By Gerald Mbanda
The UN involvement dates back to the 1960-1964 crisis but to date over 40 rebel groups operate in DRC
The recent joint visit to the Great Lakes Region by the UN secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim to support a peace deal in DR Congo and promote economic development in the regional is historical and a step in the right direction.
The visit is historical because two of the world’s most powerful men; one a world top diplomat and the other the world’s top money man, had the same itinerary to a trouble infested region on the African continent. The visit is also historical because it signifies a new dimension by the United Nations in trying to settle the conflict in Eastern Congo.
The visit came immediately after part of forces from South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi arrived in Eastern DRC as an `intervention brigade’ meant to tackle armed groups.
Hardly had the South African contingent unpacked their bags, than reports came in that a Germany reporter for TAZ newspaper, “found dozens of displaced women with children and some men outside a MONUSCO base at Munigi about 4kms from the frontline. When the reporter knocked on the large gate, a South African soldier opened only a small peephole at the front gate.
“Why are all these people outside here and they are shivering,” asked the journalist. In response the South African soldier said: “We do not want these people here”.
Such attitude is still fresh in the minds of Rwandans when hundreds of people who had taken refuge at UN camps, were helplessly left to be slaughtered.
The “Intervention brigade” joined over 22,000 other UN peace keepers under MONUSCO, the largest single UN force deployment in the world so far, which has not been able to bring peace in Eastern Congo for the last five years.
Ban ki-Moon is probably shifting from the traditional diplomatic approaches, and borrowing a leaf from the old British forces strategy when they fought for seven years to take control of Quebec (1757-1762), also known as the Seven Year War.
When the British realised that the Canadians out-numbered them and there was a possibility of rebellions, yet they had to keep enforcing the laws, British governors resorted to a political tactic of stick and carrot. The question remains, will the approach of goodies for peace out of which Eastern Congo will benefit, provide a solution for the chronic rebellions in Eastern DRC?
Addis Peace deal- a quick fix that never worked
In February 2013 several African leaders in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, appended their signatures on an agreement brokered by the UN to end the cycle of conflict and crisis in Eastern DRC.
But when the UN boss, accompanied by World Bank president, visited the DRC holding a full basket of `carrots’, they were met with fresh hostilities between M23 rebels and government forces.
The Addis “peace deal” was already in shambles. A peace deal is normally signed between the antagonistic parties. That was not the case in Addis. What was signed, therefore, only qualifies as a “peace wish”. The ink is not yet dry on them, but a parallel DR Congo peace effort; the Kampala talks, face total collapse.
Both the Addis peace agreement and the Kampala efforts did not address the fundamental root causes of the grievances which sparked violence in Eastern DRC and therefore missed the chance to prescribe long-term solutions to the conflict.
UN mission cannot not solve the problem
The United Nations involvement in Congo dates back to the 1960-1964 crisis. Efforts to try and put an end to armed rebellions in Eastern DRC is probably as old as independent Congo itself, and one of the memorable tragic assignments whoever occupies the UN top seat will always remember.
I would not like to imagine what was on Ban Ki- moon’s mind as he overflew Congo’s jungles to Kinshasa. The second UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold- a Swedish diplomat died in a place crash in 1961, at Ndola in the current day Zambia, by then known as northern Rhodesia.
He was heading on a mission to hold peace talks with Moise Tshombe a governor of Katanga Province- then known as Stanleyville, whose forces had clashed with United Nations peacekeepers.
Tshombe and his loyalists fought for independence of the province and Katanga seceded from the rest of Congo, sparking long battles and unsuccessful negotiations with the UN. The UN forces carried out a number of operations some of which turned out to be quite bloody as they left hundreds of people dead.
Operation Rumpunch. Was aimed at disarming Katangese troops under Tsombe.
Operation Morthor. Aimed at arresting Tsombe’s foreign mercenaries and political advisors. The operation escalated into a bloody war.
Operation Unokat. Meant use of force to deal with foreign military and other fighters not under UN command.
Operation grand slam. The then new UN secretary General, U Thant, authourised the operation which ended the Katanga secession.
Foreign forces also mounted operations like the infamous operation dragon rouge- a joint operation by American and Belgian troops that was meant to quash the Simba rebellion in 1964.
The History of revolts and rebellions in Eastern DRC continued from the pre-independence periods up to today. After the 1960 crisis, there were other rebellions like the Simba rebellion that was led by Pierre Mulele, Kolonji rebellion, and the Mai Mai rebellion.
The M23 and so on are the new ones. In recent years, it is estimated that Eastern DRC is a haven of over 40 rebel groups including those from neighboring countries like the FDRL which committed genocide in Rwanda, ADF of Ugandan rebels and many more.
Rwanda and Uganda have always raised genuine security threats paused by rebels groups operating in Eastern DRC but the international community has not given the concerns enough attention. Instead, the ‘UN experts’ divert the attention and accuse both countries of supporting DRC rebels and going after mineral resources; which is cynical and absurd.
Congo rebellions began when Kagame needed permission from his mother to do anything including going to play, while Museveni was more likely looking after his father’s cows and had not yet been attracted to revolutionary literature.
However, we very well know that there has been foreign interest in Congo conflicts for a very long time. From the colonial masters; the Belgians, the other world powers like America, Russia, China, and France have actively taken part in Congo’s conflicts on one side or the other.
Mining companies from these countries have been operating for decades, and no representation of any mining company from neighboring countries. Again these foreign powers do not share borders with Congo to have experience of cross border insecurity. They have insatiable interest in DRC resources but conveniently attribute the conflict to its neighbours with a non-existent appetite for mineral wealth.
DRC should take charge
The current UN peace keeping Mission in Eastern DRC is a continuation of the 1960-1964 deployment. The question remains why has the UN strategies not succeeded? First, it appears the interests of the world powers, which you may rightly say are the owners of the UN system, supersede those of having a peaceful Congo.
The Congo question is political in nature and therefore requires more political solutions than military approaches. There have been calls in the past by the international community for the arrest of rebel leaders like General Nkunda, Bosco Ntaganda, Thomas Lubanga etc. hoping that this will bring an end to the rebellions. It has not worked. These rebel leaders have gone but others have surfaced and the rebellions continue.
Lasting peace in Eastern DRC will be brought by supporting genuine dialogue between the establishment in Kinshasa and the concerned rebel groups, addressing root causes of their rebellion against the government. Historical injustices including citizenship should be resolved.
Imaginary colonial borders created trans-boundary communities who have fundamental rights of belonging where they are, irrespective of language and cultural similarities with neighboring countries.
The DRC government with a territory as big as Eastern Europe should fix governance challenges. For example, there is no road linking Eastern DRC to the capital Kinshasa fifty years after independence.
UN expenditure in recent years on troops build up in Eastern DRC with no tangible results is more than enough to construct a superhighway from Goma to Kinshasa which would ease governance and promote trade with regional countries.
The DRC government should be encouraged to take responsibility of its problems, and neighboring countries are more than willing to give their contribution. DRC neighbours are on an ambitious move in terms of good governance and economic development. They need a peaceful environment to realise regional economic development.
Congo has remained poorer than any other regional country yet it has potential to be one of the richest nations on the continent. By 1960s, Katanga region alone produced 80% of the world’s industrial diamonds, 60% of the world’s uranium and large quantities of copper.
The resources of Katanga were said to be enough to propel Congo out of poverty. Instead, to date, more than 70% of the Congolese live although the untapped raw mineral deposits of their country are estimated to be worth in excess of US$24 trillion.
It’s high time the African continent took up the challenge to devise ways and means to own the process of creating mechanisms leading to security, peace, dignity and prosperity for Africa.
Gerald Mbanda is a media consultant and commentator on political and social issues in the Great Lakes region.Email: [email protected]