The brazen takeover of the city of Goma by the rebel group M-23 is a disastrous return to uncertainty for the people of the eastern Congo, who have endured violence at the hands of squabbling militias for nearly two decades. Although little bloodshed has been reported in Goma — Congolese soldiers fled without much of a fight — the rebel victory is the clearest sign yet that the region’s fragile peace has unraveled. The international community should do some serious soul-searching about whether it makes sense to spend $1.4 billion a year on peacekeepers who failed to protect the city. Peacekeepers are only effective when there is a peace to keep.
What’s needed now are negotiations among the players behind this violence, and clarity about what it would take to change their behavior. It is an open secret that neighboring Rwanda and, to a lesser extent, Uganda, are supporting M-23 with weapons, funding, and recruits.
In recent months, international pressure has mounted on Rwanda and Uganda to cease their support for M-23, which controls territory rich in lucrative minerals and metals. Rwanda and Uganda deny such support, but a United Nations panel of experts recently concluded that the rebel group takes orders from Rwanda’s minister of defense.
Despite facing such criticisms, Rwandan president Paul Kagame — a brilliant strategist known for taking calculated risks — appears to have doubled down on his bet in Congo. But now that M-23 controls Goma, the world has no choice but to demand that Kagame restrain the group. Some two million people are believed to have been displaced in the current round of fighting. International donors who pay for the refugee camps should consider taking some of the money out of funds earmarked for Rwanda.