The latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the flawed strategy that has emphasised a military solution to defeat militias and reclaim land and resources in the North and South Kivu provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Based on the secret agreement President Joseph Kabila and his Rwandan counterpart, Paul Kagame, negotiated in 2008, it has resulted in extensive and horrific violence against civilians, including widespread killings and rapes, and cannot bring peace to the region. It must be re-evaluated and broadened to engage all local communities and neighbouring countries in a transparent dialogue that complements more careful use of force.
Presidents Kabila and Kagame agreed on a plan to address the crisis conditions in the Kivu, including integration of the Rwanda-backed Congolese rebel group National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) into the national Congolese army and three poorly planned and executed military operations against the remaining militias. Other Rwandan and Congolese armed groups have formed alliances and continue to resist disarmament and integration.
“In two years that have emphasised military campaigns and seen only inconsistent political dialogue with former rebels, extreme violence has multiplied, the humanitarian situation has deteriorated and tensions over land conflicts have boiled over,” says Guillaume Lacaille, Crisis Group’s Central Africa Senior Analyst. “The UN Security Council has passively witnessed the growing instability and continued impunity”.
All offensive military campaigns in the Kivu should be suspended until the Kinshasa government is prepared to deploy better troops. Congolese forces that have been and are in the process of being trained by a number of countries, including the U.S., China, Belgium, South Africa and Angola, need to replace the Congolese army units in the Kivu that are made up of ex-rebels pursuing a local agenda. These better troops should be prepared to use force but in a more targeted manner and with civilian protection as a priority.
The UN peacekeeping force (MONUSCO) should focus on protecting civilians from human rights violations and take concrete actions to regain the population’s trust. International partners should participate in integrating former rebels into the national army or reintegrating them into civilian life.
Congolese authorities and international partners also need to address difficult political issues in order to defuse ethnic tensions in the Kivu. Tens of thousands of Congolese refugees are expected to return from Rwanda, a process that will need official facilitation to keep relations among groups from souring. Congo’s government must develop credible mechanisms to resolve land disputes and empower provincial institutions. The leaders of Africa’s Great Lakes region should reach agreements at a summit on economic, land, and population-movement issues, while committing not to interfere in efforts to consolidate the state in the eastern Congo.
“Political and military policy in the Kivu is backfiring”, says Thierry Vircoulon, Crisis Group’s Central Africa Project Director. “Without a new strategy, the risk of inter-ethnic clashes, disintegration of the national army and regional destabilisation will become increasingly dangerous”.