Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Sunday, December 30, 2012

A UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes: Can the UN absorb the regional process?

Following the fall of Goma to the M23 and the lack of progress in the Kampala talks, the United Nations has inched closer to naming a special envoy in order to jumpstart a larger, more serious peace process. While this could constitute a major shift in international engagement with the Congolese conflict, there are many questions and doubts remaining.

According to a UN official,  it is very likely that the Secretary General will name a special envoy in the coming weeks. In addition, Ban Ki-Moon is trying to use his offices to broker a new peace process, one that would involve all concerned countries in the region and that would tackle some of the root causes, including Congolese army and governance reform and outside intervention in the Kivus.

The ball got rolling in New York after Ban sent Susana Malcorra, the head of the UN's Executive Office, to the Congo in November to meet with President Kabila and to visit the Kivus. Following the fall of Goma––and the criticism of UN failure to stem the M23 advance on the city––members of the Security Council were receptive to the idea of a new approach.

While details are still being discussed in New York, this approach seems to involve creating a framework for talks that would include Rwanda, Congo-Brazzaville, Congo-Kinshasa, Uganda, Burundi, and Angola, with the UN special envoy as the facilitator/mediator. The issues on the table could include political reforms in the Congo––such as decentralization, land conflicts, and security sector reform––as well as stabilizing the Kivus.

At the same time, the UN is considering absorbing the proposed Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) force that is supposed to be deployed under a Tanzanian command. This force could then form a special intervention brigade within MONUSCO, with a more robust mandate and rules of engagement to address the criticism of military weakness levied against the mission.

But many questions remain. Within this regional process, how could the Congolese government credibly commit to the very political reforms it has resisted? Kabila is still very reluctant to allow the UN to meddle in Congolese internal affairs and has been unable to carry out the necessary reforms. How would regional talks change this? (See my previous post on how I think the UN needs to be re-politicized to address some of the challenges). Distrust is deep in the region and impediments to change in Kinshasa, Goma and Kigali are formidable. Creating a process without an outside body to implement the agreement could just result in more talk.

How would such a process ensure that Rwanda and Uganda refrain from backing armed groups in the Congo, especially since they both deny such meddling? True, having boots on the ground from Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Malawi (other still to come...) is in itself a deterrent, a way of making sure these countries are invested politically as well as militarily. But it is difficult to imagine this SADC force waging risky counterinsurgency operations against the M23 or FDLR, and the more the Congolese army and government appear inept, the more other countries might turn a blind eye to foreign support to the M23.

The Kivus are the graveyard of peace processes––there have been many in recent years, ranging from the mixage arrangement of 2007 to the Goma peace conference of 2008 and the Ihusi Agreement of 2009. The temptation for the Security Council is to concoct another short-term fix, a mixture of beefing up the military approach and regional talks. But neither is likely to address the deep-rooted challenges the region is facing, perhaps foremost among which are Kinshasa's reluctance/inability to reform its institutions and Kigali's interference in the eastern DRC. Tackling those issues will require a much greater political engagement from the UN Security Council than we have seen in the past.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The delusional peace: How has the UN failed in the Congo?

Since the M23 seized Goma in November, a cascade of criticism has rained down on MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo. The opprobrium was widespread and came from Congolese civil society, foreign diplomats and media alike. Why couldn't the 19,000 blue helmets prevent the biggest trade hub in the eastern Congo from falling? Why couldn't they live up to their mandate and protect civilians in imminent danger?

I, too, have been disappointed by the UN, but not for the above reasons. In short: the UN has been stripped of what it does best, brokering a political peace process and has been reduced to what it is worst at––military protection.

UN peacekeepers have never been very good at protecting civilians in imminent danger. In part, this is because it is extremely difficult to do––once the danger is imminent, it is often too late to intervene, especially in a country as vast and infrastructure-challenged as the Congo. (In part, of course, it is also due to poor leadership, as the Kisangani and Kiwanja showed). The way to do civilian protection is through pre-emption, not firefighting, but that requires more risky and aggressive operations, which many of the troop contributing countries (TCCs in UN lingo) did not sign up for. "We don't want to see our men come home in bodybags," is the frequent refrain from the contingents.

Not that these kind of aggressive operations are impossible––in 2005, for example, the UN conducted "robust peacekeeping" in Ituri, declaring certain areas demilitarized and then aggressively shutting down remnant militia there, killing dozens and dismantling entire groups. But even then, the UN military leadership felt that they wouldn't be able to apply the same tactics to the Kivus, with its more battle-hardened armed groups and difficult terrain.

What about Goma? The main problem in November was that the UN's modus operandi was to prop up the Congolese army, in accordance with its mandate. When the army crumbled between 19-21 November and fled from town, the UN was left holding the metaphorical bag. The UN there––who, with ill-advised braggadocio had said they would not let Goma to fall (as they had said in Bunagana in July)––was unwilling then to fight a difficult counterinsurgency against the M23 (and perhaps the Rwandan army, as well), especially since they would have to share the town with them.

No, the main problem with UN peacekeeping in the Congo is not its military failings, although there have indeed been many. It is that, since 2006, its mandate has been largely emptied of its political content. The UN is best at facilitating a political process, brokering a peace deal, and then shepherding that process through to its conclusion. This is exactly what it did during the Lusaka peace process, beginning in 1999 and culminating in the transitional government (2003-2006), when it was the legal guarantor of the transition. This was the UN's largely unsung success: making an unruly and difficult political compromise stick, stepping in every time the transition was about to go off the rails, and helping to then organize elections.

The problem is that since the 2006 elections, we have been living in a post-conflict fantasy. Kabila won the elections and promptly marginalized the UN peacekeeping mission, declaring the country sovereign and largely at peace. Although violence escalated in the Kivus––reaching levels similar to those at the height of the 1998-2003 wars––there was never an official, genuine peace process there to deal with the political challenges that remained there. So the UN stayed on, but wasn't given an official role in institution building, as could happen in a post-conflict period. Nor was it allowed to mediate or even facilitate in the conflict in the eastern Congo. The only deals made there were either backroom deals between Kinshasa and Kigali (as the mixage agreement of 2007 or the March 23, 2009 deal) or the hypocrisy of the 2008 Goma conference, when all sides were preparing for war almost as soon as they sat down to talk. While Olusegun Obasanjo was nominally involved in implementing the 2009 deal, the real negotiations happened behind his back, between Kigali, Kinshasa, and other regional capitals. The UN––and most of the international community with it––has been politically sidelined from the conflict.

Military force in the absence of a political framework is, at best, firefighting. While the UN obviously has a responsibility to protect vulnerable civilians where it can, its larger role should be in forging and implementing a political deal to end this crisis, as there does not appear to be a military way out.

The recent ICGLR initiative is a welcome one in this regard. There is some attempt by countries in the region to grapple with some of the underlying political drivers of the conflict––Congolese institutional failure, meddling by its neighbors, and communal conflicts at the grassroots level. The problem is that body appears to diplomats and many Congolese officials as too biased to be an honest broker.

There is currently a push at the United Nations to re-politicize the UN mission and to get involved in the peace process. There is little doubt that a "Super-Envoy" will soon be named, probably with both a mandate to broker regional peace and to manage the peacekeeping mission, and hopefully with an AU mandate, as well. Names are being bandied about––Ibrahim Gambari, Bill Richardson, and Benjamin Mkapa have been floated, as have other names. While the person will be key, the political lessons of the past are even more so. Without a political process that is able to obtain the buy-in of all key parties and that grapples with the key underlying issues, even the best military strategists will be stumped.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Kampala process: The mediators' view

An earlier version of this post mistakenly said that the ICGLR chair will pass to Congo-Brazzaville in January. Uganda will keep the chair for another year.

 The peace talks in Kampala kicked off on December 9th before adjourning for the holidays on December 21st. We will have to wait until January 4th for the resumption––time for reflection. Until now, the talks have been stuck in the preamble as the two sides haggle over procedure.

First, there was the issue of whether M23 military commanders could attend, then the Congolese government refused to sign a formal ceasefire. Most worryingly, the two sides come with radically different ideas of what needs is being negotiated: the Congolese government intends to listen to the M23's grievances and evaluate the March 23, 2009 agreement it signed with the CNDP and other armed groups; the M23 has voiced demands that range from electoral and security sector reform, to freeing Etienne Tshisekedi from house arrest, to knowing the truth about the attacks against Floribert Chebeya and Denis Mukwege.

Luckily for us, the Ugandan facilitation has compiled a list of the various demands, both as outlined by the March 23, 2009 deal and the twenty-one new demands made by the M23. This synopsis predates the Kampala talks but is useful nonetheless (see here). The facilitator, Defense Minister Crispus Kiyonga (accused by many Congolese to be too close to Mbusa Nyamwisi, a co-ethnic), has boiled these new grievances down to six:
  • Assassinations of ex-CNDP soldiers, in particular of forty-six troops in Dungu––Kiyonga said he could confirm these allegations and asked for an investigation;
  • Poor welfare of the army, in particular the embezzlement of salaries and poor living conditions––Kiyonga pushes for army reform;
  • Reluctance to carry out operations against negative forces (FDLR, ADF-Nalu)––Kiyonga does not dwell on this;
  • The marginalization of the eastern Congo, in particular the lack of infrastructure development and the embezzlement of revenues––Kiyonga does not dwell on this;
  • Cheating by President Kabila in the 2011 elections––Kiyonga does not dwell on this;
  • Kabila has not lived up to his campaign promises––Kiyonga does not dwell on this.
What about the March 23 Agreement? Here Kiyonga reports that Kinshasa has either made good or significant progress on 18 of the 24 articles, leaving six areas outstanding:
  • National reconciliation––the government says the Human Rights Commission is being set up for this, but Kiyonga thinks this is insufficient;
  • Community police––on a similar note, Kiyonga thinks more to be done to make this police force effective (even though in much of Masisi this police force had been hijacked by the ex-CNDP);
  • Management of territory––here Kiyonga contradicts himself, initially saying the government had taken satisfactory steps to begin decentralization, then later saying their efforts had been insufficient;
  • Return of misappropriated properties––Kiyonga says that not enough has been done on this, but it is unclear which properties need to be returned to whom;
  • Management of natural resources––most Congolese will snicker when they see Kiyonga suggesting that there needs to be a better management of resources. This was a very vague statement of principle in the initial March 23, 2009 deal, difficult to operationalize or evaluate;
  • International monitoring mechanism––the follow-up committee rarely met and President Obasanjo, the UN mediator, did not play a significant role after 2009.
 En bref, Kiyonga focuses on the March 23, 2009 deal, not on the new grievances, and thinks that Kinshasa has complied with most of the peace deal. But he does not chart out a very clear path forward, and the recommendations are broad and unwieldy. That, combined with the yawning gap between the Congolese government and the M23, means that a possible settlement is still a long way off.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

What can we expect from Kampala?

The M23 and Congolese government delegation have finally begun negotiations today––it wasn't a very promising start, as both sides led off with accusations. 

Discussions will begin in earnest tomorrow. What can we expect?

These initial discussions will focus on the rules of the game––who participates (government, opposition, M23, civil society?), what is on the agenda (just the M23 agreement or much broader political issues?) and what the procedural guidelines will be. It is clear that the two sides will lock horns over all of these issues.

President Joseph Kabila's delegation, led by Foreign Minister Raymond Tshibanda, has said the talks will focus on the March 23, 2009 agreement––aside from the return of refugees, these are largely issues to do with the ranks and salaries of M23 officers, as well as the integration of their political cadres. One of the previous negotiators told me, "For us this is a matter of offering the officers positions in the army, the political demands are window-dressing." One of the current delegates suggested that they could integrate both political and military cadres, and that the main sticking points had to do with the most notorious human rights abusers, such as Bosco Ntaganda, Innocent Kaina, and Sultani Makenga. It's probably redundant to say: this cutting-up-the-pie logic has not been very successful in the past.

For the M23 much more is at stake. Their delegation, led by Executive Secretary Francois Rucogoza, has said they want to discuss the fraudulent elections of last year (which, ironically, some of their own officers helped rig), the "constitutional order" (they have said they want more decentralization or federalism), and justice for attacks against Dr. Denis Mukwege and Floribert Chebeya. "A lot has happened since the M23 deal," Bertrand Bisimwa, their spokesperson, told me, "we have political demands, too." He continued, "We know for them this is about partage des postes [a sharing of positions], but that is not what we want."

But, at the same time, contradictions plague each delegation. In the Kinshasa camp, there have been some sharp contradictions––General Olenga, the new land forces commander, has said they will continue to wage war against the M23, a view shared by many in the army who are dismayed at having to negotiate with their enemies once again. But Kabila and his inner circle seem sure they can strike a deal with the rebels. According to parliamentarians, when Prime Minister Matata Ponyo went to parliament recently and began to fiercely denounce "the Rwandan aggression," phone calls came from the presidency to ask him to stop. A close Kabila advisor also said "the boss" was not happy with General Olenga about his belligerent statements. Nobody, however, in the presidential camp seems ready to talk about constitutional reform, the rigged elections, or justice for Chebeya and Mukwege (although a bill on electoral reform was already being discussed before Goma fell).

In the meantime, the political opposition has declined the government's offer to participate, saying that the March 23, 2009 agreement had never been approved by parliament. Meanwhile, the Episcopal Conference (CENCO) made a strong statement, warning about "the trap of negotiations," and against "deals that could bring about the balkanization of the country." The M23, unfazed, has demanded that both civil society and the opposition take place in the negotiations.

In the rebels camp, tensions continue between officers loyal to Bosco and those close to Makenga (and by proxy, Laurent Nkunda), the so-called kimbelembele and kifuafua ("ahead-ahead" and "chest forward"). Baudouin Ngaruye, a Bosco loyalist, was recently promoted to the rank of general, reportedly without consulting Makenga, and M23 officials I spoke with in Goma were openly critical of one or the other camp.

The rifts between the two sides, as well as within each delegation, will make for a rough, and probably lengthy, ride.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Interview with Bertrand Bisimwa, M23 Spokesperson

Just before the M23 left Goma this morning, I spoke with Bertrand Bisimwa, their spokesperson. This is a transcription and a translation from French.

Can you explain the goals of your movement? You began in April demanding the implementation of the March 23, 2009 agreement, but since then you have put forward demands that go far beyond that.

The M23 is made up of armed groups that signed the March 23 agreement. We started by asking for the implementation of that deal. The government fought us, saying we didn't have the right to demand that. Then we reflected on the situation in the country and saw that many other things had happened since the March 23 agreement, things linked to governance and the legitimacy of Joseph Kabila. We couldn't not integrate these new facts into the demands of our movement. So today, in addition to the March 23 agreement we want good governance in the country and a legitimate government.

Precisely - when you talk about legitimacy and the rigged elections, didn't ex-CNDP soldiers help rig those elections in Masisi?

You have to realize that not all ex-CNDP joined the M23. In fact, most didn't. It was these others, those who didn't join, who helped rig the elections in Kabila's favor in Masisi. But also, cheating didn't start with the elections, it started with the changing of the constitution by Kabila, which allowed him to be elected by a minority of Congolese. It all started there.

In his press conference at the Ihusi Hotel this week, M23 President Runiga put forward a list of demands that include many points that Kabila will be very reluctant to negotiate with you, like dissolving the electoral commission, arresting General John Numbi and the liberation of political prisoners. Did you set the bar too high?

Those were not demands by the M23, but confidence-building measures we wanted to see in order to create a good climate for negotiations. Those negotiations will then focus on the governance of the country, the problems of Congolese society.

Bertrand Bisimwa,

What exactly do you want in those negotiations?

We have a cahier des charges that lists our demands, but it isn't public yet. We want, above all, a vision for the development of the country that includes infrastructures, employment. security in the east of the country, and the return of refugees––from Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi. We also want to discuss the form of the state, we want a state that is more decentralized that the current constitution states. We will, of course, also need guarantees that Kabila will carry out these reforms.

But won't the reintegration of your troops and cadres be one of the fundamental points of negotiation?

Integration is a measure that will follow once our demands have been answered. We are fighting for these grievances, as soon as we can find an agreement an on these points, we can proceed to figure out how to do reintegration.

You mention that you need guarantees from Kabila. You obviously have very little faith that Kabila will keep his word. What kind of guarantees can he provide?

We can agree on military reintegration and collaboration with the Congolese army without dissolving our troops. One example that I think about a lot is the Ivory Coast. There, the Forces Nouvelles were in a power-sharing government while their troops were still controlling the north of the country. Guillaume Soro was the prime minister while the country was still split. Kinshasa can maintain authority over the East without dissolving our troops.

What about political power-sharing, isn't that one of your demands?

No, it's not that important for us. If we can agree on our demands, as well as calendar for their implementation in time and space, that's enough for us. Many of us don't even want to have positions in government. But there needs to be follow-up, at the end of every month we need to sit together to evaluate the implementation of the deal.

You emphasize that you are a multi-ethnic group. That is true for your political wing, but not for the top military leadership, which is mostly from the Tutsi community. Is that a problem for you, given that many Congolese see you as a Tutsi movement supported by Rwanda?

The Tutsi are emblematic, they are easy to notice. If you, for example, sit down at a table with eight Africans, you will stick out because you are white. The same goes for Tutsi. In our army, Tutsi are in the minority if you look at the whole army. There are many Tutsi in the leadership, but you have to understand that Tutsi have been discriminated against more than other Congolese communities. This has made them react and mobilize more than others. When we constituted our army, we chose officers based on merit, and Tutsi officers were in a good position.

Now you are withdrawing from town in order to negotiate. But what will you do if Kabila does not negotiate?

We are also certain that he won't negotiate. There is no credibility in his promises. Since the RCD, he has been tricking the Congolese people. We are almost sure he won't negotiate - Lambert Mende said so, and he speaks for the government, and General Olenga said it, and he speaks for the army. In the end, the Congolese people will decide, we all share the same suffering. If the Congolese people decide to get rid of Kabila, we can do so. We won't go on the offensive, we will only defend ourselves against the government.

But your military spokesperson Colonel Kazarama said you would go all the way to Bukavu, all the way to Kinshasa. That's not a defensive position.

Kazarama was expressing the will of the Congolese people, not our policy. If Kabila attacks us, we can silence the weapons from where they are being shot, if necessary.

We have seen armed rebellions before in the eastern Congo that have had similar objectives as yours. The AFDL, RCD, CNDP all shares similar ideals - what makes you different from them and how can you avoid their mistakes?

The main difference is that our goal is not integration or power-sharing. We want to solve the problems of the Congolese, that's our goal. The second difference is that we want to negotiate a vision for the country, the RCD didn't have that approach.

I share some our your criticisms of the Congolese government, but disagree with your methods. Don't you think an armed rebellion will just create more resentment within the Congolese population against you?

This is a serious problem for us––but Joseph Kabila doesn't leave us a choice. You know, we had a political-military movement, the CNDP, that wanted to negotiate with Kabila. We were made up of civilians and politicians. But Kabila opposed us with weapons. What choice did he leave us?

Our military have the same problems as our civilians. Most of them have relatives in the refugee camps. So they decide to use the same means Kabila uses to defend themselves. But war is not good. That's why we say that our objective is to finish the war as soon as possible and have negotiations. We have always said that we want negotiations, that's it. We are even willing to make very big concessions––we are leaving Goma, a very big town, that is a big concession for us.

There have been many reports of Rwandan support to the M23. Many of your leaders live in Rwanda. What do you say to this?

You make me laugh a bit when you say many of our leaders live in Rwanda. If a Frenchman lives in Belgium and goes back to France to cause trouble, do you immediately say that Belgium is supporting him? As for Rwandan support, this is propaganda from the Congolese government. Rwanda is an easy target, a much easier one than we are, as they are part of the international community and sit in international institutions.

But I have spoken to many villagers, dozens of former M23 soldiers, all of whom testify to Rwandan involvement.

You know, when a Congolese villager sees a Tutsi, he will say that he saw a Rwandan. This is a perception that has made its way into the Congolese population. As for the deserters, they flee to MONUSCO and then they say they are Rwandan because they are trying to seek protection from the Congolese army. But they are actually Congolese, I know some of these guys. One of them is the brother of [name omitted]. If they were handed over to the Congolese government, they would be arrested, which is why they say they are Rwandan––if they go to Rwanda, nothing happens to them.

We have seen in the past couple of days what appear to be contradictions in your movement. General Makenga said you would withdraw from Goma, then your political leadership said the opposite. What happened?

This is about the content of the ICGLR agreement [to withdraw from Goma]. We thought that only the army was concerned by the retreat, there was no mention of the police or administration. But when we saw that Kinshasa wanted everyone to withdraw, we agreed, so that Kinshasa would not use this as a pretext to start fighting.

There was no contradiction––Makenga spoke for the army, Runiga for the political wing. Now we have agreed to leave. Everyone, the police and the administration.

What about the tensions within the military wing. Ever since Nkunda was arrested, there have been tensions between the pro-Bosco––even if you say he isn't involved today––and the pro-Nkunda officers, the "kimbelembele" and the "kifuafua." Isn't that a problem, expressed for example in the tensions between Makenga, an Nkunda loyalist, and people like General Baudouin Ngaruye, a friend of Bosco?

Look, if our movement didn't have cohesion, we wouldn't be as efficient as we are today. These tensions did exist, but there are part of the past. We have been able to manage these tensions, even though our enemy knows they exist and has tried to manipulate them. We have a positive diversity, that is good for our movement. There are no internal contradictions.

Since you have been here in Goma, there have been many accusations of looting, the stealing of cars in particular. What do you say to this?

There has not been any looting. What happened is that the government in its flight left behind its vehicles, often hiding them in the compounds of private individuals. We needed to get these vehicles, but we set up an investigative commission to evaluate each case. The only thing we asked was to see the ownership documents. If they didn't have these documents, we took the vehicles. There were many cases when people came to us, showed us the documents and we gave them their cars.

Where do you go now?

The politicians are going back to Bunagana. The military will go to Kilimanyoka [just north of Goma]. The military headquarters will be in Kibumba.