The current outbreak of fighting between the Congolese army and M23 rebels around Goma illustrates - yet again - that internationally orchestrated peace deals and UN interventions are not the answer to the challenges facing the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Just six months after the signing of the Addis Ababa Framework for Peace and Stability in the Great Lakes Region and in full view of the new UN intervention brigade, the latest clashes are a bloody reminder of the simple reality that is often ignored in the urgent search for peace - the Congolese must be directly involved in the search for a durable solution.
With this in mind, the Southern Africa Resource Watch (SARW) organised a policy conference in May with Congolese academics, civil society activists, representatives from the Diaspora, politicians and government officials to discuss peace, stability and natural resources in the Congo.
The conference was specifically designed to create a platform for Congolese actors, who are often not actively involved in foreign-led discussions and decisions about peace and Congo's future, to express their views and outline their alternative solutions to the country's core problems.
The consensus of the conference was that the Addis Ababa Agreement was unlikely to end armed conflicts in eastern DRC because it fails - like many other previous deals - to seriously consider the problems posed by the exploitation of, and trade in, minerals by rebel groups and neighbouring countries. Or to acknowledge that conflict minerals are the main factor fuelling continued conflict in eastern DRC.
The full conference report captures the key issues that were discussed and lists some of the key recommendations, including:
- Congolese civil society groups should strive to claim ownership of existing structures that are designed to tackle the conflict mineral trade, and seek to popularise them in order to contribute to the promotion of peace in the Great Lakes Region;
- Congolese civil society groups should work with sister organisations from the region, the United States and Europe to ensure greater impact, particularly in terms of demanding more effective mechanisms for monitoring and tracing minerals in Congo and beyond its borders;
- The Congolese government must encourage good government of the natural resources sector, including greater responsibility, transparency and participation in the management of the country's resources;
- The Congolese government must respect - and implement - the various agreements it has already signed and should refrain from signing any future agreement unless they are in the national interest;
- The Congolese must develop their own solutions to conflict minerals rather than adopting solutions that are given to them by the international community without proper consultation, since these are difficult to implement;
- The DRC government should consult Congolese experts during the conceptualisation of solutions to mineral-driven conflicts and only accept outside ideas if they are based on the best interests of the country;
- The international community should put pressure on the governments in Rwanda and Uganda to initiate inter-Rwandan and inter-Ugandan dialogues in order to find solutions to their own internal political issues, which are one of the main factors behind the continued instability in eastern DRC;
- The DRC government should improve border controls by acquiring modern mineral detection equipment to reduce smuggling at border posts;
- The Congolese army should be reformed using Congolese expertise and the government should improve the living conditions of soldiers, police officers and other security personnel;
- Congolese civil society organisations should encourage countries that agreed to deploy troops as part of the UN's Intervention Brigade (which was welcomed by the conference participants) to fulfil their commitments and deploy their troops as planned;
- Women should be given opportunities to play an active role in promoting good management in the mining sector and in helping to resolve conflicts; and
- Civil society organisations should agree a timetable for actions (including integrating civil society groups from neighbouring countries) that are designed to promote - and evaluate - measures to finally resolve the conflicts in eastern DRC.
Given the on-going fighting, we hope that the Congolese - as well as regional governments and the international community - will take note of what a cross-section of Congolese actors had to say about their country and the protracted conflict, which has paralysed the east of the country for two decades.
And that having taken note - they will act upon some of the conference's critical recommendations.