that approximately 1,500 soldiers died in the conflict. On March 23, 2009 the CNDP signed a peace agreement with the national government, becoming a legal political party. CNDP troops were incorporated into the national army, and the worst of the conflict appeared to be over.
On April 4, 2012, approximately 300 soldiers from the CNDP who had been incorporated into the national army revolted and labeled themselves as the March 23 Movement, or M23. The soldiers claim that the DRC government failed to live up to its agreements and cited poor conditions as reasons for their revolt. The group is being led by the infamous General Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for allegedly using child soldiers.
Now, the M23 are on the verge of taking control of Goma, the capital in North Kivu. So far, approximately 1,000 M23 rebels have been killed, captured, or wounded but the rebel group appears to be growing. The total number of rebels in the movement is not known, though they appear to be well-armed and supplied, fueling accusations that Rwanda is supplying them.
The DRC has been subject to frequent outside interference from neighboring countries, such as Rwanda. It is believed that the M23 rebel group is being supplied and supported by Rwanda. There are even unconfirmed reports that Rwandan troops themselves have crossed over the border and engaged in combat. The U.N. Security Council has demanded that Rwanda suspend all aid to the rebel group.
The DRC has a long, long history of conflict. In fact, the deadliest war since World War II, the Second Congo War, took place in the DRC and claimed the lives of between 4 to 5 million people. The conflict ended in 2003, however sporadic fighting between various groups has continued ever since.
So far fighting has been limited to the North Kivu region, though the rebels have already announced their intention to invade other provinces. Given the poor conditions within the country, there is a risk that the conflict could spread into other provinces and regions, setting off another large scale war that could claim millions of lives. The United Nations is on the ground, with over 6,500 peace keepers and has already engaged the rebel forces with the use of attack helicopters. The Security Council so far has been unanimous in condemning the conflict and calling for a cease fire.
A 2011 report estimated that approximately 1.71 million people are internally displaced within the DRC. Many of these displaced people are relying on UN and Internationally managed refugee camps which are now becoming crowded. War will undoubtedly displace even more people and could disrupt internal supply operations.
The United Nations and the national government of the DRC will now have to figure out a way to quell the rebellion before it spills over into neighboring provinces. With the M23 movement building momentum there is a risk that their ranks will grow, or that other dissatisfied groups will seize on the opportunity to revolt. With conditions country-wide as bad as they are, the entire nation is unstable and peace has been fragile. Without an immediate response there is a high-risk that the conflict will expand.