A surge of false information spread online amid the boiling tension between the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) and Rwanda. The violence sparked sometime between late April to early July as the rebel group known as M23 (March 23 Movement, also known as the Congolese Revolutionary Army) began attacking the Congolese Army.
#RwandaIsKilling: Adding More Fuel To Fire
In the shadows of the ensuing violence comes the hashtag #RwandaIsKilling, which began trending on social media networks in late July due to its graphic images and footage allegedly depicting Rwanda waging war in the eastern DRC.
The Observes had taken a closer look into this trend and discovered that posts under the hashtag seemed to fuel divisions and hatred between the neighboring countries using misinformation.
— FRANCE 24 (@FRANCE24) August 29, 2022
Dandjes Luyila, a journalist for AfricaNews and CongoCheck, examined one post that seemingly depicts Congolese students being massacred by Rwanda.
“The video shows people lying on the floor in a room that look like either a classroom or a church,” he explained. “The person who published the video made sure to add text that ‘Congolese students in Rwanda are being killed.’ Using a number of verification method, we learned that the video had nothing to do with the DRC.”
Luyila continued: “First, the language gave it away: it’s not the language used in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and it’s even further away from the most common language in Rwanda.”
Upon further investigation, the fact-checkers verified that the video was of a tragic massacre in a church in Nigeria on June 5, 2022.
Another disinformation footage that was circulating online was a video showing a group of Rwandan men appearing to chase DRC residents. But Luyila and his fact-checking team concluded that the context of the video was actually a battle between street gangs in DRC that happened earlier this year.
Such false information has fueled the blazing tension between DR Congo and Rwanda, inciting more violence and xenophobia.
— Aurelia BAILLY (@AureliaBAILLY) June 16, 2022
“The tension is palpable, even here in the capital where we really see acts of xenophobia between the Congolese and the Rwandans all day long,” Luyila added. “All it takes is one click, one video, one publication. And it can quickly go viral, because in our minds, in our subconscious, the information is there. We are just waiting for something to trigger it.”
Other less violent photos also circulate, adding to this wave of misinformation.
“We have a serious problem with media education. But it is only recently that everyday Congolese people are discovering digital media so there is, therefore, a lot of work to do in this sense,” Luyila said. “False information is really a poison that we have to destroy together.”
You can watch the full fact-checking explainer below.
Resurfacing of the M23 Rebels
The M23 rebel group belongs to the minority Tutsi ethnic with close ties to the Tutsi living in Rwanda. The rebels are named after a peace treaty they signed with the Congolese government on March 23, 2009, while fighting as part of the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) group. Their rebellion began in April 2012 when the two Tutsi ethnic groups organized a revolt. After almost a year of fighting, the Congolese Army, along with UN troops, reclaimed the M23-controlled DR Congo province, Goma, and soon after, the rebel group announced a ceasefire and disarmament.
— Aurelia BAILLY (@AureliaBAILLY) July 27, 2022
Nearly a decade later, M23 resurfaced again, causing havoc in eastern DR Congo. Peace talks ensued in April but failed, and the mutiny launched their most destructive attack yet, overrunning a Congolese Army Base north of Goma in Nord Kivu province. Then, on June 13, the rebel group captured an important trading hub near the borders of Uganda.
The increasing violence in these border zones drove the DRC’s capital to accuse Rwanda of backing up the M23 Rebels, which Kigali (the capital city of Rwanda) quickly denied.
Nonetheless, in an interview with DW News, Sylvain Ekenge, an officer of the Congolese Army, remained to question, especially the armaments and ammunitions of the rebel group, such as where they got their military supplies; “…the resurgence of M23 with big caliber weapons, with equipment which can destroy planes. Is the M23 capable of buying missiles and long-range mortars?”
In addition, Ekenge claimed Rwanda’s goal is to occupy DRC’s territory and exploit its mineral riches, explaining how “Rwanda is among the biggest exporters of gold and koltan but there is no grain of gold in Rwanda. They keep the insecurity in Congo in order to get the minerals for a cheap price or even for free.”
According to the US Treasury, over 90 percent of Congo’s gold is smuggled out to regional countries such as Rwanda. It also reports that the gold trade is a significant source of conflict. People in Gomer have had enough of the violence since May, and anti-Rwandan protests have been held regularly throughout the DRC.
Anti-Rwandan government protests in the Democratic Republic of Congo continue, about 180 Rwandans are reported missing.
The protest continues today in Bukavu city, where the protests set up a roadblock to arrest Rwandans.https://t.co/ePT6OSqgnM pic.twitter.com/W9pQYRv9Bv
— Habimana James (@HabimanaJames) June 5, 2022
If indeed Rwanda supported the M23, then it won’t be the first time the accusation was made. In 2013, DR Congo and the UN also accused the former country of suspicious support to the rebel group, which was further amplified when the CNDP leader Bosco Ntaganda crossed into Rwanda and reached the US Embassy in Kigali, where he’d turned himself in.
What UN Experts Think
Earlier in August, a group of UN experts reported that they found “solid evidence” that Kigali backs M23 fighters despite repeated denials from each side.
In a 131-page report, the UN Security Council experts unveiled that Rwanda has been launching military interventions within DR Congo regions since November 2021, adding that Rwanda troops have been deployed as M23 reinforcements for the latter’s operations, “particularly when these aimed at seizing of strategic town and areas.”
Through its spokesperson, the Rwanda government declined to comment on “an unpublished and unvalidated report,” nonetheless pointing out that an earlier report by the experts “contained none of these false allegations.”
Meanwhile, the DRC government spokesperson commented both on the report and the continued denial of the Rwanda government, stressing that “[t]he truth always triumphs in the end.”
#RDC : La vérité finit toujours par triompher. Nous nous réjouissons des conclusions du travail du groupe d’experts des Nations Unies. Nous espérons que les conclusions seront vite tirées pour mettre fin à l’ingérence du #Rwanda et ramener une paix durable #ChangementDeNarratif https://t.co/Pl0ElAfzpO
— Patrick Muyaya (@PatrickMuyaya) August 4, 2022
The current uprising has killed dozens of civilians and caused displacement for more than 160,000 people in the region.
PHOTOS: Refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) wait in a line for lunch at the Nyakabande Holding Area in Kisoro, Uganda, June 7, 2022, following deadly fights between M23 rebels, one of more than 120 armed groups roaming eastern DRC, & DRC troops#NTVNews via @AFP pic.twitter.com/SBCvmVwfWQ
— NTV UGANDA (@ntvuganda) June 22, 2022