The war in eastern Congo is escalating and could soon intensify regional conflict. There is an opportunity, however, to bring the region back from the brink through urgent diplomacy aimed at addressing four key issues: clarifying the role of the United Nations Intervention Brigade, moving inter-Congolese consultations forward, keeping the Congo and Rwanda on track with their peace process obligations, and accelerating regional economic integration initiatives.
A new round of fighting between the Congolese army and the M23 rebel group over the past week threatens to derail the new peace process. The most urgent issue is a lack of agreement among the signatories of the 11+4 Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework, particularly the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, and South Africa, about the scope of the U.N. Brigade’s offensive mandate. There is confusion concerning which armed groups it will target and how it will do so. As a high-level African diplomat told the Enough Project, “A regional war is a real possibility. If things don’t calm down, and Rwanda and Tanzania fire shots and body bags come home,” other countries could be pulled into the conflict. Although a region-wide war might not be imminent, preventing a dangerous escalation as quickly as possible is essential.
Despite the tensions, the 11+4 Framework remains an opportunity for parties to work together to address the root causes of the conflict. In Enough Project interviews with senior officials from the Congo, Rwanda, and the region, all parties continue to express a desire to continue to use the Framework as a means of dialogue. If the immediate crisis is brought to a halt, it will be important for U.N. Special Envoy Mary Robinson and U.S. Special Envoy Russ Feingold to work together with Congo and its neighbors to focus on the sustainable solutions outlined in the Framework, including regional economic integration, security sector reform, and democratization.
The Key Issues
De-escalating regional tensions around the U.N. Brigade
When it was established by the U.N. Security Council, all parties agreed that the U.N. Intervention Brigade was intended to be a deterrent against armed groups in eastern Congo. The U.N., however, made a serious error by not clarifying and agreeing upon its strategy with leaders of the region to assure them that this would not threaten any national security interests. There has yet to be agreement on which armed groups it plans to deter, how, and the extent to which it will proactively use force.
On the Congolese side, M23 remains a menace, using heavy artillery and fighting over the past ten days north of Goma, the capital of Congo’s North Kivu province. Congo has expressed concerns that Rwanda will significantly increase support to the group. The Rwandan government alleges that the FDLR, a Rwandan Hutu militia based in Eastern Congo founded by some of the perpetrators of Rwanda’s genocide, remains a security threat to Rwanda. Some FDLR units have been loosely cooperating with the Congolese army and some of its troops have launched three attacks inside Rwanda in 2012, according to the U.N. Group of Experts. The U.N. Intervention Brigade should address these security concerns. Most importantly, the Brigade should commit to targeting both the FDLR and M23, and be the deterrent against these major armed groups that it was intended to be.