Peace May Break Out in the Congo - Pan African Solution Back on the Agenda
Peace May Break Out in the Congo
January 29th, 2009
Pan African Solution Back on the Agenda
In one of his many witticisms Winston Churchill said of the Americans, they would “do the right thing after trying everything else”. Could it be that he was foretelling the election of Barack Obama? Even if he was, it is not Obama I want to write about, I am merely borrowing Churchillian wit in order to understand the current military alliances in the DRC: African leaders will return to Pan Africanism after trying everything else. It was an unprecedented interstate Pan African military alliance that dislodged Mobutu’s long reign of greed and graft. Unfortunately once the ‘victorious allies’, principally Rwanda and Uganda, entered Kinshasa, they did not realise that Laurent Kabila’s allegiance and gratitude to them would be short-lived, and the tail would be wagging the dog. In order for Kabila to construct a new national constituency for himself he needed to be seen as independent of his military benefactors especially Rwanda. The soft underbelly of popular anti-Banyarwanda (in reality anti-Tutsi) xenophobia has always been in the body politic of the country and in the region.
Apart from DRC’s vast resources which have been coveted and exploited by all kinds of marauding slave dealers and fortune hunters, from King Leopold of Belgium’s genocidal pillage of the country, to Mobutu’s grand robbery with impunity, to the current corporate, individual, state and other looting cabals, the sheer size of the country has also been a contributory factor to its instability. Officially the DRC has ten countries bordering it. This means that a DRC affair can never be an internal affair. If any country proves the necessity for A Pan African solution, it is the Congo.
After Mobutu, instead of engaging in more Pan Africanism, Kabila’s old, newly found and eagerly waiting friends chose the bilateral and interpersonal route. Instead of Pan African solidarity and joint planning, there was competition between the states and individual leaders, about who was Kabila’s best ally and reliable good guy.
Military gratitude was not enough to guarantee Rwanda, Uganda or even Angola, Kabila’s loyalty. These contradictions led to the second Kabila war in which several countries became militarily engaged. Initially it looked like Kabila had no chance in facing down those who put him in power, but politics proved more decisive than fire power. Kabila, who was previously regarded as a poodle of Rwanda and Uganda, became a national hero. There were other allies, most strategically Angola and later SADC led by Mugabe, who were willing to shore up his rule. They saw off the challenge to his leadership from Kigali and Kampala, who in turn turned against one another three times, not across their borders but inside the Congo.
But even the SADC intervention soon became bilateral again, failing to realise that a joint Pan African solution was the lasting path. The Lusaka Accords and subsequent South African peace initiatives under OAU/AU authority had all the ingredients of such cooperation, but the bilateral interests of the different states, armies and freewheeling militias readily available for hire, made every group believe that they and their allies could impose a friendly government in Kinshasa.
No doubt neighbouring states have legitimate security interests in the country, but Rwanda and to a lesser extent Uganda, had the more immediate threat because Congo is the haven for former Interahamwe militia, the defeated Genocidaire army of Rwanda and a motley of rebel groups fighting against the Ugandan government, not to topple it but just to destabilise the population. Unfortunately the bright glitters of Congolese gold and diamonds soon blinded everyone involved.
All the countries (with the exception of Rwanda and Angola) that intervened militarily in the Congo were more or less bankrupted by the misadventure, but individual generals, warlords and other war entrepreneurs became filthy rich. Different Congolese rebel or militia groups became expert manipulators of their military allies.
More than a decade later it seems everyone is now tired of proxy wars. The DRC government and army is finally admitting that playing one military ally against another may guarantee the survival of politicians in power in Kinshasa, but it does not help to consolidate state authority over this vast country. They need the cooperation of all their neighbours to stop rebels from using the Congo to destabilise other countries. On the other hand neighbouring countries, first Uganda and now Rwanda, appear to have exhausted their previous strategy of using convenient military allies in the Congo to pressurise Kinshasa and are abandoning any dream of changing the Kinshasa government. All of them need each other and a joint strategy of collective security and shared sovereignty.
This realism is what is driving the current hitherto unthinkable military cooperation. Potentially Congo may never have been closer to a possible lasting regional solution.
However, we have to make sure that unlike previous years, this is not just another bilateral military alliance in which the peoples of the DRC and the region are spectators. The AU and the Great Lakes Conference on Peace, Security and Development already provide for the Pan African multilateral framework with clear roles for the elective institutions, civil society and other stakeholders to be active agents for lasting peace across the region. Military victories may contain seeds of future conflicts if the people are not actively involved. Another Laurent Nkunda may rise, just as Kony rose after Alice Lakwena and in the same way that Ondekane, Bemba and numerous others rose after Kabila senior. The prospect of regional peace breaking out must therefore be complemented by real efforts at internal national dialogue, truth, justice and reconciliation, in a more transparent and accountable democratisation.
“Forward ever, backward never”…..Kwame Nkrumah (1909 - 1972)