The phrase "political process" has attained holy status in UN parlance––it is sometimes bandied about as a catch-all solution for everything. (An organization I used to work for even had an acronym they often used: SFURPP––Shut the **** Up and Respect the Political Process). But what does it actually mean?
In recent days, the UN Special Envoy Mary Robinson has repeatedly called for the efforts to shift from the military to the political, apparently confirming the fear in the minds of some Congolese that she is legitimizing the M23 rebellion right at the moment when the Congolese army is finally appearing to redeem itself. The UN Special Envoy Martin Kobler, while congratulating the Congolese army, has made similar statements in the press.
The problem is that the only political process are the Kampala talks, which––despite today's statement by the ICGLR––are still deadlocked. The M23 said on 8 September that they would only put down their weapons if the FDLR are neutralized and Congolese refugees are allowed to return to the Congo, two goals that will take years to fully achieve. On the other side of the table, the Congolese government has issued arrest warrants for Colonel Makenga, Kayna, and Kazarama––the number one and two of the M23, as well as their spokesperson, respectively. It is difficult to see the Kinshasa delegation, or international observers for that matter, accepting an amnesty for these top officials, which would mean that the M23 would have to accept excluding its top leadership.
So what do we mean by a political solution? There is no doubt that the problems of state weakness, exclusion, and meddling by the region are political in nature. But by emphasizing that we need to respect the political process when the only such venue in town appears dead-ended is vexing. That the FDLR needs to be dealt with, that Congolese refugees need to return––absolutely. That some of the top M23 leadership will not be able to be integrated in the Congolese army––most likely. But these are compromises that have to be hammered out between the Congolese government and its Rwandan counterpart, not the M23 leaders.