- "No easy answers in Congolese conflict": http://www.aei.org/events/filter.all,eventID.1852/summary.asp
No Easy Answers in Congolese Conflict
WASHINGTON, DECEMBER 11, 2008--
The chronic conflict in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has intensified and exacerbated a humanitarian crisis of immense proportions. On December 3, AEI and the Center for American Progress's Enough Project convened a panel to discuss the conflict's new dynamics, as well as its longstanding features.
The conflict's intensification has resulted from shifting power relations between various armed groups operating in the region. The National Congress for the Liberation of the People (CNDP), guided by its charismatic rebel leader, Laurent Nkunda, has demonstrated its power over the Congolese army and other rebel groups in the region. Additionally, Nkunda has begun setting up local administrations to govern areas under control of his military that are often more popular than the Congolese government. According to Colin Thomas-Jensen, a policy advisor at the Enough Project, "when the chips are down, people feel safer behind CNDP lines." Nkunda's growing ability to control and govern territory from his base in Kivu is increasing pressure on the Congolese president, Joseph Kabila, to negotiate directly with him for a political settlement.
Nkunda's military demonstrated its superiority when it marched to the outskirts of North Kivu's regional capital, Goma, in late October. The United Nations (UN) peacekeeping mission in the DRC, MONUC, did not halt the CNDP's advance, and Nkunda eventually declared a unilateral ceasefire. "MONUC didn't really react to this," Thomas-Jensen commented. "It neither protects civilians effectively nor provides a credible deterrent to attacks by armed groups on civilians."
During the Rwandan genocide in 1994, Nkunda fought for the Tutsi army then led by current Rwandan president Paul Kagame. But, according to AEI resident fellow Mauro De Lorenzo, Nkunda is not a proxy for Kagame, and the conflict in the DRC is not a bilateral conflict between Kigali and Kinshasa. The true source of the fighting is a set of unresolved issues dating to the 1960s that includes electoral districts, property rights, and citizenship. These issues are less visible than disputes over natural resources and military campaigns, however, and thus receive less attention in the media. According to De Lorenzo, there will be no successful resolution of the conflict through bilateral talks between Rwanda and the DRC. Mediators should instead focus on less obvious aspects of the conflict, which will require more sustained and nuanced international engagement.
Additionally, the conflict will not be solved by injecting more democracy into the mix. The 2006 DRC elections are part of the problem. Premature elections forced the Congolese to organize along ethnic lines, which has fomented tension between groups and resulted in myriad militias. "We need to address the older structural issues," De Lorenzo said.
The conference participants agreed that the Congolese government is incapable of controlling its territory. This is exacerbated by the Congolese army, which has proven unaccountable and chaotic. "Steps need to be taken so that the Congolese army is not a part of the problem," Tony Gambino, former USAID mission director in the DRC, said. "This is not accomplished by short-term military training. It is only accomplished if the Congolese army is restricted to its barracks." MONUC should revise its relationship with the Congolese army if it wants to protect citizens, he added. If it fails in eastern Congo, peacekeeping as a UN strategy for mitigating conflicts risks losing all credibility.
The conference discussion revealed layers of complex problems that often leave Western observers perplexed and disheartened, but De Lorenzo concluded with an exhortation to avoid mystifying Congo's chronic crisis: "We don't have to assume that there is something about Congo that is intractable and impervious to reason."
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