Thursday November 22 2012

In order to get lasting peace in Congo, maybe it’s time to give war a chance

By Daniel K. Kalinaki

Your columnist had promised to write about the asinine plans by the government to spend your money and mine to refund angry donors whose aid was stolen by local civil servants.

It is a matter that we ought to address soon. Hopefully, the donors will have the common sense to tell the government to only pay back money it recovers from selling the assets of the guilty. Otherwise, how will the government pay back the money that the pensions crooks stole from us?

As far as I know, that was money collected from our taxes. Don’t Ugandan taxpayers deserve to have their money refunded?
Its a beggar’s belief, dear reader, but it shall be revisited. Let us, for now, look across the border to the Democratic Republic of Congo where M23 rebels this week advanced and took over the strategic eastern town of Goma.

No one can successfully accuse the Congolese government soldiers of being brave warriors and they kept to form, fleeing from the advancing rebels without any form of meaningful resistance.

Neither was there any resistance from the UN peacekeeping force in DR Congo, which is the largest in the world and costs billions of dollars every year. At the time of writing, the M23 rebels, which Uganda and Rwanda are accused of supporting, were consolidating their grip on the commercial hub of Goma and surrounding areas, which are also strategic militarily.

As expected, President Kabila has blown hot and cold, urging his citizens to take up arms during a televised address in Kinshasa, before dashing to Kampala to hold talks with Presidents Museveni and Kagame of Rwanda.

In the next few days, we are likely to hear calls by regional and international superpowers condemning the M23 aggression, a call for an immediate ceasefire by all parties overseen by the UN peacekeeping force, then some kind of regional forum to discuss a timetable for political talks.

This start-stop process has been going on in the DR Congo since the first Congo war in 1996 and has continued through the last 15 years. It has delivered some form of stable government for most of DR Congo but in the factitious east of the country, the absence of war has not always meant the presence of peace.

There are many reasons for this, including the allure of illegal mineral exploitation that can sustain militia groups, external actors, the ineptitude of the UN peacekeepers, as well as geography, which allows for the effective absence of the state in eastern Congo.

What few people are willing to admit, in addition, is the fact that the war in Congo has never been allowed to reach its logical conclusion. It is a war that has caused millions of deaths and untold human suffering but it is also a war that has persisted because no victor has been allowed to emerge and impose a new order.

It was Edward Luttwark, a political scientist, who argued over a decade ago that war, unpleasant as its consequences might be, resolves conflicts and leads to sustainable peace if allowed to play out. “This can happen when all belligerents become exhausted or when one wins decisively,” he argued.

“Either way the key is that the fighting must continue until a resolution is reached. War brings peace only after passing a culminating phase of violence. Hopes of military success must fade for accommodation to become more attractive than further combat.”

Where the fighting is interrupted, as in previous conflicts including in DR Congo and Rwanda in 1993, the warring parties only use the interregnum to rearm, retrain and recruit, until they feel strong enough to resume fighting.

In the absence of an interruption, as happened in the first Congo war, (and in Rwanda after the UN rats deserted the sinking ship), the Laurent Kabila-led rebels, supported by Rwanda and Uganda marched all the way to Kinshasa and installed a new government.

The interruption of the ensuing conflicts of consolidation in eastern DR Congo by the hapless UN peacekeepers have left the region with several armed groups and no clear power centres.

It is a tough choice to consider, seeing the extent and gravity of the humanitarian crisis in DR Congo and the price its citizens have had to pay during the last 15 years. However, it might be that in order to get lasting peace in that country, we just might have to give war a chance this time round.