By Jacques Bahati
The surrender of the rebel group in eastern DRC, M23, would not have been possible without the foreign diplomacy changes made by governments which have previously turned a blind eye to Rwanda and Uganda’s proxy wars in and against DRC.
Hopefully President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry will continue to make the DRC one of their foreign policy priorities. Unlike previous presidents and because of a strong advocacy push by Congolese and international human rights organizations, among them Africa Faith and Justice Network, Friends of the Congo, Enough Project, Jewish World Watch, Panzi Foundation, and Human Rights Watch, President Obama reexamined the situation and took a difference policy approach toward Rwanda. This includes:
- The appointment of Senator Russ Feingold as US Special Envoy to the Great Lakes in accordance with the 2006 US public law 109-456.
- On December 18, 2012 President Obama called Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame and “emphasized to President Kagame the importance of permanently ending all support to armed groups in the DRC” (The White House Office of the Press Secretary, Readout of the President’s Call with President Kagame, December 18, 2012).
- In July, during his trip to Tanzania and South Africa he addressed the crisis in DRC.
- Following the UN release of the “Addendum to the Interim Report of the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo” (S/2012/348 Add 1) documenting Rwanda’s support to M23, the US withheld $200,000 in aid destined for Rwanda.
- In October, invoking the 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act, the Obama administration suspended military aid to Rwanda in relation to child soldier recruitment by M23.
In documenting the history of advocacy for a peaceful DRC, free of Rwandan-sponsored rebel groups, we must mention the leadership of current and former members of the US Senate Dick Durban, Chris Coons, Sam Brownback and Representatives Carolyn McCarthy, Gwen Moore, André Carson, David Scott, Maxine Waters, Jim McDermott, Barney Frank and many more who have helped keep the DRC crisis in the spotlight over the years. In Europe, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden led the way to mobilizing support for DRC by pointing to Rwanda as a significant catalyst in the conflict.
Two major events in 2010, although they predate Rwanda’s creation of M23, changed the game in the diplomacy and advocacy efforts for peace in DRC. First, the publication of the UN Mapping Report on October 1st, which documents some of the most serious violations of human rights, international humanitarian law, war crimes and crimes against humanity in the DRC from March 1993 to June 2003. Second, the US congress’s passage of the DRC conflict mineral law (Dodd-Frank, section 1502) as part of the Financial Reform and Consumer Protection Act which drastically crippled the flow of cash to rebels and the Congolese army from illicit conflict mineral trade in eastern DRC.
The details of most crimes committed in DRC are enumerated in the UN Mapping Report, and the international community should support the findings of the Report: genocide happened in the DRC, and there must be a Special Court to heal these wounds. The widespread violence, specifically against women, and the crisis in general, continued for so long because of bad governance, weak institutions, and the ineffective UN intervention.
UN peacekeepers cohabited with rebel groups in different towns and villages, witnessing mass rapes and killings of civilians by both rebels and the Congolese army, and simply witnessed it. This inaction is a testament to the UN’s failures in DRC in general. We can hope that the announcement by the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in the DRC, Martin Koblerto, after the liberation of Rutshuru area (in North Kivu, near the borders with Rwanda and Uganda) from M23 rebels, to prohibit UN peacekeeper cohabitation with rebels will be a foregone conclusion going forward
The end of M23 is also the result of some key decisions by the Congolese government.
- The suspension of the Chief of Staff of the “Forces Terrestres”, Major General, Gabriel Amisi Kumba known as Tango Four for allegedly, among other things, providing weapons to rebels
- The strategic recall of several ranking members of the army from the frontlines to Kinshasa, some of whom are former rebels integrated in the national army.
- Expelling the Ugandan Brigadier General Geoffrey Muheesi, who was a member of the Expended Joint Verification Mechanism (EJVM), from the DRC on the grounds of being friendly to M23.
- The refusal to grant general amnesty to M23 rebels as part of the negotiation process in Kampala
After M23, the DRC remains vulnerable to external and internal destabilizing forces. Thus, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC singed by 11 regional nations in February 2013 is a key guide to keeping regional leaders engaged for lasting peace in the region. The international community has to double its diplomatic efforts on Rwanda and Uganda. These two nations must scrupulously honor their commitment not to be a safe haven for anyone who has or intends to destabilize the DRC. The international community must support Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete’s call on Rwanda and Uganda to negotiate with Rwandan and Ugandan rebels operating in Congolese territory. This should also apply to Burundi because of the presence of Burundian rebels found in DRC’s South Kivu province.
In the final analysis, the DRC government has to improve the democratic process to ensure a rapid building of strong institutions which are required for lasting peace, stability and development.
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