DR Congo: Why is there still a Kivu problem?
After his electoral victory in 2006, President Joseph Kabila promised that he would restore peace in what was the epicentre of the Congo wars: the Kivu provinces. More than four years later, the region seems no more stable than before.
On the face of it, there should have been progress. The key protagonists negotiated three agreements between 2007 and 2009, and they provide a comprehensive recipe for peace. The 2007 Nairobi declaration, the Actes d’Engagement of 2008 and the peace agreement in 2009 with the Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple (CNDP), a Congolese Tutsi rebel group, covered the elements necessary for peace.
These include the political and military integration of the Congolese armed groups and military pressure against the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), a Rwandan militia based in the Kivus that is led by former génocidaires.
The agreements also deal with the relocation of FDLR fighters who surrender, the repatriation of refugees an d regional dialogue and cooperation.
The Congolese government, neighbouring countries, the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC and the various armed groups agreed that these were essential steps to securing peace in the Kivu provinces.
But the reality has never met those expectations. With national elections in 2011, the region is still experiencing high levels of violence. Women and girls, in particular, remain vulnerable targets for brutal attacks by marauding militia men and the Congolese army.
Off the mark
These agreements were poorly implemented , and the heart of the problem is the failed military effort against the FDLR. Despite three successive operations conducted by the Congolese army over the last two years, government soldiers are still battling the FDLR for control of land and mines. While the UN estimates the FDLR’s strength to be about 3,000-4,000 troops, some 60,000 Congolese soldiers deployed in the Kivus have not had much success against them. In the midst of this military debacle, the population continues to suffer twice over: from the rebels' retributive campaigns and from the Congolese army's human rights abuses.
The one attempt to relocate surrendering FDLR fighters failed miserably this year. The supposedly demobilised FDLR combatants, who were relocated by a Congolese NGO in a remote city in Katanga without any logistical support and socioeconomic reintegration plan, were quick to return. While the Katangan authorities requested the UN to send them back to the Kivus, the NGO repatriated others to 'their' country, Rwanda. Soon after their arrival, Rwandan officials declared that they were not nationals, and since then they seem to have vanished.
Compounding the problem further in the Kivus is the poor progress on the political and military integration of the CNDP. Prospects for this remain elusive, despite the 23 March 2009 agreement between the CNDP leadership and the Congolese government. The promise to appoint CNDP leaders to government posts has not materialised and forces have not been fully integrated into the national army. Unsatisfied with the status quo and worried by developments in Rwanda, the CNDP leadership is becoming more sceptical about the deal. It has taken to creating parallel military and administrative structures. Recent desertions also confirm the increased frustration among some fighters.
The repeated failures to implement the negotiated peace package are increasing the risk of ethnic clashes and disintegration of the national army in the Kivus. The presidential election in 2011 will only make the situation more volatile.
There are no quick fixes for the Kivu problem, but the current approach must be broadened to bring in all the communities in a transparent way. There should be an open regional dialogue through the Communauté Economique des Pays des Grand Lacs, including civil society organisations, to focus on economic issues, land use and population movements.
Military pressure on the FDLR has to be exerted by well-trained units of the Congolese army. After years of cooperation with China, Belgium, South Africa, the US and others, effective fighting units have been created in the Congolese military. They should first deploy to the most sensitive areas (Masisi and Rutshuru) in North Kivu, and then, with international logistical support and monitoring, engage the FDLR.
In the meantime, UN peacekeepers should fulfil their mandate of prioritising civilian protection, both through defensive deployments and by the use of joint protection teams consisting of military personnel and human rights experts. The Congolese authorities and the UN mission in the DRC must carefully and thoroughly plan the future relocation of FDLR combatants who surrender.
The CNDP and the government must implement their commitments in good faith. The appointment of CNDP figures to provincial institutions should go hand in hand with the dismantling of the parallel administrative and military chain of command.
Tripartite agreements for the repatriation of refugees have been signed between the host countries, the DRC and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). UNHCR and the Congolese authorities should follow up with a careful repatriation plan. This is key to ensure the security of returnees and to limit the rise of land conflicts between them and the local population.
But more agreements and plans alone will not prove any more successful than previous attempts unless implementation efforts by all parties are consistent and sustainable.
Thierry Vircoulon is International Crisis Group's Central Africa Project Director.
The Africa Report