Protests against the M23 spread to South Kivu province on Wednesday as thousands of residents took to the streets in Bukavu to vent their fury after the fall of Goma to the rebels on Tuesday.
The protesters, many of them students, attacked buildings used by the United Nations mission in DR Congo, known as MONUSCO, whose peacekeepers they accuse of letting the M23 march into Goma unopposed after saying for months they would not let the city fall into the rebels’ hands.
A resident told Radio France Internationale (RFI) during the protest that “we are heading straight to MONUSCO to tell them that if they don’t want to protect the Congolese population, they should leave. And we are going to take care of ourselves because we are tired.”(Audio)
Another resident told RFI that “people have had enough. People have kept these feelings inside them and now, today they are exploding.”
The anger also turned toward President Joseph Kabila’s PPRD political party headquarters and security forces. Tires were burned along some streets to keep police vehicles away as some government and PPRD were attacked.
The protests in Bukavu mirror those that took place on Tuesday in Kisangani and Bunia in which the M23, the PPRD and MONUSCO were the targets.
The M23 rebels have said that Bukavu, a bigger city than Goma and the capital city of South Kivu province, is their next target.
Other protests are being planned across the country and abroad. In Bruxelles, Belgium, protesters occupied the Congolese embassy on Wednesday to protest the government’s inability to stop the M23 rebellion.
President Kabila, who has been in office since 2001, is increasingly seen as incapable of solving the security problems that have plagued eastern Congo since the late nineties. The same is true for MONUSCO, which has been in the country since 1999.
But, as much as Mr. Kabila’s leadership has once again been put into question by the latest unrest, the M23 rebels are far more unpopular. The vast majority of Congolese see them as nothing more than an extension of the Rwandan army used to assert control over eastern Congo and its vast mineral resources.
Human Rights groups have documented how the M23 has relied on forced recruitments to boost its ranks in the areas it controls. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled towns and villages as the rebels were approaching. Those who stay and resist are summarily executed.
The M23 rebels claim they want to “liberate” DR Congo. The problem is, as much as the Congolese may not like their current leaders, they don’t consider the M23 rebels as liberators but rather as invaders.