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DRC: Dilemma For International Community As The People Vote With Their Feet

by Vincent Gasana
12:47 am

Type M23 into a search engine of your choice, and it will inform you that it can find 30,700,000 results for you. Yet for all that, thanks to claims about them, we know little about who and what the group is. That may all be about to change, as the ordinary people, often used to justify these claims, do what comes naturally, go home.

“It is an immense joy for the lions of Sarambwe [M23], to stop the genocide in the city of Rubaya, the coalition of evil: the FDLR, Mai Mai, Imbonerakure, the Burundi army, FARDC (DRC army), have sworn to exterminate the Tutsi population in the area, we couldn’t be bystanders, we liberate people,” declared M23 spokesperson, Lieutenant-Colonel, Willy Ngoma. 

Latest unconfirmed reports suggest that government forces are preparing to try and recapture Rubaya. For now, however, the area remains firmly under M23 control.

The strategic town is now added to the great swathes of territory under the control of the rebel group. 

The Congolese Revolutionary Army (ARC), as the group prefers to be called, prides itself on the safety of the people within the areas it controls. Evidence on the ground clearly demonstrates they have ample justification for that pride. 

Yet, there has been an almost desperate insistence from Western opinion, to paint the group as an abuser of human rights. You would be hard pressed to think of a broadcast, a statement, an article, any mention of M23, which is not qualified by “supported by Rwanda” and “accused of human rights abuses.” The claims are made by politicians, media, human rights organisations.

The Democratic Republic of Congo president, Felix Tshisekedi, refers to them as terrorists, and claims they are not Congolese but Rwandans, buttressed by neighbouring Rwanda. Congo politicians and their spokespeople, have taken to referring to M23, as “M23-RDF terrorists.” 

Apparently with the intention of appeasing Tshisekedi, the United States of America, echoes the Congo president. 

But these claims, no matter from where they come, will become increasingly untenable, if the people force acceptance of the reality upon everyone, by continuing what they have already begun to do, vote with their feet to indicate where they feel safest. 

And it is in areas under the control of M23, that they are heading. The rebel group, has been quick to reassure the people. In a statement issued under its umbrella organisation, the Congo River Alliance (AFC), they are not only encouraging people to return to their homes, they are providing the means by which they can.

The statement condemns the shelling of the Mugunga camp for internally displaced people, three days ago, which it blames on “the coalition armed forces (FARDC [Congolese Armed Forces], FDLR, operating under the cover of ‘Wazalendo’ FDNB [Burundi armed forces], mercenaries and other criminal militias at the service of the Kinshasa regime and holds Mr Felix Tshisekedi Tshilombo personally responsible for these heinous crimes…”

“The AFC informs the national and international community (sic), that it has heard the distress call from our compatriots who have fled the war to settle in makeshift camps in and on the outskirts of the town of Goma.”

“Several displaced compatriots are demanding to return to their traditional living areas currently secured by the Congolese Revolutionary Army (ARC).”

The statement goes on to say that in response, it has taken a number of measures to return people to their homes. These include providing coaches at strategic points, from which they will depart, ferrying people the returning now formerly displaced people. 

The rebel group, calls on all humanitarian organisations to join it in helping the displaced return to their homes.

“We hereby call upon all humanitarian organisations that could lend their support to this voluntary movement of displaced persons to their respective environments for immediate resettlement to do so.”

The group makes a call to FARDC, that may as well be a challenge to not only the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), but to the US and other Western nations, which have chosen to stand behind the government in Kinshasa.

“We request the FARDC to collaborate in this humanitarian operation and to allow our compatriots to return peacefully to their usual living environments. Taking them hostage to serve as human shields to heavy artillery constitutes a war crime.”

“The areas liberated by the Congolese Revolutionary Army are completely secure. The population engages in activities day and night, with agricultural, pastoral, educational, and commercial activities thriving, and competent administrative authorities assisting citizens in need to the best of their abilities.”

Then a clear call to all displaced people, that “the Congo River Alliance encourages all compatriots frustrated by suffering and wandering to return to their villages and cities in peace and tranquility.”

Hundreds of Congolese refugees have lived in camps, in neighbouring countries, for the best of twenty years. Rwanda alone hosts over a hundred thousand of them. They have all been agitating to return home. What might be going through their minds, when they hear the call from M23?

And which way will the Western powers jump, when the people for whom they claim to speak are demonstrably safer, under the protection of the rebel group these same powers seek to demonise, than they are, under the parts of the country the government and its army still control? 

We have moved into unchartered territory, and for better or worse, the reality on the ground, in the DRC, will surely have to change.

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