Submission to UN Security Council on the Situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Submission to UN Security Council on the Situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
A Dangerous Escalation in the Great Lakes
A Dangerous Escalation in the Great Lakes
Open Letter / Africa 5 minutes

Submission to UN Security Council on the Situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Following the recent round of hostilities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, over 250,000 civilians have been newly displaced in the province of North Kivu and the risk of regional escalation is growing. In the absence of a serious push for a political solution to the crisis by the international community – and the United Nations Security Council in particular – the situation could quickly spiral out of control. The only way out of the crisis is a coherent political strategy, implemented through consistent and concerted help from the Security Council and influential member-states from the region.

Basic Strategy

Such a strategy – centred on upholding the 29 October ceasefire and full implementation of the November 2007 Nairobi declaration and January 2008 Goma agreement – should incorporate the following elements:

1. Clear mediation mandates

An unambiguous division of labour between UN Special Envoy Olusegun Obasanjo and the Great Lakes Special Mediator Benjamin Mkapa is essential.

Obasanjo, given his military background, should concentrate primarily on the key security issues:

  • Preparation of an operational plan for the dismantlement of the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) command and control structure and comprehensive FDLR disarmament, including through military participation by UN member states if required;
  • Disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) of all Congolese militias, using the UN Mission in the Congo (MONUC) as a strategic implementing partner; and
  • Integration of willing ex-combatants into the Congolese armed forces, on the basis of a specific plan designed to satisfy the requirements of the North Kivu situation. 

Mkapa should focus his efforts on peacebuilding, at two levels:   

  • As a Swahili-speaker and a regional actor able to interact directly with community leaders for confidence-building and consultation purposes, he should work on other aspects of the Amani peacebuilding program,[iv] such as negotiating conditions for the resettlement of IDPs; access to secure landholdings for all communities; reconciliation initiatives; fair representation in the local provincial institutions; and restoration of civilian state authority leading to an end of the war economy; and
  • As a representative of the Great Lakes region, he should address the conditions for a sustainable normalisation of economic relations between Rwanda, Uganda, and the DRC. Mkapa can help in this regard by facilitating the signing and implementation of an agreement regulating cross-border movements of goods and persons and the implementation of joint economic development projects, in the energy sector in particular.

Both envoys should be based in Goma so as to keep a close watch on developments on the ground and build momentum around their engagement. MONUC must support them fully and desist from any attempts to become their substitute, particularly as it has neither the moral authority nor the political capacity to do so. Any jostling for a more prominent or visible position by MONUC risks only creating confusion and offering conflict parties opportunities to default on their commitments.  

2. End to all proxy support of illegal armed groups 

Most importantly in this context, any support from Kinshasa to the FDLR or from Kigali to Laurent Nkunda’s Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple (CNDP) must cease. The time is ripe to pressure both the Congolese and Rwandan governments on this front. President Kabila has suffered repeated military defeats over the past two years and must be pushed to end, once and for all, any attempts to end the crisis through military means. At the same time, Kigali must be pressed to deny the CNDP access to Rwanda’s territory and have all propaganda, fund-raising, and recruitment activities taking place within its borders by or in support of the CNDP stop immediately.

3. Disarmament of all illegal militias

The FDLR must be persuaded to disarm, both through military pressure and additional incentives. A credible display of military force by the international community, through MONUC or any other international force, will be necessary to push the FDLR high command into disarmament. For the rank and file, MONUC should stage repeated campaigns to destroy permanent camps and make illegal exploitation of natural resources, as well as illegal taxation of economic activities, more difficult, thus leaving the FDLR with no doubt that disarmament is their best option. Additionally, Rwanda must adopt a more flexible approach to those FDLR members who did not participate in the Rwandan genocide – by now the vast majority of the militia – and offer them unconditional amnesty.

Simultaneously, a tailor-made DDR program for Congolese militias ought to be launched, replacing years of ill-advised and unsuccessful efforts to tackle the issue through a poorly coordinated, one-size-fits-all approach.

Success on either of these two tracks – disarmament of the FDLR and disarmament of Congolese militias – is dependent on progress of the other.  

4. Security sector reform (SSR)

Increased international support to the existing effort to build a national army capable of projecting state authority over all parts of the DRC is crucial. Given that the Congolese national army, the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC), is at present one of the primary perpetrators of human rights abuses, army reform must include comprehensive training in human rights and international humanitarian law, as well as the systematic prosecution of culprits by military authorities. The first step in this SSR process should be a joint European-African initiative to mentor officers in FARDC leadership positions. Sponsoring partners should also assume responsibility for adequate training, supplies, and payroll in the short to medium term.

The police must not be forgotten during the SSR process. In the long-run, primary responsibility for the provision of domestic security should shift away from the Congolese army towards the police.

5. End to impunity

The international community must state clearly that impunity for atrocity crimes will not be tolerated and perpetrators – especially those most responsible – will be held to account. The International Criminal Court should be encouraged publicly to continue or to expand its investigations of present activities by all belligerents in North and South Kivu.

Supporting Measures

The basic strategy just outlined must be accompanied immediately by the following additional measures:

1. Additional deployment of impartial international forces

More international forces are needed urgently in eastern Congo in order to maintain control of Goma and other strategic positions and to protect civilians and secure better humanitarian access. MONUC’s recently authorized reinforcement is a welcome development, provided that all UN troop contributors, old and new alike, commit to use force to protect civilians and engage militias robustly when necessary.

Timing is of the essence, however, and if the UN is unable to strengthen its mission quickly, the European Union – the only organisation presently able to bridge the glaring security gap – should deploy a short-term operation to shore up strategic locations and allow MONUC to fan out more widely. Division of labour between MONUC and such an EU force must be defined clearly and the EU force should not be subsumed into MONUC structures or command and control. Furthermore, it is important that any EU troops are perceived by local and regional conflict actors as non-partisan.

2. Diplomatic effort to avoid regional escalation

The terms of Angolan support to the Congolese government must be clarified immediately. Uncertain Angolan motivations and any direct involvement of Angolan troops into forceful disarmament operations of the CNDP run the risk of escalating the conflict into a regional war and causing even more human suffering. To cool regional tensions, the Security Council should encourage dialogue between Luanda and Kigali, if necessary facilitated by an international figure trusted in both capitals such as ANC President Jacob Zuma.  

3. Clarification of MONUC’s mandate

During the December review of MONUC’s mandate, the Security Council should clarify that while MONUC is in Congo to support the democratically elected government, it will be prepared to prioritize civilian protection over cooperation with the FARDC, especially in situations when the FARDC itself poses a threat to civilians.

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