Conflict and interests
Conflict and interests
The Boiling Regional Crisis in Eastern Congo
The Boiling Regional Crisis in Eastern Congo
Op-Ed / Africa

Conflict and interests

A tenuous unilateral ceasefire is holding in North Kivu province after almost three months of escalating violence, atrocities and mass displacement. But the cycle of conflict and intermittent fragile peace is bound to continue indefinitely until the international community and the actors on the ground significantly change their priorities.

Recent UN Security Council approval of 3,000 additional troops for its peacekeeping operation in the Democractic Republic of the Congo is welcome, as is the push for additional EU forces to be deployed. But getting new UN boots on the ground will take months, and in the meantime, there needs to be a peace process for peacekeepers to support. The Congolese cannot wait: a sustainable process demands concerted and constant political pressure.

The international community, after a spluttering start, has made some progress. The appointments of former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo as UN Special Envoy and the Great Lakes Special Mediator Benjamin Mkapa are critical in taking forward the political solution to the conflict, based on two key agreements.

The November 2007 Nairobi Agreement provides for normalisation of relations between Congo and Rwanda, disarmament of Rwandan Hutu rebels in Congo – including some perpetrators of the 1994 genocide – and ending Rwandan support to Congolese Tutsi insurgent Laurent Nkunda. The January 2008 Goma Agreement outlines a ceasefire, voluntary demobilisation of combatants and the 'Amani' peace process between the government, Mayi-Mayi militias and Nkunda's rebels.

Obasanjo and Mkapa must have clear lines of responsibility, with Obasanjo concentrating primarily on the security issues and Mkapa focusing on other aspects of the Amani programme, such as negotiating conditions for the resettlement of displaced persons, reconciliation, and normalisation of the economic relations between Rwanda, Uganda and Congo.

For these efforts to work, civilian protection needs to be the priority of the main actors in Kinshasa and in eastern Congo. This is clearly not the case at present. In fact, none of the military and political actors seem to even be aware of the terrible human suffering their irresponsible policies have caused in the past two years. The war criminals and their accomplices will have to pay, through the International Criminal Court if necessary.

The Congolese army itself is an ineffectual fighting force. One of the primary perpetrators of human rights abuses, it operates like the non-state armed groups in the country and needs structural and radical reforms. Its weakness makes the government prone to rely on the Hutu militias, which, in turn, fuels Nkunda's false claim to be the protector of the Tutsi minority.

Corruption is rife, and the Congolese army should invite French-speaking international and African officers as military advisers to promote responsible and accountable security forces.

The immediate needs are to keep Nkunda to his unilateral ceasefire, have the UN force protect civilians, and ensure armed groups do not spoil whatever sliver of hope exists for the peace process.

Into the mid term, attention should turn to the demobilisation and disarmament of all militias and rebel groups, both voluntarily and, if necessary, through force. The focus should also be the appropriate reintegration of former combatants into a demilitarised economy and a credible process of army reforms, genuinely addressing the main ill of the current institution, its absolute impunity.

All three of these priorities will fail without sincere political will from Kinshasa and Kigali, and key to that is sustained political and diplomatic commitment by the UN, the EU, the African Union and the wider international community. There needs to be one unequivocal message to those tempted to calculate that continued conflict is in their interest.
 

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