I spoke with one man, a former CNDP foot soldier who'd been reintegrated into the Goma police. He told me that he was paid so little by the government he couldn't afford food. "They want you to die with hunger," he said. So, last spring, when he was approached by a M23 operative who asked him to start passing on information, he agreed. He had nothing to lose.
"I want them to proceed and take over Kinshasa," he said. "I'm praying they won't stop here."
President Kabila's neglect, and the desperation it's produced, were apparent everywhere in Goma in the days after the M23 entered. So was evidence of how the city fell so easily. There was no water or electricity, either because technicians had abandoned their posts or national army troops had sabotaged infrastructure in their retreat. The offices of the governor were empty -- he'd fled to the town of Beni, it was rumored, soon after the first shots rang out. The airport was abandoned. Close to 200,000 displaced persons had fled their homes in Goma and nearby refugee camps.
Initially, reports of M23 misbehavior in Goma were rare, in stark contrast to the national army soldiers, who, aside from their unwillingness to fight, are best known in Goma for looting, rape, and their fondness for sapilo, a local moonshine. After leaving the U.N. base, I went to the national army camp, and found that reputation coming into perspective.
Now deserted, the camp is on the northern outskirts of the city, sprawled over a hill of chalky black volcanic rock. There are no proper barracks; the soldiers had been living in shacks made from plastic sheeting and tin siding. They'd been worse off than Goma's refugees, who at least get help from aid agencies. At the army hospital towards the top of the hill, in a ward holding soldiers injured in the fighting, there was not only no power or water, but no medicine or medical equipment, nor any nurses or doctors, in sight.
"They were better equipped than us," a soldier, whose unit had been transported from Kinshasa and then moved to the frontline near Sake, outside Goma, said of the M23 forces. As his position was being overrun, he was shot in the leg. He lifted up his gown to show me two large screws sticking from his shin. The gauze around them was caked in dried blood. He hadn't been tended to in days, because the doctor who'd performed the surgery had returned to Kinshasa. A 25-year veteran, he makes $68 a month and his family receives one kilogram of food each week. Several of the soldiers in the ward hadn't been paid in months. "The government has abandoned us here," one said.
While the Congolese government has abandoned Goma, the M23 has effectively infested it. According to residents I spoke with, plainclothes agents are dispatched around the city. The M23 press office sends out Gmail alerts to the media. Kazarama can be heard on the commandeered government radio station warning thieves they'll be made into public examples and encouraging children to attend school. Otherwise, this former lumber salesman, who prefers to be called mon colonel, can be found flitting among Goma's better hotels, always in his camouflage. At the lakefront Ihusi Hotel, temporary home to the international press corps, Kazarama is a nightly fixture. Charming if crass, he grants impromptu interviews and flirts with female reporters.
Kazarama spends so much time at the Ihusi because the M23 has yet to establish a headquarters in Goma, or to occupy government offices. "We don't want to implement a new government. We are a revolutionary movement only," Bisimwa said when I asked him why this was. Bisimwa, who makes a nice counterweight to Kazarama -- short and pudgy, he speaks patient, formal English and dresses casually -- then went on to describe how he would implement a new government. "We'll pay more attention to what government workers are doing, how they're working. We must control them. When somebody steals money, for instance, we have to punish it."