This crisis has brought about a shift in international donor policy for the region, in particular criticism and financial sanctions against Rwanda, which is something that’s new. However, using aid as leverage only makes sense in the context of a larger political process. Bashing Rwanda just for the sake of bashing Rwanda is not a solution. There needs to be a comprehensive political process into which that kind of pressure can be funneled and channeled. But there is no such process at the moment. What you have are talks mediated by a regional body—the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR)—that has the irony of being presided over by Uganda, which is itself playing a role in the conflict by supporting the M23. These talks have been largely limited to an evaluation of the March 23, 2009 peace deal, and the potential formation of a regional military force to deal with the FDLR and M23. But the causes of the crisis run much deeper and involve the failure of local governance, the weakness of the Congolese army, and the persistent meddling of neighboring countries in Congolese affairs.
This is precisely what informs my contention that there is too much focus on the international dimension of the conflict at the expense of the kinds of reforms that Congo needs in order to improve state capacity in Sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest country.
You can’t do business, implement a human rights regime, or even pretend to have democratic governance in a stateless environment (Unless, of course, you live in a state of nature in which everyone has capacity to defend themselves against aggression by others).
Some, including very serious and influential people, think that the solution to Congo’s weakness is to plea with its neighbors not to prey on it. I disagree. I believe that the best solution ought to be the strengthening of Congo so it can deter its neighbors. The international community just wasted a good opportunity to force a cornered Kabila to agree on a peace deal that is self-enforcing, i.e., that reflects the power balance in eastern Congo.
As things stand the continuation of the power vacuum in the Kivus will continue to attract rebels, foreign-sponsored or not.
I am on record as lacking any sympathies for the Kinshasa regime under Joseph Kabila (see here, here, and here). The horrendous situation in eastern DRC is as much his fault as it is of the alleged meddlers from Kampala and Kigali. The fact that the international community has taken to viewing the conflict as primarily regional is a mistake as it masks Kabila’s own failings in improving governance in the eastern DRC . It also gives him a chance to continue free riding on MONUSCO’s presence in the region.
Sadly, the international community appears set to waste this latest crisis by issuing statements and imposing sanctions which will only tackle the symptoms rather than the real problems behind the conflict. As the ICG argues:
If international donors and African mediators persist in managing the crisis rather than solving it, it will be impossible to avoid such repetitive cycles of rebellions in the Kivus and the risk of large-scale violence will remain. Instead, to finally resolve this conflict, it is essential that Rwanda ends its involvement in Congolese affairs and that the reconstruction plan and the political agreements signed in the Kivus are properly implemented.
For these things to happen Western donors should maintain aid suspension against Rwanda until the release of the next report of the UN group of experts, in addition to issuing a clear warning to the Congolese authorities that they will not provide funding for stabilisation and institutional support until the government improves political dialogue and governance in both the administration and in the army in the east, as recommended by Crisis Group on several previous occasions.
In the past, I have speculated that it will be difficult for the M23 to conquer and hold territory, mostly due to their lack of manpower, which started off at around 400-700 and is probably around 1,500-2,500 now. They have been able to rely on Rwandan (and, to a lesser degree, Ugandan) firepower for operations close to the border (in particular Bunagana and Rutshuru, allegedly also this recent offensive), the farther into the interior they get, they harder it will be to mask outside involvement.
Alliances with other groups––Sheka, Raia Mutomboki, FDC, etc.––have acted as force multipliers, but have been very fickle, as the surrender of Col Albert Kahasha last week proved. From this perspective, the M23 strategy could well be more to nettle the government, underscore its ineptitude, and hope that it will collapse from within.
However, the recent offensive on Goma has made me consider another, bolder alternative. If the rebels take Goma, thereby humiliating the UN and the Congolese army, they will present the international community with a fait accompli. Yes, it will shine a sharp light on Rwandan involvement, but Kigali has been undeterred by donor pressure thus far, and has been emboldened by its seat on the Security Council. Also, as the looting by the Congolese army and their distribution of weapons to youths in Goma has shown, the battle for Goma is as much of a PR disaster for Kinshasa as for Kigali.
Just in case you forgot, the Kivus are still on fire. Thousands of people remain displaced. Dozens routinely get killed and raped by both government and rebel forces, and sometimes even by UN peacekeepers. Things are crazy bad out there.
Meanwhile, Kabila and his cabal in Kinshasa remain as ineffectual as ever with no apparent strategy or plan, not just for the Kivus, but for the whole country.
The ICG has this nice report on the Congo. People may not agree on the priorities and approaches of resolving the conflict in the Kivu’s, but this report provides a good background for those who are new to the conflict.
Also check out this Report on the Congo from the Congressional Research Office.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is in a deep hole. And it is not just because its president, the younger Kabila, wants to extend presidential terms by 2 years and then may be abolish term limits, at least according to the Economist. It is primarily because almost everyone in the country seems to have incentives to keep the war in the east raging on – well, everyone except the civilians on the ground. The New York Times reports that an upcoming UN Report will implicate bigwigs in the Congolese army of colluding with rebels in the east to profit from illegal mineral exports, among other commodities. FDLR, the rebel outfit which has among its ranks remnants of the genocidal Intarahamwe from Rwanda, is among the chief beneficiaries.
Quoting the Times:
“There is ….. creeping warlordism. Local army commanders are taxing timber, charcoal, tomatoes, anything that passes through their roadblocks, making $250,000 a month, the report said. Commanders are even conscripting civilians to haul wood through the forest, reminiscent of the Belgian colonial days when pith-helmeted officers whipped Congolese porters with hippopotamus hide.”
The Congo conflict is more than anything else an economic conflict. It will only stop when those profiting from it come to their senses (I don’t know what will prompt this if 5 million deaths and counting can’t do the trick). And the web of war-profiteers is huge.
Meanwhile in Zambia, it’s everything goes like it is still 1991. A section of donors have suspended aid to the health ministry because $ 2.1 million went missing (“more than 100,000 Zambians die every year from malaria and HIV/AIDS”– Economist). The government is reluctant to fight corruption. Mr. Rupiah Banda, the current president, seems bent on becoming the new Frederick Chiluba – the kleptocrat who ruled Zambia for ten years. Things never change.
Laurent Nkunda remains imprisoned in Rwanda – at least as far as a google search can tell. This even as his minions – or have they taken over already, given the fractious nature of rebel movements on the Continent? – who have been integrated into the Congolese army issued a warning that they are going to resume fighting if Kinshasa does not control its “indisciplined” soldiers.
I keep thinking that the arrest of Nkunda might have done what taking out the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia did – it spawned a variety of splinter rebel groups each with its own litany of grievances, which continue bargaining with them even harder.
This may be counter-intuitive, but in the fight against rebel movements may be the protagonists – in this case Kinshasa, Kigali and other concerned parties – might find it more useful to strengthen the stronger movements and use them to take out the weaker ones with the guarantee that once they do this they will be given better terms at the negotiating table. This approach would eliminate “security dilemma” concerns since the governments would be supplying the strong rebel group with arms.
There are of course a ton of commitment problems that arise out of this approach. For one the government would not want the rebel group to get too strong. How to guarantee this is not very clear. Secondly, it would be hard to get guarantees from governments that they will not take out the rebel movement militarily in a more conventional attack after the latter take out the splinter groups who thrive on asymmetric warfare. May be a guarantee of integration afterwards? A cabinet job?
– if you think this is nuts, look at Iraq and possibly Afghanistan.
Coltan is one of the minerals at the centre of the conflict in eastern DRC. I just came across a documentary on the mining and trading in coltan and its effects on the war in eastern Congo.
The documentary provides a good introduction to the situation in the Kivus, including an interview with Gen. Laurent Nkunda (btw, I just found out that this guy is an ordained minister! my word?!? In the interview he refers to his soldiers as rebels for Christ. Reeks of the LRA, if you ask me).
Shame on Traxys and all the other companies named in the 2002 UN report but that are still exploiting Congolese minerals with the full knowledge that they are indirectly funding the war that has so far killed about 5 million people. Shame on them.
Laurent Nkunda, the leader of the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie (RCD), a rebel group in eastern DRC, was arrested Thursday as he tried to flee into Rwanda. Recently Rwanda sent in a few thousand troops into eastern DRC to disarm members of the Forces démocratique pour la libération du Rwanda (FDLR), a Hutu rebel group that still entertains dreams of invading Rwanda to topple the Kagame regime. Nkunda, sensing that the dragnet might have been wide enough to catch him, decided to flee into Rwanda to avoid confrontation with the Rwandan troops.
Although Nkunda’s arrest may not significantly change the situation in eastern DRC – there are several distinct rebel groups in this part of the country – it sends a message that the leaders of murderous groups like Nkunda’s will not go unpunished. Nkunda should be tried for war crimes and general thuggery and put in prison for the rest of his life.
And the DRC needs to get its act together. The failure of Kinshasa to control the eastern parts of the country is a sign of gross incompetence. If Kinshasa cannot effectively control the region it should be bold enough to let it go. Otherwise the war of attrition it is fighting in that part of the country will continue to generate more and more splinter rebel groups and get even more complicated. In the mean time more people continue to lose their lives – on top of the 4 million already dead since the mid-90s.
I also think that it is time the international community stopped treating the Congo war as yet another irrational African tribal conflict. IT IS NOT. Indeed, no war in Africa deserves to be labeled as such. The war in the Congo, like most conflicts in Africa and elsewhere in the world, is a resource war. Ethnicity is just a rallying call. If real peace is to be achieved in the wider great lakes region of Africa the real issues of resource allocation will have to be addressed honestly.