WHEN President Jakaya Kikwete took on the chairmanship of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation in August this year, number one on his agenda was to deal with the ongoing war in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the political stalemate in Madagascar and the elections in Zimbabwe.
It is against this background that with regard to DRC, the SADC Extraordinary Summit in Dar es Salaam over the weekend noted they need to put an end to this constant pressure on the region and stave off potential influx of refugees in the process. They thus pledged to provide 4,000 troops for a neutral force to be deployed in eastern Congo where rebels have waged an eight month-long rebellion, the South African Development Community (SADC).
Briefing SADC leaders at the Serena Hotel over the weekend, President Kikwete as the head of Southern Africa Development Community's (SADC) Troika on Peace, Defence and Security, vowed that they would not rest until a lasting solution to the conflict is realised.
"I want to inform SADC that we will not rest until peace is restored in the eastern DR Congo The regional bloc also urged the United Nations (UN) to strengthen the mandate of the UN peacekeeping force that was forced to give up defending the city of Goma last month when Congolese troops fled from advancing M23 rebels. A similar position was shared by the SADC Executive Secretary Tomaz Salomao, who said the summit strongly condemned the M23 and all its attacks on the civilian population ... as well as its abuses of human rights.
Under the arrangement, Tanzania will send a battalion of soldiers and the SADC bloc will "activate" a standby brigade of about 3,000 soldiers by mid-December. President Kikwete, however, said the standby brigade's deployment would be conditional, with member states coming up with both the troops and funding. The idea of a neutral force, which will cost an estimated $100 million, was first mooted several months ago but disagreement over where the troops should be drawn from has hindered its formation.
There has been a lull in the fighting in Congo's eastern borderlands after the rebels pulled out of Goma earlier this month, a move they said Congolese President Joseph Kabila had demanded for peace talks to proceed. The rebels pose the biggest threat to Kabila in years. The ease at which M23 marched into Goma was seen as a major embarrassment for the UN MONUSCO peacekeeping force.
The force said its helicopters had fired hundreds of rockets at the rebels but was powerless to beat them back once the Congolese army abandoned its positions. However, SADC member states want the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission ... to be changed from the traditional peacekeeping role to peace enforcement activities to enable it to engage M23 rebels militarily if the need arises.
SADC aims to activate a standby brigade by December 14 that will join the Congolese force. It will include units from all nations in the group, according to Mr Kikwete. Tanzania has already committed a battalion to the force while South Africa has pledged logistical support such as moving troops, he said. The leaders also discussed the political crisis in Madagascar, urging former President Marc Ravalomanana and current leader Andry Rajoelina not to run for the presidency, according to a statement.
They urged authorities in Madagascar to ensure the presidential election is held as planned on May 8 and that parliamentary elections take place on July 23. The summit urged the transitional government in Madagascar to draft legislation to guarantee privileges for former heads of state before the elections, and repeal laws that exclude some citizens from voting, according to the SADC statement.
The SADC leaders also urged members to contribute to a $10 million fund to support the electoral process in Madagascar. On Zimbabwe, SADC called for the completion of the process to draft a new constitution, and conduct a referendum on the document before elections next year.
Those attending the summit include the current SADC chairman, President Armando Guebuza of Mozambique, along with South African President Jacob Zuma, President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who is chairman of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region, also attended to brief SADC on what the conference has done so far to try to resolve the crisis in Congo.
The organ's new chairperson observed that the people in eastern DRC had suffered for too long, hence the need for SADC's immediate intervention And using his experience of the region for 50 years, he said the current security problems of Congo were in two categories, where one affects its people and its neigbours and the other category strictly internal.
The Ugandan leader said Congo has for years been used by terrorist groups to attack neighbouring countries,noting that it was former President Mobutu's policy to destabilize neighbouring countries. But today, he said, Congo was being used by the same terrorist groups, but this time by efault since it is not President Joseph Kabila's policy to destabilize neighbours. He said the late Mobutu had started a programme to reject some Congolese, terming them as non-Congolese.
Mr Museveni said the third problem was Eurocentric, where international groups decide to intervene in Congo issues without knowing precisely what causes conflict there. "The further you are away from the problem, the easier it is for you to be lied to,"he said He added that they should resolve that if there is a problem in Africa, the first ones to intervene should be the national parties involved, then the region bodies and subsequently the international community as the last resort.
"We should avoid the mismatch where the international community comes in without consulting the region, they bring in forces, which have no impact in resolving the problem. It is some sort of military tourism,"he said "I told UN's Ban Ki moon that what you are doing in Congo is a big terrorist conservation project, because you have this huge force of 17,000 on the ground, yet they are living side by side with these terrorist groups.
Some of these groups have even stayed for over 10 years yet the UN forces are on the ground," President Museveni said. Sharing an example of the Uganda Forces engagement in Somalia, he said that when they went to Somalia, they were told that they have no mandate and their only role was to guard the airport, and State House, but eventually, the Al-Shabaab began shooting at them with no provocation but could not retaliate on grounds that they had no mandate.
"But then we reflected and realized we had to retaliate and teach them a lesson,"he said "Congo is being used as a breeding ground for terrorism, so we have agreed with SADC to send a neutral force to Congo under the auspices of the UN but this time, we should ensure we do not cohabit with these terrorist groups, living peacefully side by side with them," he said, adding: "The people of Congo are suffering.In jut one week, I was just reading intelligence reports,15 people have been killed in Ituri forest and not by M23 but by another terrorist group in the region." "The neutral Force should come and help people in Congo and also relieve the region of this constant pressure," he said.