Bertrand Bisimwa, the President of the M23 movement in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has expressed doubt about the upcoming elections amid the ongoing conflict between the government and M23 rebels. The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) announced in November 2022 that presidential and parliamentary elections would be held on December 20, 2023, with a budget exceeding $600 million.
Challenges in the DRC’s electoral process are not unusual, as the last presidential poll was delayed by two years until December 2018. In that election, President Felix Tshisekedi succeeded Joseph Kabila. The current election has 24 candidates, including Tshisekedi, with notable contenders such as Nobel Prize-winning gynecologist Denis Mukwege and Martin Fayulu, who contested the 2018 results.
Despite significant investments in a large UN peacekeeping force, over 120 armed groups, including M23 rebels, operate in the east. The DRC accuses Rwanda of supporting M23, a claim denied by Kigali. Bertrand Bisimwa criticized the upcoming election in a press briefing, stating that organizing it while ignoring areas under M23 occupation is senseless.
During the briefing in Bunagana, M23 leaders accused the DRC government of violating the February 2023 peace deal, which proposed a ceasefire. Lawrence Kanyuka, the M23 spokesperson, decried the international community’s silence on alleged ethnic cleansing by the Kinshasa government, citing the bombing of civilian-populated towns and destruction of infrastructure as acts of impunity.
Bisimwa urged Congolese citizens in Uganda to return home if they are from currently peaceful areas. Since March 2022, over 520,000 people have been displaced due to the M23 movement’s resurgence in North Kivu.