The Framework Agreement is on first glance paradoxical: prompted by the recent escalation in violence in the eastern Congo, nowhere does it mention either the M23 or any other armed groups. In part, this is because it did not want to substitute itself for the (moribund) Kampala negotiations, which had been backed by the region. But this lacuna also stems from the fact that the PSCF has grander ambitions than just dealing with this recent outbreak. It wants to tackle the unfinished business of the Lusaka-Sun City peace process (1999-2006) and address the root causes of violence in the region. It sees these as the failure to build strong, accountable institutions in the Congo; and the persistent meddling of the region in the east of the country.
Admirable, to be sure. So how does it intend to go about it?
From first appearances, the strategy is to leverage donor aid to create twin processes, one with the Congolese government to build institutions, the other with neighboring countries (especially Rwanda) to provide incentives to promote development in the Congo.
There has been some progress, even before the process has kicked off in earnest. Let's take a look at some of this:
- The Congolese government has set up a three-tiered oversight mechanism for national reforms––it's run mostly out of the presidency (the president controls both the comité de pilotage as well as the comité exécutif, despite a push by Prime Minister Matata Ponyo to play a more active role), but provides for "consultations" with donors and civil society through its comité consultatif.
- The Congolese government has also sent a draft to Mary Robinson of what a plan for national reforms could look like––while it is still under wraps, it reportedly includes efforts to sanction abusive officials, accelerate decentralization and reconciliation, and split the supreme court into three courts, as required by the constitution.
- Separately, the government last week briefed ambassadors on their plans for SSR, possibly one of the most important institutional reforms––more on this later, but it is a serious, if overly ambitious plan that sees army reform largely as made up of restructuring, training, and equipment. It has little of combating impunity and promoting competent military leadership.
- On the regional front, little has happened, but the signatories of the PSCF are preparing for the first meeting of the regional oversight mechanism, and Robinson will probably be submitting benchmarks to the UN Security Council in time for the UN General Assembly in September. One of the main questions here will be whether to make the benchmark for Rwanda a passive or an active one: Do we simply ask them no longer to support the M23, which is difficult to observe, or do we place the burden of proof on them, given their support to the rebels last year, and ask them to force them to accept a reasonable peace deal?
- Then there is the development aid package, which World Bank President Jim Kim announced this week: $1 billion for development projects in the region, apparently––but not explicitly––conditional on the implementation of the PSCF. This includes a considerable amount of money for hydropower in Rwanda and its neighbors––$340 million for the Rusumo Falls project and $150 million to rehabilitate the Rusizi dam on the border between Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. Here, there appears to have been a shift in emphasis, from sanctioning Rwanda (a good chunk of the money that was suspended last year has been now disbursed) to providing positive incentives for collaboration.
- Meanwhile, donors in Kinshasa are also trying to promote more coordination in support of the PSCF, but also in order to leverage their aid for political reforms. A draft proposal for this kind of coordination is currently circulating in Kinshasa, but the Congolese government continues to be extremely allergic to any notion of a CIAT-II (CIAT was the donor coordination body during the peace process from 2003-2006).
So what does this mean? It could be a lot worse; both donors and the Congolese government have moved quickly to take advantage of the new process––a welcome sign of hope. But the entire project rests on several tricky premises: First, that there will be enough pressure on the Congolese government to carry out reforms that the leadership there has been extremely reluctant to carry out––this pressure will either come militarily, through the M23; through the opposition, which is still divided but could cohere for a serious national dialogue; or through donor coordination and leverage. The first is obviously unpalatable,;the second is ideal but will the opposition/civil society be able to present a united front?; the latter has consistently failed over the past decade. And all of this as Kabila is entering a risky three-year succession struggle (his last mandate expires in 2016, unless he changes the constitution).
Secondly, that the international community will be able to bring new approach to dealing with armed groups in the eastern Congo, especially the M23 and the FDLR. There seems to be some will to hold Rwanda accountable for the M23, but that momentum seems to be waning and faces resistance from Kigali and the successful donor programs in that country. And there has been no change to the tied-and-tested military approach to the FDLR––one could imagine some creative thinking on further incentives for high-ranking, non-genocidaire officers (e.g. third country exile, resettlement in the Congo).
Lastly, for the moment the trend is toward escalation, so there may very well be more war before there is a serious peace effort. The M23 has been fighting with the Congolese army on the outskirts of Goma for the past week, there are serious reports of an FDLR incursion into Rwanda as of last night, and the Congolese army wants to give the Intervention Brigade a chance before it considers any compromise with the M23.