Is neutral force a viable solution to DRC conflict?
Early this week, the Extra-Ordinary Heads of State Summit of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), chaired by Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, was convened to discuss the security situation in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The DRC has been dubbed the ‘sick man of Africa’ arguably because of militia groups that have for long walked freely in the country, the most notoriuos being the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).
The FDLR, a militia group blamed for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, operates in the DRC - contrary to the ICGLR Pact on Security, Stability and Development signed by the Heads of State in Nairobi, Kenya in 2006.
The Pact’s Article 5 (b) on the protocol on Non Aggression and Mutual Defence in the Great Lakes Region states that; Member states undertake to refrain from tolerating the presence on their territories of armed groups or insurgents engaged in armed conflicts or involved in acts of violence or subversion against the Government of another State.
Not long ago, the North Kivu strife caught more attention when the Congolese army began fighting against the M-23 rebels who mutinied in April over a failed 2009 peace agreement.
M23 is a group composed of hundreds of mutineers who deserted the national army, the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC)
Faced with this challenge that has led to an appalling humanitarian crisis of fleeing refugees to Rwanda and Uganda, regional leaders in Kampala chose to take a military option - the establishment of a neutral international force.
The subcommittee composed of Defence Ministers was mandated to propose “urgent actionable steps to ensure that fighting stops completely to allow for consolidation of peace, security and stability.
The subcommittee, as demanded by the leaders, comprises of defence ministers from seven member states tasked to provide details on the operationalisation of a neutral international force.
The countries are; Rwanda, Angola, Burundi, DRC, Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Uganda.
However, questions have been raised on whether political players have laid the ground before a military confrontation is meted out on the armed groups.
Dr Fredrick Golooba Mutebi, a researcher and political analyst argues that the DRC government should address serious political concerns on why Kinyarwanda speaking Congolese citizens are at times not treated like other DRC citizens.
“Before you eliminate M23, it’s important that you first guarantee the citizenship of Congolese Rwandaphones, otherwise you may destroy M23 today but another group will emerge tomorrow and you won’t have solved the problem,” said Mutebi.
This argument is reinforced by reports in the media that have indicated that on July 11, some senior members of the ruling Parti Populaire pour La Reconstruction du Congo (PPRD) threatened to hunt down Tutsis and “send them back to Rwanda.”
The fact that the message was reportedly broadcast on State TV and hate speeches freely aired by Congolese people in and outside the country without a word against them from the DRC government has left observers baffled.
“The ICGLR should reign in on the DRC government and have some of these issues addressed,” Mutebi added.
Rwanda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said that it is time that the region is given a chance to try out a regional solution to its conflicts especially that an international force (the UN Stabilizing Mission in the Congo (MONUSCO) has been in the DRC for over ten years and the situation only gets worse.
“We need a solution that is conceived, owned and directed by the region,” Mushikiwabo told reporters in Kampala last week.
Many of the meetings at the Kampala summit last week remained closed from the media but sources who attended the meetings told The Sunday Times that the world’s largest peacekeeping force came under attack and was described as being on a tourism expedition in the DRC and not carrying out its mandate of protecting civilians from hostilities in the country.
“The neutral force will have a broader mandate compared to that of MONUSCO,” Uganda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Okello Oryem said.
In a statement sent to The Sunday Times yesterday, the European Union welcomed the fact that combined regional efforts have already led to a halt in fighting in the eastern DRC.
“The EU welcomes the Great Lakes leaders’ personal engagement in looking for a lasting solution to the crisis in eastern Congo. Regional engagement remains of key importance, using all tools available (diplomatic, political and military tracks),” the statement reads in part.
ICGLR Heads of State while meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia last month, directed that the appropriate structures of the ICGLR work with the AU and the UN for an immediate establishment of a neutral international force to eradicate M23, FDLR and all other negative forces in Eastern DRC and patrol and secure the border zones.