Friday, January 25, 2008

The Devil is in the Details

Although a peace accord was signed in the Congo, many fundamental outstanding questions remain. Neither Rwanda nor the Interahamwe participated in the conference. These two entities are critical to sustainable peace in the Congo. Until the Interahamwe (Rwandan Hutus) are able to return to Rwanda and participate in the political process in Rwanda, the Rwandan government under Paul Kagame will continue to have a pretext for either invading the Congo - as it has done twice - or support rebel movements in the Congo as it continues to do to this day.

A peace conference does not equate to justice. Although there is a cease fire and the United Nations troops will patrol a buffer zone providing the population with some reprieve, justice is still being denied not only in the east of the Congo but throughout the entire country. Impunity has reigned throughout the Congo for far too long and a national undertaking is required to bring justice to the hundreds of thousands of women raped and abused along with those families and entire villages that have been devastated by marauding rebels. In addition, the vast mineral wealth of the Congo should be used to restore the people of the Congo rather than going into the pockets of local elites and western multi-nationals.

Click here to read the peace agreement (French)!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Peace Deal Signed: Where Now?

Reuters reported that "The peace pact in the eastern town of Goma was subscribed to by Tutsi rebels loyal to renegade General Laurent Nkunda, President Joseph Kabila's government, and several militia and armed groups from Congo's North and South Kivu provinces."

There is little doubt that the peace conference will make a difference, the question is how much of a difference and for how long.

The agreement establishes an immediate ceasefire and the creation in five days of a buffer zone to be patrolled by U.N. peacekeepers in North Kivu province.

Both the Mai Mai rebels and Laurent Nkunda's CNDP are supposed to disarm and integrate in the Congolese National Army. Amnesty was offered to rebel groups involved in atrocities. However, the case of Nkunda, who is wanted for war crimes is still outstanding and in all likelihood will remain that way.

The status of the Interahamwe is still an unresolved issue although the Congolese government signed a pact earlier in the year with Rwanda which promised the expulsion of the Interahamwe.
As one can surmise, the devil is in the implementation.

Peace Agreement on Hold, 5.4 Million Reported Dead

The Peace Conference that was supposed to end this past weekend is delayed once again to a date to be determined. The main sticking point is the status of the main protagonist, Laurent Nkunda of the National Council for the Defense of the Congolese People (CNDP). Nkunda has an arrest warrent out for war crimes and the CNDP would like for all belligerents to receive amnesty as was done before the Intercongolese Dialogue of 2002. Other sticking points include the Mai Mia militia who are calling for the CNDP to disarm and the CNDP claims it will not disarm or demobilize until its arch enemy, the Interahamwe (Rwandan Hutus) do the same.

The deal on the table that would ostensibly bring the conflict to an end is an immediate ceasefire, the phased withdrawal of all rebel forces in North Kivu province and resettlement of thousands of villagers, while the United Nations troops police a buffer zone.

Even if a deal is struck the core issues still have to be addressed, two of which are the return of the Interahamwe to Rwanda and the cessation of the interference in the Congo by Rwanda. Rwanda must create political space for the return of the Rwanda Hutu currently in the Congo.

As a deal appears to be in the making the International Rescue Committee (IRC) released its latest report on the conflict in the Congo. The report highlighted a number of facts:
1. 5.4 million Congolese have died as a result of the conflict since 1998 (The study did not address the deaths from the first invasion of the Congo by Rwanda in 1996).

2. Most of the deaths are a result of preventable illnesses such as malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia and malnutrition.

3. An average 45,000 people are dying each month, half of the deaths are among children less than 5 years old, which is enormously disproportionate considering that this cohort only accounts for 19 percent of the population.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

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.