A group of prominent Congolese and international NGOs have called on countries in the Great Lakes region, along with their international partners, to ensure that the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework Agreement signed in Addis Ababa is given the political backing necessary to bring an end to war in the eastern Congo.
In a published policy response, the 46 groups welcomed the Framework Agreement as an opportunity for a new kind of decisive engagement in a conflict that has persisted for two decades and ravaged the lives of millions of Congolese.
However, they also suggest that the Agreement will be hollow without specific additional measures, including the appointment of a high-profile UN Special Envoy with the power to mediate on both a domestic and regional level; the inclusion of Congolese civil society and Kinshasa's main bilateral and multilateral donor partners in the proposed national oversight mechanism; and the tying of donor aid to clear and agreed benchmarks and genuine collaboration between government, donors, and civil society.
The groups also called for the creation of a donor fund to support projects aimed at deepening regional economic integration to emphasize the benefits of regional stability; UN mediated negotiations with armed groups that avoid the impunity characteristic of past deals; and substantial donor engagement to promote demobilization of rebel soldiers and regional economic integration.
"We need a new approach, a peace process based on the principles of justice," says Raphael Wakenge, Coordinator of the Congolese Initiative for Justice and Peace (ICJP). "Past peace deals have often closed their eyes toward impunity, allowing war criminals to be integrated into the army, police and security services. This has undermined the legitimacy of the peace process and the reputation of the security services, including the judiciary."
The Framework Agreement is based on two main points: bringing an end to foreign backing of Congolese rebel movements, and fostering the comprehensive reform of state institutions such as the national army, police and judicial sectors.
The groups are calling on the facilitators and the eleven state signatories of the Framework to make sure that there are clear benchmarks in order to carry out these goals. They further suggested that donors should tie their aid to progress in the peace process.
"The Framework Agreement is a strong promise to the Congolese people, but past peace processes have stumbled due to a lack of transparency, weak international engagement and the absence of a comprehensive process," says Federico Borello, Great Lakes Director for Humanity United. "This time, it is imperative to tackle once and for all the Congo's root problems of impunity, regional interference, and state weakness. Without them, our best chance for peace will fail."
In addition, the groups also called on the international community to show steadfast commitment that goes beyond the technocratic approach of recent years. In addition to calling for a UN Special Envoy, the groups called on the US and the EU to name special envoys to support the process, and on the African Union, the International Conference on the Great Lakes (ICGLR) and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) to continue providing support to the process. They also called for a donor conference to commit the resources necessary to promote cross-border economic collaboration and deep-rooted reform of Congolese institutions.
"There has not been a solid peace process in the Congo since 2006, despite the escalation of violence since then," says Jason Stearns, Usalama Project director for the Rift Valley Institute. "The Framework Agreement provides hope, but it will require substantial political and financial capital to overcome entrenched interests."