When the big ones meet… – UN Security Council on the Congo

On 25 July 2013, the recently reopened UN Security Council chamber held one of its most high-profile attended meetings on the ongoing turmoil in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. (see here for the official wrap-up press release)

Announced as a “ministerial meeting”, the Security Council’s 7011th session hosted US Secretary of State John Kerry (presiding as US representative), UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim (although traveling from DC and NY seemed too much of an effort to him), Ban’s Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Mary Robinson, AU Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra, Foreign Ministers of DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda (Raymond Tshibanda, Louise Mushikiwabo, and Sam Kutesa), the EU’s and Belgiums Special Envoys to the Great Lakes, and other high-ranking diplomats/politicians members of the current Security Council configuration. Non-speeking attendees also included the US’s new Special Envoy to the Great Lakes, Russ Feingold, and MONUSCO’s new head, SRSG Martin Kobler.

Kerry introduced the debate, that started a bit later than scheduled, with presenting the official Presidential Statement and adding a row of mostly lukewarm comments from the currently presiding US, as acting PM di Carlo and new envoy sat behind him. Beautiful metaphors referred to the credo that ‘something must finally be done’ and ‘everybody must engage, meaning stakeholders of the Addis Ababa 11+4 PSCF should fully commit to their pledges. Kerry did not follow up on the relatively blunt attack against Rwanda initiated a day before in sequence to a controversial HRW report on ‘renewed Rwandan support for M23’.

Ban took the stick afterwards and came up with a remarkably concrete statement, urging parties to cease any action detrimental to the PSCF processes. He condemned, without going into very much detail, recent instances of violence – both from FARDC and M23 sides. Afterwards, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim came up with the insight that “we cannot have development without peace, and we cannot have peace without development.” There has been no poll, but it is very likely many Congolese agree with him. It is also likely as many have known about this correlation before. The rest of his video-statement turned around the World Bank’s one billion dollar plan for the region (thing to be followed closely, if implemented…).

Mary Robinson, former OHCHR head, stepped into the debate with a rather flamboyant speech. Though emotional at times, she rightly pointed out the ‘international community’s’ lack of engagement and empathy given the more recent outburst of violence in eastern Congo. Evil to whom evil thinks, but parts of her speech could certainly be interpreted as a punch towards some of the preceding speakers. Robinson then finally brought in at least theoretical ownership of the Congolese, and wider Great Lakes population, drawing from the women’s regional workshop she spearheaded in Bujumbura a month ago. Unfortunately that was one of the few opportunities where the Special Envoy had gone to the grassroots since her appointment. But the clear emphasis gives hope she will put increasing importance on such initiatives. The currently developing national dialogue in Kinshasa, despite being government-conducted could be an opportunity to carve out her profile in this way.

For the African Union, commissioner Lamamra surprised with the unconvincing idea of a dynamism arising from the 11+4 framework and parallel establishment of the Force Intervention Brigade under resolution 2098. Without being too harsh, seeing the brigade and the political process as fully complementary still appears not an automatic equation. Too big are the risks connected to this seemingly divergent threads of strategy. But it is only after Lamamra, the Council emerged into an arena:

Starting, Uganda’s foreign minister Kutesa underlined the necessity of multiple approaches, favourising the political way (PSCF, question mark on the stalled Kampala talks – although pro-M23 twittersphere interpreted this quite differently afterwards) over the military (MONUSCO FIB) while not excluding it. Kutesa both urged improvements on the DRC side and acknowledged what Uganda appears to observe as yet happening positive developments.

DRC’s head of diplomacy Tshibanda changed identities while speaking. Starting with a Lambert Mende role-play in the first two minutes, he quickly switched back to usual Tshibanda low-profile tone. The notion of ‘signature génétique’ however, given the addressees’ recent history of genocide was close to a major scandal in the holy halls of turtle bay. Not only is it empirically wrong, it can raise valid concerns among yet marginalised rwandophone populations in eastern Congo, and of course Rwanda, sitting close and listening with serious faces. While the UN and Kerry have not officially reacted on it, the Congolese side has not clarified either, how it was meant. What is clearly is that neither is M23 ethnically coherent (though Congolese Tutsi certainly have a lead role) nor is the landscape of Kivutian troublemakers in any regard ethnically marked – in contrary (FDLR, M23, Raia Mutomboki, APCLS, Nyatura, Mayi Mayi groups, ADF-Nalu, and the other dozens of militias as well as rogue FARDC units). For the rest of his talk, Tshibanda concentrated on (in many aspects questionable) developments the DRC had achieved and underlined the Kabila government’s strong hope in the FIB doing a good job.

Taking over from DRC, Rwanda’s chief diplomat Louise Mushikiwabo took a unusual stand, quiet and almost defensive she wished for the Kampala talks to receive more UN and Security Council back-up, while endorsing the work of Robinson and the FIB. No comment on the US criticism pursuant to the HRW accusations, no word on the recent Group of Experts midterm report (stating that Rwandan support for M23 had decreased and FDLR would collaborate with FARDC). Mushikiwabo instead focussed on Rwanda’s role in taking up the loser faction of M23 around Runiga as refugees and factilitating the transfer of Bosco Ntaganda to The Hague (given that Bosco most probably surprised the Rwandan government with his sudden intrusion, this is – in Mushikiwabo’s terms – certainly the best way to coin it a posteriori). Also, the recent accusations against Tanzania, whose newly appointed FIB commander was alleged to have ties with FDLR, have not been reiterated (Rwandan relations with Tanzania are continuously tense on that note, but proofs of MONUSCO-FDLR contact outside the well known DDRRR scheme have not been underlined by any serious evidence in contrary to FDLR-FARDC collaboration).

The rest of the meeting included traditional positions, France bolstering the intervention brigade, China and Russia with pretty abstaining comments, the UK much more talkative on the William Hague SGBV line than on the security situation, and troop contributing countries with a sort of endorsing reluctance concerning resolution 2098, especially South Africa and Tanzania, who in contrary to Malawi, the third troop-contributing country, spoke – Tanzania including a strong rebuttal of Rwandan accusations against the FIB.

Against the backdrop of clashes flaring up again – not only at the main front north of Goma but also in South Kivu and the Grand Nord – the most prominently staffed meeting on DRC since a while is not very promising. Despite some interveners issuing statements of strong engagement, commitments remain unclear at this point. The main protagonists in terms of states, as we see in their statements, pursue strategies of alliance building and deliberate diplomatic tone (besides Tshibanda’s bizarre phrase).

With Kampala still on the dead end, the PSCF remaining a diffuse scheme in many ways, and confrontations between M23 and FARDC possibly continuing – the value of the Security Council meeting 7011 is difficult to assess. As soon as the FIB is operational, and we see more activity again in either a continued Kampala process or other fora (ICGLR will elect a new chairman country next week, Sassou Nguesso is ready, and the AU may still step in at some point) there might be concrete answers to that.

So far, however, the main concerns remain circled around the intervention brigade’s ability to operationally take up the challenge of dealing with several armed group at the same time (as to avoid politicisation) and live up to purely military expectations. Their ability to limit civilian distress while chasing militias will also be a major factor as increased humanitarian disaster is the last thing eastern Congo needs these days. The conflict layers between FARDC and M23 at battlefield and political levels will remain interwoven, especially given the recent incidence of tightened interplay between action and discourse (the heroisation of Col. Mamadou Ndala versus the M23 uploading pictures of the gunship attacks hitting civilians, etc.). A suivre…

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  1. […] Vogel, “When the big ones meet… – UN Security Council on the Congo”, at: http://christophvogel.net/2013/07/26/when-the-big-ones-meet-un-security-council-on-the-congo/ (retrieved 19 September 2013). […]

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