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

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Political Solution––Yes, But...

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.


Unknown said...


tresor said...

the only solution here is a military approach where DR Congo will take control of it entire teritory and protect and let Rwanda deal with it own problem of the tutsi and hutu

Rich said...

Jason -

So if SFURPP is the way forward and that all MR, MK, RF even Mushikiwabo et al agree on, does that also apply for FDLR, ADF since they apparently still undefeated after many years of military interventions?

Something doesn't add up here.


Unknown said...

It is despairingly pathetic that Kagame and synpathisers keep coming to the shaky excuses of FDLR and Refugees return.

Look, the real problem is the “wrong strategy” adopted by Kagame junta on this conflict from the start. This has consisted in “cowardly denying any involvement and repeating ad-nauseam this is a purely Congolo-Congolais affair”. So they used “proxy entities” like M23 or int’l backers (AddisFramework) to achieve their “publicly inadmissible goals”. NOW, they do realise that their strategy “distances” them, denies them any “direct role”, and in the end, would yield them less dividend (if any at all) unlike if they were upfront and direct.

So back-door compromises between Rwanda and DRC and not “Congolese” M23 leaders, as Jason’s last sentence says, might just be TOO LATE. What would be those “compromises” as part of the political process? Even the DRCgov who have always asked for “direct talks with the real aggressor Rwanda”, has espoused Rwanda’s logic (recently Presidential office vigorously protested any secret-meeting between JK-Kagame). ALL IN THE OPEN!

People of the Kivus have suffered enough. After 14 days, it is the END of M23. It defies human decency, int’l law, UN credibility that a “negative force M23” accused of rapes, murders, war crimes, “Blue-helmet” killers, would be extended any concession (hold territory, combat fellow negative force FDLR)? HOW would Mrs Robinson justify that because DRCgov would not?

FARDC, FIB and all peace lovers should be ready to forcibly “disarm” M23 in 14 days!


Unknown said...

@Joao Baptista Dongala

You have got a point when you say that for far too long, Congolese people have been “disenfranchised”, their voices systematically drowned out by bigger and expert megaphones behind Kagame. Well, not anymore. If M23 does want peace after 14 days, “inexpert people” in Goma-Beni will take to the streets to demand freedom and security, and expose this 19-year-old hypocrisy. MONUSCO should expect to KILL more civilians in Goma again!

Good news is: it won’t be in scholarly journals. It will be LIVE on YouTube and Facebook.


Anand said...

Even more vexing is the continuing assumption that the Congolese government and the Rwandan government will come to anything but an unsatisfactory compromise that leaves the Congolese people stuck in the middle yet again. The over arching issue is that the Congolese people themselves are disenfranchised from controlling their own destiny. Unless this is addressed, no solution will last or mete out ongoing positive results. It's not just the Kampala talks that are frustrating, it's the parties who attend, and supposedly have the interests of the Congolese at heart. This reality trumps all others.

congo man said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Conflict Free Campus TU said...

Hello, Mr. Stearns, my name is Davea and I'm president of Conflict Free Campus initiative at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. I'd like to have your email address to inquire about having you as a speaker. Please let me now your response. My email is

Kongo in NYC said...

Thanks for this post, Jason.

I wanted to weigh in some weeks ago but got caught up at work and just life I suppose.

So, what does Ms Robinson mean by “political process”? Three things:

- It is possible that by “political process” she probably is telegraphing the obvious: the current process (Kampala) is not up to the task and should be scrapped for something more comprehensive and, preferably, led by the UN.

- As she works for the UN-not to glorify the ego’s of the various leaders in the region- she was likely also telegraphing to key elites in Kinshasa, Kigali, Kampala, Dar, and Pretoria that they should not put too much stock in either the IB NOR FADRC “victories” on the battlefield as a means out of this crisis. Remember Stearns, Robinson is Irish and if any people know the futility of political violence and the need to “address root causes” of political violence it is them.

- From what I can gather from past and current statements on this conflict from Ms Robinson, not to mention, again, that she is Irish and came of age politically during the “Troubles”, she likely recognizes a central truth about the Congo that even experts like you tend to gloss over in your analysis: Congo’s incapacity as a state is directly result of a patrimonial political system that masquerades as a “Democratic Republic”. In otherwards, one is a result of the other. Therefore, the only way out of this mess is a “both/and”- insist on real and painful political reforms at the center (Kinshasa) so as to gain leverage with Kigali to bring it to the table.

Obviously, I am not a political analyst and do not speak to Ms Robinson day in and day out but I believe by “political process” she means what I’ve elaborated above.

Just my two cents.

Eole said...

I am back from Estearn Congo where I spent several weeks. I had the chance to stay in Bukavu and Goma as well as spending time touring the countryside. I ventured 40 kms outside of Bukavu (going from Bukavu to Kamanyola) and 45 kms north of Bukavu visiting Murhesa, Kavumu, Katana, Luhihi and Lwiro.
I traveled by ferry to Goma and spent several days there. I even ventured north of the town, but to obvious security reasons, I cannot disclose all places I visited. I entered the country through East Africa and did not visit Kinshasa.
This is a summary of what I witnessed :
- Bukavu and its sourroundings : the situation is calm. There was no fighting recorded. I was encouraged to see that despite all the rhetorics, congolese are leaving peacefully together. Compared to last year, there has been a lot of improvement on the status of roads. Unfortunately, traffic jam is there at its worst. You can move easily from the Rwanda border to the slums of Kadutu and Cimpunda. There are hundreds of vans covering more than 10 kms for 300 congolese francs (Feu Rouge-Carrefour-ONL-Genda), etc. Life is very expensive. meat, cheese and even fruits are more expensive than in Europe. Rwanda is now the main supplier of vegetables (tomatoes, cauwliflower, etc).
The major improvement is the ferry traffic on lake Kivu. Boats are built by local congolese and are pretty fine. Mugote, Akonkwa, Rafiki, Felekeni, Emmanuel I and II are among the major players. Congolese soldiers have really changed. We were not harassed (though we paid 500 congolese francs once as they were asking for shimboke).
For the very first time, I spent good time in Goma without worrying. M23 has really suffered major setbacks at Mutaho and Kibati and even in Kibumba.
When M23 first engaged the FARDC in August, they were confident of a swift victory. In the first hours of the fighting at Kanyaruchinya, FARDC could not sustain the M23 and RDF firepower. By the first heavy fighting of the war in August, FARDC had sustained heavy casualties (13 deaths and many injured) and had to retreat to rethink their strategy. Then they got an unexpected help from local population who signaled to them the existence of tunnels from Rwanda entering at the place called Kilimanyoka. These tunnels were being used by the RDF and M23 to bring in supplies and ammo, including takns, etc. With this intelligence, FARDC commando attacked the tunnel and destroyed a lot of material and caused heavy casualties to RDF and M23. The same occurred at Kibati with the same consequences for the invaders.
Since these positions have been taken by FARDC no bomb has fallen in Goma anymore, which implicitly confirm that M23 and RDF were the culprits of launching these bombs on Goma.
There are however big concerns on the FARDC side : to achieve this victories, they used Tanzanian ammo. No Tanzanian soldiers participated in the offensive. The two who died were killed by M23 and RDF bombs launched from Kibati and who fell at the tanzanian base. There are rumors in Goma that Kabila is doing his best to hand victory to M23 by refusing to give ammo to FARDC and by trying to remove Col Ndala from his duties.
This Colonel is God for Goma people. He appears on TV to calm people, explains the state of war and negotiates prisoners exchange with RDF.
The mood in M23-held territory is not good. There hundreds of check-points and stress is apparent. The M23 soldiers seem to be in awe of FARDC commandos as all their questions are only related to these soldiers : where are there? did they bring new reinforcements? Are they moving towards our position? They you hear them sigh and the commandant says in kinyarwanda : "turabifashe!"
There are lot of things which could be said of this interesting trip there. I am happy to have spent this time with suffering people. As I was leaving, a relative recalled me that whenever I traveled there, heavy fighting would break

congo man said...

Thank-you for that post. It's been 3 years since I visited the region. I am glad to hear that they're now starting to fix those roads. The last time that I was there, the roads where terrible but the pprivate sector was very vibrant.the housing boom was crazy and the business community did almost anything to keep the economy going despite all the challenges that they faced do to a weak and almost non existent state government. With peace a lot can be done. The people can't wait any longer. Instead of wasting all this time in Kampala and giving those terrorists more time to regroup and reorganize , we should have bteen putting more military pressure on them. Wile we are wasting time in Kampala we shall also be giving more support to some of the freedom fighters to continue putting more pressure on the enemies and deny them any time to regroup. After almost twenty years and countless negotiations, concessions , and peace deals that didn't bring peace but more terror, the people are all against this Uganda waste of time . Any other government in this situation should have cut all diplomati ties with Rwanda and Uganda and boycott Kampala .why even allow UGANDA an aggressor to disguise themselves as mediators? What's wrong with those morans in Kinshasa?when are they going to stop making themselves looking stupid? After 32 years of the Mobutu destructions and 20 years of Kagame's terror campaigns , a military defeat of his terrorists is the only thing that will bring lasting peace to this region .

congo man said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
congo man said...

Sorry for my typo. I meant been not bteen. Private not pprivat ...

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