The long awaited Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the region was signed on 24 February 2013 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
After almost three months of talks between the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN), the framework agreement was eventually signed by Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic (CAR), Congo, the DRC, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia.
Though this peace initiative provides another important opportunity for countries to work collaboratively for peace and stability in the Great Lakes region, the signing of the framework agreement has been met with mixed reactions. Given the miserable track record of peace agreements in the DRC, there are concerns over the effective implementation of this agreement.
The need for a new agreement was sparked last year when the Movement of March 23 (M23) rebel group once again plunged the eastern DRC into chaos.
Then a report by the UN Group of Experts on the DRC implicated Rwanda and Uganda in backing the rebellion. With tensions rising in the Kivus and the M23 threatening to topple President Joseph Kabila, the ICGLR started a series of meetings that eventually led to the current peace talks in Kampala between the M23 and Kinshasa.
Concerns were raised from the start because the ICGLR process was led by Uganda, which was allegedly implicated in supporting the rebellion. On the other hand, SADC also faced difficulties in devising a strategy of its own to help the DRC: while the DRC is a SADC member, none of the other Great Lakes countries belongs to this regional economic community.
In the end, the framework agreement was signed as a result of a UN initiative and strives to accommodate the various interests at stake. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who played a key role in the process, has threatened countries that continue supporting rebel groups with sanctions.
Even so, at this stage there are more questions than answers surrounding the framework, particularly on the nature of the agreement that was reached, the timing and the mandate of the military deployment, and the role of the UN's Stabilisation Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO).
Broadly speaking, there are two main levels of responsibility in the agreement, namely national and regional. The agreement calls for political reforms in Kinshasa while requesting neighbouring countries to stop interfering in the affairs of the DRC and the international community to renew its commitment to helping this troubled country.
The so-called '11 plus 4 mechanism', consisting of the 11 countries that signed the framework agreement as well as the UN secretary-general, the AU Commission's chairperson, the ICGLR chairperson and the SADC president, is tasked with overseeing the implementation. While the framework agreement calls for the 11 plus 4 mechanism to be supported by the AU, the ICGLR and SADC, it also calls for close links and support from numerous other partners, including the European Union, France, Belgium, the United Kingdom and the United States.
While a detailed plan for the implementation of the framework is yet to be developed by this mechanism, the question must be raised: will the process be hindered by the excessive multilateralism in the mechanism?
Too many cooks may spoil the broth, especially considering that these countries and bodies became involved in the DRC for very different reasons. This also raises the question as to whether all the signatories truly agree on the framework, and may explain why the framework is so vague.
Another concern is that while the call for political reforms in the DRC is necessary, many local actors, including the media and members of parliament, believe it is unfair to call on the DRC government alone to implement such reforms when the problem of democratic governance affects many countries in the region.
The framework calls for President Kabila to put in place a mechanism to oversee governance reforms. Domestic efforts are essential in this regard, yet discontented voices have pointed to the violation of state sovereignty by external actors, which hinders the political support and commitment needed in both the domestication and the implementation of this agreement.
Critically, the framework agreement touches on the fact that the current challenges present an opportunity to 'address the root causes of the conflict' and so bring an end to the 'recurring cycles of violence'.
Kinshasa along with Kigali, Kampala and the rest of the region, should not miss this important opportunity to address the chronic instability in the DRC, which is spreading across the region. The signing of the framework agreement is undoubtedly a positive step, but the agreement lacks specific actions and the involvement of so many actors may cause confusion over who will take the lead.
Meanwhile, the ICGLR talks hosted in Kampala have reached a deadlock. While there were many points of contention between Kinshasa and the M23, the fact that Kinshasa only agreed to reintegrate the M23 into the national army up to the rank of major and insisted on deploying them throughout the country, was a major sticking point.
While the Kampala talks continued, the M23 once again strengthened its positions around Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu, indicating just how much it distrusts the process. Then, on the same day that the framework agreement was signed, an M23 officer, Major Ancient Musana, was killed in Rutshuru.
It is possible that his death was caused during an attack sparked by rivalry within the M23. There are two M23 factions: one loyal to Bosco Ntaganda, and one loyal to Sultani Makenga, who in turn is loyal to Ntaganda's predecessor, Laurent Nkunda.
The increased tension between these two factions may partly be attributed to the US government's offer of a reward for the arrest of Ntaganda who is wanted by the International Criminal Court. While the divisions within the M23 might weaken the group and bring the government short-term relief, the impact of new splinter groups as well as its spoiling capacity should not be ruled out.
As things stand, the effective implementation of the framework agreement needs more work and an effective leadership to steer the process. At the same time, the ICGLR process alone cannot be counted on to resolve the problems between the M23 and Kinshasa.
The Neutral International Force - proposed by the Great Lakes countries at the regional summit in July 2012 in Kampala, comprising 4 000 troops from the SADC and ICGLR regions - is intended to combat negative forces in the eastern DRC.
Specifically, a brigade of 2 500 soldiers will be mandated to 'enforce peace'. This is yet to be fully operationalised. A key challenge is how this force will work alongside MONUSCO. In the meantime armed groups are mushrooming and some of them are gaining considerable strength.
At this stage, one may well ask whether the framework agreement can lay the foundations for sustainable peace. The answer lies in the relationship between Kinshasa, Kigali and Kampala. Without their sincere engagement, the framework agreement and the 11 plus 4 mechanism yet again raise hopes while failing to promote the much-needed peace and stability in the eastern DRC.
David Zounmenou, Senior Researcher and Naomi Kok, Research Consultant, Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis Division, ISS Pretoria