The DRC government may be short on good governance practices, short of strategy to end the endemic wars and short of a professional military to pacify its territory of a cocktail of militias but they are well endowed when it comes to propaganda and manipulation.
We may have gotten used to Minister Lambert Mende’s gimmicks almost similar to Saddam Hussein’s Minister of Information Shafiq during the American invasion of Iraq a decade ago or endless false accusations against the Government of Rwanda or President Kabila’s sporadic regional trips in search of long forgotten friends to provide troops and weapons to fight his own internal wars.
Nobody would have known or even guessed however that President Kabila and his intelligence service were smart enough to organise demonstrations using the population in order to pressurise Monusco which was at first reluctant to fight M23, refusing to get sucked into local conflicts.
Kinshasa’s objectives are slowly being realised after they were able to ‘convince’ some members of SADC that their security problems emanate from outside instead of inside their borders and now Malawi, Tanzania and South Africa are fighting Congolese local wars.
Monusco has also finally given in to Kinshasa’s manipulation and is now fully engaged with M23 kinetically and already getting causalities, both armed and innocent civilians, on their hands and conscience.
To a casual observer, the recent demonstration in Goma appeared as a normal demonstration by the population without associating it to the government.
But at a closer look, it was discovered later that the demonstrators conspicuously included the Lord Mayor of Goma and DRC policemen.
The mayor personally led demonstrators who included police personnel and civilians into the streets, following the death of civilians in the recent fighting between government forces and M23 rebels.
Monusco (Intervention Brigade) is reported to have fired in the direction of the rebels also causing injury and death to civilians according to media reports.
The demonstrators in Goma had a shocking and unusual style of showing their anger. They carried a dead body of a resident who had been killed in the exchange of artillery between the Intervention Brigade and M23.
The demonstrations took Monusco by surprise since they believed that their presence was welcome and to the advantage of the Kinshasa government but probably never suspected Kinshasa’s hand in the demonstrations.
It goes without saying that the Lord Mayor led the demonstrations on orders from Kinshasa otherwise he would have been locked up for holding illegal demonstrations that go against the interests of his government.
This was clearly a psychological operation aimed at working up the emotions of the peacekeepers and the international community at large and it succeeded.
Within a day Monusco commanders, together with DRC government officials, were addressing Goma residents trying to prove to them that Monusco was a friend and not a foe.
The DRC chief of intelligence must have cheerfully thumped his chest, congratulating himself over “mission accompli” thus earning himself reputation and more resources for his psychological operations.
Nevertheless, for those who know DRC’s problems better, the chest thumping by Kinshasa might not last long. When UN approved the deployment of the Intervention Brigade, the Kinshasa establishment falsely believed that this was the final blow to the M23 rebels.
The Kampala talks between the government and the rebels were deliberately ignored by the Kabila side, hoping that in a few days, the M23 rebels would be history. This scenario did not happen and is most likely not going to happen any time soon.
It is possible that a rebel group called M23 may be defeated with the help of the Intervention Brigade, but as long as the fundamental issues and grievances that led to the creation of dozens of rebel groups in Eastern DRC are not addressed, then some other rebel group with a different name, say K24 or Congo Liberation Movement (CLM), will definitely surface again.
The focus of the Intervention Brigade to deal with only M23 ignoring a more deadly group, the FDLR, is an indication that the UN force is not likely to succeed in its assignment of ending the chronic instability in Eastern DRC and the UN should, therefore, brace itself for a very long stay in Eastern DRC.
As fighting resumed, pitting the M23 against the TPDF of Tanzania, FARDC and FDLR, more human rights abuses have been reported against Kinyarwanda speaking Congolese and the UN sponsored Radio Okapi has not condemned such abuses, which include distribution of machetes at road blocks to kill any suspected “Rwandan”, and the looting of their businesses.
One wishes that the demonstrations against Monusco were probably an indication that Kinshasa authorities may be waking up to the reality that the problem of rebellions in their country will not be solved by the Intervention Brigade fighting on their side but unfortunately this is not the case.
A number of regional forces larger and stronger than the UN Brigade fought along side FARDC before but never succeeded in ending the wars. The Congo problem is a political one which must be solved through political means and not through military might.
The DRC authorities should fully embrace the ICGLR mechanism and also return to the Kampala peace negotiations in order to reach a lasting solution to the conflict.
The International Brigade could do much better by dealing with FDLR first since the question of M23 was already being discussed in Kampala and close to a political solution; a process that has been undermined by divergent interests among the major players.
The machinations, manipulations and lies may provide Kinshasa with moments for chest thumping but will not end the endemic rebellions.
The writer is a researcher and analyst