DRC: It comes down to words  


After the guns have fallen silent, it all comes down to a simple thing: words.

About a fortnight ago, the DRC government announced an end to the fighting with M23 rebels after the latter asked for a ceasefire following a bloody month in which insurrectionists suffered heavy losses.

And when it looked like signing a document to end the 20-month conflict was just a formality, a few words in the agreement scuppered talks between President Joseph Kabila’s government and M23 leaders on November 11.

It is understood that a ceremony in Uganda to formally end the conflict was shelved last Monday because the two sides could not agree on whether to call it a “peace agreement” or something vaguer.

Uganda and Rwanda are key to peace in the DRC, with a UN Panel of Experts accusing those two countries of supporting rebels in their mineral-rich neighbour. Rwanda and Uganda are in turn accused of fronting the interests of US and European state and corporate interests.

Indications are that the DRC army and the UN Mission in that country, known by its Frencvh acronym MONUSCO, will now train its attentions on other rebel groups such as the Rwandan Hutu FDLR formation.

Uganda’s Junior Foreign Minister, Okello Oryem, was quoted in the media saying, “The stumbling point is the parties cannot agree on whether they are signing a peace agreement or a declaration. They agree on the content, but not the title. The Congolese government says it came here to sign a declaration.”

“Uganda remains the only reliable peace partner for DRC. What affects them, affects us,” added Lieutenant-Colonel Paddy Ankunda, spokesman for the Uganda mediation team.

DRC government spokesperson Lambert Mende said Kinshasa was willing to sign a document but not one titled a peace deal. “It's as if M23 still exists, it's as if it is legitimating them despite them being a negative force,” he explained.

“We are ready to sign a declaration of engagement between the government and former members of the rebel group known as M23,” he added. “What are we supposed to sign? No country in history has signed an agreement with a movement that has declared its own dissolution.”

He also told BBC: “You sign an agreement with a body that is legitimate and that exists. The M23 is not legitimate: on the contrary it is a criminal group – labelled as such by the international community…

“Militarily, we have finished M23 and what is more important for us is to maintain our credibility towards the Congolese people.”

Mende went on to suggest that Uganda – just a week or so after being hailed by SADC for trying to work towards peace – wanted M23 rebels to take up arms once more.

“Uganda seems now to be acting as part of the conflict. It has interests in M23,” he charged.

Bertrand Bisimwa, the head of the M23 political wing, is yet to comment.

President Kabila has offered amnesty to rebels, but there will be no reprieve for those accused of committing war crimes, such as 0M23 military commander, Sultani Makenga, who is believed to be in Uganda.

People on the streets of Kinshasa seemed keen for the government to prosecute those associated with M23.

The Daily Maverick quoted a civil servant, Vincent Muziga, saying, “I don't see why we should sign an agreement with a group of rebels when we have proven to them that we are stronger. Why should we give in and go to Kampala to sign agreements?”

Pacifique Massangue said President Kabila deserved a third term after attempting national reconciliation and defeating the rebels.

Constitutionally, President Kabila is supposed to step down in 2016 when he completes his second term at the helm, but there havbe been suggestions that the supreme law might be amended to allow him a third bite at the cherry.

President Kabila’s popularity has been boosted by the outcome of the conflict, but analysts say that while the military battle might be over, the political one – to address the root causes of the conflicts afflicting many parts of the DRC – had just began.

Billboards have sprung up around Kinshasa praising the army and President Kabila.

A failure to address the root causes of conflict, it has been noted, will fuel more and bigger rebellions and facilitate looting of the DRC’s mineral resources, which have been given an estimated value of US$24 trillion.

In theory, the DRC is potentially a global economic and political power. But decades of instability fuelled by greedy politicians working with foreign corporate and state organisations mean the country has never been able to develop as it should. – Southern Times Writer-Reuters-Daily Maverick-BBC

November 2013
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