Reconciliation in Congo Part 4
by Michael Patrick O'Leary
This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday February 17 2013
In April 2012, up to 700 ethnic Tutsi soldiers mutinied against the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) government. The government was supported by MONUSCO, the peacekeeping contingent of the UN Stabilisation Mission in DRC. Mutineers formed a rebel group called M23 (March 23 movement) also known as the Congolese Revolutionary Army.
UN reports allege that rebels receive support from key US allies in the region, and Washington’s role in the conflict has become difficult to ignore. The governments of the US, Britain, Germany and the Netherlands have publicly suspended military aid and developmental assistance to Rwanda. The governments of both Rwanda and Uganda, led by President Paul Kagame and President Yoweri Museveni respectively, have long been staunch American allies and the recipients of millions in military aid.
The M23 rebellion is a continuation of fighting that has gone on in North Kivu Province since the formal end of the Second Congo War in 2002–2003. In late November 2012, M23 forces invaded and took control of Goma, the strategic capital of North Kivu a city with a population of 1 million people, many of them refugees. M23’s declared purpose was to marching to the nation’s capital, Kinshasa, to depose the DRC government.
MONUSCO has been severely criticised for allowing M23 to take Goma without firing a single shot, despite the presence of 19,000 UN troops in the country. The UN’s Congo mission is its largest and most expensive peacekeeping operation, costing over US$1 billion a year. UN forces recently announced they would introduce drones over the DRC, in addition to imposing a travel ban and asset freeze on M23 leader Jean-Marie Runiga and Lt. Col. Eric Badege.
DRC has the world’s second-lowest GDP per capita, despite $24 trillion in untapped raw minerals deposits. Raw materials fuel the conflict and corrupt every party including the peacemakers. MONUSCO has faced frequent allegations of corruption. UN peacekeeping troops have frequently been caught smuggling minerals such as cassiterite and dealing weapons to militia groups. UN soldiers from the Pakistani army traded weapons for gold and one Pakistani officer used UN aircraft to transport local mineral traders. Indian soldiers traded gold and drugs using UN helicopters to fly ammunition into Virunga national park in exchange for ivory.
In Uvira, Russian pilots of the UN fleet have become notorious for their exploitation of women of all ages at a hotel in the town – one young woman is employed as a cleaner in the office of a high profile NGO during the day but, is paid starvation wages and must sell herself.
President Kabila is seen by many to be self-serving in his weak oversight of the central government in Kinshasa and the legitimacy of his leadership is questioned. The international community and the UN ignored serious election fraud. Opposition leader Étienne Tshisikedi is in jail and has called for “less corrupt and more credible” personnel to head UN operations. M23 rebels have demanded the liberation of all political prisoners, including Tshisikedi.
What hope of reconciliation?
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in December 2002 created the framework for a commission tasked with establishing the truth among conflicting versions of history and to promoting peace, reparation, and reconciliation. The specificities of the truth commission were to be determined by statute. Until more than a year after the establishment of the commission, it was operating without such a law. On July 30, 2004, the mandate was enacted by President Kabila.
The commission had twenty-one members, including representatives of each of the parties of the Inter-Congolese Dialogue and religious leaders, representatives of scientific associations, women’s organizations and other civil society groups. The membership was criticized because some of the commissioners had informal ties with those who were implicated in the crimes. International observers called for a follow-up truth-seeking mechanism because of the lack of political will and resources for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
At the time of writing, African leaders are meeting to chart the continent’s development agenda as it enters its 50th year of regional cooperation. The 20th Ordinary Assembly of African Union (AU) Heads of State and Government set for January 27-28 takes place at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia under the theme “Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance.” The political situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Madagascar, Mali and the Central African Republic will also be on the agenda.
There is not even a slim hope that the AU will bring light to this Heart of Darkness. Fifteen hundred bandits have resisted a standing army backed up by a 19,000 UN soldiers drawn from all over the world, a budget of $1.5 billion every year, helicopter gunships, armoured personnel carriers, jeeps, tanks and aircraft.
As Gavin Jackson of University of London put it: “What is left unspoken in the peace deal is the precise division of the spoils of the region. The bourgeois everywhere – whether of the refined type in London, Berlin and New York or of the Khartoum, Kampala or Aleppo type – have decided this on the basis of relative strength. When this relative strength shifts, a new balance of force which contradicts the previous agreement comes into play, then fighting begins again for a re-division of the loot.”