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Regional Peace to Settle Violence in the DRC Shows Progress? Not so Fast

DRC President Jospeh Kabila listens in as the details of the Peace Accod are discussed

DRC President Jospeh Kabila listens in as the details of the Peace Accod are discussed

On Sunday, February 24, 2013, a regional peace accord was agreed upon in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, by 11 African nations from both the Great Lakes region and Southern Africa in an attempt to finally end two decades of conflict that have plagued most sections of the war-riddled country, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), particularly its mineral-rich eastern provinces.

Appropriately labeled the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC, the move is a regional cooperation, backed by the United Nations (U.N.), which could yield an intervention force designed to put down the constant prowling of predatory militias that feast on innocent civilians, illegally looting the vast resources to sell on the international market, and prevent further intervention from neighboring nations.

Anyone who possesses a slight knowledge of the tragic recent history of the DRC may look at this latest agreement as a breakthrough that may set the country on a path of peace, stability and post-conflict reconstruction. However, the country and the region have been down this path before, only to slip back into violence for one reason or another.

There are several factors that raise alarms for skeptics regarding the most recent regional peace pact.

This is not the first regional agreement designed to end conflict in the DRC. When the country first slipped into war in 1996-97, the unity of the new The Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (AFDL) government, led by Laurent Kabila, combined with their political and military backers — Uganda and Rwanda — maintained a semblance of peace through consent and mutual cooperation in the autumn of 1997.

This unity lasted less than a year before war erupted again, this time among the former allies as Rwanda and Uganda, displeased with Kabila’s actions of removing their influence, invaded the country again.

By 1999, the Lusaka Peace Accord was signed by seven nations involved in the war that begun in 1998 and back by the U.N., who also agreed on sending a small peace-keeping force in the country to assist in the process.

This accord was soon rejected as peace was never fully realized and armed conflict continued between all factions.

This part of the war ended in 2001 with President Laurent Kabila’s assassination and his son Joseph took control. Several bilateral agreements were reached between the DRC and neighboring Uganda and Rwanda in 2002. However, this failed to relinquish peace as well, as a series of intrastate proxy wars broke out with militia groups — some backed by Rwanda and Uganda — disturbing any thoughts of tranquility across the eastern provinces. These proxy wars have remained nearly continuous since 2002, leaving a wake a death and destruction. Several other peace agreements were reached over the last decade, only to be broken shortly thereafter.

The myriad of peace finally culminated on Sunday with this new agreement. However, the primary aggressors present in the country for the last ten years, the militia groups that patrol the eastern provinces, were not even included in the discussion. By excluding these groups, they hold no commitment to such and agreement, which begs the question: How does this move signify a guarantee for peace?

Sure, Rwanda and Uganda signed the agreement, despite the U.N. reports implicating both countries in supporting many rebel groups, including the most recent, M23. Both countries have fervently denied any involvement in the latest proxy war. As long as they maintain a firm stance that they had no role in the violence, no amount of regional agreements will prevent them from breaking the deal behind the scenes and maintaining their innocence.

In addition, the prospect of a new force, backed by the U.N. and the African Union (A.U.), which will be used as an intervention force, should not spell the end of conflict either. Throughout the perpetual wars in the region, the U.N. mission MONUSCO failed to live up to its mandate of civilian protection, often barring themselves in their strongholds while those same people they were sworn to protect were slaughter just outside. So why does a potential U.N.-backed force warrant any accolades for progress, when a near 20,000 troop force failed to simply protect innocent inhabitants?

Given some of the recent successes of the African Union forces their remains a glimmer of hope, but if the U.N. forces in the DRC take control, the prospects dim considerably.

New talks between the M23 and the government in Kinshasa are scheduled for mid-March, but all reports point to the rebels digging in and posturing for another assault of the city of Goma, a city they easily took late last year, defying threats from the central government. Not a finger was raised by the U.N. in the town’s defense. Couple this with the apparent infighting among the command within M23, and the potential for another major conflict seems like a foregone conclusion.

There are also the plethora of other militant groups spread across the country. Rwandan Hutu refugee militants, picked from the remnants of Interahamwe militia responsible for the 1994 genocide, continue to run freely across the country. Independent Mai Mai groups roam the lawless countryside, looting international organization’s outposts and preventing civilians access to healthcare. Notorious groups, such as the Raia Mutomboki, massacred civilians last year as part of ethnic clashes. These groups are neither a part of the peace accord in Addis Ababa, nor the bilateral negotiations between Kinshasa and M23.

Finally, the DRC armed forces (FARDC) themselves have failed to protect citizens. In fact, these vagabonds, who are rarely paid and live in squalid conditions, are often just as brutal to civilians — if not more — than any of the aforementioned militia squads. During their retreat from Goma and the M23 victors last year, the FARDC was accused of looting stores and houses, raping women and even murdering some innocents as they moved through surrounding towns. This is just the latest incident in a string of attacks by the FARDC against DRC civilians that have occurred over the last two decades.

With the government security groups also ravaging populations, the civilians simply have nowhere to turn. Will the government forces be reeled in simply because of this new regional peace deal?

While this latest peace accord is not a negative step on the road to resolving bitter conflict, skepticism remains prominent as to whether this is just another empty document signed for appearances. Hopefully the deal is the beginning of a fresh start for the country and, most importantly, its people, who have suffered the most horrific ordeals at the hands of all parties involved. Although this accord is different in that it is not the concessions of ending a conflict, but a general blanket statement that peace is needed in the DRC, it still fails to cut to the heart of many looming issues.

Given the past failures, the multitude of relevant parties absent from the discussions and the overall ineptitude of the international and national government forces during the 20 years of war, the outcome continues to look grim. Unfortunately the agreement looks like another empty promise, but only time will tell if this peace agreement is the start of something better in the Congo. Forgive me if I remain skeptical.

 

Author

Daniel Donovan
Daniel Donovan

Daniel is the Executive Director of a non-profit development organization that focuses on building infrastructure and training in rural Sub-Saharan Africa called the African Community Advancement Initiative (http://www.acainitiative.org/) . He has a Master's degree graduate in International Relations with an emphasis on conflict resolution and development in Sub-Saharan Africa. Coupled with his extensive financial background, Daniel also works as a consultant for Consultancy Africa Intelligence in Pretoria and the Centre for Global Governance and Public Policy in Abu Dhabi. In addition to his work at FPA, he is also a regular contributor to The Continent Observer and International Policy Digest. He currently resides in Denver, CO.

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