Amani Itakuya #15: Diplomatic tricks, military victories, regional integration, and hopes for peace: in DRC, nothing is impossible

Diplomatic tricks, military victories, regional integration, and hopes for peace: in DRC, nothing is impossible

Willy Change [1]


The M23 surrender and reactions

On November 5, the one-and-a-half-year old M23 rebellion dropped its weapons following a renewed joint FARDC/MONUSCO offensive on its last strongholds and a refusal from Kinshasa to negotiate blanket amnesty conditions for its leaders. [2] Bertrand Bisimwa announced the end of fighting from Kampala, while the military wing of the movement either surrendered to the FARDC, or fled to neighbouring countries using the now usual impunity routes.

After some suspense, the whereabouts of M23’s military leader Sultani Makenga were finally disclosed. Many expected him to surface in Rwanda where Laurent Nkunda, Jules Mutebutsi and Jean-Marie Runiga have already fled after flaring the Kivus, but he resurfaced in Uganda. [3] Before being officially requested to – a Kampala agreement is not yet signed and Makenga’s future is on the discussion table – the Ugandan authorities expressed their refusal to hand over Makenga to Congolese authorities. [4]

The reactions to the military end of the rebellion were multiple, and generally as expected from all sides, but the United Nations political section, as Mary Robinson welcomed the surrender in warm words. This can be understood in the light of positive consequences on civilians able to return home after months of displacement, but hardly recognises and draws lessons of the failure of the political process in place. The Kampala talks upon which the international community had placed most political efforts, turned out to be a failure and waste of time.

After months of discussions, M23 and DRC representatives agreed on most points of a tentative agreement but the signing stalled on difficult blanket amnesty demands from the rebellion. [5] Despite all its efforts, the international community failed to convince rebel leaders of an acceptable compromise before the military solution took the upper hand. As such the military defeat of the rebellion is a failure for the UN political system, the ICGLR, and all supporters of the Kampala peace process.

Disarming the M23 was only the first, and maybe the easiest step towards durable peace in Eastern DRC. Much remains to be done internally, regionally and internationally before one can faithfully declare victory. Before looking at future perspectives, I would like to reflect on where the current process succeeded and stumbled in recent months.

Why the Addis/Kampala political solution failed?

1) The Addis Framework on paper

The Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework (PSCF) was signed in Addis Ababa in February 2013. [6] The first remarkable aspect of the Framework is that it represents a 100% African solution with 11 regional signatory states [7] committed to and charged of its implementation. The United Nations only signed on it as a witness.

The content of the PSCF can be resumed in four main components, each with respective recipients:

–        The Government of DRC engaged to pursue internal reforms such as decentralisation and security sector reform (including justice) while increasing efforts to restore full state authority in its eastern Provinces.

–        Neighbouring countries engaged not to support or harbour rebel groups or leaders, to understand one another’s concerns with regard to security, and to enter judiciary cooperation with the aim of bringing peace to the region.

–        The International Community and the UN in particular engaged to pursue its support to durable solutions for peace in the Region, to the CEPGL, and to review the mandate and means of MONUSCO in order to increase its efficiency.

–        Two verification mechanisms put in place, one at DRC government level, and one made of all signatory States.

The PSCF therefore seems to privilege working on two parallel solutions, a political one left to the regional states (ICGLR), and a concurrent increase in military pressure with the strengthening of the MONUSCO and a review of its mandate, left to the UN Security Council. The Framework itself is just a declaration of good intention, with details of its implementation left to other texts or mechanisms.

In the next paragraphs, I will try to look at how the PSCF’s main military and political components performed so far. The verification mechanisms put in place by the Framework are not mentioned as, after their creation was announced, I have never heard from them again.

2) How the Framework performed: military component

The PSCF’s military component surprisingly delivered on expectations, while it also was its less binding part; this as its implementation exclusively relied on the United Nations (MONUSCO), which was not a signatory party.

What was little more than a request from 11 countries to the United Nations materialised in the creation of a 3,000 strong new brigade added to the existing MONUSCO, with a more offensive mandate of disarming rebel groups present along the international borders of eastern DRC.

This is not anecdotic; for the first time in history a peacekeeping force was receiving a clearly offensive mandate. Like any novelty, it faced heavy criticism from most analysts before its deployment. Many feared that it would put all MONUSCO at risk as belligerents would not make a distinction between brigades, others highlighted the increased risks of civilian casualties from UN fire, while others (including myself) raised doubts on the possibility for this brigade to deploy promptly, and in its capacity to fight properly on the eastern DRC terrain.

History proved all these doubts wrong. The brigade was deployed relatively fast as it started being operational in July, 5 months only after the PSCF was signed. It also proved to be sufficiently trained, equipped and adapted, and the M23 was rapidly contained to its initial positions before being defeated.

While this success cannot be isolated from concurrent initiatives such as the restructuring of the FARDC leadership and the increased pressures on Rwanda to stop its support to the rebellion, it tends to confirm that, for once, the UN took the right decision by creating an offensive force that could very well revolutionise the traditional approach to peacekeeping.

3) How the Framework performed: political component / declaration of good intention

It is very hard to think of how the PSCF’s political component performed using other words than ‘total failure’. Its main content was the declaration of good intention. Did it bring any change to the approach signatory states have to regional tensions, and ultimately cooperation?

After signing the Framework, the DRC Government remained closed to any significant dialogue and reform that would enable the restoration of its legitimacy and authority in the east. Instead, it continued pointing all responsibility to its neighbours for its weaknesses. The main event that followed the PSCF, the “Concertations Nationales”, was severely criticised for not being inclusive enough, and for being a political masquerade with little outputs rather than a real first step towards a national consensus.

Rwanda continued and still continues to strongly deny its support to the rebellion despite mounting evidence [8], and even exercised heavy pressure on the FARDC during their offensive by menacing to enter DRC should more shells fall on its soil.  [9]

Museveni remained silent for a long time, too happy of the little attention the international community gave to allegations he also supported the rebellion. He however recently came out of his reserve, with a shocking comment assimilating the rebels to regular troops. This probably is not the last tirade we will hear from him in the next weeks, as he has a lot of attention to divert from two major scandals that tarnish his reputation: his Prime Minister’s mismanagement of millions of dollars of EU aid [10], and the UPDF deployed in Somalia selling weapons to Al-Shabaab rebels. [11]

To resume, since the signing of the will of good intention of the PSCF, relations between the countries directly or indirectly concerned by the M23 went from bad to worst. This seems to have had consequences at regional level, when Kikwete’s declaration on a necessary dialogue between all countries and their respective rebellions was shortly followed by the announcement of the creation of a “coalition of the willing” [12] united by common economic interests – the Chinese petrol pipeline from South Sudan to Lamu – and reasons to fear and fight the International Criminal Court.

In response, last week, Tanzania’s Kikwete announced that his country would build closer ties with Burundi and DRC, with the aim of creating a vast economic hub linking the SADC to Central Africa. [13]

It therefore seems that the core of the PSCF, its declaration of good will, was flawed from signing point. The first hand impression is that signing parties did so to buy time rather than to honestly and fully engage in durable dialogue and peace within the Great Lakes region.

4) How the Framework performed: Kampala talks

The political initiative officially endorsed by the Addis Framework is the Kampala peace process. Does it constitute an appropriate forum to reach the Addis objectives, and how did it perform so far?

From its birth, an enormous gap exists between the political ambition of the PSCF – durable regional peace through African solutions concerted between 11 countries – and its main implementation arm.

The Kampala talks have the very restricted objective of ending the M23 rebellion, with only the DRC government and rebel leaders as potential signatories. It is impossible to reduce the question of regional peace simply to this rebellion. This is demonstrated by history: the RCD bread the CNDP, which bread the M23. As long as root causes are not tackled, other rebellions will follow.

Regional peace is further threatened by many other factors such as other rebel groups – ADF, FNL and LRA with foreign origins – growing democratic discontent, muzzling of political opposition and press in all concerned countries, and a stalled regional integration, to mention only these.

From their conception, the Kampala talks were therefore not an appropriate tool to reach the Addis objectives. My take on their outcome is very basic: they failed because their fundamental, the declaration of intention contained in the Addis PSCF, was not sincere on any side of the table.

The selection of their chair, Yoweri Museveni, is illustrative: the Ugandan President was initially accused of backing the M23 rebellion in last year’s UN Group of Experts report, as was Rwanda. Following international pressure and threats of aid cuts, Museveni claimed he would pull UPDF troops out of the Somalia AMISOM. The fact that this was sufficient to muzzle all critics and scrutiny is shocking in itself, but how did he further get away with chairing the Kampala peace process? A lot was written on the millions the M23 rebellion made from controlling the Bunagana border point. Much less was said on the millions necessarily made on the other side of the border at the same time. Where did they go? Who profited? Untold stories.

The way forward

The PSCF wording at first seems very naïve, as it mostly relies on a declaration of goodwill from signatory parties, with no sanction for those who fail to comply. It does however remind us of the basics without which no political solution is possible: honest and full engagement for peace.

The issue at stake is not simply an isolated rebellion named M23. The issue is 25 years old dynamics of rebellions that resulted in the current Regional, but also internal (national) power checks and balances. [14] So far, the main involved countries failed to demonstrate an honest will to change this.

The rhetoric read in the press and on social media after the fall of the M23 is illustrative of this position, as it mostly read ‘we lost a battle, but not the war’. As such, I feel there is little hope for the current PSCF and Kampala processes to deliver on durable peace. They rely on good Mr. Will and Mrs. Faith, who are not seated at negotiation tables.

This does not mean that DRC is doomed to face war eternally. Side initiatives may have a much stronger effect on regional peace than the Addis and Kampala processes. In example, the economic and political competition that is being created between the Kenya-Uganda-Rwanda-South Sudan and the Tanzania-Burundi-DRC blocks considerably increases the political costs of cross-border meddling between countries. Will this new dynamic transfer the military competition trends from another age to more durable and actual economic ones?  It is too early to say.

What is certain is that no initiative can have success chances without pursuing the military component of the PSCF. To achieve this, the UN Intervention Brigade should shift its focus from the M23 to two other priorities: disarming the FDLR, while preventing neighbouring countries to bring their support to other rebel groups in replacement of Makenga’s rebellion. Once the FDLR is also neutralised, dealing with other rebel groups should be much easier and straightforward.

The road is long, but the Congolese population showed its determination and patience to reach the destination. It now has two directions to look at when thinking of its renewed hopes: Kikwete for DRC’s regional economic integration, and the Intervention Brigade to put an end to the foreign and Congolese rebellions. How Kabila will position himself with these supports remains a big question mark.

Defeating the M23 was not the end of anything, it rather was the first stone of a very long integration, healing and cohabitation process that needs to bear results in the local population’s and in their leader’s mindsets concurrently. Challenging, certainly. Impossible? In DRC, absolutely nothing is impossible.


Willy Change is an analyst of social issues in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He blogs at and tweets at


[1] Pseudonyme.

[7] DRC, Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, South Africa, Tanzania, Burundi, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Zambia.

One Response to “Amani Itakuya #15: Diplomatic tricks, military victories, regional integration, and hopes for peace: in DRC, nothing is impossible”
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  1. […] My contribution to the Amani Itakuya serie initiated by Christoph Vogel. You can find the post following this link. […]

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