More human catastrophes impend, as tens of thousands flee Goma
The military fighting in Congo-Kinshasa is at root about control of mining areas and huge profits. The war is conducted far above the interests of the population. Over 60,000 people have recently been displaced.
On Tuesday, 20 November, Goma, North Kivu, the biggest city in Eastern Congo, was captured by ‘M23’ rebels, a Rwanda-backed armed movement which was formally established in May 2011.
Already before this, about one million people in Kivu have been forced to leave their homes. New columns with tens of thousands of refugees from Goma and other cities are seeking out makeshift camps and school buildings that mostly have no food or medicines.
Over six million people have died as a result of the wars in the Congo-Kinshasa since 1998, most of them from malnutrition and disease. The basic reason for the Congo wars is the enormous natural wealth, such as gold, copper and a number of unique minerals. It is a continuation of the colonial and imperialist looting that has lasted for 130 years.
The US and EU, as well as the rulers in China, have supported Joseph Kabila’s regime in the hope of achieving sufficient stability to continue the exploitation of Congo’s raw materials. Despite electoral fraud, severe repression and military conflicts, the corrupt president has received financial support and the UN has contributed with 20,000 soldiers.
The M23 was formed in 2011, but has its origin in a previous armed movement, the CNDP, which was close to taking Goma in 2008. M23 is controlled by Bosco Ntaganda, who in January 2009, took over the leadership of CNDP from the notorious Laurent Nkunda. The latter went into hiding in Rwanda.
The movement takes its name from the ‘peace deal’ of 23 March 2009 between the Congolese government and the CNDP. The agreement stated that the CNDP’s military forces and parallel local authorities would be integrated with the state army (the FARDC) and government agencies.
Bosco Ntaganda, who alongside Nkunda is wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, was for over two years after the settlement a high ranking officer in the Congolese army. But collaboration between the former leaders of the CNDP and President Joseph Kabila’s government in Kinshasa was impossible.
"Financial rivalry … for control of mines",
The national army, the FARDC, was split by the conflict between the old and the new officers of the CNDP. Underlying this was the "financial rivalry … for the control of mines", especially in Walikale territory in North Kivu, reported the International Crisis Group. Bosco Ntaganda himself is a rich businessman. In February 2011, a shipment of gold was discovered on his private jet in Goma.
The government troops, for a time led by Bosco, did not manage to defeat other armed forces of the regions, such as Mai-Mai groups and the Hutu FDLR militia, which controls several mining areas. Instead of peace, new armed groups were formed, some only to defend their village against armed attacks, looting and unofficial tax levies from both the army and militias.
Fighting against the FDLR has a special meaning in neighboring Rwanda’s government. The FDLR is led by Hutus from Rwanda who participated in the extermination of one million Tutsis in 1994. Only recently as August this year, Rwandan troops left Rutshuru in Congo, where they were stationed for over and had fought FDLR forces. The UN criticises Rwanda for financing and supporting the M23.
According to news agencies, the M23 only has over one thousand soldiers but still managed relatively easily to oust the government army from Goma. UN troops in the city supported the army with helicopters, but did not intervene against the M23 on the ground. As on previous occasions, locals and refugees directed harsh criticism and anger against the UN.
The M23’s stated goal is to proceed to take more cities in eastern Congo, to then direct a blow against the capital, Kinshasa, 1,500 kilometres west. They would then repeat Laurent Kabila’s road to military victory in 1996-97, when he overthrew Mobutu’s rule. In 1998, the big war started, when Kabila’s regime was seriously challenged, in particular by Rwanda and Uganda-backed troops. Once again Rwanda is giving ‘secret’ backing to forces in the Congo, this time to the M23.
The M23 faces an ultimatum from the government in Kinshasa and a number of African governments that are backed by the US and the EU. However, the Rwandan President did not participate at this weekend’s African Summit.
The summit, which only lasted an hour, also drew up entirely unrealistic plans for a new joint military force combining the army and M23, along with ‘neutral’ troops from Tanzania, all with South African funding.
Can government troops dislodge M23?
The question is whether government troops can militarily dislodge the M23 if the rebel force does not leave Goma. “The truth is that [the government] troops’ morale is very low. They have lost faith in their officers,” a UN source told Reuters. In Minova town, controlled by the army, the “government soldiers went on plundering raids for the second night in a row,” said one source.
Warlords, such as President Kabila and M23’s Bosco Ntaganda, use the population as cannon fodder and slave labour. They collaborate with multinational companies, such as Swedish Mineral Invest and Lundin Mining, which both operate mines in Congo. Poorly paid and fed soldiers on all sides commit terrible atrocities – rapes and massacres – against the civilian population. UN and the Western powers are allies of the companies and the regime, not the people of Congo.
The task for socialists and anti-war activists in Congo is to build the unity of working people and the poor, for a new democratic socialist struggle movement in Congo. Wealth must be owned and controlled by the workers and the poor, not the warlords and international corporations. A new socialist movement must organise all the oppressed and exploited, regardless of ethnicity, to fight and to defend themselves against the militias’ abuses, against all warlords and against the meddling of local and regional reactionary regimes and imperialism.
-Congo has 70 million inhabitants
-6 million have died in wars since 1998. 200,000 women have been raped
-2.4 million people are displaced within the country and 450,000 in neighbouring countries
-4.5 million are starving
-Life expectancy is 54 years
-GNI per capita is less than a US dollar a day
-27,000 cases of cholera have been reported in 2012.