The foundation for a viable, comprehensive peace process for the deadly war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is finally starting to emerge. A key factor is the involvement of engaged and empowered international actors. U.S. Special Envoy Russ Feingold, United Nations Special Envoy Mary Robinson, and U.N. Special Representative Martin Kobler and have brought new energy to the peace effort. They have been joined by a significant and influential new African partner in the peace process, Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos. With the support of the envoys, Luanda has staked out a leading role in 2014 in marshaling the Congo peace process forward, as new chair of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR). Despite its complex history in the region, Angola provides a more impartial facilitation than earlier efforts and has the nascent confidence of Congo, Rwanda, and other regional governments to facilitate dialogue among the heads of state. Thus far, President dos Santos has ably chaired talks on regional security issues and on Rwandan-South African tensions, but much more must be done.
The international envoys are working to link the heads of state dialogue with follow-up to the Peace, Security, and Cooperation (PSC) Framework signed one year ago. Without the former, there will be little political will for implementing the latter. Later in January, Congo, its neighbors, and the U.N. tasked Robinson with leading consultations on how to more effectively implement the PSC Framework. Going forward, Angola and the envoys will have to work hard to make sure all of the critical issues in the Framework – many of which are sensitive – will be covered in the talks. Robinson is also helping to kick-start private sector, civil society, and women’s forums. These forums should link directly to the heads of state dialogue, so that the peace process can be inclusive.
The war is not over, but significant developments over the past year, from M23’s removal from Congo to expanded conflict-free minerals investments in the region, give the peace process something to build on. The U.N. Force Intervention Brigade is focused on the remaining security threats, particularly the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). On the economic side, a shift to a more formalized, transparent, and conflict-free regional economy can act as a bridge to regional peace by boosting government revenues in multiple countries and help communities. In order for that to occur, the Private Sector Forum being launched by U.N. Envoy Robinson should help expand responsible investment in the region, and regional governments should enact economic reforms to combat smuggling and improve the investment climate.
The obstacles, however, are daunting. Some 200,000 people have been newly displaced over the past three months. The fighting will continue unless four main roadblocks are addressed:
- Armed groups: There are fears that the FDLR will not be effectively dealt with by Congo and the U.N. and that Congo’s neighbors will aid M23 or other rebels again. Also, disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration programs for ex-combatants are not finalized on the scale needed.
- Conflict gold continues to fund armed groups, Congolese army officers, and traders in Uganda and Burundi, with scant international response.
- Elections: Local elections have not been held in Congo in over 50 years. They are tentatively scheduled for March 2015, but the timetable is still unclear. Moreover, President Kabila is showing worrying signs that he may try to amend the Constitution to run for another term. That would be a major step backward for Congo and risk further instability.
- SSR and accountability: Congo’s army desperately needs reform due to its long history of predation on communities and impunity, and reform efforts to date have not been adequate. Sustainable peace in Congo will require justice for the worst army crimes and those of other armed groups.
The peace process is developing two tracks to tackle these challenges, one regional and one domestic. Peace is indeed possible in Congo if the envoys, Angola, and the Great Lakes governments can build on the promising foundations of the last year and continue with an agenda on the two tracks that is focused on the war’s drivers. We offer the following recommendations:
1. Conflict-free economic development for peace: The envoys and Dos Santos should help Congo and its neighbors make progress on transparent economic development projects that can transform regional economic incentives from war to peace. Specifically, they should:
a. Ensure that the heads of state dialogue covers finalization of the ICGLR minerals certification process and harmonization of regional minerals tariffs, in order to combat minerals smuggling.
b. Urge regional states to identify the top three cross-border infrastructure projects that would most boost regional development and then press the World Bank and other donors to fund projects that meet environmental and social standards.
c. Through Robinson’s Private Sector Forum, organize dialogue between multinational companies, regional governments, investors, and fair-trade artisanal mining NGOs, on how to increase investment in a responsible economic trade.
d. Urge the U.S. Treasury Department and U.N. Security Council to place targeted sanctions on the major conflict gold smugglers in Congo, Uganda, and Burundi.
2. Criminal accountability: The envoys and Angola should press Congo and donors to create specialized mixed chambers and urge Congo’s Parliament to adopt the pending legislation on the ICC. They should also urge regional states and the ICC to indict and prosecute high-level perpetrators of grave crimes, including sexual violence. Perpetrators on all sides, from the FDLR to M23 to Congo’s army, should be investigated.
3. Stability operations: The U.S. and Angola should provide greater support to the U.N. Force Intervention Brigade as it focuses on the FDLR. The brigade would benefit greatly from U.S. and/or Angolan Special Forces advisory assistance. A pared-down version of the U.S. assistance to the counter-Lord’s Resistance Army mission would greatly enhance the brigade’s capacity and address major regional security tensions.
4. Elections: The envoys should build multilateral pressure to dissuade President Kabila from altering the constitution to run for a third term, including possible targeted sanctions and non-humanitarian aid restrictions. They should also urge Congo to hold local, provincial, and presidential elections and work with donors to robustly support them.