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M23 rebels

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The Democratic Republic of Congo has announced its military has retaken several towns that had previously fallen to the M23 rebel group. While the military is claiming to have momentum, long-term stability for resource-rich eastern DRC is not around the corner as the central government in Kinshasa remains distant and disengaged.“This isn’t going to end anytime soon,” says one of our correspondents in Nairobi who has experience in the DRC. “The idea that the army can take these towns and this entire area and hold it, history has proven that wrong again and again. Really it’s a matter of building long-term governance in the area, to fight not just the M23 but also other rebel groups.”

He adds: “I haven’t seen much to be optimistic about in regards to the will on the part of President Joseph Kabila and the Kinshasa government to govern there and invest there. Part of the reason the different rebel groups continue to gain hold there is that there is no security, there’s no governance, there’s no investment.”

The DRC’s military claimed this weekend to have taken back a string of towns from M23, including Kiwanja and Kalingera. The fighting erupted last week after peace talks broke down over the issue of amnesty for its leadership. The UN has accused Rwanda of supporting M23 and the US has imposed sanctions over the issue – a charge Rwanda denies – even as other governments have long-ago ended support for proxies used in two regional Congo wars.

On top of weak governance and foreign meddling, the region’s considerable mineral wealth also drives conflict in the eastern DRC. Armed groups vie for the riches – which include gold, wolframite, and columbite-tantalite – and use them to fund more fighting. In recent years, both the West and Kinshasa have grown more serious about controlling conflict minerals in the DRC. An amendment to the Dodd Frank Act requires companies to disclose the source of specific minerals originating from the DRC and nearby nations. Kinshasa, meanwhile, has begun a “conflict-free” certification program for minerals in the area.

The misery tied to minerals leads some observers to warn that recent discoveries of oil in the DRC bring not just promise of development but potential perils. Last year, the British company Soco discovered significant quantities of oil in DRC, but much of it crosses the border with Uganda, setting up the possibility of further neighborhood tensions.