The new rounds of diplomatic measures being driven to resolve the Kabila-Nkunda contest has provided a new framework for redefining a new Congo.
More so the new round of Rwandan-Congolese cooperation to bring about sustainable peace within the Kivus is a welcome initiative whose time is long overdue.
For the two opposing forces in the Kivus, instead of just fighting over turf, the former belligerents should now be crafting a completely new dispensation.
Appropriate solutions must address political problems in Kinshasa as well as the local conflicts such as those in the Kivus.
In Kinshasa, this means living up to the promise of the Sun City Agreement that brought the transition into existence.
The most difficult task is to force progress in terms of giving forth to consensus from actors who have an interest in maintaining the status quo.
If both parties pull off a sustainable peace process, Joseph Kabila will break way from the ranks of the past Congolese rulers before him.
For history not to judge him harshly he needs to drive Congo on to a path unlike all of Congo’s past rulers. On the other side of the country, in the east, communal conflicts that were at the heart of the war have been left to fester.
These have to be addressed critically. Struggles over citizenship, land ownership and customary authority have been exacerbated by years of continuous low-grade warfare in North and South Kivu.
While the Congo’s problems are many and complex, this does not justify the continuation of the ‘business as usual scenario’.
However it is a miracle that the country has come a long way in the last four years thanks to the concerted action of local and international players.
Joseph Kabila needs to institute further concrete political reform measures to give forth to a new political order so as to stop the suffering of the Congolese people.
The anti-FDLR joint military operation is the first of such steps. This would go a long way in ensuring that history does not judge him harshly and to secure the success of his presidency.
Analysts have pointed out a comprehensive action plan, built around six critical objectives, with the following major elements as forming what could be the reforms needed to get Congo out of its political turmoil: good governance and tackling corruption and impunity; security sector reforms; sorting out the FDLR problem once and for all; settling the Katangan, Ituri and the Kivu Crises.
Let us now focus on these six critical items. Corruption and mismanagement are closely tied to the political conflict.
Most members of Congolese government see access to power as a means of personal enrichment and use their positions in the administration and army to ensure their interests.
Corruption is readily visible and has contributed to a decrease in economic growth. Graft has contributed directly to violence.
Nkunda’s concern regarding the natural resource exploitation and the government’s controversial resource for infrastructure deal with China are some of items which would need better forms of scrutiny and reform.
There have been several Congolese initiatives to punish corruption but these have received little international support.
Good governance would entail creating new institutions to safeguard democracy while encouraging separation of powers within different levers of government while at the same encouraging devolution of power to the regions taking into account the diverse socio-political fabric that is called Congo.
Resolving the FDLR menace
Sorting out once and for all the FDLR problem-the authors of the Rwandan genocide and Rwanda’s security threat present one of the key components of stabilizing the DR Congo.
Thus the joint Military Operation plan by both Rwanda and Congo should be viewed as long over due. By 2007 the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) still had 8,000 to 10,000 fighters in the eastern Congo who were seeking to threaten their homeland.
Rwandan intelligence believes that only around 15 to 18 per cent of the officers, some 50 to 60 individuals are guilty of genocide or serious war crimes, the implication being that the remaining troops and officers would have little to fear in returning home.
Several FDLR brigade commanders, for example, were low ranking officers in the old Rwandan army (the FAR), who are not accused of either category 1 or category 2 crimes related to the genocide as they are defined by Rwandan law.
The FDLR has been seriously weakened ever since Kinshasa cut its supply line in 2002. Desertions and disagreements between the hard-line and more moderate elements had further destabilised the insurgency.
However its fortunes changed dramatically when Joseph Kabila co-opted them as a mercenary force in the latest round of the Kivu crisis.
This further complicated the regional security dynamics. The Congolese reversal of their FDLR policy recently by denouncing them as an enemy within rather than an ally is a welcome gesture within regional security dynamics.
This is because the FDLR remains a danger to peace in the region and particularly to the civilian populations straddling the Congo-Rwanda borders. In addition, the FDLR periodically attacks, rapes and abducts villagers in South Kivu.
A May 2005 UN report catalogued over 1,700 cases of abuse by the FDLR.
Non military avenues must be exhausted after the planned military offensive. In the words of a MONUC commander, ‘We will need to come up with a proactive post military program to fully extinguish the security threats posed by the FDLR group’.
The joint military strategy has been crafted after it became apparent that the FDLR leadership had thwarted all diplomatic efforts.
More so, it is evident that coercive measures will also be necessary to break the hold of the hardliners over the majority of FDLR soldiers and to convince them that they have no choice but to disarm and return to Rwanda.
Up to this time neither the Congolese army, which bears the primary responsibility, nor MONUC, has been sufficiently forceful or coordinated in dealing with the FDLR. Hence the joint Rwandan-Congolese initiative.
MONUC has been hesitant to use force against the FDLR, even though commanders acknowledge that their mandate to protect civilians would allow them to do so.
The situation became even more precarious for MONUC after FDLR had earlier on been co-opted as another anti-Nkunda battle group. Things have now changed and FDLR is on notice.
If the joint military operations are supported by a robust post military program this year, the FDLR problem should be concluded once and for all so that the Congolese peace initiative can move to another level.
Security sector reforms
Next is security sector reforms. Although the creation of a new, integrated army, the FARDC, is one of the most important tasks of the new dispensation, progress has been piecemeal and very slow.
The original estimate of troops to be integrated exceeded 300,000, but by August 2005 new estimates placed the figure at around 120,000 to 150,000.
While the officer corps in Kinshasa and regional headquarters has been integrated, the exercise at lower levels has not gone according to set plans. In fact part of the genesis of the Nkunda rebellion emanated from gaps in the Army integration program. As such parallel chains of command and extensive corruption make the national army inefficient and barely operational.
After years of delay, the government finally put forward a strategic plan for army integration in May 2005. The three-stage plan would first create light infantry brigades then form a rapid reaction unit, and finally establish a true defence force by 2010.
The new army would include eighteen brigades of 4,200 troops each. The rest would be demobilised through the National Demobilisation and Reinsertion Commission (CONADER).
This plan is an important step forward but many questions remain regarding the exact size of the force in the medium and long term.
While the international community had funded demobilisation, it was much more hesitant to help create and train the FARDC. Compared to the US$200 million earmarked for taking soldiers out of the army and reintegrating them, only around US$14 million was pledged for army reform in 2005.
Consequently, the fundamental problems of irregular payments, inadequate equipment, and poor cohesion of these brigades in the field needed to be sorted out. Although less problematic than the reform of the army, reform of the Congolese National Police (PNC) also presents great challenges.
During the war, the police were largely unarmed and marginalised throughout the country. Many tasks usually carried out by police, such as the arrest of criminal suspects, were assumed by the various armed groups or simply did not occur.
While police reform seems to be proceeding better than army reform, largely due to better international coordination and less resistance from the various Congolese actors, success depends on the trained units continuing to receive support.
As army reform has shown, even well trained and equipped units can disintegrate or turn against the local population if not paid and kept under a responsible, apolitical command.
In the next instalment of this series on The Congo crisis the writer will further explore the remaining key reform areas needed to thrust Congolese peace initiatives to fruition.