M23, a group that defected from the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) has taken over Goma. Goma, the second largest city in the DRC is in the eastern region of the country and borders Rwanda. Ethic tensions between the Hutu majority and Tusti minority, a hierarchy imposed under colonial rule and fueling the 1994 genocide, continue to run high.
M23 is just eight moths old, having separated from the FARDC national army on April 4 2012, claiming unequal wages and unfair treatment. M23 is mostly made up of the Tutsi minority. Reports from the UN and other human rights organizations, including Global Witness, however, say that M23 is funded by the Rwandan government across the border, a small but militarily competent country, fighting for a greater share of its neighbors’ mineral riches. The borders between the DRC and Rwanda were drawn in 1885 in Berlin.
The UN has thousands of peacekeeping forces in the DRC. It says a mandate does not allow them to engage in fighting on the ground and so did little to halt the rebel advance into Goma, much to the outrage of many in the nation and around the globe.
Early Tuesday morning in East Africa, M23 ignored the deadline imposed by mediators from the International Council of the Great Lakes Region, demanding the group leave Goma by midnight. It should be noted, however, that the International Council is hardly an un-biased group, comprised mostly of Rwandans and Ugandans, who stand to back M23 should the national FARDC attempt to take back Goma.
These movements have sparked the beginning of a humanitarian crisis. Tens of thousands have fled Goma for refugee camps, fearing a war between the FARDC and the rebels. Hospitals are already over-flowing. At many aid sites one bathroom serves literally thousands of people, creating appalling conditions, ripe for disease. More than bombs and bullets, displacement is the greatest killer during conflict. Civilians are impacted by the conditions caused by forced migration and homelessness, including malnutrition and preventable illnesses.
Relief organizations struggle to bring in necessary supplies, and food prices for those still in the city have risen dramatically. Flour has gone up by half its original cost, significant for a country whose population lives on less than a dollar a day. The DRC is one of a few countries around the world with protracted humanitarian crises caused by internal conflict, creating a constant flow of displaced people, and spreading cynicism through the relief workers.
These many generation and century-long conflicts in Sub-Saharan Africa in general, and in the DRC in particular, speak to a fundamental flaw in the process of nation building. The international community should involve itself by first providing the developmental support needed to jump start autonomous internal dialogue.