If you have been reading about eastern Congo lately, one name has been stealing headlines: M23. In a dramatic show of force, the Rwanda-supported rebel militia group led by ICC indictee Bosco Ntaganda took control of strategically important Goma in mid- November and then earned a place at the ongoing peace talks in Kampala by ending their 11-day occupation earlier this week.
However, focusing on the M23 belies the complexity of the highly militarized politics of eastern Congo. Currently, a kaleidoscope of armed groups control swathes of territory across the Kivus. According to a new report from Oxfam, over 25 armed militia groups operating in eastern Congo have made communities in the region the latest "commodities of war."
Drawing on hundreds of interviews and focus group discussions with affected populations across the Kivus, Oxfam concludes that "government soldiers, armed rebels, police, and civilian authorities are all vying for the right to exploit local communities and extort money or goods from them, pushing people further into poverty and undermining their efforts to earn a living."
Since many areas frequently change hands between state and militia control, respondents complained of paying bribes and fees to both sets of armed actors to ensure their protection and continued access to their fields. The report quotes a woman from Fizi explaining, "when [government] troops arrive, there is a complete change in the area. People are ...[view whole blog post ]