Far from the Kivus, La Francophonie covers conflict and bad governance

These days, Kinshasa has made itself up a lot. Flags of the Democratic Republic of the Congo as well as the official logo of this year’s Sommet de la Francophonie are edging main avenues and boulevards of the 10-to-15-million megalopolis in Central Africa. Heads of State and Government, most notably French President François Hollande, of the member states of l’Organisation Internationale de le Francophonie (OIF) are expected over the weekend, while their emissaries, OIF staff, and DRC’s representatives have already come together for preliminary programme in pertinent localities around La Gombe, Kinshasa’s political and economic heart. Outside these venues, that include Hotel Memling, Grand Hotel, Halle de la Gombe, and – little outside – the Stade des Martyrs and the Palais de Peuple, heavily armed policemen, military and republican guards patrol around to make sure, Kinshasa and its internationally pariahrised government show a clean and clear picture hosting the outside world. It is probably the first such event for a very long time in the country and it comes at a moment when many things are at crossroads, to express it moderately.

Last year’s presidential elections have been marred by irregularities (cf. With Eyes Wide Open’s broad coverage) such as documented by the Carter Center, the EU, and many Congolese watchdogs. Joseph Kabila though, maintained power and a – at least – physically strong grip over the capital which is traditionally turned opposition, namely to Etienne Tshisekedi and his UDPS. Subject to massive repressions during campaign, elections and in their aftermath, Tshisekedi and his allies have not reacted the best way either: Incitations of ethnic quality and blunt political moves have been their answer to Kabila’s seemingly imposed victory at the ballot. French President Hollande wants to meet both of them separately during his below-24-hours visit to Kinshasa (which is, by the way, a big blow to Congolese hospitality since he does not even spend one night in the country) and has made it very clear, in advance, that the situation in terms of democracy and human rights in unacceptable for him. Without listing the reasons, it is obvious what he talks about: The fraudulent polls, the pending organisation of local and regional elections, the unsolved case of assassinated human rights advocate Floribert Chebeya and his driver, the repression of NGOs and opposition politicians, the still overwhelming corruption, and last but not least the ongoing myriad of conflicts in the east of the country.

It will be crucial, on the political level, how Hollande will address both Kabila and Tshisekedi in order not to fuel existing tensions on the DRC national level but also in terms of what the new French number one calls “une nouvelle page” in Franco-African relationships that shall break up the classic network around what is known as “Françafrique”. An analysis of how serious these claims are is way too early at this stage, but Hollande’s visit in Kinshasa may be a first indicator. Similarly it will be crucial whether Hollande, but also the wider “international community” of other Francophone leaders and beyond that will address other root causes of the precarious situation the DRC is stuck in, particularly in the Kivu provinces. According to the Wall Street Journal, the final report of the UN Group of Experts is in the pipeline and will be submitted to the UN Sanctions Committee quite soon (its public issuance may of course take much more time thereafter). Notwithstanding the critique that has accompanied the Group’s last interim report and its addendum, the points mentioned in there should be taken seriously. They have led major donors of DRC’s targeted neighbour Rwanda to freeze (not delete) their aid to the government of Paul Kagame which is accused to support the mutiny called “mouvement 23 mars”. Rwanda, in turn, has presented its so-called rebuttal – quite similar to the UN report in form and pretty similar to Kagame’s way of political rhetoric in style – denying basically every kind of support to M23. A thorough analysis of the points raised leads to the following conclusion: Many of the facts the UN Group of Experts tabled should be taken with a pinch of salt, but after all their probability is too high to simply dismiss them. Rwanda’s reaction deconstructs all of it but only partly in a persuasive way. Neither of both reports can be considered as 100% factually right after all, although it is clear that Rwanda plays a role. It is also clear, on the other hand, that Kagame is fully right in asking to look at the inner-Congolese aspects of the fertile soil that gave rise to the M23.

The current situation on the international level is volatile. Despite aid freezings, no major power (as seen in Hollande’s recent remarks) wants to overly endorse the current DRC government after the alleged electoral hold-up and given the failure of so many international attempts to broker peace, engage in security sector reform and good governance the international community has become increasingly fearful in its DRC engagement. This leads to the deadlock situation we experience these days. The country’s east, particularly North and South Kivu sink into a renewed quagmire with alarming humanitarian consequences (although some numbers of displaced people have been proved to be exaggerated) and a yet worn down socio-political tissue gets under further pressure. The emergence of Raia Mutomboki, initially a locally confined Mayi Mayi militia in Southern Shabunda, as a multi-chapter, decentralised, and atrocious configuration of militia is but one example of this development. It is also a dangerous sign of a paradigm shift that might be happening in the region in the moment. While many observers, politicians, journalists, and aid workers tend to say that history is repeating itself in the Great Lakes, the phenomenon of Raia Mutomboki – combined with the observation that M23 is simply not a pure Tutsi-led successor of CNDP or even RCD-Goma – prompts the assumption that current events indicate a fission of classic fault lines. The increasing number of so-called “alliances contre-nature” adds to this.

The earlier mentioned idleness of the international community has opened a window of opportunity for what is commonly coined “African solutions to African problems”: The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), a regional security organisation comprising eleven Member States (DRC, its neighbouring states minus South Sudan and plus Sudan and Kenya), backed by the African Union, has taken the lead in diplomatically addressing this Nth Kivu crisis. This is both a chance and a risk for the young ICGLR – a chance to perform as a serious and trustworthy actor in terms of an honest broker and a risk to fail as a mediator between implicated member states which could lead to paralysing or even dissolution of the organisation. Unfortunately, the noble idea of ownership is on the verge of failure, basically for three reasons: 1) the ICGLR is nor adequately equipped nor funded to perform as a peacemaker in such a protracted environment and under centrifugal pressure from its own member states 2) both the ICGLR and its member states are detached from the concerned populations in the Kivu provinces 3) the holy grail of ICGLR summit diplomacy is to deploy a neutral, multinational military force to a yet overmilitarised area. Especially the third aspect is telling: After four summits in Kampala, one in Addis Ababa, one in Khartoum, and one in Goma, ICGLR member states and AU representatives are still struggling over questions of troop contribution, the nature of the force’s “neutrality” and, of course, the financial aspects. This is not surprising given that each multinational or -lateral military intervention has to be designed, set up, and paid for. Investing all available resources into this task, however, has been one of the reasons for other initiatives to be neglected as of now. Both the ICGLR summits and La Francophonie are metaphorically covering an unbearable and unacceptable situation and the pertinent question is whether Hollande will act upon his remark and regional leaders will be willing to plunge into more complex initiatives of conflict resolution in the Kivus.

A short-time outlook is not promising in that regard: Although Uganda’s President Museveni, at the 50th anniversary of his country, has declared Uganda will mediate between the conflict parties (meaning M23 and the government of DRC), many observers perceive this as a first implicit notion of not only Rwanda, but also Uganda having connections to the M23. In addition, the Congolese government has not yet shown any willingness to talk to M23 at all. If the latter increase in military strength and territorial control though, this could change. Nevertheless, negotiations between DRC and M23 will not resolve the problem and the same holds true for DRC-Rwanda negotiations (favoured by the Congolese but dismissed by Rwanda). The key point of this argument is that any negotiations between these “big players” will necessarily leave out lots of grievance-laden other groups, Raia Mutomboki to be cited as an example again. They will also leave out classic groups of thugs that operate as satellites, e.g. of FARDC or M23, such as Sheka’s NDC or FDC-Guides and another notorious player on the field – the FDLR.

Underlying roots of the multi-layered conflicts shaking the Kivus will most probably remain unaddressed in the near future. A certainly incomplete but telling list include the following aspects:

1) The question of land ownership and associated legal rights, especially when it comes to the often juxtaposed traditional and state legislation remains a vital source for local conflict.

2) The lacking ability and/or willingness of the Congolese army to offer non-discriminatory protection to civilians is a chimaera not even destroyed by heavy UN peacekeeping support through MONUSCO.

3) Inter-communal tensions and the ethnically incited hatred towards the various Rwandophone communities (Banyamulenge, Banyabwisha, Banyarwanda, Barundi of Congo, and Rwandan refugees) can only be addressed by a fight against stereotypes, a reconciliation of all warring factions in the region, and a comprehensive socio-economic agenda that is inclusive in terms of access to basic goods – certainly not through the Nth integration of an armed group into the national army.

4) The deeply entrenched loss of legitimacy of the Congolese state is likely to endure after the recent presidential elections while local and regional ones not yet specified. Discriminatory distribution of political and economic goods enforce these dynamics.

5) The so-called resource curse, based on raw materials such as tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold is not in itself a cause of the conflict but remains a suitable fuel for whichever power interested in continued disorder. Among the most prominent political attempts to address this, the so-called Dodd Frank Act is a clear step in the wrong direction as observations of increased smuggling activity show.

6) The lack of physical and social infrastructure creates a weakness that is particular apparent when humanitarian challenges threaten the population. Improvements in that area are a conditio sine qua non to prevent that every tiny outbreak of violence (which cannot be written off, even in a phase of reconciliation) causes a major deterioration of the living conditions in the Kivu provinces and reprisals, retaliations happen such as we observe it for years.


7) Finally, at the core of so many others – security sector reform. The latter, in this definition includes police, military, paramilitary, and judicial organs meaning that rule of law is a key component of it. Being absolutely necessary through its potential as a broadband remedy (apologies for using a pathological metaphor) or proxy for many other areas to be tackled (protection, economic development, human security, etc.) there is no sign of a rapid change in this area either.

It will be interesting to observe how much of it – if some at all – is going to be addressed during Francophonie, at the next ICGLR meetings, or on other international fora (that should tackle the Kivu crisis more seriously either way).



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