Kampala summit on Congo must tackle citizenship

6 Aug

Today a two-day summit of Heads of State of countries that make up the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region opens in Uganda’s capital, Kampala. The summit is supposed to find answers to the political and security mess in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The Kampala meeting follows others – Addis Ababa in July and Khartoum last week in which diplomats and defence experts have been trying to work out a strategy to end the seemingly intractable conflict in the east of the huge and lawless country.

The Kampala summit also comes in the wake of a flurry of diplomatic activity in the Great Lakes Region in search of solutions to the Congo problem. Apparently, not all this activity was aimed at getting a peaceful and lasting answer.

First, Congo’s President Joseph Kabila visited Angola, the big boy of the region which wields enormous military muscle, reportedly to solicit military help to crush the M23 mutineers. Kabila’s visit followed that of his special envoy a few days earlier.

President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda also went to Luanda, apparently to dissuade the ageing Angolan leader, Eduardo dos Santos from sending his troops to the East of the DRC.

Then over the weekend, United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in the region as part of her Africa tour to bolster American influence on the continent. Last Friday, she was in the Ugandan capital. On her visit, she did what the top diplomat of a super power has done foe decades – shower praises on leaders seen to follow Washington’s line and pour condemnation on  those who appear to be straying from it; knock heads together in some places and twist arms in others.

Will all these diplomatic efforts yield peace and stability in DRC?  Forgive, but I am sceptical. There has never been any shortage of diplomacy in Congo. It has never been given a chance to succeed – from UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld killed in 1960 trying to sort out the post-independence fiasco to the March 23 2009 Agreement between the CNDP rebels led by Laurent Nkunda and the Kabila Government, whose breakdown was the spark for the present crisis in Eastern Congo. All have been deliberately torpedoed.

Still, it is a good thing that the summit is taking place and that Africans are seeking solutions to their problems. You can be sure, though, that there will be Western diplomats, NGO lobbyists, experts of every sort and representatives of that wonderful organisation that promises hope but delivers despair – the  un – hovering around the meeting offering unsolicited advice, sounding dire warning and even issuing direct threats. The foreign media will also be there to give its own twist to the event.

The country whose messed up political and security situation the summit is supposed to correct is not likely to help much. The DRC with its immense natural wealth that Western sources do not cease to point out is very sick and needs help urgently. All it gets are confused noises that keep it firmly on the sickbed.

Congo’s leaders who should be the first to seek treatment for what is now the sick man of Africa  are too busy apportioning blame and rolling up their sleeves and taking up a belligerent stance to do much about it. They have the attitude of a child who always comes off worst in a fight and cowers when challenged to one, but when he senses the backing of a big brother or some other bully becomes hungry for a fight. Hardly the attitude for a diplomatic solution.

The Kampala summit can still be useful if it identifies and addresses the real problem of Congo. But if it falls into the trap of blaming others for Congo’s problems and bases its solutions on that, we can say good bye to any lasting solution to the conflict.

DRC has an incompetent government – some will say, even illegitimate – that has no control over the country. The state is incapable of protecting its citizens. Its military is a disgrace to the very name of that proud institution. Even some of Congo’s backers have no faith in its government. It has been reported that they toyed with the idea of toppling Kabila.

The absence of the state and hopelessly inept security institutions have led to armed groups springing up to fill the gap. Terrorist and genocidal groups, including the FDLR that is sworn to complete the genocide in Rwanda, the barbaric Lord’s Resistance Army and Islamist Alliance of Democratic Forces, both from Uganda, have found safe havens in poorly governed country.

This is part of the issue that the Kampala summit must not lose sight of.  Quite clearly, what is needed is not another armed group – international, neutral or by whatever name it goes by – but to give the DRC the capability to establish effective authority over its territory. It is to help the resource-rich country (as we are constantly reminded) to pay its troops and police, provide for them and turn them into an effective fighting force that will defend its territory and enforce law and order, instead of running away at the sight of a platoon of rebels.

The root cause of instability in Eastern Congo is not the invasion of its territory by countries intent on looting its minerals as loudly touted by the foreign media and NGOs. Rather, it is the attempt to disenfranchise a huge section of Congolese citizens of Rwandan descent. When things are not too bad, these citizens are tolerated but marginalised. When the situation gets tough, they are denounced as non-citizens, attacked, killed and those lucky to survive driven into exile.

Weak governments in Kinshasa wishing to gain popularity or legitimacy play the citizenship card in Eastern Congo.  We are seeing this happen in Congo. In the past it has led to only ethnic cleansing. If it goes on, it will almost certainly end up in another genocide.

Urgent action is needed to stop this happening. If the international community really wants peace and stability in Congo, it must offer equal protection to all Congolese citizens, especially in the east of the country. It must bring pressure to bear on the government in Kinshasa to recognise all its citizens without discrimination. They can do it. They did it in the former Yugoslavia, although they left it late. This time there is no excuse not to act because there are sufficient signs and lessons from history.

If the Kampala summit wants to contribute meaningfully to a lasting solution to Congo’s problems, it cannot run away from the citizenship issue. It’s about time Congo’s problems were solved once and for all and the Congolese given the opportunity to enjoy the immense wealth of their country.

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