Goma — The M23 may officially claim to fight corruption, but abuses of power are not uncommon in territory controlled by the rebel movement.
"Are you ready to support us all the way to Kinshasa? We want to get rid of that man and his corrupt regime. He destroyed our country with corruption!"
Those words came from M23 spokesperson Colonel Vianney Kazarama at the public gathering following the rebel movement's capture of Goma in eastern DRC. Among the battles that M23 rebels claim to be fighting is the eradication of corruption.
A new sort of salongo
Kibumba is a small town, 30 kilometres north of Goma, run by the rebel movement. Farmers comprise the majority of its residents. For the past few months, all young people have been forced to participate in salongo: a sort of collective labour initiated during the reign of Mobutu. The goal was to encourage popular participation in development efforts.
But nowadays, the term 'salongo' is used to refer to the forced labour that rebels have imposed on the people. In this case, it means being in the forest every Wednesday and Saturday, cutting and collecting firewood for the M23 soldiers. After each session, a token is handed to those present, a method to expose and subsequently fine those who boycotted the activity.
However, some people who miss a session resort to corruption to avoid paying the fine. A young man, who wished to remain anonymous, explains: "Once I had other more important plans so I couldn't attend the salongo. To avoid any trouble, I went to my neighbourhood leader and gave him 2,000 francs (a little over 3 euros). He gave me a token and I am now safe like those who attended the session."
Another young man in the neighbourhood claims he narrowly escaped prison. Having no money, he was spared through what one might call oral corruption: flattering an agent.
These problems go beyond salongo. Though hardly overt, corruption exists among the M23 law enforcement agents.
A motorcyclist recalls his experience "I was on my way to Bunagana. I came across a roadblock just past the Rumangabo monument. They asked me for a licence, which I did not have. I had to pay a penalty of 10 US dollars."
But the ordeal didn't end after bribing the agents to get through the checkpoint. "First they threatened to confiscate my motorcycle and take me into custody," he says. "Then they asked me for two beers. I gave them 3 US dollars and they let me go."
Confronted with such reports, M23's political spokesperson, Bertrand Bisimwa, has denied the allegations. According to him, the M23 was already involving citizens in the fight against corruption. "We are living with these people, we are part of them," Bisimwa says. "They would have informed us if there were cases of corruption."
Within its administration, the M23 has set up an anti-corruption commission. And so far not a single case of corruption has been found in rebel-controlled territory.