Humanitarian Truce Begins Between the M23 and the DRC

Sébastien Gray
Sébastien Gray
Sébastien is a published journalist and historicist with over six years of experience in freelance journalism and research. His primary expertise is in African conflict and politics, with additional specialization in Israeli/Palestinian and Armenia/Azerbaijan conflicts. Sébastien serves as the deputy desk chief for Africa.

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As of midnight local time today, a ‘humanitarian truce’ has begun between the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the DRC’s M23 rebels. The truce is to last for a minimum of two weeks and allow aid to reach the beleaguered populations of the eastern DRC Province of North Kivu.

Details of the Truce

The truce, referred to as a “humanitarian truce,” was brokered by the US, which announced it yesterday. The truce is only supposed to apply between the DRC and the M23, meaning fighting is likely to continue between the DRC and the many other armed groups operating in the eastern DRC.

As mentioned, the truce is set to last two weeks, from July 5th to July 19th, though the US, EU, and UN have expressed hopes for it to extend beyond that and become a more permanent ceasefire.

Amidst the truce, aid is expected to reach people in need, of whom there are many. North Kivu itself has approximately 2.8 million internally displaced people (IDPs). An additional hope is that some of those displaced, a significant portion of whom have taken shelter in and around the North Kivu Provincial capital of Goma, may be able to return home with the pause in fighting. However, it is unclear how many people may actually return home under the temporary truce.

Notably, the truce has not yet been officially acknowledged by either the DRC or the M23. However, the US did state in its announcement that it was supported by both the DRC and Rwanda, which allegedly backs the M23 rebels.

The truce is reported to be holding thus far, producing a comparative calm over many areas of North Kivu.

The Possibility of Extension

The successful establishment of a ceasefire is being accompanied by hopes that it will lead to something greater, whether it be an extension or a permanent ceasefire between the DRC and the M23, the greatest source of insecurity in the eastern DRC.

Though many are hopeful for an extension, it is, unfortunately, unlikely to happen. Numerous ceasefires have been established between the DRC and several of the 120 different armed groups that operate in North and South Kivu, as well as Ituri, including several with the M23. However, none have held.

The most recent of such ceasefires was established in December. Also brokered by the US, the ceasefire produced a month of peace between the DRC and the M23, before it was broken by the DRC who began an offensive against the M23 with their allies from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in mid-January.

Fighting began and has continued up until the ceasefire that came into effect this morning.

Within the EU’s statement welcoming the announcement of the ceasefire, the EU espoused hopes it would allow for a return to the Nairobi and Luanda peace processes, which were first established in 2022.

The two processes were parallel peace processes. The primary purpose of the Luanda process was to de-escalate tensions between Rwanda and the DRC, which had been threatening to boil over into war. Rwanda accused the DRC of shelling its territory on several occasions, and the DRC accused Rwanda of supporting the M23. The Nairobi process sought to establish peace processes regarding the DRC’s armed groups.

The processes established a roadmap for cooperation between Rwanda and the DRC and several means to de-escalate tensions, as well as called for armed groups in the eastern DRC, including the M23 and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR)—a militant organization based in the eastern DRC that, in its origin, was formed primarily out of former genocidaires from the Rwandan genocide—to disarm.

The two processes were the basis for the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) deployment in 2023. The EACRF deployment was meant to oversee the withdrawal of the M23 from a number of different areas according to peace processes established in their roadmaps, as well as for the EACRF to assist the DRC in combatting a number of different armed groups, including the M23 if necessary.

A member of Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) reacts after the flag presentation of the troops under the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF), ahead of their deployment to the Peace and Security mission in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, at the Embakasi garrison in Nairobi, Kenya November 2, 2022 (Photo from REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya).

However, the DRC refused to renew the EACRF’s mandate into 2024 as the EACRF took a more passive role than the DRC was hoping for. The EACRF primarily ended up merely occupying areas that the M23 withdrew from rather than directly combatting them as the DRC demanded. The EACRF’s mandate was not renewed, and now the SADC has taken their place.

Over time, the Nairobi and Luanda processes have both broken down. Escalations continue between the DRC’s armed groups, and the flame of tensions between Rwanda and the DRC continues to burn ever hotter. Tensions reached a peak prior to DRC President Tshisekedi’s re-election in December, when he threatened to declare war upon Rwanda if their support for the M23 continued.

“I’ve had enough of invasions and M23 rebels backed by Kigali. If you re-elect me and Rwanda persists … I will request parliament and Congress to authorise a declaration of war. We will march on Kigali. Tell Kagame those days of playing games with Congolese leaders are over.” – President Felix Tshisekedi, prior to his victory in the December 20th election

DRC President Felix Tshisekedi at his inauguration in Kinshasa, DRC, on January 20th, 2024 (Photo from presidence.cd).

Following Tshisekedi’s election he walked back on this statement, instead saying he would “give peace a chance.” Tshisekedi and Rwandan President Paul Kagame have agreed to meet face-to-face in order to discuss tensions and regional issues in a meeting that is to be mediated by Angolan President Joao Lourenco in Luanda. Both sides agreed to the meeting in March, however, it has yet to take place, and no date has been set.

As such, tensions remain high between Rwanda and the DRC.