"Today, we mark an important milestone in our journey in search for peace in eastern Congo. What brings us here today is to give dignity to the people of this region," Crispus Kiyonga, Uganda's defence minister and current chair of International Conference on the Great Lakes Region's (ICGLR) ministerial committee on defence, said during the launch of the Joint Verification Mechanism in Goma, Eastern DRC on September 14.
The minister stated the fact that the ICGLR Heads of State and Government shall meet in October 2012, for the fourth time since July, to solely address the eastern Congo conflict, underscores political will.
Kiyonga reminded his audience that the meeting was mainly composed of military strategists from the region, pointing out that outsiders can only render support in seeking solutions to the DRC question but not as prime movers.
"We have partners in the efforts to deal with this problem. The leaders in SADC (Southern African Development Cooperation) have spoken loudly that they are in support of ICGLR initiative on eastern Congo. AU is behind us and UN is willing to support this effort," the minister argued.
The efforts are designed to help end the latest conflict in eastern DRC pitting government force, FARDC, and the newly-formed M23 rebels, who deserted the army in April accusing Kinshasa of failure to honour its commitments in a March 23, 2009 peace deal, under which the former CNDP rebels, had been integrated into the official army.
As the crisis fast unfolded, President Joseph Kabila's government started to accuse Kigali of backing the rebels, even as the latter was working with the former to try to nip the crisis in the bud.
The JVM is, therefore, supposed to help verify those claims, but also lay the ground for a sustainable solution to the recurrent conflicts in eastern Congo.
Speaking to The New Times, Rwanda's Defence and Military Spokesperson, Brig. Joseph Nzabamwita, said the JVM is tasked with monitoring and validating all issues related to the conflict in eastern Congo.
Some of the few but salient issues to the conflict revolve around the aftermath of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda; in view of the fact that the militia largely blamed for that slaughter maintains a foothold in eastern DRC, under the name Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).
Its mission is to exterminate all Tutsis.
In the meantime, FDLR, an internationally blacklisted terrorist organisation, has visited wanton mayhem on a section of Kinyarwanda speaking Congolese perceived to be Tutsis, creating a humanitarian crisis within the region.
The group's field commander, Sylvestre Mudacumura, is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for such atrocities as killings, rapes, among others.
DR Congo, nonetheless, happens to be home to many domestic and foreign militias with almost every village and tribe literally having a militia group. Some of them are ragtag fighters opposed to governments of Uganda and Burundi. Some have no clear agenda while others are fighting over matters of existence.
"In Rwanda, it takes six hours to register a business, but in DR Congo, it takes much less to start a militia," one security officer joked recently, signalling just how easily state power has been challenged in that part of the world.
This has been occasioned by so many factors. Some are very recent; others date back to colonial times; while others are self-inflicted. If, for instance, DR Congo supported FDLR only to realise later that the battled-hardened group had outgrown its own military.
In essence, ICGLR's mechanism is to lay the ground work for the establishment of an international neutral force to deal with this cobweb of issues.
The neutral force already has an unenviable task on its table; to watch over a borderline stretching between DRC and three of its neighbours, namely Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda.
Nzabamwita agrees that this is not an easy task.
"Even if it was an aerial surveillance, it would not be easy," he concedes, adding that the monitors shall concentrate on hotspots, particularly the Rwanda/DR Congo border.
For the international force to be deployed, it must have the blessing of the AU and UN for purposes of legitimacy as required by the international law, and logistical support for it to be functional.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, the ICGLR chair, was requested by the recent Heads of State summit in Kampala, to make a case to the international community with a view to garner support for an all-Africa neutral force.
But Museveni was also requested to "continue with his diplomatic engagements with the parties to the conflict in Eastern DRC with a view to securing a complete cessation of hostilities and putting an end to the crisis, if feasible, through peaceful political means".
Indeed, there has not been any military confrontation between the M23 rebels and the Congolese army for more than a month. It is hoped that the ceasefire, declared by the rebels at President Museveni's request, can be built on to avoid further skirmishes and instead work out a negotiated settlement to the crisis.
Nonetheless, Kinshasa is adamant, insisting there will be no talks between both sides; and participating in the ongoing regional efforts, it continues to send emissaries around the world blaming Kigali for its troubles.
Meanwhile, both the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and the Security Council have expressed support for the regional peace process, and a Mini-Summit on the DRC crisis - to be attended by regional leaders - will be held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly next week.
Crucially, following a briefing by the UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, who recently wound up a regional tour, the Security Council on Tuesday pronounced its support for the ICGLR-spearheaded diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict.
Ambassador Peter Wittig of Germany, which holds the Council's rotating presidency for this month, told reporters that the 15-member body agreed that a political solution to the crisis is "of utmost priority", according to a UN statement.
On the military front, African troops have proven that they can handle crises on the continent better than troops drawn from elsewhere. The relative success of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is often given as the example of Africa's capacity to deal with its own security challenges, while the well funded United Nations Stabilisation Mission in the Congo (Monusco), composed of non-African forces, has proven the opposite.
Yet much as ICGLR, backed by the AU, may want the neutral force on the ground urgently, it is faced with logistical and financial difficulties. The region estimates that about 4,000 troops can do the job, with Tanzania the only country to have categorically promised to contribute soldiers.
But analysts suggest the UN may not buy the neutral force idea, not because it is a bad idea, but because it practically amounts to a vote of no confidence in its own peacekeeping force in DRC, Monusco, which was deployed there 13 years ago - and now with a budget of more than US$1.3 billion a year.
The Joint Verification Mechanism is already on the ground since September 14, 2012 with 14 officers, out of 24, with the rest expected in Goma, the seat of the neutral force, any time.
DRC and Rwanda, which previously maintained a bilateral JMV, are represented by three senior officers apiece, while the other nine ICGLR member states have two officers each.
"Deployment was hasty. Others are on the way," Brig. Nzabamwita told The New Times.
All said and done, will the UN allow its own force to be disgraced? Never mind that there is no reputation to protect in the first place.