It has been unusually quiet in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) of late. Is this a sign that things are getting better there? Don’t fool yourself. They haven’t for the last fifty years and won’t now unless several things happen.
First, the Congolese government must take responsibility for what has gone wrong in the region and correct it. It cannot continue blaming outsiders for its own failures. In the same way, it cannot rely on outsiders for solutions to its own weaknesses.
Second, the United Nations and others in the international community should stop treating Congo like a country more sinned against than sinning. They must show it its sins and pressure it to put its house in order. In any case they share the blame for the mess in Congo and have an obligation to put the situation right. That requires that they own up and see the situation as it actually is, not what they would like it to be. It requires respecting the lives of millions of Congolese and not putting narrow and selfish economic and political interests above them.
The silence is not about improvement in the Congolese situation. It is perhaps because the international media and their rights kin, those creatures who seem to enjoy beating war drums and then gleefully cheer as people tear each other apart and then pretend to be horrified, have their attention turned to other areas that feed their lust for violence. Or it may be the proverbial lull before the storm. It is probably both.
While there hasn’t been much fighting on the ground lately, there is still an atmosphere of belligerence. There has been a great deal of sabre-rattling from all sides involved in the conflict in eastern DRC apparently caused by the imminent arrival of a military intervention force in the region.
The Congolese government has high hopes in the force and has felt so emboldened as to order the M23 rebels to disarm and disband. They give the impression that the intervention brigade has come to help the government fight M23.
Notice they do not mention other rebel groups like the FDLR. Is it because it has ceased to exist or is no longer a threat to its citizens and neighbouring countries? More likely, it is because the Congolese government and FDLR are now allies and the latter’s fighters have agreed to fight alongside the government troops.
As usual in Congo, the government and the international community are living under self-delusion. Even if the M23 were the major problem and even if they were to disappear, it is doubtful that peace would return to eastern DRC. M23 is not the cause of the conflict. it is merely a response to an existing situation.
In their excitement about the intervention brigade, the government in Kinshasa has ignored the peace talks with M23 in Kampala, which shows they were never committed to them in the first place.
On its part, the M23 has been warning both the government and the countries that will contribute to the force against attacking its positions and has promised them a bloody nose if they do. They have reminded them that they have a cause to fight and even die for while the intervention brigade does not.
The M23 rebels insist that there are ongoing peace talks in Kampala which should be given a chance. They have therefore put the UN on the spot for its apparent preference for a military solution to eastern Congo’s problems, when its mandate should be working towards a political resolution of the conflict.
Countries contributing troops to the intervention brigade have also been flexing their muscle. For instance South Africa has said it is not afraid of a fight with the rebels. They obviously want to prove a point – that they are a capable force despite suffering heavy casualties inflicted by the Seleka rebels in the Central African Republic. There are, of course, other reasons for South Africa’s involvement, among them, protecting South African individual and corporate business interests in DRC.
Tanzania has been spoiling for a fight for different reasons.
Ever since Mrs Joyce Banda became president, Malawi has been cosying up to the west, and contributing troops is part of the effort to ingratiate itself to them. Besides, Malawi has a large Rwandan refugee population that includes Interahamwe, and it would not be beyond them to want to use the opportunity to infiltrate into Congo and join their FDLR confreres.
These are all the ingredients of a major conflict in Eastern DRC if good sense does not prevail and restraint exercised.
Amidst all this, the UN and the international community are making the same mistakes they made in Rwanda in 1994.
In Rwanda, they withdrew UN peacekeeping troops and looked on as the genocide was committed.
In DRC they are reinforcing an already huge force with a brigade that has been given a shoot to kill mandate. However, its role is not to protect vulnerable civilians, but to prop up an inefficient government and protect business interests of outsiders. It has nothing to do with getting rid of armed groups in, or return peace to, the region.