Lumumba’s Dream Comes Closer – Hope for lasting peace hinges on Kinshasa’s next move
Windhoek – On November 5, 2013, the DRC rebel group called M23 capitulated, ending more than 20 months of a bloody armed conflict – offering the country hope of peace.
Since the 1870s when Belgium’s King Leopold I made it his mission to make the vast territory of the Kingdom of the Kongo his personal fiefdom, the country has never known peace.
After a brutal colonisation, the country emerged as an Independent Congo in 1960 with Patrice Lumumba as Prime Minister.
Lumumba’s dream was for a peaceful and prosperous Congo, but he was to be murdered in early 1961 by Belgian agents and US complicity.
Ever since, the country has been on a downward spiral belying its potential to be a genuine global economic and political powerhouse.
And now with the major threat of M23 rebels – backed by Uganda and Rwanda, according to a UN Panel of Experts, and fronting for European and North American business and political interests – there is renewed hope that Lumumba’s dream is a step closer to becoming a reality.
“Militarily, the M23 is finished,” declared DRC information Minister Lambert Mende.
While some rebels put down their arms, around 1 500 insurgents and their political leadership crossed into neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda.
This raises fears that they could regroup and launch attacks.
Ugandan authorities are holding M23’s military commander, Sultani Makenga, and several others.
Uganda says it will neither hand the rebels over to the DRC government nor to the UN.
Analysts say the fall of M23 is not by itself an end to instability in the DRC.
“The surrender of the M23 is an important milestone for the stabilisation of eastern Congo but it is not the endgame,” Thomas Wilson, director intelligence and analysis at think tank africapractice told The Southern Times.
“Insurgencies in eastern Congo have always been able to dissolve and reform with relative ease and the M23 is not the only rebel insurgency in eastern Congo,” Wilson added.
Brigadier-General Maaparankoe Mahao, former Chief-of-Staff of the SADC Standby Force Planning Element, told this paper that: “It’s been a spectacular victory against the M23 buts it’s too early to say it’s over. It’s too early to say the M23 has collapsed and that they are no longer in a position to prosecute conflict.”
Decades of plunder of eastern Congo’s diamonds, gold and coltan – a valuable component of ICT – has ensured sustained revenues for rebel groups and militias.
While a political settlement is yet to be finalised, Wilson believes Kinshasa must turn its attentions to other armed groups that remain at large, including FDLR, Mai Mai and ADF Nalu.
This, he said, is “not a straightforward task given the dispersion of the different groups over vast areas of jungle”.
The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, usually referred to by its French acronym FDLR, are remnants of a Rwandan Hutu rebel group, while the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) is rebel group opposed to Uganda’s government with rear bases in the DRC.
The Mai Mai, active in eastern Congo, copper-rich Katanga Province and other regions, has its roots in the DRC and claims to fight for emancipation.
“The DRC and the UN will have to pursue all those negative forces; they must be taken out of the DRC. The entire eastern DRC should be cleaned out of any rebel activities,” Brig-Gen Mahao said.
** Devious Eastern Neighbours
Rwanda has featured more prominently than Uganda as the brains and key supporter of M23.
It only ended its support when it became obvious and embarrassing to President Paul Kagame’s government.
Brig-Gen Mahao believes that Rwanda still has vested interests in eastern DRC, and political, economic solutions premised on regional consultations are needed to put a stop to Kigali’s Machiavellian activities.
“The eastern DRC is hardly connected to Kinshasa, people in that region associate more with neighbours in the east. It’s a very complex situation,” Brig-Gen Mahao said.
Wilson added: “If … international pressure is maintained and Rwanda is kept out of Congo then perhaps further progress can be made.
“The potential end to Rwandan interference leaves me more optimistic for the future of eastern Congo now than at any point since 1996.”
Peace will not be realised until the DRC enhances its military capacity and operations across the country, Brig-Gen Mahao points out.
“The army should take control of the eastern DRC but Kinshasa should also ensure it does not harbour rebel movements of other countries.”
** Presidential Decisions
Much will also depend on how DRC President Joseph Kabila treads the thin line between trying to consolidate peace whilst subduing rebel groups.
“If Kabila were able to capitalise on the defeat of the M23 and make further progress in subduing other rebel groups in the region and slowly rebuilding peace and security in the east, this would be the single biggest achievement of his presidency,” Wilson said.
From a financial perspective, Kinshasa will be relieved that the war in the east has ended in rebel capitulation.
“The expensive campaign in the east has stretched the military budget and the government has borrowed from elsewhere in the budget, drastically cutting into the revenue targeted for retrocession to the country’s 11 provinces,” Wilson said.
Jason Stearns, a political analyst who follows rebel movements in the Great Lakes Region, also raises speculative points on President Kabila’s administration and its potential to establish lasting peace.
With the economy in a fragile state, Stearns believes President Kabila is unlikely to step down in 2016, when his second and last term of office ends.
The constitution forbids a third term.
But the military victory has emboldened supporters who want the constitution changed to allow the former Major-Gen to have another go.
Another option being floated around, Stearns says, is to defer the elections and give President Kabila time to consolidate what he has thus far built.