We have had two decades of war in Congo, how about we try some love?
Posted Thursday, August 2 2012 at 01:00
The Democratic Republic of Congo is at war again. The use of the word ‘again’ is a bit superfluous, as many will argue that DRC has been at war since 1996.
That was the year troops from Rwanda and Uganda invaded Zaire, as it then was, in pursuit of insurgent troops from both countries, ejected Mobutu Sese Seko, and installed Laurent Kabila as President. However, we were soon fighting over the spoils, in the form of the vast mineral deposits in the country and before long the second Congo war was underway, sucking in about nine countries from around the region.
Some 5.4 million people are believed to have died in DR Congo since 1996. Many survivors are, in reality, walking wounded or living dead; victims of sexual violence and post-war trauma.
A UN report accuses Rwanda of incitement and involvement in the most recent flare up in DR Congo by the M23 rebel group. Rwanda has rejected the report. This has not stopped the US, Germany, the Netherlands and Britain from cutting or suspending aid to Rwanda over its alleged role in the conflict.
Congo’s problem is that it is too big, too rich, too weak, and has never really grown up. Congo’s infancy was spent as the private estate of King Leopold of Belgium, during which it was defiled and abused.
In its adolescent years, it was baptised Zaire and handed over to Mobutu who plundered it and continued to run it as his ATM machine until he was forced out.
President Joseph Kabila, who took over in 2001 after the assassination of his father, has done well to stay in office for more than a decade but vast parts of the country, especially in the east, remain beyond his control. They are in the hands of local militia groups, many of which have foreign backers that use them as proxies to get to the vast mineral wealth in the country. Many Congolese in the eastern part of the country feel detached from the distant capital Kinshasa, but few would genuinely support plans to break away.
President Kabila faces a classic problem. He cannot afford to lose the east of the country but cannot control it either. And with DR Congo bordered by the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia, Angola, Tanzania, the Congo Republic and the Angolan exclave of Cabinda, its vast mineral wealth is like a large, unprotected garden.
President Kabila has tried to solve his problem by handing over parts of the east of the country to reformed militia commanders with ethnic ties to those areas. While this brought a semblance of peace to the region, it did not give Kinshasa control over it.
The only way Kabila can retain control over his country is by ceding some of its sovereignty to a regional body such as the East African Community. DRC is already a member of the Southern African Development Community but, unlike some of us, none of its SADC peers wants to invade it.
Joining the EAC would inoculate Congo against armed invasion by its neighbours. Instead, it would outsource the problem of dealing with militia groups like M23, FDLR, ADF and the Mai Mai to the rest of the EAC member states and turn invaders into defenders.
Joining the EAC would also provide Congo an opportunity to ‘decommercialise’ its military and demilitarise its commerce. Control of the mineral trade in eastern DRC gives those militia groups access to funds and takes away any incentive to demobilise fighters or integrate into the mainstream national army.
And access to funds then allows the militia to perpetuate their grip on territory and control part of the country.
The Congolese army has proven incapable of disarming the militia groups while the UN peacekeeping force has no incentive to work itself out of a lucrative contract. The EAC countries, on the other hand, know the market opportunities a peaceful DR Congo would offer and have the military ability to secure that peace, as we have seen in South Sudan and in Somalia.
A lot of the trade in eastern DR Congo is currently unregulated and perpetuates the violence in the country and the instability in the region. Formalising it through the EAC allows a win-win situation – and Kabila would get to keep his country together.
We can do this the hard way and try to force a military solution or we can do it the rational way through rational economic decisions. We’ve had almost two decades of war in Congo; how about we try some love?