Thousands of people demonstrated Monday in Goma, the commercial hub in eastern DR Congo, to protest the perceived inaction of an East African military force against the M23 rebel insurgency, according to an AFP reporter in the city.
The M23, a Tutsi-led group, has captured large swathes of territory in the North Kivu province, recently coming to within a few miles of Goma and its one million residents.
To aid the Democratic Republic of Congo’s authorities, leaders of the seven-nation East African Community (EAC) approved the deployment of a military force to combat the rebels, with the first troops arriving in Goma last November.
But the initial hopes of many Congolese have been frustrated as M23 fighters continued their advance.
On Monday, demonstrators erected barricades in several areas across Goma to protest the EAC force, with some looting shops and torching tyres.
“The regional force of the EAC came to fight, but that is not what we see,” said Sankara Bin Kartumwa, a member of Lucha, an activist group.
North Kivu’s military governor, Lieutenant-General Constant Ndima, appeared on the streets himself in a bid to defuse tensions, with protesters questioning him on the role of the EAC force as well as peacekeepers from the UN mission in the DRC, known as MONUSCO.
“We have the same problem, you understand? But I ask you not to barricade the road,” Ndima told one protester in an exchange seen by an AFP reporter.
EAC leaders gathered for a summit meeting in Burundi on Saturday urged an immediate ceasefire in eastern DRC.
The Congolese government later said there were obstacles hindering the EAC’s military force but stressed that it had a mandate to conduct offensive operations.
MONUSCO also regularly faces criticism that it has failed to stop the conflict.
Dozens of armed groups have roamed the mineral-rich eastern regions of DRC for decades, many of which are a legacy of wars that flared in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Violence against civilians and state forces has become commonplace: On Monday, authorities said unidentified militants had killed a ranger in North Kivu’s famed Virunga National Park.
The M23 re-emerged from dormancy in late 2021, claiming that the DRC had failed to honour a pledge to integrate its fighters into the army.
It has continued to win victories against the Congolese military and rival armed groups. Last month, the rebels captured the strategic town of Kitchanga, west of Goma.
The conflict has forced many Congolese to flee their homes, sparking a humanitarian crisis.
The DRC accuses its smaller neighbour Rwanda of backing the M23, a claim that UN experts, the United States and other western countries agree with. Rwanda denies the charge.