Supporting Dialogue and Demobilisation in the DR Congo
Supporting Dialogue and Demobilisation in the DR Congo
Briefing 21 / Africa

Back to the Brink in the Congo

Both wars that devastated the Congo (Democratic Republic) in the past decade and led to some 3.8 million deaths began when Rwandan troops crossed the border into that giant country's unstable eastern region, the Kivus. History may be repeating itself in recent weeks as a Rwandan incursion stirs fears of a third catastrophe, but the situation can still be saved.

I. Overview

Both wars that devastated the Congo (Democratic Republic) in the past decade and led to some 3.8 million deaths[fn]This is the figure in a recent study by the International Rescue Committee, "Mortality Rates in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Results from a Nationwide Survey, Conducted April-July 2004", December 2004, available at http://www.theirc.org/pdf/DRC_MortalitySurvey2004_RB_8Dec04.pdfHide Footnote  began when Rwandan troops crossed the border into that giant country's unstable eastern region, the Kivus. History may be repeating itself in recent weeks as a Rwandan incursion stirs fears of a third catastrophe, but the situation can still be saved. There is uncertainty about what is actually happening on the ground in the isolated and rugged border terrain -- including whether the Rwandans are holding territory -- but the strong government in Kigali appears to have limited aims, and the weak government in Kinshasa is unlikely to confront the invaders seriously. At the least, however, the crisis threatens the Congo's fragile political transition. At worst it could cause the Great Lakes region to go up in flames again. The international community, including the UN, whose peacekeeping mission (MONUC) has stood by ineffectively, needs to sit all parties down for urgent discussions, decide on a course of action and apply a mix of muscle and diplomacy to make a comprehensive solution possible.

Antagonism between the Kivus' ethnic groups has been steadily rising in the last few months. Increased Rwandan interference in the two eastern provinces will add to the resentment of inhabitants of other origins against those of Rwandan origin whom they tend to view as collaborators with a foreign aggressor. In the recent wars, many Congolese of Rwandan origin, and particularly Tutsis, actively cooperated with the Rwandans and their local allies, the RCD-Goma. They fear a repeat of past pogroms against their community by government soldiers sent from Kinshasa to quell local rebellions or repel Rwandan incursions. Fighting in the past few days for control of Kanyabayonga between reinforcements sent by the government and the North Kivu-based segment of the army made up of former Rwanda-backed rebels and the resulting flight of civilians underscore the dangers of ethnic polarisation and inter-communal violence.

The crisis is rooted in both the failure to deal with security issues in the Kivus and the faltering political process in Kinshasa. Neither the 2002 Pretoria Agreement, which envisages a transition culminating in election of a Congo government in June 2005, nor subsequent bilateral and regional security agreements signed by the parties, have been implemented. A key bargain that remains unfulfilled is definitive Rwandan withdrawal in exchange for disarming of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), the insurgent force with strong links to the génocidaires of 1994. It is time to end the cycle of impunity: donors should link progress on these agreements directly to their aid and those who undermine the agreements need to be held personally responsible for their actions.

Rwanda's reckless decision to play with fire followed almost immediately the summit pledge of eleven regional leaders, including President Paul Kagame, to "fully support the national peace processes in the region and refrain from any acts, statements or attitudes likely to negatively impact them..."[fn]Dar-Es-Salaam Declaration on Peace, Security, Democracy, and Development in the Great Lakes Region", First Summit of Heads of State and Government, Dar-Es-Salaam, 19-20 November 2004, Ch. III, Article 17.Hide Footnote  It has multiple motivations. The 8,000 to 10,000 FDLR fighters in the Kivus are too few and disorganised to pose an imminent military or political threat to the country but they are a grave danger for civilians in the Kivus on whom they prey, including those of Rwandan origin. Kigali also wishes to maintain its political and economic influence over the two potentially rich provinces.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan should convene an emergency meeting to develop a coherent strategy that addresses all aspects of the crisis: the continuing presence of armed FDLR, Rwandan security needs, and the endangered Congolese political transition. Congo and Rwanda should participate and voice their concerns and proposals.

On its past record, the international community will have no difficulty speaking strongly to the effect that any sign of continued support for the FDLR by the Congolese government, its continued failure to disarm those rebels, a renewed Rwandan incursion, and even continued dithering on the transition by Congolese politicians is unacceptable. More difficult, but necessary, will be to give teeth to those sentiments.

Should Congo or Rwanda fail to fulfil existing obligations or those assumed in the course of the new process that Crisis Group believes must be launched immediately, the Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter in response to the threat to international peace and security, should impose penalties on the culpable party, including a targeted suspension of international assistance (with care to minimise effects on the civilian population); an arms embargo; and an assets freeze and travel ban against high officials.

It will perhaps be even more difficult to reach agreement on realistic measures to deal with the FDLR. Insecurity in the Kivus is a fundamental source of tension and instability, crippling the Congolese transition and poisoning relations between Rwanda and the Congo. The FDLR presence there is a major element of the witches' brew. Unfortunately, the voluntary program of disarmament, demobilisation, repatriation, resettlement, and reintegration (DDR) has failed.[fn]"Third Special Report of the Secretary-General on the UN Organisation Mission in the DR Congo", S/2004/650, 16 August 2004. For simplicity, Crisis Group uses the short form abbreviation DDR in this briefing to cover the five concepts rather than DDRRR.Hide Footnote  Forcible disarmament is called for and has received some verbal support from the African Union (AU) and South Africa. But the Congo's own army (the FARDC) is too weak. MONUC is unwilling and in its present configuration perhaps incapable as well. Creative thinking is needed to devise a workable compromise combining more vigorous FARDC and MONUC steps, while MONUC and others redouble their efforts to establish a functioning national army capable of meeting the Congo's security needs and responsibilities.

Donors should turn the coordination body they have in Kinshasa -- the International Committee in Support of the Transition (CIAT) -- into a much more proactive body to further progress in the politically deadlocked capital, including on the all important reform of the security sector.

Once a plan has been devised, the Security Council should endorse it and request that the Secretary General supervise its implementation through his Special Representative in the Congo and keep the Council closely advised.

If all this can be done, or at least set on its way, within the next few weeks, perhaps another collapse of the Congo and war for its riches can be headed off.[fn]

Nairobi/Brussels, 17 December 2004

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