12 December 2012

Congo-Kinshasa: The M23 Funhouse, Where Congolese Youth Get in Free

The M23 movement presents a conundrum to youth in North Kivu. Promised bright, lucrative futures, some young Congolese citizens have joined in the ranks of these rebels. Then there are the citizens who strongly oppose the movement but remain critical of DRC President Kabila - yet this group isn't necessarily blaming its peers who have chosen to join the rebels. All smoke and mirrors, or not, one thing is for sure: the M23 has shaken up the status quo.

After capturing Goma, the M23's priorities became immediately clear. First, spokesman Colonel Vianney Kazarama spent several hours reassuring residents about the rebels' presence in the city. Then, with basic security measures taken care of, he invited people to join them.

The colonel was anxious to meet with youth - regarded as the pillar of any revolution. He promised the bright young graduates among them that they would have immediate access to positions of responsibility. It was an alluring offer, especially for a segment of the population who is largely jobless and living in a country where the unemployment rate is dangerously close to 80 percent.

Nothing to lose

"Kazarama said that young people are more efficient than ageing civil servants. He promised senior positions in the army and the secret services to young people with university qualifications," says Hortense Kakimoi, a young Congolese journalist.

For some, the offer was hard to pass up. In the ten days during which the rebel group controlled the city, men who had previously refused to enlist in the Congolese army joined the M23 movement.

"I was shot at on many occasions while protesting peacefully in the street. I tried the non-violent way, but it didn't work. We need more extreme solutions," says Joel Malembe, 25, who now holds a position in the movement's youth ministry.

Malembe's nothing-to-lose attitude was understandable even among those vehemently opposed to the M23 rebellion. Those who haven't joined the ranks of the movement do not by default align themselves with the Kabila regime. In fact, many denounce President Kabila for corruption and bad governance.

Let's talk

A few days after the M23's departure from Goma, the mayor and the provincial government's decision to ban a protest elicited scathing remarks. Some appeared on Parlons-en (meaning 'Let's talk'), a Facebook page that was created by Congolese youth to discuss current events.

Criticizing the Congolese leaders, one user wrote in a comment: "They fled like Kenyan marathon runners [when M23 took Goma]. Instead of intimidating their opponents, they are now abusing us! They will represent us [DRC] at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, since they will all be unemployed."

Parlons-en has over 11,000 members. Every day hundreds of posted comments give testimony to how the Congolese crisis has left its youth fed-up and disillusioned.

But neither side is spared of criticism. The M23 official delegation's trip to Kampala was recently ridiculed, as rebel representatives travelled by bus to the negotiations. "With all the cars they stole, how could they not have a means of transport?" a young man wrote.

Democracy surfacing?

While Goma's youth may speak relatively freely in cyberspace, mobilization on the street seems harder to achieve.

Last Thursday, only 30 people on Goma's main avenue responded to a call for protest by a youth movement created earlier this year. Their slogans mainly cried out against the government and demanded the resignation of some ministers and the Congolese army chief commander.

Although the demonstrators were quickly dispersed by the police, Micheline Mwendike, one of the organizers, suggests that the current political climate is an improvement from last month's. "We were not allowed to protest during M23 rule," says Mwendike. "They seriously set back democracy."

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