Is the New DRC Peace Deal a Cause for Hope?

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Prayers in Congo
Prayers in Congo. Photo: Steve Evans/flickr.

Though the Second Congo War formally ended in 2003 the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) Eastern regions have remained embroiled in violence. The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) has become the UN’s largest peacekeeping obligation with 19,134 uniformed personnel as of January 2013.

Despite the conclusion of formal hostilities almost a decade ago, violence has continued unabated with the most recent crisis occurring when the March 23rd Movement (M23) occupied the city of Goma. In response to the continuing violence and the new threat posed by M23 the UN mediated the signing of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Region on 24 February 2013. The Framework was signed by the leaders of the DRC and ten other African countries. While UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has argued that the signing of the Framework represents a “historic opportunity”, the DRC has had a long history of failed peace agreements and there is little to differentiate the recently signed Framework from past attempts. This makes it hard to argue that the Framework represents a real step forward in the Congolese peace process.

One of the purported strengths of the Framework is that the eleven signatories have committed to respecting their neighbors’ sovereignty and to refraining from arming militias or tolerating persons accused of war crimes.  The problem, however, is that many of the signatories have previously agreed to these conditions, in the 1999 Lusaka Accords and the 2006 Pact on Security, Stability and Development in the Great Lakes Region, but continued to support militias regardless. Since the outbreak of the First Congo War in 1996, the presence of proxy militias has been a destabilizing force in the DRC, and Rwanda and Uganda were recently accused of supporting the M23 rebels currently fighting UN peacekeepers and government forces.  Similarly, in 2009, top Congolese military (FARDC) figures were found to be aiding the Hutu militia the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). These examples show the unwillingness of regional actors to comply with the non-interference condition and its subsequent unenforceability.

The Framework also requires the signatories to refrain from trading in ‘conflict minerals’. Again, this promise has already been broken by some of the Framework’s signatories. The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) launched an initiative to certify and track minerals to eliminate mining as a source of militia revenue, and trade in conflict minerals was forbidden to the signatories of the 2006 Pact. But a report in 2008 found that both Rwanda’s and Burundi’s booming mineral sectors were dependent on uncertified minerals sourced primarily from the DRC. Rwanda’s minister for mines refused to implement a due diligence system to prevent the circulation of conflict minerals in the Rwandan economy. This shows the unwillingness or inability of some signatories to engage in conflict-reducing measures and casts doubt over whether the recent promises outlined in the Framework will be kept.

It is true that the Framework has introduced a new form of oversight, referred to as the ‘11+4 mechanism’ — which requires that the signatories  meet bi-annually to monitor and review the implementation of the Framework’s commitments. It has been suggested, however, that the mechanism is excessively multilateral and too large to function effectively. The list of signatories is comprised of the DRC, Republic of the Congo, Angola, Burundi, CAR, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia the UN, AU, ICGLR and South African Development Community (SADC). To make matters worse, numerous signatories faced each other as enemies during the Second Congo War. Some signatories also have economic interests in the DRC and many are still accused of supporting the dizzying array of militias (pro-Hutu, anti-Rwanda, pro-government, anti-government) that plague the country. Given this backdrop of antagonism, it is likely that historical grievances and vested interests will derail the cooperation needed to monitor the implementation of the Framework’s conditions.

Nor is it likely that the presence of international organizations will exert sufficient pressure to overcome the distrust and dishonesty that are endemic to the Eastern Congo region. Rwanda still resists ICC pressure to release Congolese war criminal Laurent Nkunda to stand trial and the FARDC continued to support the FDLR after signing an agreement organized by the AU and SADC to help Rwanda rid the border region of the militant group.

The one other unique selling point of the Framework is the development of a 2500-4000 strong ‘intervention brigade’ to swiftly tackle armed groups, with SADC nations contributing the bulk of the troops. UN staff and analysts at Chatham House have argued that the presence of SADC troops will have a significant effect on peacekeeping in the region. This optimism ignores the longtime contribution by African nations, particular South Africa, to MONUSCO’s troops. There is also the issue that many SADC nations also fought in the Second Congo War, which may cause the local population to mistrust the brigade and doubt its neutrality, limiting its effectiveness as a peacekeeping force.

Ban Ki-Moon admitted that the Framework was not a cure for violence in the DRC but rather the beginning of realizing stability in the region. But the plethora of previous ‘first steps’ and weaknesses in the Framework casts doubt over whether a new agreement can make any difference.

For additional reading on this topic please see:

Black Gold in the Congo: Threat to Stability or Development Opportunity?

The Peace Process in the DRC – A Transformation Quagmire

Livelihoods, Basic Services and Social Protection in Democratic Republic of the Congo

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