The situation in eastern Congo continues to deteriorate, threatening to spiral out of control into an all-out war involving several neighboring countries. Throughout the latest explosion and previous cycles of conflict, the root causes of war are not being and have not been addressed, leaving "peace processes" to focus on flimsy power-sharing arrangements that have undermined the sovereignty of the Congolese state and the professionalism of its armed forces.
Against this bleak backdrop, the momentum for a broader peace initiative should be building. Sadly, however, it is not. Global leaders from U. S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to U. N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have met with Congolese President Joseph Kabila and Rwandan President Paul Kagame in recent months urging constructive negotiations. Talks chaired by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni now involve direct dialogue between the Congolese government and the M23 rebels, but the process has not been productive. To date, regionally mediated talks have only focused on short-term security issues such as border verification and the composition of a "neutral force" to eliminate rebel groups. With a very tense restart, the latest round of talks in Kampala will likely only focus on restoring the provisions of the March 23, 2009 agreements, instead of the wider underlying issues. The bottom line is that no vision has been advanced or even conceived for a lasting solution that would keep neighboring countries from invading again and address core concerns of the broader population of eastern Congo. In short, as politics have become completely militarized, peace initiatives have become yet another forum for regional combatants with the biggest guns to secure short-term interests and manipulate international sentiment.
Ambassador Francis Deng once wrote an essay entitled: "What Is Not Said Is What Divides." In our view, the underlying economic, political, and security interests of the "3 Ks" – Kinshasa, Kigali, Kampala – all of whom have profited from the chaos ofeastern Congo, as well as the critical interests of eastern Congolese civil society, must be addressed directly, or else the twin horrors of regional intervention and state predation will continue. Each country fears that its regional influence and control of resources will be taken over by another party. For example, Rwanda and Uganda worry that their security, mining and oil interests will be threatened by new fighting on the Congolese border. To protect those interests, they provide financial and logistical support to armed militia groups in the region. These groups further destabilize the area. As a result, cyclical support to rebel groups continues, perpetuating the problem. Additionally, Congolese civil society voices have been ignored to the point that there is no confidence left in Congo’s weak, authoritarian government. Finally, the equally critical issue of accountability has been left for groups at the margins to protest, while impunity persists.
The fundamental drivers of conflict are never on the table at the peace talks on the crisis in eastern Congo. The basic recipe for conflict resolution – coming to agreement based on the parties’ underlying interests – has been missing. It is time to place these issues openly on the table and agree on a joint plan to deal with them in a transparent way that leaves room only for peaceful development, not war. Getting the parties to agree to discuss these normally taboo issues – control of the minerals trade, and a more inclusive political framework – will also require significant outside leverage and the right mediation process.
Two key pieces of the puzzle are missing. First, a shared framework for the future needs to be agreed upon in which Congo and the region can benefit much more from peaceful, legal natural resource development, rather than violent, illegal extraction. Coupled with strong international investment, this will create the conditions for transparent and effective governing institutions. The resulting tax revenues, from legitimate economic operations, will spur more economic development more than aid ever could. Dealing with the economic roots of war not only removes the main driver for the conflict, but also creates the main engine for state reconstruction.
Unlike former French President Nicholas Sarkozy's 2009 plan, this framework is not about rewarding aggressors with the spoils of war. Instead, it is about expanding the economic pie by negotiating a framework and a forum for greatly increased investment in Congo’s development. Congo’s resources would still be Congo's, and Rwanda's would still be Rwanda's. However, under this new framework, borders and regional investment mechanisms would be better defined. Ideally, new mine and oil concessions would be opened up under a transparent framework for both international and regional investors. This approach would mandate that resources extracted in the region are processed in the region, adding value for all parties, especially the Congolese. This way, there would be both regional and private sector buy-in for using the Great Lakes’ resources as an engine for peace. Drawing on lessons from Nigeria-Sao Tome and other contexts, each country in the region will benefit from a transparent, certified trade, while building capacity to add value to minerals and oil through processing. This investment has suddenly becomea new possibility because of the vastly increased corporate spotlight on the region following recent regional and international minerals transparency reforms.
Second, a political framework for Congo must be agreed upon that restores public confidence and brings back the viability of the Congolese state, while ensuring that further rebellion does not ensue. President Kabila faces a political crisis as a result of the failures of the army and the rigged 2011 elections. Talks with M23 alone will only erode his authority and provide further insult and injury to the Congolese people. It is now time for a wider inter-Congolese dialogue – with active participation from leaders from the government, political parties, and civil society across Congo – to find a national consensus on decentralization, protection of minorities, land tenure, the return of refugees and reforming the political framework. Security sector reform, which is an inherently political issue, should also be a central part of the equation. There are low-cost ways of beginning these reforms, once political agreement and buy-in have been reached. Legitimate grievances of M23 should also be brought in, but these talks should not allow the integration of wanted war criminals into the state. The initiative should be buttressed by allowing civil society and political parties to help set the agenda and put fundamental issues forward for discussion and agreement. The process should be based on key lessons and shortcomings of the first 2001-2003 inter-Congolese dialogue.If Kabila does not address these issues through inclusive dialogue, he may not survive politically.
The international community must also be ready to provide incentives, pressures, and lasting support for the peace process as a whole, as well as help with the implementation framework. Such support will be important to building trust.
- Part One of the three-part series: A Broadened Peace Process Is Needed in Congo