Since the beginning of the negotiations in Kampala between M23 rebels and the DR Congo government, I have continually flagged that international interlocuters, either by accident or design, were not joining up the dots.
It all sounds nice to talk of negotiating peace but the problems in the Kivus need stronger intellectual heavy lifting than ‘nice talk’.
There have been a lot of stumbling blocks on the way but now most of the main points have been ironed out and indeed the US State Department publicly commended the committment of the DR Congo government to negotiate.
After a series of all-night sessions in Uganda with M23’s vociferous PR team even announcing an imminent ‘breakthrough’, the talks fell apart and the Kinshasa team departed leaving a skeleton crew in place.
The problem that remains is what to do about M23’s indicted leaders?
The elephant in the room in Kampala
It hasn’t helped that international facilitators such as Mary Robinson have been issuing ambiguous messages on the subject.
On the one hand she states there can be no impunity for Sultani Makenga and other M23 military leaders while at the same time she urges a negotiated settlement.
As Jason Stearns rightly points out M23 agreed on a majority of the issues on the table but as long as the leadership remain in control they are not going to sign an agreement that also signs themselves away. So how exactly do the facilitators intend to square this negotiating table circle?
DR Congo’s president, Joseph Kabila, has always been clear on this issue from the very beginning of the M23 problem.
In a rare flash of openness in the first Kampala talks he admitted that in signing the original 2009 CNDP agreement that allowed their integration into the Congolese army and Laurent Nkunda to be exiled to Rwanda, he was risking his entire political future. He also admitted before the 2011 elections that he was worried about the ‘Mafias in the east’.
We know that the former CNDP many of whom defected to become the latest incarnation M23, were running parallel chains of command, shipping vast amounts of minerals over the border into Rwanda and various other activities, and they also assisted in vote-rigging for Kabila in the last elections.
It was at this moment in time that the ex-CNDP involved in these manoevers had Kabila over a barrel that international calls for the arrest of Bosco Ntganda were only going to accentuate.
The initial claim much repeated in the media that the M23 rebellion was over the failure to implement the March 2009 agreement was a red herring.,
Later claims that it was about protecting Rwanda from the FDLR when Rwanda had been granted free access to the Kivus to chase them and RDF Chief of Defence Staff, Lt General Charles Kayongo, claimed it was: “a job well done” were also diversions.
There is clear evidence that the rebellion was planned well in advance and according to a US embassy cable released by Wikileaks, was on the cards within 6 months of the original 2009 deal.
I warned a year ago that Kabila’s back was against the wall when aid sanctions were imposed on Rwanda and I asked the question what exactly the so-called international community intended to do if their aid cuts failed to produce a result.
Since then, the UK’s Department of Development re-directed financial support to Rwanda so that it now funds NGOs and refugees and not direct budget support for the Rwandan government.
Some countries have continued to block aid while opportunistic new funders, seeing a foot in the potentially lucrative Central African door, have come on board.
However, before the UK’s aid was temporarily suspended last year, a Freedom of Information request to DFiD yielded (amongst a heavily redacted report) a note that they were ‘concerned’ about the considerable business interests controlled by the Rwandan army.
This itself should be a clue to one of the multiple reasons why Rwanda holds on so tightly to some form of control in the Kivus and why Rwanda and Uganda can not be seen as impartial in negotiations in Kampala.
Meanwhile, considering the long and tortuous history of Rwandan interference in DR Congo it is not in Kinshasa’s interest to continue the problem by integrating M23 leaders back into the Congolese army and thus by default granting them impunity.
Beyond this history there is also the issue of UN sanctions and war crimes indictments against M23 leaders.
Sultani Makenga, for instance, has been charged with: “the targeting of women and children in situations of armed conflict, including killing and maiming, sexual violence, abduction, and forced displacement……. recruiting or using children in armed conflict…….. Troops under his command have conducted rapes throughout Rutshuru territory against women and children, some of whom have been as young as 8 years old.”
Also among sanctioned M23 leaders are Eric Badege, Innocent Kaina, Baudin Ngaruye and others and as Jason Stearns observes impunity seems inconceivable.
So where next? Michel Thill, Great Lakes Region programme manager at Rift Valley Institute, told IRIN news that he viewed M23’s return to the negotiations after the fall of Goma as a PR manoeuvre designed to make them look good. “Its demands, however, are well beyond what Kinshasa would agree to negotiate with what they consider terrorists – the M23 knows that.”
Perhaps the mediators in Kampala are hoping that the rank-and-file soldiers of M23 will rise up internally and topple their leaders?
Alongside this every time the negotiations have restarted in Kampala there has been considerable evidence that the rebels are re-arming and making further preparations for war.
Just recently over 100 families fleeing from Kibumba reported that not only was M23 preparing for war but they were forcing people to dig trenches along the Rwandan border and were preventing residents from leaving the area.
There have also been not only 2 direct attacks on UN helicopters by M23 but threats to prevent MONUSCO from operating at all in Rutshuru.
The biggest danger of all is that Rwanda uses the excuse of shells landing on its territory to openly cross the border and attack the Congolese army if the Kampala negotiations are finally written off. At this point Rwanda will have less to lose unless the international community acts extremely swiftly and unfortunately they do not have a history of this.
What is also a possibility is that because the much heralded surveillance drone has yet to be put in place, the Rwandan forces may cross the border quietly and the conflict escalates further that way.
The Intervention Brigade, which has been noticeably quiet of late is now participating and while Goma is now fairly well protected, away from the city whatever happens means that the villages and towns are going to suffer enormously.
Already huge numbers are fleeing the latest fighting and Rwandan sources are claiming multiple shells landing on their territory. So far Rwanda has shown restraint and ideally will assist in a long term political solution.
It is worth revisiting the observation, made by Fidel Bafilemba 3 weeks before the last elections in 2011: “the whispers of armed opposition to electoral results pervade the regions of the east. It is possible, regardless of the result, that the elections will stoke the embers of conflict in the country.”
This shrewd observation which was echoed all over the Kivus by Congolese working on the ground seems to have been completely missed in the international mantra that chants for elections as the only route to state-building.
This rush to tick all the boxes in the ready-mix recipe for African states was one of the fundamental problems in the 2002 Sun City agreement. While the escalation in fighting is extremely worrying the weakness of the international response was inevitably going to lead this way.
Public condemnation, offers of money and diplomatic support while laudable are not going to solve the complex problems in the Kivus if they are not backed both by a joined-up policy and a shift from management of these problems by international organisations and people to the Congolese people themselves.
There is no doubt that Kinshasa, while making considerable steps forward is also a large part of the problem but this is not a problem that can be solved by simple regime change.
What needs to change is the entire international approach to the Congo away from an enterprise industry for foreign NGOs and consultants and towards their replacement at all levels by Congolese.
Only then will the extreme militarisation of politics in the Democratic Republic of Congo be able to change towards the state-building enterprise that is needed to challenge that militarisation.