Auspicious Start to Peace Conference
The peace conference on the Kivus (North and South Kivu) initiated by Joseph Kabila got off to an auspicious start on Sunday, January 6, 2008 after several days of delays. Probably the most intriguing occurrence was the absence of the two main protagonists, President Joseph Kabila and rebel leader Laurent Nkunda. Although they are absent, government officials are of course represented as well as representatives from Nkunda's National Council for the Defense of the People (CNDP). Although representatives of the Hutu militia are present in Goma, capital of North Kivu and site of the conference, they have not been allowed to participate in the conference. Representatives of the Mai Mai have finally been allowed to participate and a number of civil society groups who were boycotting the conference are now participating.
As comical as it may seem, the conference was delayed again on Wednesday to accommodate an an influx of participants and the unending need for accreditation. The number of people participating is growing rapidly to the point where the initial expected 300 delegates in all likelihood will exceed 1,000. This exceeds the number of delegates who participated in the Sovereign National Conference in the 1990s and the Inter-Congolese Dialogue of 2002, both of which were formed to address issues on a national scale unlike the Kivus conference which is addressing regional matters. Such large numbers lend credence to the critique that politicians and others are participating in large part to benefit from the per diem.
Nonetheless, in the final analysis, progress will not be made in the east until and unless pressure is brought to bear on Rwanda by its Western masters, mainly the United States. As long as Rwanda continues to supply rebel forces in the Congo with military, material and financial aid, the conflict will continue.