Originally written by James Munyaneza for the New Times.
For the past 10 years the international community has failed to take into account the underlying causes of endemic conflicts in the Congo, leaving billions of dollars invested in trying to stabilise the country without bearing fruit, the London-based International Alert has said.
“It is our contention that a major reason why Congolese and international efforts have so far failed to bring peace is that they have wrongly diagnosed the issues and accordingly are addressing the problems in the wrong way,” the organization said in its latest report the Congo situation, dubbed, “A New Deadlock: Towards a new vision of peace in eastern DRC“.
It says that over the past decade international interventions in the country, including the deployment of the world’s most expensive peacekeeping force – with no peace to keep – have given a false impression to the local population that their suffering might be coming to an end, only for their hopes to be dashed.
“It is clear that new ideas are needed to find a way out for the people of eastern DRC,” the agency says, adding that the country’s problems are political in nature and therefore need a political solution.
But it warns there are no immediate solutions since any genuine remedy would involve far-reaching reforms to address underlying cases of conflict, including access to, and management of, land in rural areas; division and management of political power; and repatriation and resettlement of refugees and displaced persons.
“There is no quick or easy solution…What is needed is not a new blueprint but a new approach – a way of thinking, working, monitoring, assessing and, as necessary, adjusting…It means taking a strategic, longer-term, more patient and incremental approach, according to Dan Smith, Secretary General, International Alert.
“It means addressing the political issues that divide people and put them into potentially warring camps. It means bringing people together – everybody who has a stake – in a broad dialogue aimed at figuring out local, provincial, national and regional strategies for peace,” he added.
The main objective of the report, the agency said, was to draw on its decade of peace-building experience in DRC, to propose “a new approach towards laying the foundations of lasting peace”.
“The report demonstrates how the conflicts devastating the east of the country are rooted in Congolese history and are political in nature. They mainly relate to the distribution of power and economic resources between various parties and are heavily influenced by the ethnic identity of the protagonists,” the report reads in part.
Because of their historical origins, conflicts are inextricably linked to the way in which the country’s social and political structures operate, it says.
“Drawing on a superficial understanding of local realities, interventions have tended to focus heavily on technical aspects, while neglecting underlying political issues,” the report argues, calling for what it terms as “a new generation of peace-building strategy and intervention”.
It adds, “The lack of a truly context-specific response to conflict and the challenges of building peace in eastern DRC risk pernicious effects. (International) agencies’ standard post-conflict interventions are simply not working.”
“Responsibility for these failures lies not only with agencies (NGOs) themselves, but also with the Congolese government, which has come to deliberately prefer a technical rather than a political conversation with its international partners.”
According to Alert, lack of peace-building impact in DRC is partly due to “an analytical handicap in proper analysis of the context”, giving the example of what it calls “typecasting of DRC state as weak” rather than understanding the complexities of its patrimonial character.
It also challenges reference to the security situation in the country’s east as “post-conflict”, as well as a tendency to overlook the importance of local conflict dynamics. “If those engaged in peace-building efforts in the east of the country are unable or ill-disposed to correctly describe the problems and their causes, they cannot hope to identify solutions,” the report argues. Moreover, they are likely to continue with actions that have limited positive effects on the ground.”
“The predatory, corrupt and clientelistic nature of power in DRC, together with the problem of intense, ethnically driven political competition, must be tackled. With decisive implications for the country’s political economy and distribution of wealth, this zero-sum political game heightens the frustration felt by “small” communities and regularly reignites inter-community tensions.”
It adds, “Electoral contests, along with current administrative boundaries, continue to marginalise certain communities. This leads to frustrations that encourage the use of arms as a means of staking political and economic claims”.
The report calls for reforms in the Congolese system of political representation “in order to adapt it to the country’s social, communitarian and historic realities. “• Issues relating to identity and politics should be included in land conflict resolution programmes – going beyond a purely legal approach.”
In reference to renewed hostilities in the country’s east following the launch of a new rebellion in April, International Alert says “the conflicts that continue to ravage eastern DRC are fundamentally political and rooted in the region’s long history.”
It traces the origin of the M23 rebellion to the collapse of the March 23, 2009 peace deal between Kinshasa and the former National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) and Congolese Patriotic Resistance (PARECO) rebels, saying President Joseph Kabila’s government had long put the agreement “on the backburner as the national monitoring committee in charge of its application was no longer convened”.
“Between 2009 and 2012, many of these issues were not addressed, in particular the question of repatriating refugees,” the report says.
It also calls for a positive vision of regional cooperation, underlining the “the strong economic ties that exist and will continue to exist between eastern DRC and neighbouring countries”, including Rwanda.
“This economic interdependence is all too often seen only in the negative light of the trade in “blood minerals”, without due recognition of the importance of trade for the survival of thousands of poor households (many of whom are represented by female small traders).”
“These cross-border trade links provide visible evidence of the positive economic interdependence between countries in this region and are an important factor in economic growth and closer ties between the different populations. A positive approach to regional cooperation must also focus on nurturing positive relations between DRC and Rwanda.
The latest conflict has strained relations between Kigali and Kinshasa in the wake of allegations that the former was backing the M23 rebels.
A report by a UN panel linking Rwanda and Uganda to the rebels, which was leaked to the media last week, is also viewed as a threat to the ongoing efforts by a regional grouping of 11 countries, including Rwanda, Uganda and DRC, to find a lasting solution to the endemic conflicts in the troubled, mineral-rich nation.
Uganda President Yoweri Museveni is currently leading multipronged regional efforts to address the crisis, with the grouping, known as the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, having already deployed a joint military verification team in eastern Congo to help defuse tensions, and inform decisions on the way forward.
Like International Alert, Kigali has also argued that the international community was giving the wrong prescription to the Congo problem, which, it says, is often viewed “through the outdated and erroneous prism of tribalism and ethnicity”.
The controversial UN report was compiled by a team led by Steve Hege, the man Rwanda has accused of openly pursuing a political agenda against Kigali, which in a 2009 article titled, “Understanding the FDLR in the DR Congo”, Hege described as a foreign invading force of “Ugandan Tutsi elite”, as at the same he sought to make the case for the FDLR, the Congo-based militia blamed for the 1994 Genocide of the Tutsi.
Hege argued then, “The FDLR must be viewed in light of the regional history of armed rebellions formed by refugees and/or political exiles who have eventually taken power back from undemocratic regimes…The FDLR have not constituted a military threat to Rwanda for over five years…the FDLR would rather wait for political negotiations when international opinion eventually sours on the Rwandan regime”.