Many eyes in the region are turned towards Goma where, for the past fortnight, a peace conference for the volatile Kivu region has been underway.
The conference, which brings together various players in both South and North Kivu, was hastily called and organised by the Kinshasa government in the wake of a failed offensive against rebel forces led by General Laurent Nkunda in December.
Nkunda and his movement, the CNDP, claim to be fighting to protect his people who have been the targets of a Rwandan militia group, some of whose members were responsible for the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda.
Security in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo has been the buzz word for the last decade. It has been the theatre of operations for a multitude of armed groups fighting neighbouring countries, but it is the local population who have borne the brunt of the violence.
Some pundits are very sceptical at the outcome of the Kivu peace talks, and they are not without valid reasons. The main reasoning is that this road has been walked before and there has been little to show for it save for some fancy documents that are tossed into the bottom drawer once the ink has dried.
An interesting - if not embarrassing - phenomenon preceded the talks. There first began a chorus of bickering and elbowing by many interested groups to be allowed to take part in this historical gathering.
On the forefront of this merciless war were members of the civil society of both Kivus who swore that if the organisers did not cede to their demands to be allotted more slots in the conference hall they would not attend.
Once the dust had settled, the demands by the civil society turned out not to be civilised at all. They had wanted 600 seats (original estimates of participants to the conference had been put at between 400 and 600).
It later turned out that our civil friends’ appetite was whetted by something other than patriotism: the green buck. There was a hefty package for participants in the $4.5 million-conference, and once all avenues had been closed for the (un)civil(ised) brotherhood, they took the only honourable option: boycott.
Another issue that is bound to water down the decisions reached at in the meeting is that the government of President Joseph Kabila did not call the peace talks on its own volition.
The military setbacks the government army experienced at the hands of the rebel group pushed the government into a corner and forced it to seek a face-saving solution. But this unfortunately falls in the same way of thinking by an American scholar- and it does not bode well for Kabila or Kivu.
During an October 24, 2007 hearing at the US Senate, Mauro De Lorenzo, a Fellow, of the Foreign and Defense Policy Studies of the American Enterprise Institute set out four theoretical scenarios that can come out of the current crisis in Kivu.
The first scenario actually took place in early December 2007. De Lorenzo had predicted that if the Congolese army, with the logistical support of the UN peace keeping forces (MONUC) attacked Nkunda’s forces and were defeated, Kabila would be fatally weakened and might be forced out of the presidential “Marble Palace”.
The American’s second plot was not so different from the first one, only that this time Kabila gives in to Nkunda’s demands, drops all charges against him, integrates CNDP forces in the national army and allows the rebel leader to remain in the east; the consequences for the Congolese leader would be the same as above - he might not last long.
The third scenario would not do Nkunda any good at all. The American says that if he were to give in to Kabila’s demands of laying down his weapons and integrate with the national army, he risked being sidelined by his own officers.
“They would keep fighting because they have no confidence in the willingness, much less ability, of Congolese security forces to protect them and their community”, thinks Mauro De Lorenzo.
“Nkunda’s forces have the capacity to maintain an insurgency of some type for many years, and they can do so without any support from the government of Rwanda. Their funds and foot soldiers are generated internally, within their community,” he says.
The last scenario is the most dangerous. If Nkunda were to be defeated, Rwandan FDLR insurgents would regain a foothold in the east close to the Rwandan border, and attack or attempt to expel Nkunda’s people towards Rwanda and Uganda.
“Rwanda could be forced to act under this scenario, even though its own national priorities dictate that it remain out of involvement in the Congo,” says De Lorenzo’s crystal ball.
If De Lorenzo is a fortune teller, then Kabila is standing on very shaky ground. Does it mean that the conference he called and boycotted, and later on decided to attend at the last minute, is just another ploy to gain some lost political ground?
People in the Kivu surely deserve a better solution other than their being continuously used as mere pawns in Kabila’s shaky chess hand.