The easy capture of the Congolese town of Goma by the M23 rebels a week ago must have made brought home some truths to President Joseph Kabila and his advisors – local and foreign.
First, he must have realised that sabre-rattling, evasion of the truth, name-calling and blame games are clearly not helpful. Also, opting for a military solution to an essentially political problem does not produce the desired results. All of these cannot deter a determined group, driven by a keen sense of injustice and a very real existential threat from fighting for their survival.
The only alternative is to settle the issue through political and diplomatic means – a point the rebels and other people genuinely interested in ending the conflict in eastern D R Congo have been making, and the Congolese government has rejected, since hostilities broke out in April this year.
It is telling that dialogue and negotiations between the government of Joseph Kabila and M23 rebels were part of the resolutions of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) Summit in Kampala0on Saturday, November 24. President Kabila was told that he must listen to and evaluate the rebels’ genuine grievances. Hopefully, he will do so, although one must remain sceptical given his record of going back on his word, especially when he gets back to Kinshasa where he seems to be hostage to forces hostile to a peaceful settlement of Congo’s myriad problems.
The rather weak phrasing of the call for addressing the grievances of the rebels leaves room for doubts about whether he will actually do it. The wording does not commit Kabila to a definite timetable or even categorically ask him to redress those grievances.
Secondly, President Kabila should by now have realised that more genuine help will come from neighbouring countries. They understand the issues and underlying causes of the conflict in eastern D R Congo better than United Nations bureaucrats in New York or politicians and diplomats in various Western Capitals.
In addition, they have vested interests in the stability of the vast country. A stable Congo offers huge commercial and investment opportunities to its neighbours.
Refugees who continue to pour in large numbers into these countries are an immense strain on their resources and services. They would be happy to see them return home so that these resources are freed to benefit their nationals.
The desire to resolve the Congolese conflict showed in the Kampala summit of the ICGLR. The summit offered the best solution to date (of the current fighting); although it must be said the leaders asked the M23 to make more concessions and left some of the recommendations rather vague. Still, they offered a good deal – better for President Kabila. And if he is really interested in peace, he should grab it with both hands.
Thirdly, although not directly, the summit appeared to recognise that at the root of the conflict in eastern D R Congo lies the question of nationality. Successive Congolese governments have denied that their Kinyarwanda-speaking compatriots are actually Congolese. Indeed when Goma fell to M23 last Tuesday, screams for killing and expelling them from politicians and ordinary people in Kinshasa grew alarmingly loud. By calling for the repatriation of refugees, most of them Kinyarwanda-speaking, from neighbouring countries whom the DRC government seeks to keep out, the ICGLR leaders affirmed their right to Congolese nationality.
This is advice Kabila should take seriously because eastern DRC will not stabilise until this issue is definitively addressed.
Finally, Kabila must have realised that the state is not only dysfunctional; it has no army to defend it as well. The weaknesses and character of the Congolese army are historical and systemic. The armed forces in the Congo were created to punish the natives for not doing what the colonial authorities demanded. They pillaged and plundered on behalf of their employers and also made their own exactions on the people. Since independence, the army has carried out in the same fashion. It has never been a national army sworn to defend the People of DRC.
President Kabila should have seen all these things. But in case he has not, here is some brotherly advice.
Even if you do not like what your ICGLR brothers asked you to do, please do not abdicate your responsibility as the elected leader of the Congolese people. You and your ministers seem to have surrendered your duty to others. You have been asking the United Nations and other Western governments to sort out your problems, and even blaming them for not doing so. This blame game must be a character thing. Please remember that national sovereignty and responsibility can never be delegated.
Also, do not sub-let the state to the NGOs. First of all, they do not pay rent. They actually make you pay for their upkeep. Then they turn your people into dependants and beggars. Ironically, they don’t tire from reminding everyone how naturally endowed your country is. Don’t you find it odd that citizens of such a fabulously rich country depend on alms from the people who plunder it?
Stop listening to the so-called Africa experts. Their expertise is built on your sorry state and they will keep like that so as to remain relevant.
There are some, even within Africa, who profess friendship and offer support to help you kill your own people. Beware of these. The friendship is not for free. The support comes at a price – in the form of lucrative mining concessions on terms not different from those of Cecil Rhodes.
Finally, please listen to your own people and your neighbours. They have only brotherly advice for you. And that has no price.