The Kivus: The Forgotten Crucible of the Congo Conflict
The Kivus: The Forgotten Crucible of the Congo Conflict
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Supporting Dialogue and Demobilisation in the DR Congo
Supporting Dialogue and Demobilisation in the DR Congo
Report 56 / Africa

The Kivus: The Forgotten Crucible of the Congo Conflict

December 2002 witnessed the signing of a power sharing agreement between Congolese parties under the auspices of the UN Special Envoy, Mustapha Niasse, and South Africa that should lead to finalisation of the Inter-Congolese Dialogue and a transitional government.

Executive Summary

December 2002 witnessed the signing of a power sharing agreement between Congolese parties under the auspices of the UN Special Envoy, Mustapha Niasse, and South Africa that should lead to finalisation of the Inter-Congolese Dialogue and a transitional government. Yet, it is unlikely that the agreement alone will bring immediate peace. Serious fighting continues in Eastern Congo, particularly Kivu and Ituri Provinces, which have been the main theatres for direct and proxy confrontation between local, national and regional participants in the Congolese conflict since the cease-fire was signed in Lusaka in 1999. The population there is suffering enormously while there is an almost complete absence of international attention.

Unless peace-building processes are crafted specifically for the East and made central to the transitional government’s program, the headlined political agreements and other peace accords that have been brokered will remain never implemented words on paper.

This report focuses on the conflict in the Kivus. This area was the powder keg where ethnic massacres first exploded in the 1990s and regional war in 1996 and 1998. Indeed, it was the centre of three intricately linked conflicts inherited from Belgian colonialism, 30 years of misrule under Mobutu and institutionalisation of ethnic discrimination against Kinyarwanda-speaking citizens, and the extension of the Burundian, Rwandan and Ugandan civil wars. The Kivu situation is now complicated by direct military involvement of external actors, multiplication of local warlords and active exploitation of natural resources by both. All regional actors are making strong efforts to mould the provinces to their own strategic needs. The withdrawal of most Rwandan and Ugandan troops in 2002 has not fundamentally changed this dynamic.

The agreement signed in Pretoria on 30 July 2002 stipulated that Rwanda would withdraw its army from the Congo, and the Kabila government would disarm the Rwandan Hutu fighters on its part of the Congolese territory. Under heavy international, especially U.S., pressure, Rwanda has indeed changed tactics by pulling most of its troops out. But it has reorganised militarily, restructuring the military branch of the RCD-Goma (hereinafter RCD) and creating a rapid reaction force that can be redeployed as needed into the eastern Congo to address the remaining security threats, but also to continue to exploit the region’s resources. It has found alternative allies on the ground to the national RCD leadership who hold the real power in Goma and Bukavu, and it sponsors autonomist movements for the Kivus. Rwanda now seems less interested in controlling Kinshasa and has resolved to consolidate its long-term influence in the eastern Congo by making the most out of the Kivus – a policy akin to that on which Uganda embarked several years ago.

Kinshasa tries to contain the autonomy push by offering the “nationalists” positions and giving military support to the Mai Mai militias in the Kivus in order to weaken Rwanda’s proxies. It officially stopped supplying the Rwandan Hutus, pursuant to its July 2002 commitments, but seems unwilling or incapable of preventing these forces from regrouping and reorganising in the Kivus to continue their struggle.

Neither the plans of the UN observer mission (MONUC) to deploy a reinforced 3,000-man contingent in the East nor finalisation of an inclusive political agreement in Pretoria will be enough to make a difference to the Kivus. MONUC’s mandate is insufficient for disarming the Hutu and Congolese militias. The task forces to be set up in Kisangani and Kindu, hundreds of kilometres from the field of operations, will neither deter the militias nor influence them to negotiate, let alone opt to disarm.

Similarly, the political agreement for a national unity government and elections after two years does not address the reality of power in the Kivus or provide credible solutions to the nationality, ethnicity and land crises that fuel the local war. If fighting does not stop in the Kivus, all plans to restore national authority and reunify the territory will be meaningless. The UN envoy, the Facilitator of the Intercongolese Dialogue and South Africa must make the elements of a Kivu settlement central features of the transitional constitution and final peace agreement. The international guarantors of the power-sharing agreement need to encourage a common vision for peace there and hold local and regional actors accountable for their policies.

Finally, it is vital that Congolese elections not be organised until serious progress has been made on the fundamental problems in the Kivus. Electoral competition based on ethnic mobilisation and divide and rule policies were precisely the causes of division and ethnic violence that sent the Congo spiralling into chaos in 1993. The mistakes of that decade should not be repeated.

Nairobi/Brussels, 24 January 2003

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