Congo: Five Priorities for a Peacebuilding Strategy
Congo: Five Priorities for a Peacebuilding Strategy
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
War and Dizzying Regional Alliances in Congo’s East
War and Dizzying Regional Alliances in Congo’s East
Report 150 / Africa 4 minutes

Congo: Five Priorities for a Peacebuilding Strategy

The deal struck by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda for renewed military and political cooperation is an important step forward, but is not sufficient to bring peace to the Kivus. Their five-week joint military operation did not produce significant results against the Rwandan Hutu rebels.

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Executive Summary

The deal struck by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda for renewed military and political cooperation is an important step forward, but is not sufficient to bring peace to the Kivus. Their five-week joint military operation did not produce significant results against the Rwandan Hutu rebels. Integration of the former insurgency that came over to the government’s side after Laurent Nkunda was dropped as its leader is precarious, despite the 23 March 2009 agreement it signed with Kinshasa. An international monitoring group chaired by UN Special Envoy Olu­se­gun Obasanjo and Great Lakes Envoy Benjamin Mkapa should work with the Congolese and Rwandan governments to support and implement a genuine and comprehensive peacebuilding strategy, while donors should condition their support on adoption and implementation by Kinshasa of a comprehensive package of judicial measures to fight impunity.

Normalisation of relations between Rwanda and Congo is essential if the eastern Congo and the Great Lakes region as a whole are to be stabilised. The agreement under which Rwanda accepted to withdraw its support from the renegade General Nkunda’s Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple (CNDP) insurgency and simultaneously press it to accept integration into the national army, while Kinshasa agreed to a joint military strike on its territory with the Rwandan army against the successors of the 1994 genocidaires, is an attempt to address a problem that has poisoned bilateral relations for fifteen years. There has already been one immediate and welcome result: Nkunda’s replacement and subsequent arrest.

But the Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) still have up to 6,000 fighters, a strong chain of command and a political branch disseminating propaganda abroad. Rwandan and Congolese troops destroyed empty camps and merely dispersed the FDLR’s North Kivu units further west. While widespread civilian casualties were avoided in the operation and most Rwandan troops appear to have left the DRC, the FDLR is already returning to former positions, attacking the FARDC and taking revenge on communities it believes supported the joint operation. Only 578 Rwandan Hutu rebels, including child soldiers, and 286 former Rwandan army soldiers who were for a time part of the CNDP had been repatriated by 30 April. New operations against the FDLR have to be prepared more carefully. An effective anti-FDLR strategy cannot be implemented without Rwandan support. It requires adequate planning and coordination with MONUC that focuses on filling the vacuum created by the military operations, protecting civilians from becoming “collateral damage” and from FDLR revenge and ensuring that rank-and-file FDLR freed from their chain of command actually proceed to disarmament.

Moreover, it is questionable how successful integration of the CNDP’s Tutsi fighters into the Congolese army (FARDC) has been. The CNDP’s military wing has been broken into platoon-level units and mixed with similar ones composed of Hutu militias, Mayi-Mayi and FARDC. CNDP commanders have also been brought into the hierarchy of the 8th Military Region. These integrated units may quickly disintegrate, however. Their command and control, cohesion, and will to fight are extremely weak, and the underlying causes of the insurgency have not been resolved. A security environment conducive to the safe return and reintegration of up to 60,000 refugees and 850,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) has not yet been created.

Former CNDP leaders and FARDC commanders have a horrendous record of causing severe suffering to civilians during their operations and of active involvement in the illegal exploitation of natural resources in North Kivu. Sexual violence has taken a catastrophic toll on the Kivu population and must be addressed decisively, most importantly by holding civilian and military abusers accountable for their actions. Illustrating the dramatic breakdown of Congolese society, rape, practised by men and teenagers, on women and girls of all ages, but also on men, has become not just a weapon of war but also a widely-practised procedure for determining power relations. Genuine peacebuilding and restoration of state authority in the Kivus also cannot ignore the culture of impunity, restoration of basic security and demilitarisation of the economy. Moreover, stabilisation will not succeed in the East without the continuation of successful institutional reforms supported by strong political engagement at the centre, where the Congo’s governance is largely determined. At the same time, if peacebuilding does succeed in the Kivus, the entire country will hugely benefit.

A peacebuilding strategy for the eastern Congo should have five priorities: 1) a credible and comprehensive disarmament strategy for dealing with Rwandan Hutu rebels in both North and South Kivu; 2) resuming security system reform with a new focus on building capacity and accountability in the Kivus as well as Orientale province; 3) a specific plan for fostering reconciliation and human security that concentrates on judicial accountability and the requirements of refugee and IDP return and reintegration; 4) political engagement dedicated to improving governance through increased economic transparency, equitable taxation, decentralisation and local elections; and 5) continuing efforts to sustain stable regional relations.

The problem with Congo is less to identify peacebuilding objectives than to sustain political will and results-oriented partnerships. With the international financial crisis reducing available resources, it is even more important to rationalise and coordinate international engagement, including establishing a clear division of labour between the various arms of the UN, donors and regional states and organisations. During the October-November 2008 crisis in North Kivu, when a humanitarian catastrophe threatened in and around Goma, robust political engagement with national and regional actors did more than troops on the ground to protect civilians. That kind of political engagement needs to be sustained at the highest levels in Kinshasa and the region for peacebuilding in the Kivus to succeed. Putting all efforts into the Kivus without keeping up pressure in Kinshasa for the reforms needed to improve political and economic governance throughout the country would be counterproductive.

International engagement and support for peacebuilding in the Congo at least through the 2011 elections needs to be maintained and coordinated by the UN and Great Lakes envoys – both distinguished former African presidents – with a view to implementing a roadmap that defines precisely the role and responsibility of each partner and the benchmarks to be met so that the process becomes irreversible. Only then should the UN Mission in the Congo (MONUC) begin its drawdown.

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