On August 23, North Kivu Civil Society coalition’s Vice President and spokesperson Mr. Omar Kambale Kavota and his colleague Eudoxie Nziavake left Washington DC after a week of advocacy for peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Three experts from the Ministry of Media and New Citizenry were also part of the delegation. They met with officials from President Obama’s National Security, the Department of State, Senator Chris Coons and members of the US Civil Society. The agenda included the following:
1.The role of UN Special Envoy Mary Robinson and President Obama’s Special Envoy Russ Feingold
North Kivu Civil Society spoke strongly against Mary Robinson’s push for dialogue between the Congolese government and the rebel group M23 which has been on and off in Kampala, Uganda for a while. “She is bringing us where we have been before many times”, they said. They were referring to the numerous negotiations between the government and rebel groups since the conflict started in late 1996. The evidence shows that it has not worked. Among others, they cited the Sun City Accord in 2002 in South Africa which produced a transitional government with a president, four vice presidents and the integration of rebels into the national army. The process gave the most ferocious members of the rebel groups high rankings in the army or major responsibilities in the government. However, this did not stop many of them from defecting to form other militia or continuing to work with neighboring countries to further destabilize DRC. This also worsened the already undisciplined army which has been involved in human rights violations and the illicit mineral trade which finances the rebels they were supposed to fight. The UN, local and international groups have always documented the fact that some rebel groups never fully disarm, instead they run parallel military command structures within the national army and use government resources to reorganize. For these reasons they have asked the US Special Envoy to avoid this approach in dealing with the crisis in DRC. They recommend that before any statement is made, Special Envoy Russ Feingold travel to DRC and see firsthand what is happening on the ground. They believe that the dialogue with M23 legitimizes them and constitutes a reward for their crimes. If these negotiations continue, they recommend that they offer no political positions or integration of rebel forces into the national army. Furthermore, they asked for US assistance to remove those who were previously integrated into the national army. 2.The National Dialogue As part of the political solution, DRC’s President Joseph Kabila, under pressure of the international community, has initiated the process to prepare a national dialogue as part of a political solution to the crisis. Unfortunately, politicians are seeing this as another opportunity to share power in a government of national unity. North Kivu Civil Society argued against any transitional government which would cancel the current president’s mandate and put him on the path for more years in power. Also, a transitional government would mean a transitional constitution; not the improvement of the current one. Instead, this forum should deal with more pressing issues such as good governance, local elections (which have been on hold since 2006), the crisis in eastern DRC and the implementation of decentralization measures. A transitional government in DRC is dangerous and will constitute many steps backward in the democratic process. 3. Neighboring Countries’ Support of Rebel Groups Rwanda’s ongoing military support of the M23 rebel group must be stopped. Although Rwanda claims that it has been involved in DRC to go after Hutu rebel groups that threaten President Kagame’s regime, these Rwandan proxies have been attacking innocent civilians instead. Furthermore, Uganda continues to support M23, but in a very limited way compared to Rwanda. However, North Kivu Civil Society believes that Uganda’s unwillingness to comply with any peace agreement, current or past, is motivated by economic activities like the trade of timber, gold, and coltan from DRC through Uganda by rebel groups such as the Alliance of Democratic Forces (ADF) allied with the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU) and other local militia. Here is an example of how it works: Uganda supports the Congolese rebel group of Kombi Hilaire which is a close ally of ADF-NALU, then ADF-NALU which is supposed to be against the Ugandan government, from the safety of DRC’s forests trades timber and gold to Uganda. This is how the circle of instability is kept in place for economic interests and justification of unlimited constitutional presidential terms in Uganda. It is the same for Rwanda. There are financial dividends for Rwanda to maintain active rebel groups in eastern DRC. Rwanda’s proxies in DRC, M23 and even its enemies the FDLR and many other rebel groups in DRC are involved in financial transactions that benefit Rwanda. They also mentioned the presence of Somali Al-Shabab fighters in the ranks of ADF-NALU. Once defeated in Somalia by an international force which Ugandan Defense Forces are part of they are joining ADF-NALU in big numbers. They have been recruiting the youth in mosques by promising them scholarships to study in India, Pakistan and other countries, but instead they are taken to their training camps. They have kidnapped about 550 people 300 of whom were taken since June. They asked the US to commission a special taskforce to be based in Beni to study the matter and stop them before they become a bigger threat to the region and the world. 4. Promoting Democracy in the Great Lakes Many analysts and advocates for peace in the DRC have argued in favor of an economic integration of the region as part of the solution to the crisis. This great idea assumes that leaders in the region are concerned about economic development of the people and the region. Unfortunately, Rwandan and Ugandan dictatorial leaders are at the heart of the ongoing conflict in DRC. On the scale of priorities, economic integration should not take precedence over democracy promotion and civil society empowerment. A regular peaceful transfer of power can improve the aspect of the crisis rooted in the political dynamics in the region. New leaders mean new relationships and new perspectives on regional and national challenges. It is hard to see how a hydroelectric dam on the Rizizi river that brings energy to Rwanda, Burundi or Uganda can prevent power hungry and criminal mind set leaders like Rwanda’s President Kagame or Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni from blowing it up if they personally fill their power is threatened. 5. UN Peacekeeping Mission in DRC “The people are fed up with the United Nations (UN) peace missions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). They are determined to do whatever it takes to end the war and they want the UN peacekeepers to leave DRC if they do not carry out their mission as they are mandated.” On August 24, people marched across the city of Goma carrying the body of one of the victims of M23 bombing and demanding protection. “I am announcing that we will respond firmly and vigorously to silence this bombing”, said the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in the DRC, Martin Kobler. It has been reported that two South African and one Tanzanian peacekeeper of the intervention brigade were injured in last week’s fight against M23 rebels. Finally, the delegation returned with one important message: the US is very interested and already involved in finding a solution to the crisis in DRC as well as being ready to support Congolese initiatives to end the crisis. This implies major reforms in the areas of security, justice, good governance, human rights and strengthening institutions: the pillars of nation building.