The New Times (Kigali)

10 February 2013

Central Africa: Great Lakes Region - Why Peace Agreements Without Peace?

opinion

There is almost a unanimous agreement that peace is a process as opposed to just an abrupt end to conflict and certainly the recent violent events in the Democratic Republic of Congo indicate that peace agreements mark only the start of the process.

An examination of the various past peace agreements in the region- Rwanda (Arusha 1993) and Burundi (Arusha 2000) shows that they contained seemingly pragmatic principles and objectives that appear essential to ensure the ending of the war and bring the rule of law.

Such principles included the establishment of a broad-based transitional government made up of different political parties, demobilisation and the reform of the national security apparatus; the repatriation of refugees and the resettlement of displaced people, and the establishment of the rule of law as the legitimate medium for settling disputes.

A note of caution however, is that this model is not and cannot be prescribed to all countries although it has recently been relied on power sharing between the belligerents- political parties and rebel groups in Africa. Using as examples the signing of peace agreements in Rwanda (1993), Burundi (2000) and the DRC (2000) and the deployment of the UN peacekeeping missions, peace has not returned to the region, which has resulted to the condition of 'peace, no war'.

Why this state of affair then? My contention here is that contemporary global frameworks for peacemaking and peace building that purely depend on the neoliberal political and economic models cannot be the sole channel from which to build platforms for the conditions necessary for sustainable peace.

Analysing these peace agreements and objectively looking at the recent turmoil in the Eastern Congo- which is the consequence of previous failed peace accords, one is undoubtedly left with many questions than answers and the following are worth pondering about: Why have all the past peace agreements in DR Congo failed to achieve their intended objectives? What were the mechanisms in place to guarantee their applications? Whose initiatives that were being pursued- region or donor countries?

Who were the protagonists and mediators? What and whose interests were the mediators serving? Who were they accountable to? What models of conflict resolutions that were applied and why? And finally, who were the funders of these negotiation efforts and what leverage did they have on the fighting parties?

Although there are no easy answers to these questions, the bitter reality is that the problems in the DR Congo have multi-layered dimensions; but the key stumbling block to the long lasting peace in the country has always been the lack of genuine commitment to resolve the underlying and root causes of the conflict by the so-called international community- [which is comprised of state and non state agencies with strong interests in the country]. In theory, the on-going negotiations between the DR Congo government and the M23 rebel group in Kampala should be carried out with good faith from both sides to find common ground, establish agreed mechanisms and take steps towards concrete solutions.

To find a long lasting peace however, the standard peace formula pushed by the international community must willing to recognise the governance and 'structural violence' at the heart of this conflict, accept the complexity of security and politics in the region and address the underlying economic conditions that lead to violence.

Given the failed attempt by regional leaders to sign a peace accord in Addis Ababa which would have bolstered the existing forces in the Eastern DR Congo, the United Nations is trying to keep the momentum so the organisation is seen to be working on solutions to the crisis. It now appears there are two separate diplomatic tracks [peace accord to be signed by eight African leaders and official negotiations in Kampala] to find peace, and whether one will compliment or hinder the other remains anyone's guess.

Whatever the outcome of these efforts, it should be noted that none of the proposed use of surveillance drones, helicopters and other sophisticated weaponry will impose peace and the militarisation of the region is unlikely to achieve the desired outcomes. In addition, the idea that the conduct of peace negotiations in the region is the preserve of the international actors [who often lack clear objective benefiting the local scenarios] is outdated because in the past, it has ignored local knowledge, dynamics and the historical and multifaceted nature of the conflicts. For a permanent solution this time around, one hopes that a combination of local initiatives led by regional states under the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), political will from the warring parties and genuine efforts by the international community can finally end the crisis.

This necessitates the utilisation of a more inclusive concept of peace, the starting point of which has to be the consideration of national and regional circumstances if we are to avoid yet another peace agreement without peace. In the end, the non-ideological nature of the 21st century wars means that for peace and social transformation to be attainable, Africans must be brought into the peace process and their ideas must be incorporated in the decision-making process.

The writer is a postgraduate student in the United Kingdom

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