President Yoweri Museveni joined regional leaders in Addis Ababa on Sunday evening at the start of the African Union summit, with the expectation that he would be signing a peace deal to end the conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo).
As chairman of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), Museveni had spearheaded a peace process that included talks in Munyonyo for nearly a month.
Under the UN-brokered deal, a 2,500-strong intervention force would be set up to end the fighting by preventing rebels from seizing territory, and weakening them through targeted operations. The troops would be added to Monusco, the UN's existing DRC peacekeeping mission, mandated to protect civilians. The deal was to be signed by leaders from DRC, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Angola, the Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville), Tanzania and South Africa.
South Africa balks
While the deal appeared to have been settled among the Central and East African partner countries, its implementation depended on South Africa, which had been brought onto the table at the last minute. And South Africa didn't like the deal's blue print. According to South Africa's Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, who represented her country in Addis Ababa, Pretoria didn't have enough time to study the proposal and could not back it.
"A bottom-up approach is always better than a top-down approach," she told reporters in the lobby, after the signing ceremony was called off.
Mapisa-Nqakula explained that Pretoria had agreed with the broader idea of an Africa-led mission as it would be more responsive to events on the ground. However, she said she was unhappy that the UN had failed to integrate the Southern Africa Development Corporation (SADC)'s ideas into the final agreement. SADC, to which both DR Congo and South Africa belong, had agreed to set up a similar force, but under the command of the African Union and not the UN, as UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon had been pushing.
"I hope that regional leaders will endorse a Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework to address the structural causes of the recurring cycles of violence," Moon pleaded with the leaders in his opening speech.
But with the UN refusing to compromise on who would command the peace force, the talks failed, with just 30minutes to signing ceremony on Monday.
Leaders return empty handed
Remarkably Presidents Museveni, Paul Kagame (Rwanda) and Joseph Kabila (DR Congo) all declined to talk to the media about the failed signing ceremony, before Kabila remarked: "I hope that the signing ceremony will happen in the near future."
The three then leaders held consultative meetings with Ban Ki-Moon before leaving Addis Ababa. A statement from State House indicated that the leaders "the stakeholders had recognized the need to undertake wider consultations before signing and, therefore, appreciated that they all have to observe specific commitments if the peace is to return to the affected areas of the region".
A UN official who had been part of the deal admitted that they had not consulted widely enough. As consultations continue between the principals, attention will once again settle on Munyonyo, where talks between the DR Congo and M23 will soon resume.