Makenga: ‘In Brief, My Life Is War’

Makenga: ‘In Brief, My Life Is War’
  • PublishedFebruary 15, 2013

The M23 rebel leader in DRCongo, Brigadier-General Sultani Emmanuel Makenga, says he wants peace but if the Kampala peace talks between his group and the Congolese government fail, “the only option we have is to fight till the last man”. Richard Mgamba went to the M23 stronghold, 20km out of Goma, to interview Brig-Gen Makenga, who kept repeating that they are fighting to bring peace, unity and good governance to DRCongo, and they want the return of all Congolese refugees to their homes.

Q What are your expectations for the Kampala peace talks between the Congolese government and the M23? What if your expectations are not met?

So far the talks are going at a very slow pace, because nothing tangible has come out of it since the process started some weeks ago. We have made our expectations and conditions very clear, but if they aren’t met, we shall resume fighting until we achieve them.

It should be noted that I am committed to peace, but if we are pushed to achieve peace through the gun, then we are ready for that because this struggle has been my life for the past 22 years. We strongly believe in peace, and respect the international community. That’s why we have pulled out of Goma and stopped fighting.

But from what I hear from my team in Kampala, it seems the talks may be stalled because our colleagues from the Kinshasa regime are not ready. I hope that they fully understand the importance of peace and therefore they won’t be playing delaying tactics, waiting for the Southern Africa armed forces [the SADC intervention forces] to be deployed in Congo.

 Q You have been fighting for 22 years and it seems you are still determined to fight on. What are you trying to achieve? Do you really believe in peace as you claim?

First of all, you should know that I believe in peace and that’s why I have pulled out my troops from Goma. But peace is not a gift that you are given on a silver plate, it’s something you have to sacrifice a lot, including your life, to achieve, protect and defend at any cost. I have been fighting all these years because we want peace and stability for our people and our country, but if we can’t achieve our goal through mediation, we are ready to fight till the last man.

 My fight is against injustice brought by the Kinshasa regime, which has become a stooge of the Western powers who dictate the terms of how the country should be managed. I joined this struggle 22 years ago, when I was a small boy aged 17. I first fought against Habyarimana’s regime in Rwanda that wanted to kill all Tutsis. I was a member of the Rwandan Patriotic Front. I joined the organisation in 1990 in Uganda because I didn’t like the Habyarimana regime as well as the Mobutu rule.

 Q What happened after the war in Rwanda?

When the war ended in Rwanda, I decided to fight for my country, Democratic Republic of Congo. I relocated from Rwanda to Burundi, and that’s where I met Mzee [Laurent] Kabila. Mzee and I shared the same goal, to liberate Congo from the brutal, corrupt leadership of Mobutu, which had almost destroyed the country. That was 1996 when we launched the liberation struggle for Congo with Mzee Kabila.

At that time, all of us Congolese fought for the same goal. But when we won the war, we were branded Banyamulenge – a group of Tutsi that is disobedient. We were called foreigners by the same man we had supported, and then told to return to Rwanda where we belonged.
This was very painful.

I was born in Congo, grew up in Congo, then went to Uganda to join the army in order to fight against the then Rwandese regime that wanted to eliminate all Tutsis, hoping that one day we could also initiate a similar struggle to liberate our country, Congo, from the brutal leadership of Mobutu. You help someone to become president through the gun, but when he tastes power, you become his first victim.

Mzee Kabila was a politician, while I am not. I am a soldier, and the language that I know is that of the gun. My home has been in the bush, fighting injustice and corrupt regimes in this region. Therefore when a politician wants to play politics with me, my response won’t be the political podium but the barrel of the gun because, that’s my way of fighting for my rights.

I believe that I am fighting for the right reason: to bring peace, unity, good governance and all Congolese who have been refugees for years, including my parents, back to their country. I strongly disagreed with Mzee Kabila, so we fell out. My colleagues and I decided to fight his regime after he betrayed us.

We formed a party called the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) to fight the Kinshasa regime. When Kabila was assassinated by his bodyguard, his son took over, but unfortunately he also developed the same mentality of seeing us as foreigners and troublemakers from Rwanda, forgetting that he himself comes from Tanzania, and there are many Congolese who doubt his citizenship.

Finally, after fighting for some years, there was a peace deal, which we signed on 23 March 2009 in Nairobi, Kenya. This deal had some conditions attached to it, including the implementation period. Some of us were integrated in the most corrupt, ineffective, and ill-disciplined Congolese national army, the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC).

We agreed that all Congolese refugees, including our parents, should be allowed to return and settle peacefully. We agreed that the working conditions within the army should be improved. We agreed that the government should fight corruption, starting from the top levels instead of dealing with petty corruption. We agreed that good governance should be established, and many more conditions.

When we reminded the Kinshasa regime about fulfilling these conditions, we became enemies of the state. The biggest problem with President Joseph Kabila is that he doesn’t want to be told the truth. When you tell him the truth, you become the enemy. I told him that he had no army… what
he has is a group of people calling themselves soldiers but who lack morale, discipline, and training. Imagine a country with more than 150,000 soldiers, plus another 17,000 UN peace forces (MONUSCO), but we can still capture Goma any time we want.

We want a united, peaceful and stable Congo. We want the return of all Congolese refugees, and we want all parties involved in Congo to be allowed to discuss and determine the future of our country. The UN and Africa Union can’t tell us how we should govern our country. We need a new Congo with a true and committed national army, well paid, well trained, and well disciplined, that will protect our country.

Are you aware that under the Kabila regimes (both Mzee’s and Joseph’s), Congo has produced more rebel factions that it did during Mobutu’s era? Are you aware that the largest UN peacekeeping force in the world is in Congo? But still under its watch, and under the watch of government forces, a Hutu rebel faction, the FDLR, and others have raped women and children, and killed with impunity?

 Q You are accused of using child soldiers before and during the capture of Goma. What is your response?

I’m not using children as soldiers. How can children defeat an army of 20,000 adults? This is international propaganda done by the Kinshasa regime and its allies, including Human Rights Watch, against our struggle. We took Goma in a daylight fight, and there were no children fighting on our side.
A few weeks after we captured Goma, I heard these baseless allegations about child soldiers, but no one has shown the alleged children recruited by the M23. You have visited our stronghold, where we are right now is our training base, have you seen any child soldier here?

I am appalled by the way highly educated and powerful men around the world are duped by being fed lies. The propagandists first claimed that we were helped by Rwandan soldiers, but no one gave the evidence. A few days later, they came up with the baseless allegations of child soldiers. The Kinshasa regime has managed to lie to the international community.

I’m calling on the international community to constitute an independent investigative panel, which should include credible Africans, to investigate these claims instead of relying on propaganda from Kinshasa.

 Q How big is your army?

I defected from the Congolese army with 250 soldiers, and today through the support we receive from the people who are tired with Kabila’s leadership, we have 10 brigades with thousands of trained fighters. We have established a training base here. Our strength is commitment, sacrifice, discipline, and the people who support us morally in our struggle.

In fighting for 22 years, I have learnt that it is not the size of the army that counts, but the discipline, training, commitment, and above all better leadership. If size matters, then the Congolese national army should not be struggling for all these years. They have about 150,000 soldiers backed by MONUSCO.

 Q But the international community believes that you are backed by Rwanda and partly Uganda. Do you deny this claim?

My biggest sin is having had a history of fighting in Rwanda under the Rwandese Patriotic Front, and secondly being a Tutsi. Because of that, I have become a target of being a Rwandese stooge. I am not that much educated, but I can assure you that the so-called Group of UN Experts [who investigated the fighting in DRCongo] is biased, working to fulfill the needs of those who sent them, instead of seeking a balanced truth that can help heal the wounds in DRCongo.

The truth is that I have been receiving strong support from the Congolese national army, and also from some government officials in Kinshasa who are not satisfied with the way things have turned out under President Kabila. When the Kinshasa government buys new weapons, I also get a share of it through my own contacts within the Congolese national army. General Hamis’ case is just a tip of the iceberg… there is more than that. The Congolese army is the most corrupt, weak, divided in the world; and remember it was formed by former rebel fighters from different backgrounds.

[A UN panel of experts report released late last year revealed that top Congolese army officers were behind the exploitation of “conflict minerals”. General Gabriel Hamis Nkumba, the then second in command of the Congolese army, was specifically named by the UN report to be at the centre of the illegal exploitation of minerals fuelling the conflict in the east of the country. The report quoted President Kabila as publicly recognising that “the involvement of criminal networks within his forces, the FARDC, in illegal exploitation of minerals has caused conflict of interest in the army’s constitutional mandate”].

Let the world demand more evidence of our so-called wrongdoing than just phone-call records, and testimonies from defectors who have been paid to say what their masters want. Don’t I communicate with people or friends? I do. Today I’m in good contact with President Kabila, but does that mean he supports us? Ask those who have fought with me, I am a man who knows the guerilla war and who is ready to fight with anyone. Those who think I am funded by Rwanda or Uganda have their agenda to drive, which differs sharply from my motive in this struggle.

We are also supported by the Congolese people who share our beliefs and motives. The Congolese are tired … they want peace, stability and a better life. Look at this arable land in Goma, why can’t this area be turned into Africa’s agribusiness zone? But with this dilapidated infrastructure, the people of this area have remained trapped in a chain of poverty. People talk about Congo’s vast wealth, mainly minerals and timber, but in reality they are wrong because the Congolese people are very poor. It doesn’t help the Congolese to say their country is the richest in the world, while in reality they have no roads, hospitals, schools and suffer dreadful living conditions.

You have seen for yourself how we are supported by the villagers in this area, contrary to the international reports that we have dispersed or disrupted villagers. We are surrounded by villagers all the way, you have seen people going on with their activities as usual. Our soldiers interact with villagers, and they are supported by the villagers because the people are tired with the Kinshasa regime.

 Q Can you briefly share your history as a fighter?

I was born on 25 December 1973 in Masisi, in DRCongo, but I grew up in Rutshuru territory. I come from the Mugogwe sub-ethnic group of the Tutsi community. I dropped out of school and decided to travel to Uganda where I underwent military training for six months, before joining the Rwandan Patriotic Front  (RPF) in October 1990.

During my service in the Rwandan army, I rose to the rank of sergeant
and deputy platoon commander. After the Rwandan war, I went to Burundi
where I met Laurent Kabila, the Mzee. We agreed to fight together after he got strong recommendations from my seniors in the Rwandan army. I fought alongside the Nguruma battalion, which was managed by the Rwandan army under James Kabarebe.

As I said earlier, after we ousted Mobutu, Mzee Kabila changed his position against us, saying all foreigners who fought the war, including us, should leave the country because we were not Congolese. We fell apart and decided that we were going nowhere because Congo was, and still is, our home, which we are ready to die fighting for.

In brief, my life is war, my education is war, and my language is war. But I do respect peace and the call from international community. That’s why we signed the 23 March 2009 peace accord brokered in Nairobi.

 Q   Do you have a family? How do you feel being far away from your family as a father?

My parents have been refugees for many years now. I was married in 2009 and have been blessed with two children. Before that, I had a child, a daughter, who is now nine years old. I don’t live with my family here, but we are together in spirit. I’m fighting so that one day they will have a better future in this country. It’s hard, very tough, considering that my kids are very young, between one and two years old.

The last time I saw my family was seven months ago, though I am in touch with my wife. I have never seen my parents for the past 15 years, and this is very painful. However, since this is the path I have chosen to follow in search of a peaceful, stable, and prosperous Congo, I am willing to sacrifice everything.

 Q  It is alleged that some of you are just forming these rebel factions to get money from the Kinshasa government. Is that true?

There are those who have a lust for wealth and who are willing to be bought. However, I didn’t start this struggle to achieve wealth. If I wanted wealth, I would have got millions of dollars from President Joseph Kabila, but I refused. He offered me two million United States dollars plus two mansions in Goma and Kisangani, but I refused them because that’s not why I have fought for 22 years.  

 Q  Is it true that you talk to President Kabila?

Of course, it’s absolutely true. I can call President Kabila right now, and you will hear his story that I call him. We used to talk but in recent days he hasn’t phoned me, and I have also kept quiet. If I want to talk to him, it’s just a matter of seconds, but the problem is that he doesn’t want the truth. He wants those who tell him what he likes.

 Q What’s your final word?

My final word is peace. I want peace, my people want peace. No one is born to fight a war till his last day on earth, but people are forced by circumstances that surround them to start a fight. I shouldn’t be seen as a man who doesn’t want peace. I have a heart, a family, and people I care about. But as I said earlier, if the Kampala peace talks fail, the only option we have is to fight till the last man.

Written By
New African

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