Meet the young Congolese joining up to fight the M23 rebel group

Young people train in a recruitment centre in Goma in North Kivu province on Monday, November 7.
Young people train in a recruitment centre in Goma in North Kivu province on Monday, November 7. © @moses_sawasawa / Twitter

Hundreds of young people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are flocking to army recruiting centres and signing up after their president Felix Tshiesekedi called on the nation’s youth to help halt the advance of the March 23 Movement, a rebel military group that has been terrorising the eastern province of North Kivu. Our team spoke to one of these volunteers. 


The M23 rebel group, which opposes the Congolese government, was first active in the eastern province of North Kivu a decade ago. Made up mostly of people from the Tutsi ethnic group, the rebel force is thought to have links to neighbouring Rwanda.

The group launched a new offensive on October 20 of this year, capturing several towns in North Kivu, including Rutshuru Centre and Kiwanja. The Congolese Army admitted to abandoning their positions during the offensive, to avoid “causing unnecessary deaths", amongst the population. On November 8, the Congolese Army bombed M23 positions, according to journalists on the ground.

Since October 20, at least 50,000 people have fled their homes according to the United Nations and moved to displaced persons camps around the city of Goma.

Kiwanja and Rutshuru Centre are both located on National Route 2, about 70 kilometres from Goma, the regional capital of North-Kivu.

In a televised speech on Thursday, November 3, the Congolese president called on young people to "organise themselves into vigilante groups" to face the advance of M23. By November 5, more than 3,000 young people had signed up for the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC), according to Colonel Ndakala Faustin, who is in charge of recruitment in the North Kivu district.

Since then, a number of videos showing soldiers overseeing young people marching and training in Goma have been posted online.  

This video shows hundreds of young people singing patriotic songs in Goma on Monday, November 7, alongside soldiers. The tweet reads, in French, “#DRC hundreds of young people ready to join the Congolese Armed Forces, ⁦@FARDC_off⁩, to fight #M23. Mobilisation on Monday in #Goma.” @kabumba_justin
A military official speaks to volunteers on November 5, in Goma. This tweet says, in French, “#DRC: General mobilisation, #Goma youth very determined to join the army to defend the nation. First march in the ISC public square in Goma”. Tweet by @amiralsenghor
Young people sing patriotic songs outside a recruitment centre in Goma on November 7. This tweet says, in French, “more than 3,000 young people sign up for the Congolese Army to fight #M23 rebels.” Tweet by @moses_sawasawa.

'I want to go to the frontlines as soon as possible'

Chipulusa (not his real name), is 26 and lives in Rutshuru. He said that he can’t wait to join the army to “defend his homeland”.

I fled Rutshuru when the M23 arrived on October 21. My family left the day before  when the Congolese Army abandoned their position, many people panicked and fled. My family is currently living in terrible conditions in a displaced persons camp five kilometres from Goma. 

I’m currently working on the paperwork [for the army] and I went to a youth preparatory centre to sign up. Soon, I will get a summons to go for training either in Kamina [in the Haut-Lomami (Upper Lomami) province] or in Kitona [in the province of Kongo Central]. At the youth centre, the soldiers told us that we would be summoned in less than 48 hours. I could get called up any moment.

'I can’t have children knowing they would be at risk of dying at any moment'

I don’t know how long the training will last but I want to go to the frontlines as soon as possible to defend my homeland and my region because I’ve had enough of living like this, in these conditions. 

People here have been plagued with M23 attacks since 2012. My family and I have had to leave our home and move to flee the attacks.  

I’m single and I can’t get married and have children knowing they would be at risk of dying at any moment – that’s not a life. I don’t want to sit here doing nothing – I want to defend my homeland. 

Rwanda is inflicting a war on us, we have to do something.

The recent M23 offensive has taken place against a backdrop of rising tensions between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. 

The DRC accuses Rwanda of supporting the M23. However, the Rwandan government denies this and accuses the Congolese government of supporting a rebellion led by members of the Hutu ethnic group based in Congo. 

On Saturday, November 5, the Congolese government expelled the Rwandan ambassador, Vincent Karega, after months of growing tensions between the two countries over the M23.

Back in late 2012, the M23 occupied Goma for ten days, before being ousted by the Congolese Armed Forces and United Nations peacekeepers. The rebel movement took up arms again in late 2021 after accusing the Congolese government of failing to respect agreements on the reintegration of former fighters.