So, a peace deal in the Democratic Republic of Congo. About time. Does that mean the problems are solved?
If only. It’s never quite that simple. In fact, even to characterise the Peace, Security and Co-operation Framework for the DRC and the Region as a peace deal is to misrepresent it. It is, at best, the beginning of a long process of negotiation, compromise and reform. At worst, it is a pretty bit of paper with no application in the real world, and a good public relations exercise.
Then what’s the point of the agreement?
The agreement, according to Business Day’s Elissa Jobson, “aims to address two of the root causes of the conflict in the eastern DRC: the country’s weak and dysfunctional security, justice and governance systems, and the continued interference from neighbouring countries.” This follows last year’s escalation in violence in the eastern DRC, led by a rebel group which calls itself M23. The rebels were able to wrest significant chunks of territory from the Congolese soldiers, aided in whole or in part by Rwanda (Rwanda denies interfering, but everyone else from the United Nations down is convinced it is involved. Uganda has also been mentioned in connection with supporting the rebels).
Truth is, there’s nothing new about this conflict. Names have changed and organisations evolved, but the fighting between various groups in the eastern DRC has been going on for nearly two decades. Despite its ambition, the framework agreed in Addis Ababa makes little attempt to seriously address the conflict’s underlying issues; it is merely an attempt to get all the countries with an interest (malign or otherwise) in the region on the same page. The rebels themselves weren’t even consulted.
What? The rebels that caused the problem aren’t even part of the solution?
That’s right. The agreement was signed by representatives from 11 African countries: Rwanda, Uganda, South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Sudan, Zambia, Burundi and Angola. Also present was Ban Ki-Moon of the United Nations. Notably absent was any representation from M23, despite the fact that it’s going to be a little difficult to implement any kind of plan for eastern Congo without its cooperation. Having said this, the rebels are having their own peace talks with the Congolese government in Kampala at the moment; however, these have stalled as neither side is particularly willing to compromise.
Also excluded, incidentally, is any mention of Congolese civil society. In initial drafts civil society was to have a prominent role in overseeing the implantation of the agreement, but the final copy left this up to the Congolese government.
So what did the countries actually agree? And who’s going to enforce it?
The headline commitments in the brief agreement (just a couple of pages) are that the Congolese government pledges to continue and deepen security sector reform; to speed up the decentralization process; and to further economic development. The commitments from regional governments, including Rwanda and Uganda, are to refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of neighbouring countries and to “neither tolerate nor provide assistance or support of any kind to armed groups”.
That’s all good stuff, but nothing we haven’t heard before. It reads like a wish list, commented Al- Jazeera’s Nazanine Moshiri, and looks great “on paper”. However, Moshiri and others have been quick to point out that it’s the implementation of the agreement that really counts, and this seems a little vague.
The plan is that four international bodies – the UN, the African Union, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, and the Southern African Development Community – will all be responsible for enforcing the agreement. But there are no details on who will take the lead, what form enforcement will take, or who’s going to pay for it. There have been plans in the works for some time for a southern African-led force to bolster existing UN peacekeeping operations in the region, so perhaps that will be fast-tracked, but this is little more than speculation at this point.
Does this change anything for the peacekeeping troops already there? Especially the 1,000-strong South African contingent?
Ideally yes. If the agreement is followed to the letter, then all foreign assistance for the rebels should dry up and the Congolese government would magically become an engine of development and economic growth. In practice, it’s difficult to assume that any of the promises made in the agreement will be kept for long, especially given the respective parties’ track records (agreements very similar to this have been signed in the past, don’t forget). This means that the need for the peacekeepers is not going away any time soon. The only potential change is that, as a result of this new impetus behind the peace process, the peacekeepers’ mandate might be expanded to allow them to be more pro-active in quashing potential threats (which could, consequently, expose them to greater danger).
Currently, there are about 19,000 United Nations soldiers (including the approximately 1,000 South Africans) in the DRC as part of Monusco, the United Nations mission in the DRC. Their role is limited to protecting civilians from immediate danger and facilitating aid work.
So, just to clarify: this is less a peace deal, and more an effectively unenforceable expression of hope that excludes one of the major protagonists?
That sounds about right. Still, let’s not get too downcast. Problems like the eastern DRC are not solved overnight, or on two sheets of paper; the road to recovery is long and difficult. The Addis framework, while undoubtedly flawed and not at all comprehensive, is another little bit of progress along that road, and from that we can take hope. DM
Photo: Democratic Republic Congo’s President Joseph Kabila attends the signing ceremony of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Great Lakes, at the African Union Headquarters in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, February 24, 2013. A U.N.-mediated peace deal aimed at ending two decades of conflict in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo was signed on Sunday by leaders of Africa’s Great Lakes region. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
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