Last week the government of the Democratic Rep. of Congo (DRC) belatedly announced that it had captured Mushake, a rebel held town in the Eastern fringes of Africa’s second largest country. This was seen by many as a sign of government commitment to winning the war (now that the rebels seem not to care about negotiations) and finally restoring peace to the region. It therefore came as a surprise when it emerged that the government had lost the town again to the rebels.
The DRC is a country that has never known peace; going back to the days when it was personal property of King Leopold of Belgium. Even after independence, the secessionist attempts by Katanga (South Eastern region), the assassination of Lumumba and Mobutu’s kleptocratic and murderous rule did not make things better. When Mobutu died there was hope that the elder Kabila would bring peace and a sense of nationhood. But this was not to be; Kabila was assassinated by his own men and succeeded by his son. The younger Kabila has tried to make peace, first with the Bemba led opposition and then with the Eastern rebels, but without much success.
The recent loss of Mushake is a sign of government ineptitude in fighting this war. It is clear that the rebels and their sponsors in Rwanda and Uganda do not want peace and will do anything to keep the embers burning because this way they will have unregulated, tax free access to the minerals in the Eastern region. The Kinshasa government cannot afford a war of attrition with the rebels as this will distract it from its main objectives of providing public goods for all its citizens, not to mention the long term effects such a war will have. The sooner Kabila gets his act together and wins this war, the better it is going to be not only for the Congolese but also for the entire great lakes region.
The African Union and other regional bodies should support the government in making sure that the rebels are defeated and punished for their criminal adventures. Although the Kinshasa government is not the best government the DRC could ever have, secessionist wars are not the best way to deal with this problem. The rebels should know that in this day and age there are better ways of expressing one’s grievances; ways that do not contribute to unwarranted human suffering and wastage of scarce resources.