New hope or old broken promise in DRC?
The news from the African Union (AU) Summit in Addis Ababa this week is not about the election of the new president of the AU Commission, newsworthy though it is. She is the first woman to take the post. She is the ex-wife of South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, himself a popular, if somewhat troublesome, subject with reporters.
She was elected partly because South Africa threw its considerable weight around, even going against the unwritten convention of the more powerful countries not seeking the top position at the AU. All of these good reasons for making Ms Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s election the news highlight of the summit.
But the news, as always, is about where blood flows in torrents – in this case, the Kivu provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). More precisely, the signing of an agreement by Presidents Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Joseph Kabila of the DR5C for the setting up of a neutral international force to police the border between the two countries and also fight the various rebel groups in the area.
I suppose one can say that this is some sort of progress – at least as the expression of intent to deal with the security and political crisis in Eastern DRC that always spills over into neighbouring countries. The agreement is good in the sense that, if implemented, it should help end suspicions about Rwanda’s alleged support for the M23 mutineers and check FDLR’s attempts to forcefully enter and destabilise Rwanda. Action of a sort, even if it comes at the level of principle, is better than none.
But I doubt whether, for the Congolese in the Kivu Provinces, the signing of the agreement inspires much confidence. They have seen it all before. A huge, expensive United Nations force is already present in the area. It has done nothing to end the violence, disarm the rebel groups, protect civilians or help the government to establish effective control.
The dismal failure of the UN to prevent the genocide in neighbouring Rwanda in 1994 is still too fresh in the minds of the people of the area to fuel optimism about new efforts to deal with conflict. In fact they are victims of actions of genocidaires based on their territory.
Experience of the expected delays in assembling and deploying this type of force also adds to the scepticism. As noted by some of the principal actors in the Great Lakes Region, there are many issues to be resolved before this neutral force can be deployed. Its size has not been determined. Its mandate is not quite clear. The scope of operations has not yet been worked out. Details about the source of the troops, funding of the operation and deployment are unknown at this stage.
Before all these questions are sorted out and the troops put their boots on the ground, there will be many meetings and debates by diplomats and defence experts. That’s the nature of diplomacy – a lot of talk while the house burns. And when they finally agree, there is no house to save. The fire will have been put out in some way – whether by burning itself out or by some other agent.
So, as the diplomats continue to talk, we can expect the Congolese in the DRC targeted by the different armed groups to go on dying or fleeing their homes, and the militias to continue rearming.
Matters have not been helped by pronouncements by certain officials that cast doubt on the effectiveness of the proposed force. Mr Alphonse Ntumba Luaba, Executive Secretary of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, is reported to have told Xhinua news agency that they will seek assistance from MONUSCO on the nature and deployment of the neutral force. Everyone knows that MONUSCO is in no position to offer that sort of advice. It is blatantly partisan and has made no effort to disarm the different militias, including FDLR, which was its primary mandate.
Press reports are also skewing the expected mandate of the force by stressing the policing of the common border and keeping silent about fighting, disarming and disbanding (neutralising as the agreement says) the armed groups. This is a sneaky endorsement of the unfounded accusations made by the UN, DRC Government and rights groups that the problem in eastern Congo is essentially a cross-border issue mainly emanating from Rwanda. Such distortion, creeping into how the proposed force is to be viewed cannot be helpful.
And if efforts to defuse conflict in Congo, including the deployment of a neutral force, do not address the real issue, which is the absence of the state in the Kivu Provinces, we should not put our expectations very high. Until there is effective control by the state, lawlessness will continue.
Still, it is a good thing that an agreement to end fighting in Eastern Congo and establish law and order has been reached. The understandable scepticism about its effectiveness can be overcome if the force is formed and deployed expeditiously and given a clear and robust mandate. We may yet see lasting peace in the region.
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