14 November 2012

Congo-Kinshasa: Sanctions On M23 Will Not Bring Peace

Photo: HRW
Congo rebels (file photo).


On Tuesday, the United States ordered sanctions against the head the M23 rebel group for his alleged role in causing mayhem to this troubled region of Congo.

The UN put a travel ban and assets freeze against Col (or is he now a General) Sultani Makenga, for allegedly raping and killing civilians.

Specifically the US government ordered the seizure of any Makenga assets in the United States and banned Americans from dealing with him.

To start with, I don't think Makenga or any of his lieutenants have assets in the US to be frozen. Nor, are there serious business engagements between this group and any serious Americans.

Therefore these sanctions have minimal or no direct consequence to Makenga as an individual.

The only purpose these sanctions serve is to undermine or derail what the region has already assembled together to address the current crisis inside eastern DRC.

Ever since the ICGLR process started, there has been a systematic campaign by sections of the international community to discredit this endavour. Through different maneuvers, many have labored to kill it off either through mere bad-mouthing or through official documents like those of the UN GoE report.

Rather than support the goodwill of the region in finding genuine solutions, these elements has instead made it their business to put a block and ensure that their voice remains dominant.

The latest sanctions must be seen in the same spirit.

By imposing these sanctions, we risk escalating the violence as opposed to sowing seeds of peace. The M23 rebels will be irked and may decide to be defiant. They're likely to act stubborn and ignore any call to a negotiating table. After all, they will say, 'this world seems to be against us.'

I have read some statements from both the UN and senior US officials endorsing the regional initiative and pledging support for it. Then, one would ask, why rush to issue sanctions before this regional undertaking kicks off? Why not give the ICGLR process a chance, see exactly where the problem lies and probably after examining its progress, issue the sanctions based on the findings of this process.

What probably will put a bitter taste in the mouth M23 is the fact that it has openly called for dialogue with Kinshasa. Unfortunately the big boys in Kinshasa have not heeded. Therefore, with these sanctions this rebel group will feel punished for its good gesture while the other side enjoys a free ride.

Therefore, this whole saga is likely to kill the spirit and momentum that the regional initiative had gained and will complicate the situation even further.

Secondly, the M23 rebels have cried out loud but nobody seems interested in their grievances. Their quarrel stems from an agreement that was never respected. Instead of paying little attention to their legitimate concerns, the international community seems keen to crucify them than play a neutral role.

These people have endured decades of suffering. Their kith and kin have tuned into the endangered human species of eastern DRC. Hundreds of thousands remain stateless. Therefore, by being quick to condemn rather than listen to them, the message we are sending out is that 'we don't care.'

The ultimate consequence of this indifference is a desperate situation where the population in this part of Congo will feel abandoned by the rest of the world and will do everything possible to ensure their survival. They will see themselves as orphaned children who have nowhere to turn or run other than sticking to the barrel of the gun.

And yet this is a situation we should desperately avoid if Congo is to have lasting peace. The fact is, no matter who gets indicted today--- Bosco Ntaganda or Laurent Nkunda or Sultan Makenge---you will see another of their very own emerge tomorrow. So do we need to indict the entire ethnic group before we find a solution?

What might annoy this community even more is that while one of their own sons is being accused of raping and killing, the fellows who have raped, maimed and slaughtered them for decades are not even mentioned anywhere. In their eyes, this amounts to selective justice.

Therefore, if the powers that be, want to appease one party and ignore the other, then it complicates the situation even more. It's as good as treating a symptom while ignoring the cause.

This is why these sanctions only add salt to the injury rather than provide a real prescription.

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