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Kabila’s dilemma grows as M23 rebels gain ground, capture Goma

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Congolese flee the town of Sake, west of Goma, following fresh fighting in the eastern DRC town on November 21, 2012.  Photo/AFP

Congolese flee the town of Sake, west of Goma, following fresh fighting in the eastern DRC town on November 21, 2012. Photo/AFP 

By GAAKI KIGAMBO The EastAfrican

Posted  Saturday, November 24  2012 at  14:57

In Summary

  • To survive politically President Kabila will have to break ranks with the so-called Mobutuists around him who hold him hostage.
  • Kabila needs to rebuild confidence among M23 and resume the military reforms he had started at the beginning of the year that were intended to bring all rank and file within the Congolese army, regardless of their background, under his absolute command as the Commander-in-Chief.
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The capture of Goma, the capital of North Kivu in eastern DR Congo, by M23 rebels — and their continued push northwards — has put President Kabila in a precarious situation and deepened the discontent that has dogged his presidency, especially since last November’s deeply flawed elections.

Whether he eventually caves in to direct talks that the rebels have repeatedly demanded or sticks with Kinshasa’s political class, which is totally opposed to the idea, Kabila is trapped in a no-win situation.

Political leaders too — especially in the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), the East Africa Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) — face a seeming crisis of indecision as the situation in DRC deteriorates.

Presidents from the Great Lakes Region were expected to meet in Kampala on Saturday November 24 for a crisis summit to discuss the situation in eastern DRC, where the rebels have captured Goma and the nearby towns and vowed to press on with their offensive to take the South Kivu provincial capital of Bukavu, which lies 300 kilometres to the south of Goma.

On Thursday, Tanzania’s Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation Minister Bernard Membe said the country was ready to send troops into the DRC to fight M23 rebels who are making advances on the capital Kinshasa. But such an intervention would have to wait for the United Nations-mandated SADC, of which Tanzania is a member, to deploy troops.

After the August ICGLR summit in Kampala, Tanzania pledged to send one battalion under the SADC umbrella to fight the rebels.

A battalion comprises between 700 and 800 soldiers. Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete is said to have talked to his counterparts Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Kabila over the past two weeks on the current crisis.

Meanwhile, Kabila, to survive politically, will have to break ranks with the so-called Mobutuists around him who hold him hostage, and agree to M23’s demands — which essentially are semi-autonomous control of the Kivus, at least for now, which they had been granted under the March 29, 2009 agreement.

But that can only come after calm returns; the current storm directly threatens President Kabila’s hold on power.

Kabila needs to rebuild confidence among M23 and resume the military reforms he had started at the beginning of the year that were intended to bring all rank and file within the Congolese army, regardless of their background, under his absolute command as the Commander-in-Chief.

The M23 rebels formerly belonged to the National Congress for the Defence of the People, which integrated into the government in 2009 following the March 23 agreement, out of which they crafted their name after accusing Kinshasa of dishonouring it.

Neutral force
Although President Kabila seemed to indicate willingness to talk to his former soldiers and allies when he dashed to Kampala on November 21 to solicit help from President Museveni and President Kagame, he ducked the question when it was directly put to him.

He insisted there was a regional plan that the ICGLR, which has been mediating the conflict since April, had mooted on how to engage the rebels.

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