November 24, 2012

Thousands of women protested against the M23 rebels in Kinshasa on Friday in the biggest demonstration yet in DR Congo’s capital against the rebels’ capture of the eastern Congo city of Goma on Tuesday.

Women, coming from all walks of life, took to the streets to condemn the M23 rebels, and the failure of the Congolese army and United Nations peacekeepers to stop the rebels’ advance.

Many wearing black outfits to express their unhappiness, they marched from the capital’s main street, the Boulevard du 30 juin, to the United Nations mission in DR Congo (MONUSCO) headquarters in Kinshasa, where they joined other women who have been protesting there since Wednesday.

The peaceful women’s protest was held under the watchful eyes of the Congolese police, ever more wary because demonstrations against the M23 elsewhere across DR Congo have also turned on the ruling PPRD party and MONUSCO.

The 17,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission in DR Congo, costing a whopping $1.5 billion a year, has been criticized as much as the Congolese army for allowing the rebels to enter Goma, the capital city of North Kivu province, without putting up a fight.

By comparison, other peacekeeping missions in Africa and elsewhere costing much less have had better results in bringing peace to their affected regions than MOMUSCO and MONUC, as the UN mission in DR Congo was known when it was established in 1999.

If most Congolese were not surprised to learn that their army retreated instead of fighting, as it has done at times in the past, they did not expect the well-equipped and well-trained UN peacekeepers to do the same, especially after vowing for months not to let Goma fall to the rebels.

The protesters asked for MONUSCO’s mandate to be strengthened. They said they would camp at its headquarters until their concerns had been addressed.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Tuesday that MONUSCO’s inaction in Goma was “absurd”. He also called on its mandate to be reviewed.

The women’s protests in front of MONUSCO headquarters in Kinshasa started on Wednesday with chants of “MONUSCO should go, they don’t do their job.”

No one should be surprised to see women in DR Congo take the lead in protesting against the M23 rebels. Women have borne the brunt of armed groups’ exactions in DR Congo for more than a decade. They, better than anyone else, know how horrific it is like to live under rebels’ control.

The protesters held signs denouncing the M23 rebellion as a “Rwandan and Ugandan aggression.”

A UN Group of Experts report released on Wednesday said that Rwanda and Uganda “cooperated to support the creation and expansion of the political branch of M23 and have consistently advocated on behalf of the rebels.” The report said that Rwanda’s Defense Minister James Kabarebe is the de facto commander of the M23.

The courageous women protesting on Friday called on the international community not to be “fooled” and the UN “not to let itself be ridiculed by the M23 rebels.”