After the recent meeting of regional leaders in Kampala under the auspices of ICGLR mechanism, it is good news to hear that the stalled negotiations between M23 and the Kinshasa government are back on track in the Ugandan capital Kampala.
The development gives hope to the Congolese citizens, neighbouring countries and the international community that the two warring sides may this time round strike a deal that will bring lasting peace to the Eastern DRC.
Before the start of the talks, M23 spokesperson in Kampala was quoted saying that once the Kinshasa government agrees to two conditions of disarming FDLR genocidaires and returning of Congolese refugees, then the rebel group is ready and willing to lay down arms. He went further to say that the rebel group does not have to be incorporated in RDC army but can return to civilian life. To many military strategists, the condition sounded too good to be believed, especially coming from a rebel leader, and it also sounded not complicated to implement from the Kinshasa government side as long as there is political will to do so.
A remnant of the political and military system responsible for the 1994 Genocide against Rwandan Tutsi, the FDLR has been listed as a terrorist organisation by the US and the UN. Its core leaders are responsible for the death of over a million innocent people including women and children, whose only crime was the way they were born. The extremist ideology of FDLR against the Tutsi is still strong and one of their objectives is to return to Rwanda and “continue from where they stopped” (read kill more Tutsi).
This anti Tutsi ideology was exported wholesale to Eastern DRC where FDLR is responsible for the killing of hundreds of Kinyarwanda speaking Congolese (Tutsi) on grounds that they have blood relations with Rwandan Tutsi. Rape, torture and body mutilation of people perceived to be Tutsi is part of the agenda for FDLR.
Ever since the FDLR took control of areas in the Kivus, life has never been the same for the local communities. The peaceful coexistence among Congolese communities has been dangerously severed, thereby resulting into an endless cycle of dysfunctional conflicts.
The UN estimates FDLR strength to be around 1500 fighters but the government of Rwanda puts it at around 5000. The numbers or the age group of the FDLR is not the problem at all. What the region and the international community should be concerned about is the ideology.
Given its estimated numbers, the FDLR is presumably incapable of launching a successful conventional onslaught against Rwanda’s armed forces even with the help of their allies like the FARDC and others. However, the group’s control of parts of Eastern DRC with their extremist Hutu supremacist ideology means that thousands of Congolese Tutsi now languishing in refugee camps across the region can never go back home. Worse still, the control of spaces by FDLR in Eastern DRC is an obstacle to unity and reconciliation in a region that needs the communities to reconcile after years of fighting and killing one another.
For the Eastern DRC to return to normalcy, it is vital that all the armed groups are disarmed, most especially the FDLR; after which unity and reconciliation programmes can be put in motion. All this is unachievable as long as the FDLR controls areas and uses these areas to spread divisions and hate among unsuspecting local Congolese communities.
It is also important to acknowledge that the FDLR will not easily or willingly vacate Eastern DRC. This is because Eastern DRC is seen as a bargaining chip for the leadership of this group to evade justice for their role in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. The FDLR will do everything possible to cause a humanitarian crisis in the Kivus so as to internationalise the conflict, wear out regional and international actors so that Rwanda can be pressured to talk to the genocidal outfit; a scenario that is already unfolding given the recent proposal by non other than the President of Rwanda’s neighbour and friend - Tanzania.
Given the fact that this genocidal group has lived for long in Eastern DRC thereby mastering the terrain and acquiring allies, dislodging them completely might be very challenging. It is possible though to push them out of the Kivus into unfriendly territory and gradually erode their strength significantly, to an extent where they would be less dangerous like what is happening to the LRA currently.
The FDLR now armed and supported by the Kinshasa government is a major concern to the Rwandan people given their genocidal ideology and intention to decimate Tutsis from the face of the earth. Their continued control of areas in Eastern DRC has dangerously eroded peaceful coexistence among local Congolese communities and any effort to disarm and dissolve this genocidal force is a step in the right direction. The recently deployed UN intervention Brigade has been active chasing M23 fighters only while the more deadly FDLR is given a free reign.
The ICGLR and other regional mechanisms aimed at helping DRC achieve sustainable peace and security should be encouraged. Analysts believe that the deployment of the UN Intervention Brigade is only aimed at empowering Kinshasa to defeat M23, leaving the FDLR intact and sometimes even arming the group to fight the M23.
This is a fatal mistake that the international community will regret later when it is too late. The conflict between Kinshasa and M23 can easily be solved through political dialogue, which is not possible between Rwanda and FDLR. The guns should be directed towards the latter and not M23 which is already engaged in dialogue with the DRC government.
The international community should support regional initiatives and, therefore, act as partners who do not impose solutions that cannot stand the test of time, but instead work together with regional governments through the already existing mechanisms for conflict prevention and resolution in the region.
The author is an expert on regional affairs.