DR Congo. What do the M23 rebels want?

This morning I read that the M23 rebels are in the process of withdrawing from Goma. It’s a start.

There is an expectation that negotiations between the Government of the DR Congo and M23 are up next. We have to know what M23 wants in order to successfully negotiate the dissolution of M23, and to determine whether a negotiated settlement is even feasible.

The evidence seems to indicate that M23 does not have any clear goal, and that its changing demands are not a reflection of the evolving situation, but rather are a reflection of M23’s lack of purpose.


The M23 rebel leadership regularly issues press releases, holds open press conferences, negotiates face-to-face with government representatives, and posts up to date information on their website. Congo analysts analyze and reporters report on the crisis on an hour by hour basis.

And still, it is not clear what M23 wants.


On May 4, Jason Stearns reports that mutineer leaders say they have withdrawn from the Congolese military because the terms of the March 23, 2009 peace accord have not been fulfilled. Specially:

  • Repatriation of the Congolese Tutsi refugees from Rwanda, and
  • The “obvious failure of the integration of elements of political-military movements into the Congolese armed forces”.

These reasons for mutiny come as a surprise as the issues had not been substantially voiced previously by the CNDP political party.

Mutiny is generally not the best starting point for negotiations.

On May 7, the mutineers introduce themselves as the March 23 Movement and demand that the DRC Government re-negotiate the March 23, 2009. Now they say they were “mistreated” while in the Congolese Army, and specifically cite: the lack of food, lack of pay, and lack of ammunition.

Fast forward….

Nov 21. Unify and liberate the country by taking Kinshasa.  (Hurts my head to think about the logic around creating a rebel group to splinter a country and then promise to unify it by conquering the whole country.)

Nov 27. Negotiations will no longer be about the March 23, 2009 agreement, but rather about the “root causes of the issue.”

Nov 28. Yesterday’s new demands:

  1. Free Etienne Tshisekedi and other political prisoners
  2. Initiate a neutral international investigation into the attempted assassination of Dr Mukwege
  3. Order the arrest of the General John Numbi
  4. Arrest officers who are accomplices of General Amissi
  5. Declare a ceasefire with M23 (the Congolese Revolutionary Army)
  6. Fix a date for negotiations among the M23, Congolese opposition, civil society and Congolese diaspora of West.

Even if Rwanda is the mastermind behind M23, as is widely believed, the demands made by M23 since its inception strongly indicate that they themselves do not have any clear goal and do not know what they want.

Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that the “Agenda” and “Our Ideas” pages on M23’s website are blank??


If M23 doesn’t have a true objective to negotiate towards, then negotiations won’t be successful, and the short-term outcome will be another armed rebel group marauding in eastern Congo. The long-term outcome… anyone’s guess at this point.


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