Tuesday, November 27, 2012

D.R. Congo: What Happens after Goma’s Fall

Source: ISS

Democratic Republic of Congo: What Happens after Goma’s Fall

Dr David Zounmenou and Naomi Kok, Senior researcher and research intern, Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis Division, ISS Pretoria

On Tuesday 20 November, the strategic town of Goma in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) fell into the hands of the M23 rebels. Some observers pointed out that the M23 movement had launched its revived offensive after receiving new equipment and fighting material, which gives it an advantage over the national armed forces (FARDC). And while the Congolese government sent close to 7 000 troops to the region, most of them went into hiding well before the M23 rebels entered the city.

The M23 rebellion started in April 2012 and soon a de facto government was formed, challenging President Joseph Kabila’s authority. The taking of Goma is the M23’s biggest victory to date, and a big blow to the authorities in Kinshasa. Moreover, it raises questions about the presence of MONUSCO, the United Nations (UN) peacekeeping force, in the region. While the UN has close to 17 000 soldiers to protect civilians, citizens often criticise MONUSCO’s inability to assist them. While the interpretation of MONUSCO’s mandate has often been questioned, the responsibility to protect citizens still lies with the government, unless the latter is declared unable. And the DRC’s central government has not done much in this regard.

What is currently happening in the eastern DRC started with the failure of the peace process, coupled with a manipulated post-conflict political normalisation process. It is important to stress that the relapse of the eastern DRC into violence and armed conflict has brought to the fore some serious problems inherent in the peacebuilding process. In an interesting article by Zoë Marriage on the openDemocracy website this week, it was pointed out that handing warlords political power could, in some instances, pose a danger to the consolidation of peace and the success of post-conflict reconstruction. Marriage rightly argued that, ‘in Congo and Rwanda, northern aid has contributed significantly to the regularisation of military leaders into political roles. This has an evident rationale in coaxing them from the battlefield, but has also crowded out civilian contenders to political leadership. In both countries, elite individuals and groups have been strengthened, excluding the majority of the population from political and economic power.’

It is no longer a secret that there are structural, conflict-prone issues, both historical and contemporary, in the Great Lakes region that require sincere political engagement from regional and external actors. While these problems are frequently mapped out, the response mechanism proposed often fails to take them into consideration when designing and implementing a response.

Indeed, the genesis and motivation of the M23 is deeply rooted in the political instability that has for so long characterised the Great Lakes region. The M23, which is now calling itself the Congolese Revolutionary Army or l’Armée Revolutionnaire Congolaise (ARC), has its roots in the Rally for Congolese Democracy (Rassemblement congolais pour la démocratie, or RCD). The RDC originated in 1998 as a Rwandan-backed rebellion that fought against former DRC President Laurent Kabila and the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR), a group of refugees in the eastern DRC who were largely responsible for the 1994 Tutsi genocide in Rwanda. In 2003, the RDC was integrated into the FARDC (along with other groups) under a peace deal signed in South Africa. The RDC was concerned about whether it could trust President Joseph Kabila (who took over the presidency in 2001 after his father’s assassination). President Joseph Kabila was succeeding in securing his power base while the RDC was struggling to consolidate its own. Another problem was that this group was so far removed from the centre of power in Kinshasa, with Goma being 2 000 km from the capital.

It was in this atmosphere of a complete lack of trust in Kinshasa that General Laurent Nkunda decided to resist being integrated into the national army, and eventually launched a new rebel group calling itself the National Congress for the Defence of the People (Congrès national pour la défense du people, or CNDP) in July 2006. Bosco Ntaganda quickly rose through the CNDP ranks and by 2006 he was the group’s commander. By 2009, Ntaganda had replaced Nkunda and on 23 March 2009 the CNDP agreed to be integrated into the Congolese national army, on the condition that its members were to be given key positions and were not to be transferred out of the Kivus. The ex-CNDP thrived under this deal, as it was able to control much of the resource-rich Kivus.

At the same time, many ex-CNDP fighters were never fully integrated into the FARDC, which made it easy when the time came for them to defect with their command and control structures basically intact. In April 2012, ex-CNDP fighters started to defect from the FARDC under the command of Ntaganda and Sultani Makenga, after Kinshasa announced that Ntaganda might face arrest (he is an International Criminal Court indictee). Another factor behind the defections was rumours that ex-CNDP fighters might be deployed outside the Kivus. The threat of the ex-CNDP fighters losing their privileged positions in the FARDC (highly possible if Ntaganda was arrested) along with their control of the resource-rich area was enough for them to defect.

The M23’s taking of Goma is not a surprise, least of all to the Congolese government. Even so, the response from Kinshasa has been reactionary. The taking of Goma happened after Kinshasa failed to meet the M23’s demands that the FARDC cease its military offensive, that Goma be demilitarised, that the border at Bunagana be re-opened and that there be a formal announcement that Kinshasa would negotiate with the M23. When Kinshasa rejected the call to negotiate, arguing that the M23 was a smokescreen and that it would be better to negotiate directly with Rwanda (which is allegedly backing the M23), the M23 stepped up the fight for Goma.

Up to this point, developments in the eastern DRC have followed a cyclical pattern of rebel groups undergoing military integration, failed peace deals and new defections from the military. The difference now is that the M23 has not only taken Goma with relative ease, but has long ago in its manifesto announced its intention to take Kinshasa. It would appear as though Kinshasa’s reactionary response to the on-going instability in the east has finally backfired. The humanitarian situation has been deteriorating steadily since April, and after the taking of Goma it will become exponentially worse. According to Oxfam, approximately 767 000 people have been internally displaced in the Kivus since the beginning of 2012, and an additional 60 000 have fled into Uganda and Rwanda.

The authorities in Kinshasa should be well aware that they need to take responsibility for the army’s defeat by the M23. How Kinshasa and Kigali respond to the taking of Goma over the next few weeks will reveal a number of things. As President Kabila flies to Kampala to meet President Yoweri Museveni and Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, he will finally be forced to show whether he actually cares about the east and the suffering of the people there. Relations between the DRC, Uganda and Rwanda have soured after reports produced by the UN Group of Experts (GoE) on the region implicated both Rwanda and Uganda in supporting the rebellion. Meanwhile Rwanda, given that it now has a seat on the UN Security Council, will have to demonstrate how honest it was in its claims of being innocent of backing the M23.
Hopefully, the taking of Goma will expose some of the mystery surrounding the leadership of the Great Lakes, in particular the intentions in Kigali, Kinshasa and Kampala. Or it could well bring DRC back to the 1998 scenario in which Laurent Desire Kabila, with the support of Uganda, Rwanda and others, took his rebellion to Kinshasa. The latter scenario will be another unfortunate repeat of history.