In A Dark Tunnel
Maputo – In April 2012, the M23 rebels were a motley band of about 500 insurgents.
Now they have grabbed the attention of the African Union and the United Nations, and no end to the conflict in the DRC is in sight.
Last week, President Armando Guebuza of Mozambique, in his capacity as SADC Chair, inked a long-delayed Peace, Security and Co-operation Framework for the DRC and the Region that the AU and UN hope is a step closer to ending the instability ignited by M23 in eastern DRC.
The latest attempt at ending the exponentially growing conflict came as the key region of Katanga became increasingly unstable.
Unrest in mineral-rich Katanga has historically spelt bad news for national security, as rebels mobilising from that province tend to be well-resourced.
The head of the UN mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), Roger Meece, has told the Security Council that there are “worrisome security developments” in Katanga, where Mai-Mai militia leader Gédéon Kyungu Mutanga – who escaped from prison in 2011 – is believed to be stirring things up against the authorities in Kinshasa.
There are no less than nine rebel groups with varying capacities operating in eastern DRC.
“The situation has now reached alarming proportions, affecting a growing geographic region and already producing a major humanitarian crisis, with OCHA (the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs) now estimating there are 316 000 displaced persons in Katanga because of Gédéon-related military activity. This number is growing,” was Meece’s assessment.
Apart from the M23 and Gédéon activities, a town in Maniema Province has fallen to another militia led by Rayi Mutumboki.
Meece says, “This (town) is a considerable distance from what has been their (M23) area of operations in South Kivu Province, representing another expansion of the reach of militia activity and violence, and again beyond the area of any MONUSCO (UN Mission to DRC) presence.”
With the peace deal signing in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, President Guebuza is hopeful a solution could be found ‑ though he concedes much work needs to be done.
He said the agreement is not in itself a solution to the crisis, but is an important step “to help this country turn a new page in its turbulent history, which everyone would like to see relegated to the past”.
The agreement should complement efforts by SADC, the UN and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR). The DRC is a member of both SADC and the ICGLR.
But neither M23 nor any other rebel group was represented in Addis Ababa. President Guebuza does not believe this undermines the agreement, pointing out that talks are under way between Kinshasa and rebel leaders on a separate platform.
President Guebuza notes there are two aspects to the DRC problem: internal issues and external interference.
Dissatisfaction with President Joseph Kabila’s rule has brewed internal dissent, while a UN Group of Experts has said Rwanda – in particular – and Uganda are fanning the situation and supplying material, logistical and moral support to rebel groups, especially in eastern DRC.
Of course, Rwanda and Uganda deny the allegations.
The Addis Ababa agreement is a commitment by all international actors who have a stake in the DRC problem. These include the DRC itself, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Central African Republic, Angola, Congo-Brazzaville, South Sudan, South Africa, Zambia and Tanzania.
Other signatories are President Guebuza for SADC, Ban Ki-moon for the UN, AU Commission Chair Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, and Uganda’s Deputy President, Edward Ssekandi, for the ICGLR.
The key aspects of the Peace, Security and Co-operation Framework for the DRC and the Region are: commitment by Kinshasa to address grievances; and commitment by all signatories not to interfere in the DRC’s internal affairs and bars them from lending support to or tolerating rebel groups.
UN boss, Ban, has pledged a more robust approach from an enhanced MONUSCO, which will include “deployment of an intervention brigade with a peace enforcement mandate”.
Peace enforcement missions allow the use of lethal force in combat situations, while peacekeeping operations merely support and monitor already existing ceasefire agreements.
There remains much sceptism though an enlarged and enhanced peacekeeping and enforcing mission will do the trick.
The number of interested parties is huge, and getting them all to leave the DRC to chart its own destiny will be a tall order – an order that has never been delivered since the country gained independence from Belgium half-a-century ago.
In fact, there is a growing lobby for the DRC to go the Sudan way: secession.
Several analysts have put forward the idea of breaking up the DRC into smaller territories.
Peter Chalk, a senior political scientist at the RAND security research organisation, was recently quoted by AFP saying: “The DRC is the biggest country in Africa and it may just be that it is too big and complex a state to exist as a single unified country.
“The history of the country, the various interests of neighbouring states makes it basically a very untenable place to govern.”
And this will play right into the hands of the many competing international interests that seek to exploit the DRC’s mineral resources – worth an estimated US$24 trillion – for their own benefit.
Eastern DRC alone is home to some of the world’s most sought-after minerals, such as tin, tantalum, tungsten, coltan, cassiterite, gold and diamond.
The country also has huge cobalt, copper and uranium reserves, in addition to oil and gas potential as well as heavy rare earth minerals that are vital for industries in Asia, Europe and America.
The DRC is Africa’s largest tin producer, second-largest copper exporter and the world’s third-largest producer of titanium, which is used in high-tech electronics, nuclear energy, computers and mobile phones.
Titanium, according to analysts, will soon be more important than gold and diamond.
As such, many international players are not keen on establishing peace, as this would compromise their ability to essentially loot these resources.
The US went out of its way last year to block the UN Group of Experts report fingering Rwanda and Uganda for M23 rebel support.
At that time, DRC’s Ambassador to France, Atoki Ileka, said: “We cannot wait for the United States and other members of the Security Council to find a convenient way to protect Rwanda.”