By Chris Muhizi

Fighting has intensified between the March 23 Movement (M23) and a coalition group that includes the Congolese National Army (FARDC), Wazalendo (“Patriots” in English), and the South African Development Community Forces (SAMI-DRC). The violence has overtaken Sake, a small city located 23 kilometers from the city of Goma, in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and many residents have fled both Sake and Goma in terror.  

M23 is a rebel group believed by the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union, the U.S., and Kinshasa to be financed by Rwanda. The U.S. has condemned the violence and called for Rwanda to withdraw M23 troops from eastern Congo.  

A spokesperson for M23 released a press statement claiming that M23 is committed to a peaceful resolution, and is prepared to withdraw from Sake and Goma if a monitored ceasefire is put in place. Onlookers are skeptical, since M23 has made similar promises in the past, and has then violated terms of agreement.  

The M23 statement also alleges that the Kinshasa government is purposefully – and incorrectly – blaming M23 for the violence: “The M23 does not seek to seize Goma, contrary to the misinformation produced by the state of Kinshasa.” 

Photo by AFP

“The Congo will remain one and indivisible” End the conflict; put an end to genocide; and reject balkanization.” 

Protestors chanting slogans

On February 15, hundreds of women from public service organizations and the women’s movement marched through the streets of Kinshasa to protest the uptick in violence and to call for an end to hostilities in east Africa.  

President Patricia Maisha of the National Coalition of Women Leaders for Parity said, “We have started to raise people’s awareness. The general population needs to be on guard and report the enemy. In order to maintain peace, citizens must also participate.” 

Mireille Masangu Bibi Muloko, DRC’s Minister of Gender, Family, and Children, said, “We denounce the international community’s complicity for supporting our oppressors.” 

Protestors wore black clothing and chanted slogans like “The Congo will remain one and indivisible” and “End the conflict; put an end to genocide; and reject balkanization.” 

The humanitarian situation in DR Congo has continued to deteriorate. Security protection, medical assistance, and other humanitarian relief are desperately needed by the almost 7 million internally displaced people living there. In the eastern provinces, people have been under threat for almost 30 years due to attacks by armed groups and regular intercommunal violence. 

 DR Congo has some of the most valuable natural reserves in the world, including gold and cobalt, an essential ingredient of lithium-ion rechargeable batteries. The scramble for control of the region has involved money and power-hungry people at every level, from local rebel groups to international players.  

The people most impacted by the escalating violence are women and children. There were 41% more confirmed cases of grave violations against children in the first half of 2023 than during the same period in 2022, according to the UN. And there has been a sharp rise in reports of sexual assault against women and girls, according to Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). More than one million people have been displaced in eastern Congo since November. 

A mini-summit held during the 37th African Union summit in Addis Ababa focused on reviving peace efforts in eastern DRC, but other than condemning the violence, and encouraging peace, the summit ended without clear resolution.