The Fall of Goma
Windhoek – The M23 rebel movement marched into Goma, the DRC’s largest city in the volatile eastern region, this past week as United Nations peacekeepers looked on.
With the DRC army retreating before the rebel advance and UN troops nonchalant, SADC leaders appeared to be in disarray.
The threat of a second full-blown civil war in the DRC, within about 15 years, is a grim reality with the fall of the mineral-rich city that borders Rwanda.
Rebel leader, Sultani Makenga, led his troops into Goma on Tuesday, securing a prized asset that has been the key transit point for minerals looting and smuggling.
“M23 fighters captured the seat of the world’s biggest peacekeeping operation with ease on Tuesday, parading past UN troops who offered no resistance,” a Guardian correspondent wrote.
“MONUSCO armoured personnel carriers sped back towards UN bases, less than an hour after having been deployed to the frontlines.
“MONUSCO had previously sworn that it would not allow M23 to take Goma, where it has about 1 400 troops.”
M23 spokesperson, Lieutenant-Colonel Vianney Kazarama, told a crowd at a stadium in Goma the day after the invasion that the next target was Kinshasa, which lies some 2 000km away.
“The journey to liberate Congo has started now. We are going to move on to Bukavu, and then to Kinshasa … people say we have balkanised the Congo, but that is wrong. We will go to Kinshasa, we will unite the country.”
* What Role for UN?
The fall of Goma has raised serious questions about the UN peacekeeping forces' role.
MONUSCO consists 17 010 military troops, 746 military observers, 1 241 police and 4 000 civilians – and a US$1.5 billion annual budget.
In 2009, DRC’s President Joseph Kabila publicly called for a withdrawal of UN peacekeepers after a decade of operations. This position received SADC backing, but the UN Security Council resisted, arguing that there was a continuous need for protecting civilians in eastern DRC.
Scandals involving peacekeepers, ranging from improper sexual liaisons to illegal minerals trafficking, prompted the withdrawal call.
The UN’s actual mandate in the DRC has not been satisfactorily explained.
“Perhaps the UN should be able to tell us what MONUSCO is doing in the DRC and in Goma. What is the relevance of having a well-equipped, modern UN force there?” SADC Executive-Secretary Dr Augusto Tomaz Salomão asked.
“The UN has to change their mandate ‑ what is the relevance of having a well-equipped force. What are they doing in DRC?
“People are being killed and they don’t react. Rebels are overrunning government territory while they are looking on,” Dr Salomão told The Southern Times this past week.
Though aware of the danger that M23 poses, the UN still does nothing.
The world body said it had received “numerous reports of targeted summary executions of those who stand in (M23’s) way, including government and traditional leaders who resist or fail to co-operate with an M23 administrative structure”.
“We also continue to receive ongoing reports of widespread recruitment and use of children, unconfirmed cases of sexual violence, and other serious human rights abuses,” the UN added.
Even then, the UN is adamant it had no mandate to help Goma and its people.
“Clearly, it is not the mandate of MONUSCO to directly hit the armed groups … They have to be in support of the armed forces of Congo,” UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous was quoted saying.
Dr Salomão said calls by SADC and the International Conference for Great Lakes for the UN to improve its performance in the DRC had been futile.
“This issue was raised by SADC; it was raised by the Great Lakes. Our position has always been, let them change the mandate to empower MONUSCO to act in situations like this, to protect civilians,” Dr Salomão said.
* The SADC Role
But what of SADC, which has more to lose than the UN from the DRC chaos?
Dr Salomão declined to say when an international interposing force would be deployed, saying SADC was waiting for a report from the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).
The report stems from a meeting of ICGLR defence ministers on November 20.
“The Great Lakes region is leading the process and we are supporting their efforts. Defence ministers met on November 20 and they will brief Heads of State of the Great Lakes, from whom we are waiting their report and announce steps thereafter,” Dr Salomão said.
SADC leaders have spent the better part of this year deliberating on the DRC issue, and several missions to try to calm the waters have yielded precious few results.
This has led some observers to say SADC has been lethargic on the matter.
Analyst Takura Zhangazha has said, “It is therefore urgent that we begin to look at the DRC crisis no longer as being just the responsibility of the United Nations or the Great Lakes inter-governmental summit or the latter's appointed 'mediator', President Museveni of Uganda…
“If ever there was a time when Africans must demonstrate that we are not perpetual slaves to conflict (such as the evidently proxy one in the DRC), it is now.
“We should at least insist that our national governments, regional and continental bodies and the UN act much more decisively to get the DRC on a more permanent path to peace and stability.”
The Chair of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation, President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, could this week only call for an end to hostilities.
“We are currently witnessing a worsening situation in eastern DRC, whereby the DRC government and M23 rebels are still fighting, putting SADC in limbo.
“I talked to Ugandan President, who is Chairperson of the (ICGLR) on the ways to end the ongoing civil war and find a lasting solution in the area.”
Other observers say nothing can be expected from the ICGLR because President Museveni – along with Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame – is reportedly a key backer of the rebels.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the two leaders called for the rebels to pull out of Goma, a statement that many have read as lip-service to the peace cause.
“M23 must immediately stop its offensive and pull out of Goma. A plan to this end is being communicated to them … even if there are legitimate grievances by the mutiny group calling itself M23, the expansion of this war is not acceptable.”
* Back to the UN
The United States and France have been shielding Rwanda and Uganda from censure, and Security Council action despite the existence of a UN Group of Experts report fingering them in the chaos.
Nominal sanctions have been imposed on rebel leaders but these have been labelled farcical, as it is highly unlikely M23 are using banks or legitimate international air services.
A sharp contrast in the UN’s role in the DRC has been drawn with that of how it conducted itself in Cote d’Ivoire last year.
The UN deployed attack helicopters, in conjunction with France, to advance Alassane Ouattara’s troop positions and to capture his rival, Laurent Gbagbo, who is now facing charges of crimes against humanity at The Hague.
At the time of the Cote d’Ivoire fiasco, South Africa’s Former President Thabo Mbeki – who tried to mediate in the crisis but was ignored by France and the UN – said: “It will now be difficult for the UN to convince Africa and the rest of the developing world that it is not a mere instrument in the hands of the world’s major powers.
“This has confirmed the urgency of the need to restructure the organisation based on the view that as presently structured the UN has no ability to act as a truly democratic representative of member states…
“They have exposed the reality of the balance and abuse of power in the post-Cold War era, and put paid to the fiction that the major powers respected the rule of law in the conduct of international relations…”
Interestingly, France’s Mission to the UN has been at the forefront of defending MONUSCO’s actions in the face of the M23 advance.
With the fall of Goma, Great Lakes region analyst Jason Stearns has said, “Goma’s fall will shine a sharp light on Rwandan involvement, but Kigali has been un-deterred by donor pressure thus far, and has been emboldened by its seat on the Security Council.
“Also, the looting by the Congolese army and their distribution of weapons to youths in Goma has shown, the battle for Goma is much of a public relations disaster for Kinshasa as for Kigali.”