Every morning, Goma emerges listing the tragedies of the day before. Surrounded by the fighting between the regular army and the insurgents of the March 23 Movement (M23) supported by the Rwandan army, the large city in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is facing an explosion of insecurity.

On Wednesday April 10, a shooting took place in a residential area usually protected from violence. In the middle of the afternoon, during rush hour, at least three people who were traveling in a Jeep – the son of a cement wholesaler, his bodyguard and a young woman – were shot dead in cold blood at the intersection. President’s Entrance”, a stone’s throw from the governor’s office. The next morning, the weapons allegedly used in the attack were exhibited at the town hall, including a specific model of assault rifle used by the Republican Guard.

This is not the first time that these special forces or other soldiers of the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC) have been accused of assassinations or robberies. But this time, the police reacted by announcing the arrest of three soldiers and two “wazalendo” (“patriots”, in Swahili), militiamen, for certain war criminals, now allies of Kinshasa.

Ghost town

It is now common to see armed men in the streets of the capital of North Kivu. The accumulated defeats against the M23 and the “strategic withdrawals” that followed forced the regular troops and the wazalendo to entrench themselves in and around the city. These soldiers have been living alongside civilians since “the collapse of the Sake front” in mid-February, recognizes Major General Peter Cirimwami, who governs the province placed for two years under a state of siege, a special security regime where the army has Full powers.

Long considered the last rampart before Goma, Sake is today a ghost town. As the M23 approached, tens of thousands of residents fled this locality, bundles of belongings on their heads. In the city center, most of the regular army positions were left in the hands of wazalendo. Even Indian peacekeepers, deployed around Sake to prevent the progression of the M23, abandoned their bases on April 4 against the advice of their superiors, according to an internal document from the United Nations peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO , consulted by AFP. The rebels have since reached the northern outskirts of Sake.

On April 6, mortar fire, the origin of which has not been determined, killed three Tanzanian soldiers and injured three other soldiers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) sent to support Kinshasa in its fight against the M23. The insurgents were seen in the Virunga National Park by local civil society and are reportedly threatening to “cut the Goma-Sake road”, according to the UN.

About twenty kilometers long, the axis which connects the two cities is the only one still under the authority of government forces. All other access to Goma has come under the control of the rebellion, which now administers a proto-state straddling the territories of Rutshuru, Masisi and Nyiragongo. Since the M23 took up arms again at the end of 2021, it has continued to gain ground and get closer to the capital of North Kivu, where weapons proliferate.

“Theft” and “looting”

In Lac Vert, a district of Goma close to the front lines, we come across many pro-Kinshasa fighters, AK-47s slung over their shoulders and sometimes pocket knives with bayonets, particularly in the middle of drinking establishments. Francklin Tumusifu hides a still deep cut on his left arm, under his bright orange jogging jacket. The young human rights activist was stabbed by a soldier from the military prosecutor’s office, the army tribunal, while he opposed a racketeering attempt. “Every day there are thefts and looting. Every day we hear the bullets whistling,” he laments.

The quiet banana plantations that bordered Lake Kivu became overcrowded camps for fleeing families. Around a million people live on the outskirts of Goma, crammed into rickety huts hastily built by haggard displaced people. “We are at the end of our tether,” testifies one of them, on condition of anonymity, referring to the daily harassment of “armed men”. A clear increase in the number of victims of sexual violence treated by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was also recorded in March in displaced sites west of Goma.

“The war, the concentration of displaced people who have lost everything, unemployment and the poor management of military units and their weapons explain the explosion of insecurity,” summarizes Marrion Ngavo, president of the Forces vives de la société sociale de Goma , a group of citizen associations. The authorities assure that measures have been taken for “the tranquility of the peaceful population”, but Congolese army soldiers continue to wander around town. Their militia allies, left to their own devices, have no assigned barracks, despite the ban on “wandering without authorization” decreed on April 2 by the Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo (APCLS), one of the most active armed groups.

“He who comes from the front, who has no rations, with his weapon, what does he do at night? », asks Marrion Ngavo, who deplores the lack of monitoring of members of armed groups. In an interview with Le Monde at the end of March, President Félix Tshisekedi conceded that these “Wazalendo patriots” were “civilians without training”. According to several UN reports, they nevertheless receive weapons and ammunition from the Congolese government.