The Big Break
Harare – The ceasefire declared by M23 rebels, who have been warring with the DRC government, could signal the emergence of a more confident SADC that will play a bigger role in providing leadership to Africa in international affairs.
The ceasefire announcement came as regional leaders met in South Africa on November 4 to deliberate on the DRC war and the deteriorating security situation in Mozambique, where Renamo rebels have been attacking civilians and uniformed personnel. M23 rebels announced they were putting down their arms after weeks of ever bigger routs by President Joseph Kabila’s troops.
The turn of events, analysts and insiders say, reflects four key developments that will have ramifications on how SADC operates in future and how it engages Africa and the rest of the world.
· SADC’s has demonstrated that it can successfully engage other regional blocs, in this case the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), and protect Southern Africa’s strategic interests;
· African countries working in concert have the capacity to fend off proxy “rebellions” meant to facilitate looting of the continent’s resources;
· There are alternative centres of power in SADC to South Africa, as shown by Malawi and – especially – Tanzania’s role in the military intervention in the DRC; and,
· That the DRC could finally be on the verge of fulfilling its potential to become a big player in continental affairs as evidenced by President Kabila’s reported staring down on Rwanda and Uganda at the November 4 SADC-ICGLR Summit. At the time of writing, it was expected that a formal ceasefire agreement between Kinshasa and M23 would be signed.
Rise of the Congo
It is understood that at the November 4 meeting, a “confident President Kabila made it clear he would no longer accept humiliation of the DRC and its people by other African countries or Westerners”.
This was in reference to the fact established by a United Nations Panel of Experts that Rwanda was providing technical, material, moral and financial support to the M23 rebels. Rwanda was conspicuously not represented at the joint SADC-ICGLR summit. Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame has repeatedly denied involvement in the conflict in neighbouring DRC.
The belief is that Rwanda, and to a lesser extent Uganda, facilitated instability in the DRC to allow looting of that country’s resources – whose value is estimated at US$24 trillion – and ensuring the vast country cannot develop into what would surely be Africa’s first global power.
Insiders told The Southern Times, “Rwanda abandoned M23 a few weeks ago as continued support had become untenable. The DRC has been growing in confidence in that time and by the time of the joint summit, Kinshasa was ready to see through the war to one conclusion: a total rout of the rebels.
“In fact, there was a fear that Kinshasa would pursue rebels across the border into Rwanda and evidently President Kagame did not want this. “This has resulted in everyone involved agreeing to unite against M23. We know that M23 was fronting for foreign interests, but that should all be over soon.
“The DRC army has increasing capacity to enforce order in the troublesome border regions and could soon stamp it’s authority over the entire contiguous territory.”
Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, said after the summit that both SADC and the ICGLR were agreed in opposing the rebellion.
“The most important point is that the two regions are in full support of the DRC. Even those countries, which have in the past taken positions (against President Kabila), have now joined to support stability and the territorial integrity of the DRC.
A communiqué issued by the leaders read in part: “Joint Summit commended the (DRC Army) and Intervention Brigade for recapturing M23 strongholds and restoring of government control. Joint Summit urged (the UN Mission to the Congo) and (the Intervention Brigade) to maintain its enforcement mandate and capability with regard to uprooting all negative forces in the eastern DRC.”
The Intervention Brigade, constituted under the auspices of the UN, comprises troops from South Africa, Malawi and Tanzania.
It was deployed soon after the South African army registered morale-sapping losses to rebels in the Central African Republic in April this year. And M23 rebels continuously taunted South Africa’s military ahead of the deployment, taking pot-shots at that country’s stuttering attempts to project itself as a power on the continent.
The brigade was made up of 3 069 troops. A retired general, who does consultancy work within SADC, told this paper at the time of the deployment that South Africa would play a crucial, but bit-part, role in the DRC.
He said while South Africa’s army was well equipped, it lacked engagement experience.
“A military force is much more than equipment. If you don’t have the right men, then you are a very weak force. South Africa is the continent’s biggest economy and they have everything that it takes to fight any war, but that’s on the face of it.
“… machinery and equipment do not win a war on their own. An effective force is well-trained, has good commanders, its troops are physically fit, and are committed, loyal and disciplined.
“Unfortunately for South Africa, some of these elements are lacking. The recent example in Central Africa Republic raises a lot of issues.
“Are these guys really as good as we would want them to be? There are other operations which have come before CAR and we have been engaged in training and other engagements. There are a lot of question marks that can be raised regarding the South Africa military.”
This, he said, was the reason why Tanzania was sending more fighting troops (close to 1 000) to the DRC under the brigade than South Africa and Malawi. On the face of it, it appeared the Intervention Brigade would have a tough time against M23, whose troops were said to number around 3 000 as well.
However, like it did in 1978-79 when overthrowing Idi Amin’s dictatorship in Uganda, Tanzania’s military proved equal to the task. This marked the second time that African countries, working in concert, defeated proxy troops in the DRC.
Between 1998 and 2003, Zimbabwe led deployment of troops against Rwanda and Uganda ‑ who were said to be supported by the United States, France and Britain – and that operation ended in success. Namibia also sent a significant force to the DRC, as did Angola, while Chad briefly supported that effort.
Tellingly, South Africa was totally averse to deployment in defence of a country such as DRC whose strategic importance to the continent cannot be overstated.
But hold the champagne…
Some analysts caution, though, that it is not yet time to break out the champagne and toast SADC’s newfound confidence and the DRC’s peace and development.
Stephanie Wolters, programme manager for conflict prevention and risk analysis at the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa fears that M23 and Rwanda may have a trick or two left up their sleeves. “It is certainly still too early to draw conclusions about the M23's long-term future as a military movement,” she wrote this past week, “but it is not immediately clear what advantage the M23 would gain from allowing itself to be militarily defeated and weakened in the public eye…
“Equally, the role of Rwanda in recent developments is unclear ‑ until we know for sure that it has ended its support to the M23, it is too early to celebrate.” She added, “The reaction of relief and joy among the majority of people living in the liberated areas also further damages the M23's desire to cast itself as a popular movement with wide appeal, and it will be difficult to ever recover from that.
“If, then, the M23 were defeated, was this because Rwanda withdrew its support and refused to bail out its erstwhile proxy, or was it the overwhelming military power of the joint Congolese army-MONUSCO operation? “If it is the latter, this is testimony to the strength of the (Intervention Brigade), which has recently reached its full complement with the arrival of the Malawian contingent.
“This is certainly the version of events that MONUSCO is putting forward, although it has also been careful to emphasise the role played by the Congolese army.
“If it is true that the (Intervention Brigade’s) military strength was the game-changer, this will be a very welcome new development in the situation in the east. It could also be a first step towards long-term stabilisation.”
She said the military victories over the M23 “will send a very strong message” to the many other armed groups operating in DRC and prompt them to consider the advantages of a negotiated solution over drawn-out military campaigns against Kinshasa and – indeed – against SADC.
Retired Colonel Panganai Kahuni, a defence and political commentator, told The Southern Times that he too would caution against elation.
“It is too early to celebrate especially as the rebels have withdrawn into Rwanda where they will not be pursued. “It also remains to be seen whether those funding M23 will stop; Rwanda is just a front for some major powers.”
Rtd Col Kahuni said this could be a mere “strategic retreat” by the rebels. “This can be basically for two reasons, namely to regroup and reorganise or to open a new front,” he said. Whatever the case, this is some of the best news the DRC and SADC have had for quite a while now.