by Hussein Solomon
There seem to be no let up to the horrors being endured by the hapless citizens of the Democratically Republic of the Congo (DRC). Since the 2nd August 1998, more than five million people have lost their lives in this blighted country. The latest round of violence started once more in the east of the country, near the provincial capital of Goma, in April 2012 causing 260, 000 people to flee from the region. M-23 rebels, former Tutsi-rebels who were integrated into the regular army in 2009, demanded better pay and the full implementation of a peace deal signed on 23rd March 2009, after which they were named. They consequently began attacks against military installations and capturing towns. The poorly trained, poorly led, lowly paid and thuggish Congolese armed forces took to their heels, leaving United Nations (UN) peacekeepers to protect citizens by deploying helicopter gunships against the rebels’ positions.
Whilst leaders from Africa’s Great Lakes Region, plan to send an international stabilisation force to the region, it is difficult to see how such a force could possibly be successful when 20,000 UN peacekeepers currently on the ground has been unable to contain the situation. Moreover, however many peacekeepers one wishes to deploy to this volatile region; it would not address the structural reasons for why this conflict persists.
Three inter-related structural reasons account for the intractability of the conflict in the eastern DRC. First, a conflict system exists throughout the Great Lakes Region where sources of insecurity in the respective countries are mutually reinforcing. Consider the following: given the intrinsic weakness of the Congolese state, various negative forces have sought refuge in its ungoverned spaces, these include the Interahamwe militia responsible for the 1994 Rwandan genocide as well the terrorist Lord’s Resistance Army and the rebel Allied Democratic Forces of Uganda. Both these countries therefore have a vested strategic interest in the eastern DRC. In the case of Rwanda, twice in recent years it has invaded its larger neighbour and has also propped up various rebel forces in the eastern parts of the country. A UN panel has accused Rwanda of supporting the M-23 rebels and its leader, renegade general Bosco Ntaganda is accused of receiving direct military assistance from Kigali. Whilst the United States has red-carded Rwanda for this support by suspending aid, this measure can only be effective within the context of addressing underlying conflict dynamics in the region as a whole.
Second, there is the issue of the politics of identity. Ethnic loyatlies cast a long shadow in this region and are more durable than the artificial nation-states in which they are to be found. Here, President Joseph Kabila has failed to create an inclusive national identity and common citizenship for all Congolese. In recent years there have been increasing attacks against Congolese of Tutsi ancestry – specifically the Banyamasisi and Banyamulenge – who are perceived to be foreigners despite living in the DRC for centuries. Earlier this year, xenophobic violence against these groups spiked. Is it any wonder that practically all members of the M-23 are Banyamasisi and Banyamulenge – or that their ethnic kin, fellow Tutsis in Rwanda, are supporting them?
The third structural reason driving the conflict is the issue of the war economy. Whilst, Congo’s 68 million citizens are the poorest on the planet according to the UN Development Report, the country has vast natural resources. Untapped deposits of raw minerals are estimated to be worth in excess of US $ 24 trillion. Is it any wonder that reports are emerging that M-23 is also involved in illegal mining? Greed, thus, is also driving the conflict.
Unless these structural reasons are addressed, the DRC will remain the “Heart of Darkness” and the nightmare will continue for all Congolese.