DRC: How to bring peace to the east of the country?

After intense negotiations with the M23 rebellion which occupied the position, a thousand Ugandan soldiers deployed on March 31 under the flag of the East African States Regional Force (EACRF) in the city of Bunagana

DRC: How to bring peace to the east of the country?

After intense negotiations with the M23 rebellion which occupied the position, a thousand Ugandan soldiers deployed on March 31 under the flag of the East African States Regional Force (EACRF) in the city of Bunagana. Entry point into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) from Uganda, this city was the first to be occupied by the Congolese rebel movement, in June 2022, six months after the launch of its offensive on the province of North Kivu, rude awakening interrupting a decade of sleep.

The insurgents did evacuate a few localities around Masisi and Rutshuru. But "the M23 has redeployed in the surrounding hills, the withdrawal schedule established in early February is not respected at all", observes a member of an international NGO present in Goma. The rebellion still controls large areas in North Kivu that the DRC armed forces (FARDC), plagued by years of poor governance and corruption, are unable to recover.

Faced with this partial reflux of the M23, the Congolese presidency does not deviate from its line: Kinshasa still refuses to discuss with "a terrorist organization" supported by "the Rwandan aggressor", despite regional pressures which are accentuated to sit at the same table rebels and authorities. The Congolese rejection is all the stronger as the issue of negotiations is very unpopular, perceived as a renunciation of sovereignty and a sign of weakness, while 900,000 people have been displaced by the fighting since the resumption of hostilities by the M23.

However, in eight months, if the calendar is kept, President Félix Antoine Tshisekedi will appear before the voters for a second presidential term. "With the exception of a handful of elected officials, all parliamentarians are opposed to dialogue with the M23", illustrates a deputy close to Vital Kamerhe.

impose peace

The last cabinet reshuffle, on March 31, should not change anything in terms of security despite the arrival of three heavyweights in Congolese politics, aging but familiar with the situation in the East: Antipas Mbusa Nyamwisi, Jean-Pierre Bemba and Vital Kamerhe. The latter, after a stint in prison (April 2020-December 2021) for embezzlement and corruption, returned to favor with the Congolese presidency. Originally from Bukavu (the capital of South Kivu), an important electoral basin, he has just been appointed Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the economy during the cabinet reshuffle on March 23.

Antipas Mbusa Nyamwisi benefited from the same regional calculation. This former warlord in the 2000s, then supported by Uganda, and former presidential candidate in 2006, obtained the portfolio of regional integration. Finally, Jean-Pierre Bemba, also close to Kampala, wins the ministry of defence. "On paper, these three men could weigh in for the settlement of the crisis, but Félix Tshisekedi appointed them for electoral reasons in the hope of winning the votes of their supporters", worries a political analyst from the United Nations.

How, then, to bring peace to eastern Congo? Admittedly, the East African Community (EAC) has been pursuing, bit by bit since the beginning of November, the deployment of a regional force (the EACRF). Kinshasa would no doubt have appreciated that the Kenyans, Ugandans, Burundians and South Sudanese composing this contingent act in place of its soldiers. Shortly before its launch, there was also talk of the EACRF being given an offensive mandate to impose peace.

Since then, Kenyans and Ugandans have showered Congolese hopes by stating that they would only deploy their men where the M23 withdrew. No question of prosecuting the rebels. In Kinshasa, there is therefore a fear of the appearance of "buffer zones" where the Congolese state could not restore its authority. In fact, the M23 says it "tolerate" the presence of the men of the regional force but prohibits the return of the FARDC.

New round of discussion

On the ground, the tension has eased somewhat in recent days. The international community therefore continues to favor the defensive option. What alternative? The 16,000 blue helmets of Monusco deployed for more than twenty years have no intention of fighting. The most involved external players – the EAC, Angola, the United States, France… – thus rely on a shaky diplomatic architecture.

At the top of the pyramid is "the framework agreement for peace, security and cooperation for the DRC and the region". Signed in February 2013 in Addis Ababa, a few months after the defeat of the original M23, it provides - among other objectives never achieved - for the return of state authority in the east of the country, national reconciliation, reform of the security sector, the disarmament of militias and the commitment of the international community to support this complex process. "The current crisis stems, among other things, from the failure of the Congo and the other parties concerned to apply this agreement which, paradoxically, remains the reference", recognizes a UN negotiator.

Two other, less ambitious texts, concluded in 2022, are placed under the umbrella of Addis Ababa. First of all, there is the so-called Nairobi process bringing together the Congolese authorities and the main armed groups with the exception… of the M23. A new round of discussion, Nairobi IV should be held in mid-April.

The other initiative is piloted from Luanda by Angolan President Joao Lourenço, charged by the African Union with conducting mediation between the DRC and Rwanda. "In the region, the Angolans are those who have the best diplomatic and military tools as well as the experience of crisis management. But, on their own, they cannot compensate for the lack of regional dynamics", regrets the aforementioned negotiator.

Blocking context

At the same time, what lever should be pressed to bend Rwanda? Since the genocide of the Tutsi in 1994, Kigali has seen eastern Congo as the launching pad for armed movements with a single objective: to unseat Rwandan president and autocrat Paul Kagame. The threat is no longer the same but, in Rwanda, it is obsessive. However, the M23 contributes, among other things, to combating this residual opposition.

Who today can make the Rwandan president listen to reason? "For a year, the American administration has been back in the region, but it is no longer as influential as in the days of Obama [2009-2017] who picked up his phone to speak directly to his Rwandan counterpart" , explains a French diplomat. The option of UN sanctions against Rwandan leaders, requested by Kinshasa, is now excluded given the divisions within the UN Security Council.

In this context of deadlock, the ambition of diplomats has been considerably reduced. “The immediate objective is to prevent a war between Rwanda and the DRC. We will see later how to solve the problems that have fueled the violence for several decades, "says an experienced ambassador. In other words, issues related to access to resources (land, minerals, etc.), the integration of former rebels, the economic and social opening up of eastern regions, etc. So many outstanding points that seem insoluble in the current state of governance. of the Congo and which, however, inevitably reignite the fire.