The Congo question: Can regional powers use force to pacify the gigantic nation

Regional powers attempt to combat lawlessness in the Congo.

KAMPALA, Uganda, September 28, 2012 ― The recently concluded African summit in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, resolved to dispatch an international neutral force to drive away the M23 militias from the Congo.

The M23 has displaced over 200,000 from eastern DRC, with 57,000 crossing to neighboring nations since the conflict ensued in April, causing a refugee crisis in the great lakes region.

Those considered gold diggers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda – a neighbor who had demonstrated much enthusiasm in harmonizing Congo ‒ were excluded from the new military force. Soldiers are to come from these countries and others, including Tanzania and Kenya. So far, Tanzania remains the only state which has offered to send soldiers for the mission.

“The summit expresses appreciation to the united Republic of Tanzania for its offer of contribution of  troops to neutral force and call upon the rest of the member states to make the same commitment in one month,” said Uganda’s International relations  minister Okello Oryem in a communiqué.

Analysts are predicting little success for the mission, given the status quo.

The M23 militia under renegade Bosco Ntaganda assaulted the eastern area of the country, driving the ill-prepared 600 Congolese troops into neighboring Uganda, and subsequently capturing the border towns of Bunagana and Rutshuru, thereby paralyzing mineral trade.

The militias had vowed to march to Kinshasa if President Joseph Kabila failed to engage them in peace talks and address their demands for a fair share of positions and influence in the Congolese government.

Tensions continue to mount in the region as the rebels persist in their determination to combat Congolese forces, worsening the already fragile humanitarian situation.

The DR Congo, and its eastern portion in particular, has endured similar conflicts; in fact the present M23 assault is a continuation of past conflicts. The most recent conflict, Congo’s second war, was orchestrated by neighboring Rwanda and Uganda. That 1998 war resulted the highest damage in terms of human and natural resources loss on the African continent since World War II.

In that conflict, Uganda and Rwanda invaded DRC through the mineral rich east following Laurent Kabila’s expulsion of the Rwandan army from the Congo. Ironically, the armies had just brought Kabila to power after driving a way his long standing rival Mubutu Sseseko in 1997. The invasion, sometimes referred to as the “African world war,” involved eight countries and imparted dire consequences on DRC.

The armies of the two countries directly supported anti-Laurent Kabila rebel groups, including the Banyamulenge in the eastern region. The Banyamulenge mutinied from the Kishasha government  following soiled relations with Rwanda and formed the Rally for Congolese Democracy(RCD).

Rwanda and Ugandan troops and their affiliated rebel groups pushed close to Congo’s capital Kinshasa by 1999 before the intervention of Angola, Sudan, Libya, and Zimbabwe among others on Congo’s side stopped their approach. The fighting continued, and in late stages the two invading allies clashed in an equally bloody conflict.

Analysts termed the face to face clash of Uganda and Rwandan forces “the war for mineral wealth.” However, the clash between the former allies was short lived as they later reconciled against the common enemy.

Two years into fighting, Congo’s president Laurent Kabila was assassinated and succeeded by his son, Joseph Kabila. The war officially ended in 2003 with a series of peace talks between Joseph Kabila and the invading neighbors. 

Approximately 5.4 million people have died in post war violence and due to the devastating effects of the war, including malnutrition, famine, and easily preventable diseases.

The Congo remains beset by post war conflicts with around 40 armed groups using violence, rape, and murder to clear mineral fields as they use money from conflict minerals to finance atrocity-ridden campaigns.

The present M23 insurgency traces its roots to that same devastating war. The accord which ended the war in 2003 allowed Rwandan troops to combat Kigali’s enemies of FDLR in the DRC alongside the Congolese army. However, anti-Rwandan rebels were not completely dealt with. As a result, Tutsi anti-Kabila groups claiming to be on a mission of wiping out FDLR rebels reorganizing against Kigali government emerged. 

The National Congolese for Defense of the People (CNDP) under Laurent Nkunda emerged at this time, centering its rebel activities in the east. Nkunda was arrested by Rwanda, and after peace talks, the rebels were incorporated into Congolese government as a political party in 2009.

However, the union was short lived.  Rebels broke away from the political alliance amid fears that commander Bosco Ntaganda, who took over from Nkunda, was to be arrested and handed to International Criminal Court for war crimes.  The M23 was born from that mutiny.   

The fragile situation that has prevailed in the minerally well-endowed nation for years has sparked skepticism over the likely success of attempts to solve the Congo question with a neutral force. “The proposed neutral force for Congo seems to be a false solution,”
Thiery Vircoulun Director of African department at the International crisis Group told FRANCE 24.

Without some serious negotiations addressing the root problems in the DRC, history may be destined to repeat itself.


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Allan Baryio

Allan is an ardent East African journalist. Born and living in Uganda, Allan attained a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology from Makerere University plus certification in journalism. Currently the writer, Allan Koojo Bariyo, is finalizing a law degree. Having dreamt of seeing African join the rest of the world, the writer aspires to relay the the continent globally sticking to dissemination of accurate, educative and impartial ideas.

Baryio has contributed publications for a number of news agencies including The International Business Times,AfriOIL and The Independent Magazine-Uganda.

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