Before its defeat, M23 was seating on a very profitable business of the conflict mineral resource trade in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, smuggling tons worth hundreds of millions dollars out of the eastern Congo every year.
The defeat of M23 means more than the loss of territory it controlled.
In each city and town it lost, M23 was also abandoning several mining operations it controlled. In its previous territories, M23 leaders derived enormous profits from mineral exploitation in eastern Congo. The rebels also gained large revenues from taxation levied by its police. M23’s main mission was to assist Rwanda’s government in plundering eastern Congo’s natural resources, which has gone on since Kagame came to power in 1994; M23 was basically paid for with the money from tin, tungsten and tantalum smuggled from Congolese mines.
Enough Project’s investigations, in its report Striking Gold, How M23 and its Allies are Infiltrating Congo’s Gold Trade, revealed the extend to which M23 had established a large network of gold smugglers, in partnership with international businesses, army generals in Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.
This report documented how Sultan Makenga, the military chief of M23, had led the rebels to work with local armed groups in gold-rich territories to smuggle gold to Uganda via an M23-controlled border crossing, as well as to Burundi, where it was sold internationally. Much of this conflict gold was reaching markets in the United Arab Emirates and then to banks and jewelers, making up to 80 percent of global gold supply.
Dr Charles Kambanda, a Public Policy Analyst and International Human Rights Lawyer and law professor at St. John’s University Law School, New York, in his response to an article of the African Defense Review, wrote:
It is indisputable that M23 is the most recent proxy army “rebel groups” President Kagame created since 1997 for two major reasons:
(1) to control Eastern Congo’s illegal business in minerals and other natural resources and acquire land for Kagame’s commercial farming ( especially animal husbandry.
(2) create a military buffer zone around Rwanda to make sure Kagame’s armed foes ( Hutu and Tutsi) do not get anywhere close to Rwanda.
This military buffer zone allowed Kagame to do anything in Rwanda and the region for his political survival. In my considered view, Kagame was a “middleman” in the illegal natural resources business in Eastern Congo. The principals were multinational corporations and some superpower countries. The “middleman”, Kagame, was only necessary for a limited time. Now that the multinational corporations and some superpower nations have taken over the ” business” in Congo, there is no need for the middleman, Kagame.
Kagame has outlived his utility in Congo’s natural resources’ business. All Kagame’s proxy armies were being sponsored by these multinational corporations and some superpower countries. However, because of the crimes Kagame was involved in as a ” middleman”, Kagame has become a political liability for his former backers.
These factors account for the unprecedented “fall” of M23. I am afraid, it might be a signal for Kagame’s fall as well. We are seeing a replay of Charles Taylor’s defeat. Is M23 defeated? It depends on whether the multinational corporations and the “Western” allies have finally decided to let Kagame over the cliff.
Now that the Congolese government is showing some signs of capability of exercising authority over the entire country, new business partnerships and networks are likely to be formed.