May 22, 2024

The east of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been plagued by violence for decades and in recent years seen the re-emergence of the rebel group M23, which has seized swathes of territory in the North Kivu province. In mid-February, South Africa announced that two of its soldiers had been killed in the region, the first fatalities since it deployed troops in December 2023 to help quell the insurgency.  A recent video claims to show M23 combatants celebrating while “waiting” for South African troops. But the claim is false: the video shows government troops on a military base in eastern DRC.

“Rwanda m23 Rebels waiting for South Africa army in Congo,” reads a post published on X on February 23, 2024.

The Tutsi-led M23 group controls large parts of the DRC’s eastern North Kivu province since emerging from dormancy in late 2021.

<img class="caas-img caas-lazy has-preview" alt="A screenshot of the false post, taken on March 4, 2024 ” data-src=”https://thenewswave.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/video-shows-congolese-soldiers-on-military-base-not-m23-rebels.jpg”><img alt="A screenshot of the false post, taken on March 4, 2024 ” src=”https://thenewswave.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/video-shows-congolese-soldiers-on-military-base-not-m23-rebels.jpg” class=”caas-img”>

A screenshot of the false post, taken on March 4, 2024

Liked more than 400 times, the account that shared the post is called “#PutSouthAfricansFirst” and promotes Operation Dudula, a notorious anti-migrant group launched in 2022 (archived here).

The DRC, the UN and Western countries accuse neighbouring Rwanda of supporting the rebels in a bid to control mineral resources, an allegation Kigali denies (archived here).

South Africa in December 2023 announced it was sending 2,900 troops as part of a regional force tasked with helping DRC forces fight M23 rebels.

Two soldiers were killed in February in a mortar strike, prompting an outcry from South African opposition parties that troops had deployed with inadequate support (archived here).

The post claiming M23 rebels are “waiting” for South African troops includes a 49-second video showing a group of uniformed men seemingly celebrating.

Some individuals stand in formation as others cartwheel and point their weapons in the air.

The men speak Lingala, one of the four national languages in DRC.

Most comments are in English and come from accounts sharing anti-immigrant views.

“These thugs that have mutilated multiple bodies and committed the most brutal crimes will cross over to South Africa one day as refugees,” reads one comment.

“Your family isn’t safe when these men coming to South Africa (sic),” says another.

The same video was also shared here on X alongside a claim that it shows M23 rebels playing a football match with South African soldiers (archived here).

In reality, the footage shows Congolese soldiers on a military base.

Congolese soldiers, not rebels

AFP Fact Check sent the video to an AFP journalist in eastern DRC.

“It can be difficult to tell the difference between Congolese soldiers and ‘wazalendo’ or non-government militia members who fight alongside them. But what is certain is that they are not M23,” the reporter said (archived here).

AFP Fact Check then contacted the Congolese military, which confirmed the men in the video were government troops.

“These are FARDC soldiers,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Guillaume Ndjike, an army spokesman for North Kivu province.

AFP Fact Check used several visual clues to confirm the men in the video were indeed FARDC – the acronym for the government’s armed forces.

One of the soldiers appears in the foreground with a patch on his right shoulder at 00’07’’ in the footage.

A screenshot of the false post (left) and a screenshot zoomed in on the flag (right)

The colours – a blue background, red and yellow stripe, and yellow star in the upper right-hand corner – match the Congolese flag (archived here).

<img class="caas-img caas-lazy has-preview" alt="An image of the Congolese flag ” data-src=”https://thenewswave.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/video-shows-congolese-soldiers-on-military-base-not-m23-rebels-2.jpg”><img alt="An image of the Congolese flag ” src=”https://thenewswave.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/video-shows-congolese-soldiers-on-military-base-not-m23-rebels-2.jpg” class=”caas-img”>

An image of the Congolese flag

A search in the AFP photo archives revealed a 2021 image of a FARDC soldier with the same flag on his right shoulder.

<img class="caas-img caas-lazy has-preview" alt="Screenshot showing the photo in AFP’s photo archive ” data-src=”https://thenewswave.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/video-shows-congolese-soldiers-on-military-base-not-m23-rebels-3.jpg”><img alt="Screenshot showing the photo in AFP’s photo archive ” src=”https://thenewswave.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/video-shows-congolese-soldiers-on-military-base-not-m23-rebels-3.jpg” class=”caas-img”>

Screenshot showing the photo in AFP’s photo archive

Then, at 00’16”, another soldier has an insignia visible on his beret depicting what appears to be an animal head in the middle of a red ribbon with words written on it.

<img class="caas-img caas-lazy has-preview" alt="A screenshot of the insignia on a soldier’s beret, taken on March 4, 2024 ” data-src=”https://thenewswave.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/video-shows-congolese-soldiers-on-military-base-not-m23-rebels-4.jpg”><img alt="A screenshot of the insignia on a soldier’s beret, taken on March 4, 2024 ” src=”https://thenewswave.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/video-shows-congolese-soldiers-on-military-base-not-m23-rebels-4.jpg” class=”caas-img”>

A screenshot of the insignia on a soldier’s beret, taken on March 4, 2024

A photo from the AFP archives shows FARDC soldiers with the same insignia on their berets.

<img class="caas-img caas-lazy has-preview" alt="Screenshot showing the photo in AFP’s photo archive ” data-src=”https://thenewswave.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/video-shows-congolese-soldiers-on-military-base-not-m23-rebels-5.jpg”><img alt="Screenshot showing the photo in AFP’s photo archive ” src=”https://thenewswave.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/video-shows-congolese-soldiers-on-military-base-not-m23-rebels-5.jpg” class=”caas-img”>

Screenshot showing the photo in AFP’s photo archive

Closer inspection reveals the word “paix”, French for peace, on the red ribbon.

AFP Fact Check used a French keyword search for “peace motto DR Congo”  and found the same logo on the Congolese presidency’s website (archived here).

“Justice – Peace – Work” is the official motto of the DRC.

Congolese military base

AFP Fact Check also confirmed the location in the clip is a government military base.

According to the AFP journalist based in eastern DRC, the video shows a Congolese military base in Mubambiro located approximately 20 kilometres from Goma (archived here).

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AFP Fact Check detected a possible location for the base in Mubambiro on Google Maps but could not confirm the findings because the imagery was not recent and showed construction the area.

We contacted Planet, a commercial satellite imagery company, to obtain the latest available photos of the area (archived here) .

A Planet image from March 2, 2024, features significantly more buildings in the area than the older Google Maps version.

<img class="caas-img caas-lazy has-preview" alt="A comparison between Google Maps (left) and Image © Planet Labs PBC (right)” data-src=”https://thenewswave.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/video-shows-congolese-soldiers-on-military-base-not-m23-rebels-7.jpg”><img alt="A comparison between Google Maps (left) and Image © Planet Labs PBC (right)” src=”https://thenewswave.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/video-shows-congolese-soldiers-on-military-base-not-m23-rebels-7.jpg” class=”caas-img”>

A comparison between Google Maps (left) and Image © Planet Labs PBC (right)

Using geolocation techniques, AFP Fact Check confirmed the video was taken on the Mubambiro base.

Visual clues

The person filming appears to be standing in a large open space surrounded by buildings with mountains in the distance.

Two possible locations in the Planet imagery correspond to those clues: square one and square two.

<img class="caas-img caas-lazy has-preview" alt="A screenshot Image © Planet Labs PBC highlighting square one and square two, taken on March 5, 2024” data-src=”https://thenewswave.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/video-shows-congolese-soldiers-on-military-base-not-m23-rebels-8.jpg”><img alt="A screenshot Image © Planet Labs PBC highlighting square one and square two, taken on March 5, 2024” src=”https://thenewswave.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/video-shows-congolese-soldiers-on-military-base-not-m23-rebels-8.jpg” class=”caas-img”>

A screenshot Image © Planet Labs PBC highlighting square one and square two, taken on March 5, 2024

Several visual clues help narrow down the correct one.

At 00’08”, the camera pans to the right. Two other buildings with red roofs come into view.

<img class="caas-img caas-lazy has-preview" alt="A screenshot of the video shows two buildings with red roofs and a zoomed-in view ” data-src=”https://thenewswave.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/video-shows-congolese-soldiers-on-military-base-not-m23-rebels-9.jpg”><img alt="A screenshot of the video shows two buildings with red roofs and a zoomed-in view ” src=”https://thenewswave.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/video-shows-congolese-soldiers-on-military-base-not-m23-rebels-9.jpg” class=”caas-img”>

A screenshot of the video shows two buildings with red roofs and a zoomed-in view

These red-roofed buildings are located to the northeast of the first square adjacent to rows of uniform buildings.

<img class="caas-img caas-lazy has-preview" alt="A screenshot of Planet imagery with arrows added by AFP to indicate filming direction ” data-src=”https://thenewswave.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/video-shows-congolese-soldiers-on-military-base-not-m23-rebels-10.jpg”><img alt="A screenshot of Planet imagery with arrows added by AFP to indicate filming direction ” src=”https://thenewswave.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/video-shows-congolese-soldiers-on-military-base-not-m23-rebels-10.jpg” class=”caas-img”>

A screenshot of Planet imagery with arrows added by AFP to indicate filming direction

If the person had been filming from square two, the red roofs likely would have been obstructed.

Two other visual clues rule out the second square.

The camera pans even further right at 00’17’’, showing two more buildings with darker-coloured roofs.

<img class="caas-img caas-lazy has-preview" alt="A comparison of the video and Image © Planet Labs PBC with arrows added by AFP to show filming direction” data-src=”https://thenewswave.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/video-shows-congolese-soldiers-on-military-base-not-m23-rebels-11.jpg”><img alt="A comparison of the video and Image © Planet Labs PBC with arrows added by AFP to show filming direction” src=”https://thenewswave.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/video-shows-congolese-soldiers-on-military-base-not-m23-rebels-11.jpg” class=”caas-img”>

A comparison of the video and Image © Planet Labs PBC with arrows added by AFP to show filming direction

These two buildings are immediately east of square one on the Planet image.

Two seconds later, a standalone structure appears as the person filming pans to the back of the open space.

<img class="caas-img caas-lazy has-preview" alt="A comparison of the standalone building and Image © Planet Labs PBC with arrows added by AFP to show filming direction” data-src=”https://thenewswave.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/video-shows-congolese-soldiers-on-military-base-not-m23-rebels-12.jpg”><img alt="A comparison of the standalone building and Image © Planet Labs PBC with arrows added by AFP to show filming direction” src=”https://thenewswave.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/video-shows-congolese-soldiers-on-military-base-not-m23-rebels-12.jpg” class=”caas-img”>

A comparison of the standalone building and Image © Planet Labs PBC with arrows added by AFP to show filming direction

The corresponding structure is visible to the south of square one on the Planet image.

Moreover, though cloudy, a mountain range is visible behind the row of buildings with dark-coloured roofs seen at 00’03”.

<img class="caas-img caas-lazy has-preview" alt="A screenshot of the video used in the false post with red line emphasising mountain added by AFP, taken on March 4, 2024 ” data-src=”https://thenewswave.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/video-shows-congolese-soldiers-on-military-base-not-m23-rebels-13.jpg”><img alt="A screenshot of the video used in the false post with red line emphasising mountain added by AFP, taken on March 4, 2024 ” src=”https://thenewswave.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/video-shows-congolese-soldiers-on-military-base-not-m23-rebels-13.jpg” class=”caas-img”>

A screenshot of the video used in the false post with red line emphasising mountain added by AFP, taken on March 4, 2024

Using Google Earth, AFP Fact Check confirmed that a large mountain range is behind the military base.

<img class="caas-img caas-lazy has-preview" alt="A screenshot of Google Earth Pro, taken on March 4, 2024 ” data-src=”https://thenewswave.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/video-shows-congolese-soldiers-on-military-base-not-m23-rebels-14.jpg”><img alt="A screenshot of Google Earth Pro, taken on March 4, 2024 ” src=”https://thenewswave.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/video-shows-congolese-soldiers-on-military-base-not-m23-rebels-14.jpg” class=”caas-img”>

A screenshot of Google Earth Pro, taken on March 4, 2024

AFP Fact Check has debunked other false claims triggered by the conflict in DRC, which you can read about here.

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