With friends like these, Kinshasa needs no enemies
The North Kivu region in the Democratic Republic of Congo is back in the headlines.
War has broken out again. Large numbers of people are fleeing in search of safety. The M23 rebels and the Congolese army are each blaming the other for the violence.
Further north, the ADF-NALU, Ugandan insurgents that roam freely, have also been battling the Congolese army.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) is, according to the Rwanda government and media sources, deploying and fighting M23 alongside the Congolese army, watched and, reportedly assisted by the Monusco and its newly deployed Force Intervention Brigade.
There are reports, as yet unconfirmed by independent sources, that FDLR elements could be as close as 15 kilometres from the DRC-Rwanda border.
Once again, Rwanda is being made to carry the can for M23’s activities. It is under close scrutiny, thanks to popular lore, according to which it is committed to destabilising its large neighbour, apparently in pursuit of its mineral wealth.
It was all rather predictable. All serious analysis of the causes of conflict in the DRC has long emphasised the centrality of internal problems, mainly the state’s lack of capacity to exercise control over its entire territory and the related failure to secure monopoly over the use of force.
Other factors, such as the alleged role of Rwanda and often Uganda in fomenting or supporting rebellions are secondary.
No country or force would succeed in attempts to destabilise Congo if the state there performed its core function of providing security to all its residents and lived up to the expectations of its citizens in other domains.
Such a state would enjoy the loyalty of its citizens who, with the exception of criminal elements, would in turn have no reason to take up arms against it.
If all this is true, as indeed many would agree that it is, then anyone interested in stabilising the DRC for the long term would seek to re-equip the state with the necessary capacity to execute its core functions and to establish necessary harmony between state and citizen.
But alas, the DRC has a surfeit of friends, whose singular objective seems to be to smother it with help, of the wrong kind.
Twenty years on since the chaos erupted, it is clear that the help, consisting mainly of trying to protect unarmed civilians from government forces and their armed rivals, and occasionally helping the former fight off the latter, does not begin to address the core problem.
Which is why each time there is a lull in the fighting, it is only a matter of time before it erupts again.
Against this background, the current fighting comes as no surprise.
The peace talks in Kampala between the DRC government and the M23 movement which were meant to arrive at a solution to the problems animating the conflict in parts of North Kivu have, to all intents and purposes, degenerated into farcical “peace jokes” courtesy, reports suggest, of some of Congo’s loving friends whose conduct makes the DRC government believe that military victory over insurgents is achievable, so long as they do not have outside assistance.
It may explain why claims that the rebels are not acting alone are necessary; as they can provide an excuse for failure should the insurgents prove too tough for the FARDC.
But rebel forces proving too tough to crack was exactly what the deployment of the UN’s Force Intervention Brigade was meant to prevent, or so interested watchers hoped.
It was meant to ensure that M23 and other “negative forces” lost their capacity to challenge the authority of the Congolese state and that of its neighbours, and that they are disbanded.
Reports now suggest that it actually wasn’t. According to the brigade’s commander, who the BBC interviewed only a few days ago, its mandate does not include getting involved in fighting between the Congolese armed forces and rebels.
Rather, its role, he said, was to protect civilians in North Kivu’s capital, Goma.
And so, the much-vaunted brigade, just like the main Monusco force, is set to look on as civilians outside Goma are sent packing by fighting, just as has recently happened along the DRC-Uganda border.
In an ironic twist, Uganda which used to be criticised for fomenting rebellion in the DRC, also allegedly in pursuit of Congo’s wealth, is now the victim of rebels the FARDC is unable to expel from its territory, the UN Brigade will not engage since they do not threaten Goma, and the Ugandan army cannot pursue inside Congo without the latter’s permission.
So, where is all this leading? Clearly, no one is really going to help the Government of Congo fight and defeat all the myriad rebel groups spread across a large expanse of its territory.
What it needs is assistance to re-acquire the authority now usurped by rebels and the capacity to live up to the expectations of its citizens. Otherwise war and suffering and the occasional wringing of hands will continue.
Frederick Golooba-Mutebi is a Kampala- and Kigali-based researcher and writer on politics and public affairs. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org