The United Nations Thursday voted Rwanda onto one of five non-permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council, perhaps the United Nation’s most important body. But a significant controversy overshadows Rwanda’s ascension to the group, one that has particularly riled other Central African nations. According to a just leaked report, which seemed to confirm long-held suspicions among African security experts, the Rwandan government is directly sponsoring a violent rebel group in neighboring regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The group, named M23 after a failed March 23, 2009, peace agreement, has displaced an estimated 500,000 Congolese as a result of fighting in the Kivu provinces. The rebellion, which plays on preexisting ethnic divisions in the region, is thought to serve the Rwandan government by expanding their influence in the mineral-rich region. The report also accused the Ugandan government of less directly supporting the rebels.
M23 represents a major security issue, an ongoing humanitarian problem, and now a minor geopolitical crisis. But you wouldn’t guess any of that from reading the group’s surprisingly vibrant, and consistently upbeat, Facebook fan page.
The page M23 Congo RDC appears to be legitimate, according to Morehouse College professor and close DRC-watcher Laura Seay. Both it and the Web site m23congordc.com “feature pictures from the front lines of the battle, and many of those pictures are of soldiers who fit the stereotypical Tutsi ‘look’ — that is, they are tall and thin.” Most tellingly, “The language and rhetoric on the site is similar to that of M23′s press releases.”
And why not? M23 might be a rebel group operating in a war-torn region of Central Africa, but they’ve got to get the word out somehow, and Facebook penetration rates are rising rapidly in sub-Saharan Africa, though not yet as much in the Great Lakes region. “They seem to have developed a global network of representatives; I’ve been invited to meet their man in Dallas,” Seay noted. “Having a Facebook page seems like a logical next step in the era of modern public relations.”
This is, you might say, How We Rebel Today: now even developing world guerrilla groups have social media campaigns.
The Facebook page, which has 1,455 “likes” as of this writing, posts lots of photos of cheery-looking rebels, huffy articles defending them against the NGOs and foreign governments condemning the group, and upbeat news releases. The photo that appears at the top of their page sums up the message: what a happy, brotherly insurgency tearing across Kivu! No wonder it has 24 likes and 25 shares.