Implementing Peace and Security Architecture (I): Central Africa
Implementing Peace and Security Architecture (I): Central Africa
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): A Dangerous Stalemate
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): A Dangerous Stalemate
Report 181 / Africa

Implementing Peace and Security Architecture (I): Central Africa

More than a decade after the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) was requested by the African Union (AU) to give life to a new peace and security architecture, political and security cooperation on the continent is still in need of reinforcement.

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Executive Summary

Political and security cooperation in Central Africa is in urgent need of revival. More than a decade ago, the African Union (AU) tasked the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) to breath life into its peace and security architecture. ECCAS member states signed relevant treaties and protocols, but the multinational body has struggled to shape and implement a regional policy. To ensure this conflict-prone region moves toward greater political integration, Central African states need to reinvigorate ECCAS, reform it and decide on clear security priorities. Foreign partners should coordinate their support to the organisation in line with its needs, absorption capacity and objectives.

The spiral of conflict that set Central Africa on fire in the 1990s made painfully clear the need for a regional political and security response. With the double blessing of the AU and the European Union (EU), ECCAS committed to prevent, manage and resolve conflict in the region. Unfortunately, like previous efforts to promote economic integration, political and security cooperation has not produced the hoped-for results.

On paper, ECCAS looks good. Central African states signed a mutual assistance pact and a protocol establishing the Peace and Security Council for Central Africa (Conseil de paix et de sécurité de l’Afrique centrale, COPAX). They also set up a Regional Staff Headquarters (Etat-major régional, EMR) that runs multinational military training exercises and the Mission for the Consolidation of Peace in the Central African Republic (Mission de consolidation de la paix en Centrafrique, MICOPAX). But in reality, regional leaders have been reluctant to create and invest in an institution that constrains the way they cooperate in security matters. They voice support to a regional peace and security architecture, but half-heartedly commit to ECCAS while turning more readily to old and trusted bilateral relations to mitigate their security concerns, thus generating a confused web of partnerships.

ECCAS suffers from serious internal governance problems. Decisions on in-house issues are highly centralised and have to be made by consensus among member states. Instead of generating cohesion among regional actors, this means sensitive issues on which member states differ are avoided. It is also an institution still under construction. Human resource management is a constant problem, as is the body’s financial dependence on outside backers.

Only decisive political commitment by its members can breathe new life into ECCAS. But the successive postponement of the heads of state summit and the failure of members to appoint representatives in some of its organs reveal a lack of interest in the organisation’s purpose. Members’ distrust of each other, ingrained by a violent past, and the absence of regional leadership also drain ECCAS of its usefulness. As a result, the most serious security problems are dealt with outside the ECCAS framework, and Central Africa’s peace and security architecture has difficulty leaving the drawing board.

The region’s governments should urgently deepen their political commitment to ECCAS’s structures and projects and sort out their common priorities. They must decide if they really want to be members of ECCAS. If so, they should prove their will by undertaking several crucial steps: respect their financial obligations to the organisation; name their representatives to it; and organise a summit as soon as possible. A reform agenda should focus on the decision-making system, ensuring smooth running of the secretariat in Libreville and greater involvement of civil society. Security priorities should seek practical implementation and concrete results.

Foreign partners should establish effective coordination, tailor their support to ECCAS’s peace and security priorities and adjust it to the organisation’s absorption capacity. The first major goal is to strengthen the secretariat so it can implement its programs and avoid overspending and duplicating efforts.

In the next few years, the fundamental challenge is to give political meaning to an organisation whose members exist in a tangle of mistrust, rivalries and thinly veiled hostility. If this zero-sum geopolitics endures, Central African countries will continue to put their own narrow interests above the project of peace and security architecture. Political and security integration would then risk following in the tragic footsteps of economic cooperation.

 Nairobi/Brussels, 7 November 2011

Commentary / Africa

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): A Dangerous Stalemate

Political uncertainty and increasing polarisation between government and opposition, combined with escalating violence in many provinces, have set the DRC on a dangerous trajectory. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2017 – Third Update early warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to denounce attempts by the DRC government to further delay the polls and offer technical electoral support to the Electoral Commission.

This commentary is part of our Watch List 2017 – Third Update.

Political uncertainty and instability in the DRC are growing as the one-sided implementation of the 31 December 2016 (Saint Sylvester) agreement has deepened the gulf between a newly invigorated regime and a weakened opposition and civil society. The Electoral Commission (CENI) still has not published a new calendar for polls promised by the end of the year, although, speaking at the UN General Assembly on 23 September, President Joseph Kabila indicated it was imminent. Recent comments by the CENI president indicate that the elections would not be organised before 2019. In this context of political uncertainty, opposition and civil society are renewing efforts to bring people out onto the streets; whether they can do so is unclear, as is whether they could control any protests that do occur. The grave socio-economic crisis, harsh repression by security forces and lack of confidence in political elites make for a potentially explosive cocktail of resentment and frustration. Beyond urban centres, violence is escalating in many provinces, adding to concerns for regional stability.

An increasingly confident regime that lacks a clear strategy

Few, if any, of the 31 December agreement’s signatories sincerely believed in the agreement’s stipulation that elections would be held by the end of 2017. The government has since controlled implementation of that deal and interpreted its provisions to suit its agenda of delay. Meanwhile, domestic pressure to stick to the timeline has diminished, in particular following the February death of Etienne Tshisekedi, the charismatic opposition leader, and in March, after the Catholic Church withdrew from its direct mediation role.

For its part, Kabila’s government has engaged in a two-pronged strategy: violent repression and closure of political space at home on the one hand, intensive regional diplomacy to defuse U.S. and European Union (EU) pressure on the other. The latter track appears to have been particularly successful. African and especially Southern African powers now largely accept the government’s interpretation of the agreement (notably its unilateral choice of prime minister). While they have been more critical behind closed doors and acknowledge that the political manoeuvring and delay tactics increase the risk of violence, their public positioning has given the regime vital breathing space.

A weakened opposition focused on Kabila leaving power

Faced with the regime’s hijacking of the 31 December agreement, opposition and civil society are trying to regain the initiative. In July, Felix Tshisekedi, president of the main opposition coalition, the Rassemblement, suggested a six-month transition if the vote were not held in December, but without Kabila (whose constitutional mandate expired in 2016) retaining the presidency. In August, representatives of civil society platforms (including the youth protest movements Lucha and Filimbi as well as the “Debout Congolais” recently launched by Congolese businessman Sindika Dokolo) adopted a manifesto with a similar proposal. Moïse Katumbi, a prominent opponent in exile, added his name to this manifesto in September. It calls for non-violent actions to pressure the government, reminding the population of its duty, enshrined in Article 64, to defend the constitution against anyone seeking to exercise power by violating its provisions. It hopes such actions will force President Kabila out, with a national conference held afterwards to designate a transitional mechanism.

This approach has scant chance of success. The opposition, weakened by the exile and imprisonment of several of its leaders, is riven by distrust among its factions and lacks internal cohesion. Struggling to organise street demonstrations, or control them when they do take place, its leaders appear for now to be resting their hopes on greater international (particularly Western) engagement. But the opposition faces a paradox: international actors are unlikely to take a more robust position in the absence of a credible domestic dynamic.

Worrying security developments

Meanwhile, several provinces – including the Kasais, Tanganyika, North and South Kivu – are experiencing violent conflict, fuelled by both local tensions and the national political stalemate. Playing the role of pompier-pyromane, the government thus far has contained the fighting while people close to the regime have simultaneously stoked unrest and used it to justify election delays. But this dangerous strategy has increased tensions with several neighbours, notably Angola, which hosts thousands of refugees from the troubled Kasai region. As one of the world’s gravest humanitarian crises, with 3.8 million internally displaced and more than 600.000 refugees, humanitarian support remains under-funded despite some EU and member states contributions, and the recent additional amounts announced this year.

A recent small rebound in copper prices has allowed the government to promise better and more regular salaries as well as to ease currency depreciation pressures. But economic fundamentals remain poor. With families squeezed by rising prices and growing petty corruption, popular discontent is rising along with prospects for urban unrest.

International actors need to step up support for the 31 December agreement

The EU, UN, the African Union (AU), relevant sub-regional organisations and the Chinese, French, Russian and UK governments, together with the DRC government, met on 19 September on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York. The chair’s summary of that meeting reaffirmed broad support for the Saint Sylvester agreement, despite the inevitability that its electoral timetable will now slip. This is welcome news insofar as the agreement’s core principle – the need to hold elections without amending the constitution – deserves strong support in the face of the regime’s attempts to kill it with a thousand cuts.

But international actors need to turn this support into concrete action that pressures the government and electoral commission to move forward with election preparations. While the EU should offer technical electoral support, as envisaged at the New York meeting, it should denounce attempts by the DRC government to further delay the polls (including through publishing unnecessarily long timetables). It also should condemn, of course, any attempt by Kabila to change the constitution’s presidential two-term limit. International reaction to the soon-to-be-announced electoral calendar will be an initial test – if the timetable stretches too far into the future, as recent communications from the CENI indicate it may, the EU, in concert with other relevant international actors, should make this clear, stressing that elections could be held sooner and offering technical support to reach that goal while actively criticising delay tactics. Alongside this, EU and member states should continue work that supports Congolese civil society and internal voices calling for democracy and constitutionalism.

Effective pressure on President Kabila to move toward elections and stick to term limits requires better international cooperation. Western powers – notably the EU and its member states – should reach out to African leaders to hear their concerns and try to iron out differences. At present, African powers tend to acquiesce in Kabila’s interpretation of the agreement and refrain from criticising (at least publicly) his efforts to remain in power, while the West has adopted a more critical stance. Disagreement thus far has revolved around how best to push Kinshasa toward elections. African leaders are hostile to Western sanctions on DRC leaders put in place over the last fifteen months. While those sanctions may have had some impact in 2016 in deterring violence and helping forge the December agreement, they increasingly have diminishing returns as Kabila’s regime uses them to portray pressure on it as a form of Western imperialism. They ought not be reinforced while efforts are made to align international views.

 

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