Democratic Republic of Congo: M23, imperialist looting and barbarism – Part Two

The M23 officers – Bosco Ntaganda, Sultani Makenga et al – have risked highly lucrative positions in the FARDC command structure, control of tax rackets mines and timber amongst other things in carrying out this rebellion. Why is it war seems more profitable than peace?

The mutiny

According to a 2011 report from the UN Group of Experts, Bosco Ntaganda "was making about $15,000 (£10,000) a week at one border crossing....He also is thought to own a flour factory, a hotel, a bar and a cattle ranch outside Goma." Such things are not given up lightly – especially by these nouveau-riche bandits. This M23 mutiny was not the first – an earlier attempt in Bukavu in January collapsed almost immediately with Sultani Makenga watching from the sidelines. Another attempt was made in March following Thomas Lubanga’s conviction by the ICC before being aborted again. One ex-CNDP officer said “the soldiers were tired of seeing their commanders get rich and not give them anything” while another stated “Why risk your lives for commanders you don’t believe in?” (Stearns, RVI, CNDP to M23).

The roots of M23 lie in the ostentatiously named Congrés national pour la défense du peuple (CNDP) – supposedly a political party with an emphasis on militiamen; the CNDP in turn has its roots in the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Democratie (RCD). Prior to 2009 Laurent Nkunda had been the recognised leader of the CNDP. A similar mutiny in that period followed by fighting MONUC and FARDC forces was concluded with the May 23rd peace agreement to which the new name 'M23' refers. It is a simple document, detailing the absorption of CNDP units into the FARDC and a commitment on the part of Kinshasa to smash up the genocidaires forces of the FDLR (Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda). These are the remains of the Interahamwe and other Hutu forces which carried out the massacres in Rwanda; at one time they controlled the Hutu refugee camps in the DRC and carried out repeated cross-border raids into Rwanda from the Kivus. As part of the agreement Nkunda was arrested in Rwanda and to be held under house arrest in Kigali, with Ntaganda replacing him. Given this position has offered Ntaganda huge opportunities for mutliplying his personal wealth it should be no surprise there is resentment toward him and his backers in Kigali, especially amongst the Nkunda loyalists now gathered around Sultani Makenga. Stearns quotes a previous Group of Experts document:

“On one occasion, ex-CNDP officers got into a dispute in a hotel in downtown Goma, with tensions exacerbated by unequal sharing in profits from the timber trade. One group of pro-Nkunda officers— among them Lieutenant Colonel Emmanuel Nsengiyumva and Major Charles Rusigiza—defected and joined the Forces patriotiques pour la libération du Congo (FPLC, Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo), a small multi-ethnic group based in Rutshuru and hostile to the Rwandan government.” (Stearns, RVI, CNDP to M23)

It is in no small part the tensions developing within the ranks of the ex-CNDP officers which have contributed heavily to the mutiny, Stearns continues “despite reconciliation efforts and a pledge to share spoils more equally, relations between Makenga and Ntaganda were still chilly. At the same time, Kinshasa was grooming Colonel Innocent Gahizi, the ex-CNDP deputy commander of North Kivu, as an alternative to Ntaganda. These divisions precipitated dissent–– the feeling was, ‘if we wait too long, we will be too divided to act,’ as one M23 officer said.”

The contents of the report of the UN Group of Experts (GoE), while not surprising, make clear the regional factors at work. For almost two decades both Uganda and Rwanda have not only provided financial, political and military support to the militias carpeting the east but have often intervened directly to ensure their dependence. Ntaganda – a former officer in the Rwandan Patriotic Army which overthrew the Hutu led government in 1994 – served as second-in-command to Thomas Lubanga in the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), a militia front fostered by Uganda in the struggle for control of the mineral rich Ituri province. In his position Ntaganda personally led soldiers in rampaging across the region before a series of splits and the arrest of Lubanga, Ntaganda moving south to join the CNDP. Rwandan security forces assisted Ntaganda’s rise through the ranks of CNDP after Laurent Nkunda became too independent of control in Kigali – a number of pro-Nkunda officers were assassinated with the assistance of Rwandan intelligence services:

“Ntaganda clamped down violently on his competitors, in coordination with the Rwandan security services. On 20 June 2010, armed men, reportedly including one of Ntaganda’s own bodyguards, mutilated and killed Denis Ntare Semadwinga at his home in Gisenyi. Ntare was one of the most respected members of the Congolese Tutsi community, a close political advisor to Nkunda—and had also been a member of Mobutu’s inner circle. The murder was quickly followed by the assassination of several other Nkunda loyalists: Major Antoine Balibuno, Emerita Munyashwe, Patrice Habarurema and Olivier Muhindo.

“Many among the CNDP’s original political leadership, handpicked by Nkunda, fled from Ntaganda and dispersed across the region as Kigali installed its own proxies: first Desiré Kamanzi, then, in December 2009, Philippe Gafishi. Both were relative unknowns in the Kivus and had built their careers in Rwanda. When Gafishi’s deputy tried to create a new branch of the CNDP in May 2010, he was arrested by security services in Rwanda.” (Stearns, RVI, CNDP to M23) (, p38)

To this day tensions remain within the CNDP between the pro-Nkunda wing around Sultani Mukenga and Ntaganda backed by Kigali.

As The Economist dryly puts it on the previous peace agreements, “in the past, the fighting has ended with rebels being integrated into the regular army and Mr Kabila promising to leave them alone for a few years”( (8.12.12) – left them alone, that is, so the militia commanders can make themselves extremely wealthy on control of the gold and coltan mines, timber, cattle, crops, fuel, plantations and tax rackets.

According to a ‘high ranking Congolese Army officer’ interviewed by Jason Stearns in his work for the Rift Valley Institute, the intention of the officer caste was “to integrate them, slowly wear down their chain of command, then deploy their officers elsewhere in the country,” (p39, J Stearns, From CNDP to M23, Simplicity itself, it would seem. But even this simple plan cannot withstand the staggering incompetence and blind corruption of the rich men of Kinshasa.

Naturally, what is left unspoken in the peace deal s the precise division of the spoils of the region. The bourgeois everywhere – whether of the refined type in London, Berlin and New York or of the Khartoum, Kampala or Aleppo type – have decided this on the basis of relative strength. When this relative strength shifts, a new balance of force which contradicts the previous agreement comes into play, then fighting begins again for a re-division of the loot.

The peace deal gave control of a considerable part of the fundamental lever of the state within the Kivu region – the officer corps – over to the men of the CNDP. They in turn have used these positions to cement their control of many of the trade and smuggling routes, the support of South African, Chinese and Lebanese owned mineral trading houses, the tax rackets, as well as embezzling state funds, using their command positions to register whole units of ‘ghost soldiers’ to soak up pay for non-existent men as well as stockpiling or selling on the associated military supplies and food rations. The profits turned out by this exploitation – and the unnerving regularity with which it surges not west through their hands, but east to Kigali – has not gone unnoticed by those in Kinshasa.

The fighting which has broken out, then, is a result of the Kabila clique based in Kinshasa and the officer caste around him completely bungling an attempt to break down the CNDP network, both in order to seize the smuggling, mining, tax rackets and cattle under their control, but also to throw up an external enemy at a time when the social basis of the Kabila regime is narrowing every day. This is not to say it was not an opportune moment for them – the divisions rending the ex-CNDP officers had significantly weakened the CNDP network. However, this was not the only factor. Both Rwanda and Uganda have spent significant time and resources on over two dozen militias in the eastern DRC in order to enforce and defend their interests in the region, as well as being proxies to combat the anti-Kampala and anti-Kigali militias (FDLR etc). Had they stood aside and allowed Kinshasa to break up the CNDP network everything they held in the east would be under threat, these form a significant part of the wealth of the Ugandan and Rwandan elite. A conflict between these three was inevitable and emerged on the basis of the preceding development, but nothing has been resolved – the discussions taking place under the oversight of Yoweri Museveni, one of the parties to the conflict will at best result in a temporary truce or the fighting will break out again.


Rwanda and especially Uganda are key components in the control which US imperialism tries to exert over the lives and resources of the African continent. Both countries supply soldiers to key areas for the intervention of the Americans – the coat-tails of which Canadian and British imperialism hang on to. Rwandan soldiers have been deployed to Darfur under a UN mandate (with another American ally, Ethiopia, on the border with South Sudan) and Ugandan troops form the bulk of the intervention in Somalia under an African Union mandate, along with Kenyan and Ethiopian soldiers.

The response of key figures in the Obama administration to the GoE report is telling. Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, fought hard to have all reference to Rwanda and Uganda removed from a Security Council resolution and to have the addendum detailing the actions taken by Rwanda to support M23 suppressed. The addendum to the report ( was, in the end, leaked and the results were such that the denials and objections of Paul Kagame appear childish. Despite this report detailing their involvement, however, Rwanda was granted a seat as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council! While donors like Germany and the Netherlands have cut multi-million dollar aid programs entirely, the UK delayed a £16 million tranche (out of £83 million per annum) only to be reinstated by Andrew Mitchell on his last day as head of the Department for International Development. The US cut $200,000 earmarked to fund an officer academy – this is out of a total aid budget to Rwanda of $160 million every year.

The report itself lays out Rwanda’s work in everything from staging rallies and meetings in support of M23 where accusations of attacks and killings carried out against Tutsi in the DRC are thrown around liberally along with grand speeches on the secession of the Kivus. Networks used to demobilise and repatriate FDLR soldiers – a mortal enemy of Kigali operating in the Kivus for years – into the Rwandan Army’s reserves are thrown into reverse as the same soldiers are mobilised and sent across the border in groups of between 10 and 150, along with arms and ammunition funnelled across the border and paid for by minerals traders in Rwanda out of their profits. Not only the equipment and uniforms, but even the tactics used in the fighting point to outside assistance. M23 attacks have been conducted at night – night fighting requires a degree of sophistication often alien to militias, 120mm mortars, anti-tank rounds and night vision goggles even more so. More so these are tactics the Rwandan and Ugandan militaries have been trained to use by the US military in particular.

Entire units of the Rwandan military have participated in M23 attacks. An AP article, carried by Businessweek, cited the UN GoE when reporting that four companies of Rwanda’s 305th Brigade crossed the border to engage FARDC positions at Kibumba, 30 kilometres north of Goma, to fill out an M23 operation. The attackers were repelled, only to return two days later having increased their strength to seven companies and a Special Forces unit under the command of Colonel Vincent Gatama. In addition to Rwandan soldiers, the Ugandan army was witnessed crossing the border near Busanza to take part in the attack on Bunagana. The operation to seize Goma was led by the commander of Rwanda’s western military division, General Emmanuel Ruvusha crossing to the DRC side of the border to do so in person. The attack was carried out with the support of approximately 500 men of the 73rd and 75th battalions based in Gisenyi, with Rwandan soldiers infiltrating across the border via Goma International and the back streets and alleys connecting Goma to Gisenyi. ( report assembled by the UN's 'Group of Experts' point the finger directly at the highest figures in Kigali – alleging  that the chain of command leads directly to the desk of the Chief of Defence Staff, General Charles Kayonga who in turn relays orders from minister of Defence General James Kabarebe.

UN Peacekeepers?

We might ask with reason how it is that fifteen hundred bandits can take on a standing army backed up by a UN mandated force? Almost a decade on since the first UN troops arrived in the region and not one inch of progress has been made in eradicating these militias. Almost 19,000 soldiers drawn from every corner of the globe, a budget of $1.5 billion every year, helicopter gunships, armoured personnel carriers, jeeps, tanks and aircraft along with the 170,000 strong FARDC – a formidable force surely capable of eradicating these beasts who amount to little more than extremely brutal gangsters and racketeers?

When the sheer scale of the region across which this UN force is deployed – Ituri in the north and the Kivus – this token deployment amounts to little more than an insult, and speaks 1000 decibels about how seriously the imperialist powers, under cover of the UN, take the Congo question. Let us compare the MONUC intervention to that of NATO in Kosovo and of American imperialism in Iraq. In Kosovo, at its height, NATO had 50,000 soldiers stationed in multinational battle groups with a history of working together – heavily integrated command, control and communications systems, well integrated technology of the most advanced available as well as multilingual mid and lower ranking officers, or translators at hand. More recently a specially trained Portuguese rapid response unit capable of deployment by land or air in hours and of completely independent action for days has been assigned. This was deployed across a region slightly under 11,000 square kilometres with a population of 1.7 million and the only threat a shattered Serbian military and the Kosovo Liberation Army (another pack of gangsters who were used as proxies by American imperialism).

Ever more instructive were the US aligned forces participating in the imperialist invasion of Iraq. 300,000 soldiers primarily from the USA and Britain to carry out the invasion, followed up by a 200,000 strong occupation army, plus up to 800,000 and more Iraqi paramilitary and military forces during the height of the occupation.

It is clear, then, where it suits their interests the imperialist powers are entirely capable of not only mobilising huge forces in terms of manpower and material but also of laying down infrastructure (roads, rail, hospitals, communications and airports) within a matter of days and weeks to support the deployment.

Compare this to the task facing MONUC. Soldiers drawn from dozens of countries as diverse as Denmark, Uruguay, Croatia, Nigeria, Pakistan, India, Guatemala and Bosnia with nowhere near enough translators, and with not a few of the soldiers drawn from the very dregs of the world’s population. This force of 19,000 is expected to deploy across slightly under 125,000 square kilometres from Ituri province in the north down to South Kivu in an almost entirely undeveloped corner of the globe – almost no paved roads to mobilise on, a desperate lack of aircraft or helicopters which can take days to arrive when they aren’t needing repairs – and a mandate limited to supporting the FARDC and ‘protecting’ the 14.8 million civilians in the area of operations.

The results speak for themselves. The Wall Street Journal reports:

"In 2002, in a northeastern Congo town called Kisangani, a militia killed at least 103 civilians. More than 1,000 U.N. peacekeepers, including the brigadier general in charge, were present and observed gunfire without taking action, U.N. records show.

“Survivors of other massacres in the region in 2002 and 2003 described to Human Rights Watch how soldiers under Mr. Ntaganda's command forced civilians to dig their own graves before they were roped together and killed with sledgehammers and machetes....

“The peace deal caused problems for the U.N. almost immediately. That spring, while participating in a joint operation with U.N. forces, Congolese army troops under Mr. Ntaganda's deputy command were accused of raping and killing civilians. A subsequent fact-finding mission dispatched by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon concluded that the U.N. Congo mission was "certainly compromised" in lending support to an army that had committed atrocities... ...In November 2008, the CNDP [forerunner to M23] executed more than 150 civilians in Kiwanja, less than a mile from a U.N. base, according to an investigation by Human Rights Watch.

“In recent interviews, witnesses to the massacre—identified here by their first names—recalled what CNDP soldiers had done. Kavira, 30, said soldiers stabbed to death eight of her family members and dumped their bodies in a river. Justin, 28, said soldiers shot off his right foot. Anosiate, 62, said soldiers shot her husband and dumped his body with six others in a latrine." (WSJ, 23.6.12,

As if this were not enough MONUSCO staffers have been caught red-handed directly involved in the smuggling and general corruption of the DRC. Just last year local news reported a MONUSCO driver was arrested after trying to cross the DRC-Rwanda border with 1,200 kilos of cassiterite (tin ore) in one of the UN’s signature white 4x4s, this less than a month after 10 tonnes of cassiterite was ‘found’ at the FARDC headquarters in Goma.

This is only the beginning. In Uvira, the Russian pilots of the the UN fleet have become notorious for their exploitation of women of all ages at a hotel in the town – one young woman is employed as a cleaner in the office of a high profile NGO during the day but is paid starvation wages and must sell herself to be able to buy food for her family. (

In 2008 the BBC’s Panorama revealed ( UN soldiers from the Pakistani army traded weapons for gold extracted from mines under the control of the same witch-hunting FNI, which Anglo-Ashanti did business with in Ituri province, one Pakistani officer used UN aircraft to transport negociants (local gold and mineral traders) as part of their dealings. The report went on to reveal:

...returning to eastern DR Congo, the BBC spoke to several residents of the mining town of Mongbwalu, who said they had seen the FNI re-armed. One former militant told our correspondent he had witnessed seven boxes of ammunition being brought from the UN camp to re-supply the FNI during a critical fire-fight.”

Indian soldiers traded gold and drugs with the FDLR – using UN helicopters to fly ammunition into Virunga national park in exchange for Ivory. Since the beginning of the UN mission to the Congo one scandal after another has emerged of soldiers from different contingents being investigated for rape, sexual assault against both young women and children. (; http:// In 2008, 100 Indian soldiers were subject to an investigation (read whitewash) for running a child prostitution ring. The abuses perpetrated by the Uruguayan contingent were so widespread that the entire contingent was withdrawn from MONUC. Uruguayan soldiers were again brought up on charges of the rape of a young man in Haiti when serving as part of the UN mission there.


It took approximately two to three thousand years of wars, revolution and counter-revolution for property relations in western Europe to mature into bourgeois property today. This in its turn has long outlived its progressive role and has well and truly begun to rot in the head. For the eastern DRC class differentiation and property relations developed at a much slower tempo than in many other parts of the world, particularly Europe. Today these property relations are a colossal fetter on the productive forces. Unless they are overthrown, that is unless capitalism is overthrown by the socialist revolution, they threaten to drag humanity backwards.

In the eastern regions of the DRC, those property forms which have begun to degenerate had only begun to be forcibly implanted since the middle of the 20th century. What took over a thousand years in Europe – a bloody affair in itself – has been telescoped into the space of forty or fifty years. This violent transition from often primitive communist relations into the epoch of capitalism’s degenerate, imperialist decay has thrown forward the most barbarous elements, exterminating over 6 million people in the 1998-2003 war alone, through disease, starvation and massacres and displacing millions more.

At its most fundamental level, the extreme and horrifying nature of the violence in the eastern Congo is an expression of combined and uneven development. To emphasise this contradiction, it is absurd that one of the metals, tantalum, dragged from the bowels of the earth by pick, shovel and bare hands – by both adult and child – is a vital component in the construction of the high technology manufactured under capitalism – from mobile phones to military jets, right up to a semi-autonomous probe, NASA’s Curiosity Rover, hurled by humanity beyond earth at another planet. The contradiction between the world market and capitalist property relations on the one hand and the belated development of class differentiation and property relations on the other, lends a particularly barbarous edge to the introduction of capitalism in this corner of the planet.

The bloody mayhem of the eastern DRC is, finally, a result of the long delayed socialist revolution in the advanced capitalist nations. If this insane slaughterhouse is to be brought to an end only the merciless crushing of the power of the bourgeois, the power of the imperialist corporations, by the socialist revolution in Europe, North America and Africa will suffice. This is a question, in Trotsky’s words, of blood and iron – if this is to end, capitalism must burn.