Congo: Ending the Status Quo
Africa Briefing N°107
17 Dec 2014
The November 2013 defeat of the M23 armed group raised the hope that, after almost two decades of conflict, fundamental change and stabilisation were possible in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the region. This was the result of a rare convergence of interests between Kinshasa and major international and regional actors. However, the unity of vision and action that materialised in the February 2013 signing of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework (PSCF) agreement has now dissolved. It needs to be restored, if necessary through the UN Security Council (UNSC) convening a high-level meeting of DRC government, other key regional players and international actors to develop a shared and comprehensive strategy to deal with the armed groups still operating in eastern DRC. Failure to do so will prolong the tragic status quo of attacks and pillaging by armed groups against an already brutalised civilian population.
The dismantling of armed groups, the raison d’être of the UN mission’s Intervention Brigade (FIB), as well as the DRC government’s national reform agenda, have both stalled. The handling of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) has become the PSCF’s symbolic stumbling block. As the region’s 2 January 2015 deadline for their demobilisation nears, views between some of the regional stakeholders (including the main troop contributors to the UN’s Intervention Brigade, South Africa and Tanzania), the DRC and the UN on what to do next clearly diverge. The failure to complete the demobilisation of the M23, which remains cantoned in Uganda and Rwanda, also demonstrates the disagreement and distrust among the PSCF signatories, and partly results from Rwanda’s irritation that the Congolese army and UN are not putting military pressure on the FDLR. Initiatives to tackle other armed groups are piecemeal and opportunities for disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) lost because Kinshasa and donors disagree. The entire stabilisation agenda for the eastern provinces is at risk.
The failure to deal with armed groups means continued, unacceptable exactions against the civilian population, in particular in large parts of eastern DRC (Ituri, North and South Kivu and Northern Katanga Province). It also contributes to regional tensions and undermines the credibility of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), in particular regarding civilian protection.
To end the present stalemate and drift to the 2 January 2015 deadline, as well as to revive PSCF implementation, MONUSCO, the UN’s envoy to the Great Lakes region and the UN Security Council (UNSC) should urgently:
- build consensus around a clear and comprehensive strategy to deal with the armed groups, based on lessons learned from earlier operations, with effective military pressure, built on intelligence-led operations including deployments of troops to disrupt the capacity of armed groups to collect revenue, as well as contingency plans to avoid civilian casualties; DDR; agreement about judicial treatment of groups’ leaders; police action against local and international support networks; and third-country settlement options.
The governments of Rwanda and the DRC should:
- send a clear signal to returning former combatants that they will receive a fair and transparent treatment, while there should be full understanding that there cannot be political dialogue with “genocidaires”. A monitoring mechanism, such as that established by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for returnees, could be established to build confidence among returning former combatants.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) and International Confer-ence on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) should:
- make a thorough and fair assessment of the progress in the voluntary disarmament process of the FDLR in January and abstain from a further extension.
The UN Security Council and the main funders of MONUSCO should:
- press the FIB troop contributors, in particular South Africa and Tanzania to make good on their commitment to carry out targeted operations against armed groups;
- if no action is taken against the FDLR in January, convene a special high-level meeting bringing together the DRC government, other key regional players – Angola, Burundi, Malawi, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda – and international actors including the World Bank, SADC, ICGLR, European Union (EU), U.S., UK, Belgium and France to forge a new way forward. The meeting should focus on the causes of the present stalemate and outline the humanitarian, political and economic cost of the status quo and the risk of compromising future investment in the region as long as instability prevails; and
- consider ending the mandate of the FIB if the Congolese government and the troop contributors remain unwilling to take action, based on the measures outlined above, to help demobilise armed groups, particularly the FDLR.
Nairobi/Brussels, 17 December 2014