columnBy Aaron Hall
Heading into the United Nations General Assembly, stakeholders involved in bringing peace and stability to the Great Lakes Region had high hopes for a breakthrough in ceasing ongoing violence between Congo and the Rwandan-backed M23 rebel group.
In a closed-door meeting convened on the margins of the General Assembly by both the U.N. and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, or ICGLR, several heads of state were to discuss multiple ongoing regional peace processes and solutions to end violence and further institutional reforms in Congo and, to find ways to increase regional development as a means to create stability.
Yet if one judges from the public addresses given by regional leaders at the General Assembly, there is a long way to go to achieving peace. During his address on September 25, Congolese President Joseph Kabila condemned Rwanda’s “never-ending aggression” in Congo’s restive eastern provinces, and Rwandan President Paul Kagame, scantly mentioned the conflict in eastern Congo, instead touting Rwandan accomplishments based on the Millennium Development Goals, and condemning the International Criminal Court for serving to “humiliate Africa and its leaders.”
As one of the most brutal and sustained conflicts on the planet rages on in eastern Congo, high expectations for progress in peace-making at the United Nations appear to have landed short. Furthermore, efforts by both regional actors and the international community to protect civilians, secure peace, and to create growth remain woefully behind the situation on the ground. African leaders, the U.N., and other international partners must resign themselves to put sustained pressure on regional political bodies as well as Uganda, Congo, and Rwanda to agree to commit to a single negotiation process that is transparent, inclusive, and includes mechanisms to enforce agreements and commitments made therein.
Growth and stability require peace and security. While efforts by U.N. Special Envoy, Mary Robinson, and her international partners focused on setting benchmarks for future peace on the margins this year’s General Assembly, they failed to produce agreements on delivering an immediate cessation of violence.
One of the main causes this problem is addressing the continuation of parallel peace processes in the region that allow both states and illegal armed groups to maneuver against one another through multiple and un-coordinated political processes. This allows states to make high-level commitments with no enforceable conditionality attached with the U.N., while at the same time, on a local level, engage in the kind of non-inclusive, non-transparent deal-making of the past that could easily undermine the broader U.N. process. For example, commitments in official communiqués from Congo and Rwanda condemning current violence, in this case, do not translate to taking any action to stop it.
Current efforts to mitigate conflict in eastern Congo have been divided into multiple processes, each with its own sponsor and agenda. In Kampala, Uganda, the ICGLR continues to push forward a regional peace process between the government of Congo and the M23 rebel group, without any official representation from the government of Rwanda and despite a 14-day ultimatum to finish the talks in advance of the U.N. General Assembly by the ICGLR Heads of State—which they did not meet.
In Congo, the government of Joseph Kabila has begun a national “consultations” process that has very narrow participation and is being interpreted by many analysts and observers as a hollow effort at national reconciliation, and rather a bid to divide political opposition and ensure he remains in office for a third-term.
Finally, and perhaps most promisingly, the U.N. and its regional and international partners have been proceeding with the Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework for Congo and the Region, or U.N. PSCF, led by U.N. Special Envoy Mary Robinson in conjunction with a team of Special Envoy’s from the U.S., E.U. and A.U., and signed by 11 regional states and four multi-lateral bodies. This process is meant to represent a broader process to create peace in eastern Congo that focus on commitments made to both address core drivers of conflict, such as respect for national sovereignty, as well as incentivize growth and stability by prioritizing regional economic integration.
None of these processes have been able to stop the ongoing-armed conflict necessary to create the political space for political stability, institutional reform in Congo, or regional economic integration÷ that the U.N. and the new Special Envoys hope to achieve.
The U.N. Special Envoy, in close partnership with African leaders, and the U.S. and E.U. envoys must take immediate steps to create a single, coordinated peace process under the umbrella of the U.N. PSCF, or otherwise risk having disparate regional dialogues undermine their own Framework as well as ensure the failure to address the root causes of the conflict or achieve a cohesive peace in the Great Lakes.
Aaron Hall is a Nairobi-based field consultant for the Enough Project at the Center for American Progress.