04 March, 2013

Peace at last in the DRC?

by Hussein Solomon

This past week witnessed the historic signing of an international agreement by 11 countries designed to secure a lasting peace for the strife-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo. That the agreement took place under the auspices of the United Nations is significant and points to a loss of faith by the protagonists in both SADC and the AU.

The essence of the agreement is an undertaking by countries like Rwanda and Uganda to respect the sovereignty of the DRC. Since the 1990s, both these countries have exploited the weakness of the DRC to expand their sphere of influence into the eastern DRC whilst at the same time exploiting the mineral-rich DRC of its precious metals and gems. More recently Rwanda has been accused of supporting the Tutsi-dominated M-23 rebels in the eastern Congo. Here however is a palpable failure on the part of the current agreement – there was no attempt to link this agreement to the ongoing mediation efforts taking place in Kampala, Uganda between the DRC and the M-23 rebels. What the region needs is not multiple peace initiatives – but overlapping and reinforcing ones. Indeed the official M-23 reaction to last week’s international peace agreement was to shrug its shoulders – saying it does not concern it. This is unfortunate.

The agreement also compels the Kinshasa government of Joseph Kabila to deepen democracy, strengthen government institutions and improving its police and army presence in the eastern part of the country. All these measures are sorely needed. One of the legitimate reasons for Rwanda’s involvement in the eastern part of the DRC is the presence of the genocidal Interahamwe Hutu militias who threaten to destabilize the Tutsi regime in Kigali. A stronger security presence on the part of the Kinshasa regime in the eastern DRC might well end the threat posed by the Interahamwe, provide security to long-suffering citizens and deter future Rwandan aggression. The question which the peace agreement does not deal with – is who is to fund the recruitment, re-training and arming of Congolese armed forces?

In similar fashion, the need to deepen democratic practice in the DRC is self-evident. Part of the reason for the M-23 having taken up arms was the ethnic persecution of Tutsis in the Congo. However, Joseph Kabila has shown no desire to create a more inclusive regime. Whilst he made such an undertaking, there is no penalty clause should he fail to carry out this undertaking in practice.

Whilst an important initiative towards peace, I fear that last week’s peace agreement will not guarantee peace for this blighted country.

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