The plan to resolve the conflict in the Kivu by emphasising a military solution is failing. Two years after the rapprochement between Congolese President Joseph Kabila and his Rwandan counterpart, Paul Kagame, government soldiers are still battling militias for control of land and mines.
Neither side has the strength to win, but both have the resources to prolong the fighting indefinitely. Meanwhile, civilians suffer extreme violence, and the humanitarian situation is deteriorating. Ethnic tensions have worsened in anticipation of the repatriation of tens of thousands of Congolese refugees who fled to Rwanda during the 1990s. The UN Security Council has witnessed the deterioration of security in eastern Congo without opposing the decisions of Kagame and Kabila. A strategy based on secret presidential commitments, however, will not bring peace to the Kivu: the present approach must be reevaluated and broadened in order to engage all local communities and prepare the future of the region in a transparent dialogue that also involves neighbouring countries.
During summer 2008, the National Congress of the People (CNDP), a Congolese rebel group then led by the Tutsi General Laurent Nkunda and backed clandestinely by Rwanda, withdrew from negotiations with the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). A major crisis erupted in the province of North Kivu, catching the Congolese authorities and the UN peacekeeping mission (then called MONUC) off guard. The international community, concerned about the consequences of a CNDP conquest of the capital of North Kivu, Goma, launched multiple initiatives to prevent an escalation that could lead to confrontation between Rwanda and the DRC.
In November 2008, President Kabila reached out to President Kagame, his long-time adversary, to end the crisis. Without recourse to formal mediation mechanisms favoured by the international community, the two leaders negotiated an agreement whose content remains secret. The Congolese initiative surprised most of the international partners of the Great Lakes region. They were relieved, however, that discussions about international intervention to stabilise the Kivu could abruptly end.
Kabila and Kagame are now working to implement the bilateral commitments in their joint plan to resolve the conflict in the Kivu. This involves two major concessions by Kabila. First, he undertook to meet the political demands of the rebel group, the CNDP, that has in the past caused him most problems with his electoral base. Secondly, he agreed to launch military operations that serve more to meet the interests of those conducting them than to protect the population. The success of this plan, including its political and economic components, depends on the response of the Kivu population to the redistribution of local power as well as to the ability of the national army (FARDC) to achieve Kinshasa's military objectives.
The Congolese-Rwandan rapprochement has altered the balance of power in North and South Kivu. General Nkunda was arrested in January 2009 and replaced by Bosco Ntaganda, a suspected war criminal for whom the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant in 2006. The CNDP, which was originally established to defend the interests of the Tutsi community, was integrated into and has become a major part of the national army. Its political agenda was put front and centre in the implementation of an agreement between the government and the Congolese armed groups in the Kivu. The new influence gained by the CNDP is resented by leaders of other communities who fear that it will disadvantage them in the general elections scheduled for 2011-2012.
But the limits of the politico-military approach designed in Kinshasa and Kigali have already been reached. Despite three successive operations conducted by the Congolese army, the humanitarian situation in the Kivu has deteriorated, and instances of extreme violence have multiplied. Women and girls, particularly, have suffered the consequences of impunity and of a highly militarised environment in which rape is endemic. The population is being victimised by both retribution campaigns of the rebels and unpunished human rights violations by Congolese soldiers.
The Rwandan Hutu rebel group, Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), is resisting forcible disarmament by forming alliances with Congolese militias that refuse integration into the national army. It has been chased out of many mining sites it previously controlled, but the natural resources have not yet been brought under legitimate control. Dissidents from Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi seek support in the Kivu or to create cross-border armed coalitions. In response, there are increasing signs of neighbours' interference in the Kivu.
The rapid integration of former rebels, involving suspected war criminals, into the national army and their subsequent involvement in poorly planned military operations have done little to resolve the conflict in the East. The UN effort to correct course by implementing a new conditionality policy for its peacekeepers' support has not affected the behaviour of Congolese forces. The credibility of MONUC – renamed MONUSCO in July 2010 – has been seriously undermined by its failure to protect civilians better.
Meanwhile, struggle for local power has made rule of law in the Kivu even more problematic. Land conflicts and inter-communal tensions have multiplied, exacerbated by repeated cycles of displacement. Unresolved inconsistencies between customary and statutory law put traditional chiefs in opposition to administrative authorities seeking to implement the CNDP agenda. The branches of provincial government are trading accusations of corruption, thus creating a crisis of local governance. Despite the growth of trade in cities along the border and the revival of regional economic institutions, long-term economic development remains elusive.
Combined, these factors increase the risk of inter-ethnic clashes, disintegration of the national army and destabilisation of the region as a result of neighbours' meddling. Unless the current approach is broadened to bring in all communities in a transparent way and new international momentum is created, the population will continue to bear the brunt of the failed attempts to establish state sovereignty in the Kivu.
To the Government of Congo, its international partners and MONUSCO:
1. Suspend offensive military operations in the Kivu pending deployment of internationally-trained battalions, including units trained by the U.S., China, Belgium, South Africa and Angola, and then:
a) deploy the trained Congolese battalions first in Masisi and Rutshuru territories in North Kivu to provide security for the population while the 23 March 2009 agreement between Kinshasa and the Congolese armed groups is being fully implemented; and apply targeted military pressure on the FDLR in North and South Kivu, while international partners monitor and support these battalions in the field;
b) focus MONUSCO forces on immediately increasing protection of the population from gross human rights violations, including by maintaining an airborne rapid support and deployment capacity, defensive deployments and joint protection teams; help the national army hold territories left by the FDLR; and regain Congolese trust by ensuring that the rules of engagement are actively implemented and pursuing the arrest of Bosco; and
c) start a revised program combined with a new disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) program under international responsibility to process all soldiers who have joined the national army since January 2008, including ex-CNDP and Congolese rebels now associated with the FDLR; and begin to reduce the 60,000 troops in the Kivu to the target number of 21,000 in the government’s January 2010 army reform plan.
To the Government of Congo and the CNDP:
2. Implement fully the 23 March agreement, including by:
a) renewing the mandate of the National Steering Committee (CNS) that expired in May 2010, so that international partners can support and monitor the CNS by reporting regularly on implementation of each side’s commitments; and reopening discussions on the ranks of the officers of other Congolese armed groups who have been integrated into the national army;
b) appointing CNDP figures to the North Kivu provincial institutions in exchange for verifiable dismantlement of CNDP parallel administrative and tax structures, subject to MONUSCO monitoring and reporting to the CNS; and arresting Bosco;
c) handing over responsibility for security of the Masisi and Rutshuru territories to national army battalions trained by foreign partners and MONUSCO;
d) committing troops who have participated in the “Amani Leo” operation to join the new DDR program, so that all ex-CNDP fighters are either completely integrated into the national army or police or reinserted into civilian life; and
e) committing not to engage in any political or military activities with foreign dissidents, including those of the Rwandan general, Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa.
To the Governments of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR):
3. Oversee and ensure a secure environment for refugee return in the Kivu, including by:
a) conducting a census of the undocumented refugees who returned to the Kivu since summer 2009 in partnership with UNHCR; starting a nationality verification process and issuing voter cards to eligible persons before elections; and reviving the joint Congo-Rwanda-Uganda verification mechanism to deter illegal immigration into the Kivu; and
b) starting repatriation of refugees from Rwanda and Uganda under UNHCR conditions, including voluntary return and security of the zones of return; the permanent local conciliation committees (CLPC) should decide if security conditions allow return based on clear benchmarks; and areas determined by MONUSCO to be under parallel administration should not be considered open for return.
To the Government of Congo:
4. Build the institutions and the capacities to foster inter-communal reconciliation and dispute management, including by:
a) developing expertise to manage land conflicts, including a land commission to review titles; reinforcing STAREC, the Congolese government organisation in charge of stabilisation programs, as a permanent conflict resolution mechanism; implementing the 2008 Goma conference resolutions on peace and security; and dedicating adequate resources and additional staff taken on through a transparent recruitment process;
b) empowering provincial institutions with resources and authority to respond to local needs; and creating the legal and administrative framework to address issues of ethnic minorities’ political representation and inconsistencies between customary and modern law; and
c) holding a roundtable with local communities, provincial authorities and national representatives to set clear guidelines for allocating posts in the provincial administration; map out a consensual process for distancing local communities from armed groups; and adopt a code of conduct for political activities in the Kivu.
To the Presidents of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi:
5. Organise a special summit of the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries (CEPGL) to:
a) open political discussions at head-of-state level and chaired by the African Development Bank (ADB) to agree on economic, land and population movement issues, with the aim of forming a mutually beneficial vision for the future of the Great Lakes region;
b) analyse jointly the region’s traumatic history, so as to foster reconciliation between Congolese and Rwandans; and
c) commit not to interfere in legitimate efforts at consolidation of the state in eastern Congo.
Nairobi/Brussels, 16 November 2010