The Congo's Transition Is Failing: Crisis in the Kivus
The Congo's Transition Is Failing: Crisis in the Kivus
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
The Boiling Regional Crisis in Eastern Congo
The Boiling Regional Crisis in Eastern Congo
Report 91 / Africa

The Congo's Transition Is Failing: Crisis in the Kivus

As it approaches the end of its second year, the Congo's transition risks breaking apart on the unreconciled ambitions of the former civil war belligerents. Inability to resolve political differences in Kinshasa have been mirrored by new military tensions that the parties, as well as Rwanda, have stirred up in the Kivus, the birthplace of both wars that ravaged the country in the past decade.

Executive Summary

As it approaches the end of its second year, the Congo's transition risks breaking apart on the unreconciled ambitions of the former civil war belligerents. Inability to resolve political differences in Kinshasa have been mirrored by new military tensions that the parties, as well as Rwanda, have stirred up in the Kivus, the birthplace of both wars that ravaged the country in the past decade. June 2005 national elections are imperilled, and 1,000 are dying daily in the ongoing political and humanitarian crisis. To reverse these ominous trends, the international community needs to use the leverage its aid gives it to rein in the spoilers in Kinshasa, and it needs to do a better, quicker job of training the new Congolese army. And the UN Mission (MONUC) needs to get tougher in dealing with the Rwandan insurgents, the FDLR, who provide Kigali with a justification for dangerous meddling.

Beginning in February 2004, dissidents from the former rebel movement Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie-Goma (RCD-G) sparked clashes in the Kivu provinces of the eastern Congo. These were the result of disagreement within the transitional government over power-sharing in the army and the administration but the conflict was exacerbated by the interference of Rwanda, which sent troops across the border in November 2004, claiming to pursue the Hutu extremist FDLR. The resulting fighting displaced over 100,000 civilians and pushed the transition to the brink of collapse.

The fighting in the east is closely linked to the political impasse in the capital. The defining characteristic of the transitional government has been its weakness and the opportunism of its key members, who have little appetite for the approaching elections. None of the signatories of the Sun City Agreement, which ushered in the transition in 2003, has strong control of either its military or political wing.

Parallel chains of command persist in the army as well as in the administration as the former belligerents compete for resources and power. All still use taxation schemes and mining deals to enrich themselves. Many stand to lose power in the elections, and they are set on prolonging or disrupting the transition. This political weakness at the centre has allowed military conflicts to fester on the periphery.

The crisis in the east, which is again centred on tensions between the Congolese Hutu and Tutsi and other communities, has been manipulated by the Kinshasa contestants and Rwanda in pursuit of their own interests. The dissidents are hard-line Hutu and Tutsi from the RCD-G who feel their interests are not served in the transitional government. They have created a new "rwandophone" identity in order to fuse Congolese Hutu and Tutsi together, while President Kabila's party has roused anti-Rwandan sentiment. This manipulation of identity has raised the spectre of communal violence in a region where such feuds killed over 3,000 civilians in 1993.

The dissidents have some 8,000 to 12,000 troops around the city of Goma in North Kivu, faced by an equal number of Kinshasa troops. While hardliners on both sides want a military solution, neither has the strength to achieve it. The conflict can only be ended by bringing the moderate leadership of the dissidents back into the transitional institutions, while arresting or marginalising the others. This, in turn, will only be possible if the Kinshasa power-sharing issues are resolved.

Any peace initiative in the east must address the presence of the 8,000-10,000 Hutu rebels of the Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR). They have been severely weakened and are no longer a strategic threat to Kigali but they are still able to conduct raids into Rwanda, and are a serious threat to civilians in the Congo, where they constitute a liability for the transition. The new Congolese army has ultimate responsibility for dealing with the FDLR but the army will remain weak and disorganised for the foreseeable future. The international community needs to launch an International Military Assistance and Training Team (IMATT) to support it. Efforts underway by South Africa, Belgium and Angola are a promising first step but more coordination and standardisation, as well as funding, are required.

Neither MONUC nor the wider international community has shown the ability or the will to address the Congo's crises. While donors finance over half the budget, they have been unable or unwilling to take serious action against the spoilers in the transitional government, who work against unification of the army and administration. Some members of the government have been suspended for corruption but none has faced criminal charges. Indeed, the government has rewarded criminality by naming accused war criminals from Ituri to senior army posts.

Similarly, MONUC has not lived up to much of its mandate. While it has the clear tasks of protecting civilians, monitoring the arms embargo, and supporting the new army against the FDLR, it has yet to devise a coherent strategy for any of these. Especially in the wake of the scandal involving sexual abuse by MONUC, there is urgent need for the international community to help it take urgent steps to restore its credibility among the Congolese. MONUC does not have enough troops, but the bigger problem is how it uses the resources it does have.

Nairobi/Brussels, 30 March 2005

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