The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: DRC Boycotts Regional Parliamentary Forum

Photo: Sylvain Liechti/UN
Fleeing conflict in DRC (file photo).

Members of a regional parliamentary network, Amani Forum, have accused the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) of frustrating efforts designed to help pacify the country's troubled eastern region.

This was after a Congolese parliamentary delegation cancelled their trip to Rubavu, western Rwanda to attend a meeting which brought together lawmakers from several regional countries - called to discuss the role of parliamentarians in restoring peace in the Great Lakes Region.

The views were expressed at the closure of the two-day meeting - on Friday - which attracted nearly 60 parliamentarians from the Amani Forum member states.

Participants appealed to Kinshasa to assume its responsibility and stop scapegoating neighbouring countries for its own internal failure.

Participants were drawn from member countries Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. Also in attendance were officials from the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), and other International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) member states.

It had been hoped that the meeting would help reach a common ground, at least among the regional lawmakers, something that would have come as a major boost to efforts by regional leaders to try to resolve the Congo crisis.

The absence of Congolese lawmakers was perceived as a "deliberate refusal" by Kinshasa to genuinely engage with regional partners to find a lasting solution to the problem, preferring to blame the conflict in the country's east on neighbours Rwanda and Uganda.

Speaking to The New Times, Senator Jean Damascene Bizimana, president, Amani Forum-Rwanda Chapter, said there was "bad faith" on the side of DRC even as regional countries were committed to help end the crisis.

"They (Congolese MPs) were invited and had confirmed their representatives would come through Goma but withdrew a few hours to the meeting. Failure to turn up is a clear indication of the country's lack of political will to work with its peers," he said. The New Times was unable to get a comment from the Congo side.

Bizimana also cited last week's unilateral decision by DRC authorities to halve the operational hours at the Goma-Rubavu border posts (Grand and Petit barrier) - from 24 hours - as another sign of bad faith from the Congolese government.

The decision was in violation of an earlier deal reached in the framework of CEPGL, a regional community comprising Burundi, DRC and Rwanda.

"They may have a biased impression about Rwanda but that should not stop our country's and regional efforts to help find a solution; there is need to end the threat posed by armed groups in this region," he added.

The senator said that the most important thing was that regional leaders had the determination to find a lasting solution to this security problem.

Uganda President Yoweri Museveni, the ICGLR chairperson, is leading regional efforts to help fix the recurrent Congo crisis, but his role hangs in balance after a leaked UN report accused Rwanda and Uganda of backing the M23 rebellion in DRC's North Kivu Province.

Both Kigali and Kampala have denied the allegations.

Senator Bizimana said that the recommendations from the Amani meeting will be used at the regional level to initiate actions regarding a broader framework involving all the eleven ICGLR member States.

Besides DRC, South Sudan and Central African Republic did not send delegations citing transport constraints.

The meeting requested the ICGLR to further mobilise member states to collectively tackle the problem of armed groups operating in Eastern DRC through political and diplomatic means.

"This should be handled through the agreed regional frameworks by strengthening the conflict management process through effective joint verification mechanisms," reads a statement from the meeting.

The MPs resolved to employ all possible means to denounce the "flawed nature" of the reports circulated by international organisations regarding the conflict in DRC "because they do not put the conflict in its proper context".

Joint efforts to address the issue of refugees in the Great Lakes Region has to be considered a priority, the lawmakers recommended.

Dr Aloys Tegera, Director, Research at Pole Institute, Goma, said that political exclusion and denial of citizenship to a section of bona-fide Congolese was a major underlying factor to the endemic conflicts in the Congo.

"Most of those who are marginalised and denied the opportunity to be recognised as Congolese are the ones who end up forming rebel groups," he said.

His opinion is shared by International Alert, a London-based non-government organisation, which said Congo's problems were inherently political and needed a political solution, including sweeping political and structural reforms that are inclusive and participatory.

In a report released over a week ago, International Alert says that for the past 10 years the international community has failed to take into account the underlying causes of endemic conflicts in the Congo, leaving billions of dollars invested in trying to stabilise the country without enough fruit.

"It is our contention that a major reason why Congolese and international efforts have so far failed to bring peace is that they have wrongly diagnosed the issues and accordingly are addressing the problems in the wrong way," the organization said its report, "Ending the Deadlock: Towards a new vision of peace in eastern DRC".

"It is clear that new ideas are needed to find a way out for the people of eastern DRC," the agency said.

"There is no quick or easy solution...What is needed is not a new blueprint but a new approach - a way of thinking, working, monitoring, assessing and, as necessary, adjusting...It means taking a strategic, longer-term, more patient and incremental approach.

"It means addressing the political issues that divide people and put them into potentially warring camps. It means bringing people together - everybody who has a stake - in a broad dialogue aimed at figuring out local, provincial, national and regional strategies for peace," the agency added.

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