As a tentative ceasefire between Congolese government troops and rebel forces calling themselves M23 endures into its fourth week, a viable solution to the crisis caused by the latest rebellion to wreak havoc in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) seems as distant as ever. Regional fact-finding missions and summits have, so far, produced little more than vague gestures and empty words. Meanwhile, the M23 fighters continue to regroup, reorganise and plot their next move.
The latest meeting on the ongoing crisis in eastern DRC was held in Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu, between 14 and 16 August. Here, the army chiefs and defence ministers of the member states of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) attempted to hammer out the details of a 'neutral' force to be deployed in DRC to combat rebel group M23. This force had been proposed and debated at previous ICGLR meetings in Addis Ababa and Kampala, though the specifics were left unresolved.
A significant hurdle to finding a regional solution has been the implication of Rwanda in the fomenting of this crisis. Rwanda was accused by the UN Group of Experts on the Congo of supporting M23, which is a re-incarnation of the CNDP (National Congress for the Defence of the People) rebel group that Kigali backed in 2008. Rwanda has subsequently seen aid contributions from many close allies cut or frozen. There have also been rumours of Ugandan links to M23. Both Rwanda and Uganda deny supporting the rebels.
This has meant that conflict, rather than consensus, has been in abundance at these summits. At the Kampala meeting Paul Kagame and Yoweri Museveni - presidents of Rwanda and Uganda respectively - pushed for a force made up of regional armies to fight M23. Congolese President Joseph Kabila, wary of his neighbours' interests in the region, rejected that idea. The Rwandan and Ugandan delegations at Goma repeated their preference for a regional solution, but the Congolese managed to obtain an ICGLR resolution to implement an international force.
At Goma it was announced that this force would comprise some 4,000 soldiers spread across North Kivu to fight 'negative forces', including but not limited to M23. The defence ministers are due to submit a final report to Museveni, who is currently chairing the ICGLR, before 22 August. However many questions were left unanswered in Goma - especially who will pay and who will contribute soldiers - and the conference was buzzing with rumour and speculation.
Baudouin Hamuli, the DRC national co-ordinator of the ICGLR, said that the troops of the international force could integrate into Monusco (the UN stabilisation mission in the Congo): "We would send home 4,000 Monusco soldiers who are in places where they're not needed, and replace them with 4,000 special-trained troops," he said. "Monusco would pay, but because we're replacing departing soldiers their budget will not change."
Another Congolese delegate indicated that the DRC was seeking solutions away from the ICGLR: "We are much closer to SADC [the South Africa Development Community] than these ICGLR countries," he said on condition of anonymity. "SADC countries are ready to send troops which would integrate into Monusco. We also want Monusco's mandate to be more aggressive, so they can fight M23."
However Roger Meece, the head of Monusco, said no agreement had been made to integrate special troops and would not be drawn on potential changes to the peace-keepers' mandate.
Passing the buck
SADC has indeed been monitoring the situation in North Kivu, sending a fact-finding mission to eastern DRC at the beginning of this month, but their report does not suggest sending soldiers to fight M23.
Rather, the authors of the report say they could envisage a 'special force' to be deployed on the Congo/Rwanda border, but that any neutral force would require a mechanism to involve Rwanda and the ICGLR. They too suggest a strengthening of Monusco's civilian-protection mandate.
For now, then, no single organisation or country has made a concrete commitment to help the DRC combat M23. Talk of forces organised by the ICGLR or SADC remains just that: talk. While the buck is passed from one organisation to the next, M23 numbers continue to swell through recruitment and defections from the national army. The Congolese people are understandably frustrated. "We've had two decades of conferences and negotiation," said Thomas, a Goma resident. "We don't need more talking - we just need peace."