Congo: Five Priorities for a Peacebuilding Strategy

Congo: Five Priorities for a Peacebuilding Strategy

Africa Report N°150
11 May 2009


The deal struck by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda for renewed military and political cooperation is an important step forward, but is not sufficient to bring peace to the Kivus. Their five-week joint military operation did not produce significant results against the Rwandan Hutu rebels. Integration of the former insurgency that came over to the government’s side after Laurent Nkunda was dropped as its leader is precarious, despite the 23 March 2009 agreement it signed with Kinshasa. An international monitoring group chaired by UN Special Envoy Olusegun Obasanjo and Great Lakes Envoy Benjamin Mkapa should work with the Congolese and Rwandan governments to support and implement a genuine and comprehensive peacebuilding strategy, while donors should condition their support on adoption and implementation by Kinshasa of a comprehensive package of judicial measures to fight impunity.

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Normalisation of relations between Rwanda and Congo is essential if the eastern Congo and the Great Lakes region as a whole are to be stabilised. The agreement under which Rwanda accepted to withdraw its support from the renegade General Nkunda’s Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple (CNDP) insurgency and simultaneously press it to accept integration into the national army, while Kinshasa agreed to a joint military strike on its territory with the Rwandan army against the successors of the 1994 genocidaires, is an attempt to address a problem that has poisoned bilateral relations for fifteen years. There has already been one immediate and welcome result: Nkunda’s replacement and subsequent arrest.

But the Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) still have up to 6,000 fighters, a strong chain of command and a political branch disseminating propaganda abroad. Rwandan and Congolese troops destroyed empty camps and merely dispersed the FDLR’s North Kivu units further west. While widespread civilian casualties were avoided in the operation and most Rwandan troops appear to have left the DRC, the FDLR is already returning to former positions, attacking the FARDC and taking revenge on communities it believes supported the joint operation. Only 578 Rwandan Hutu rebels, including child soldiers, and 286 former Rwandan army soldiers who were for a time part of the CNDP had been repatriated by 30 April. New operations against the FDLR have to be prepared more carefully. An effective anti-FDLR strategy cannot be implemented without Rwandan support. It requires adequate planning and coordination with MONUC that focuses on filling the vacuum created by the military operations, protecting civilians from becoming “collateral damage” and from FDLR revenge and ensuring that rank-and-file FDLR freed from their chain of command actually proceed to disarmament.

Moreover, it is questionable how successful integration of the CNDP’s Tutsi fighters into the Congolese army (FARDC) has been. The CNDP’s military wing has been broken into platoon-level units and mixed with similar ones composed of Hutu militias, Mayi-Mayi and FARDC. CNDP commanders have also been brought into the hierarchy of the 8th Military Region. These integrated units may quickly disintegrate, however. Their command and control, cohesion, and will to fight are extremely weak, and the underlying causes of the insurgency have not been resolved. A security environment conducive to the safe return and reintegration of up to 60,000 refugees and 850,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) has not yet been created.

Former CNDP leaders and FARDC commanders have a horrendous record of causing severe suffering to civilians during their operations and of active involvement in the illegal exploitation of natural resources in North Kivu. Sexual violence has taken a catastrophic toll on the Kivu population and must be addressed decisively, most importantly by holding civilian and military abusers accountable for their actions. Illustrating the dramatic breakdown of Congolese society, rape, practised by men and teenagers, on women and girls of all ages, but also on men, has become not just a weapon of war but also a widely-practised procedure for determining power relations. Genuine peacebuilding and restoration of state authority in the Kivus also cannot ignore the culture of impunity, restoration of basic security and demilitarisation of the economy. Moreover, stabilisation will not succeed in the East without the continuation of successful institutional reforms supported by strong political engagement at the centre, where the Congo’s governance is largely determined. At the same time, if peacebuilding does succeed in the Kivus, the entire country will hugely benefit.

A peacebuilding strategy for the eastern Congo should have five priorities: 1) a credible and comprehensive disarmament strategy for dealing with Rwandan Hutu rebels in both North and South Kivu; 2) resuming security system reform with a new focus on building capacity and accountability in the Kivus as well as Orientale province; 3) a specific plan for fostering reconciliation and human security that concentrates on judicial accountability and the requirements of refugee and IDP return and reintegration; 4) political engagement dedicated to improving governance through increased economic transparency, equitable taxation, decentralisation and local elections; and 5) continuing efforts to sustain stable regional relations.

The problem with Congo is less to identify peacebuilding objectives than to sustain political will and results-oriented partnerships. With the international financial crisis reducing available resources, it is even more important to rationalise and coordinate international engagement, including establishing a clear division of labour between the various arms of the UN, donors and regional states and organisations. During the October-November 2008 crisis in North Kivu, when a humanitarian catastrophe threatened in and around Goma, robust political engagement with national and regional actors did more than troops on the ground to protect civilians. That kind of political engagement needs to be sustained at the highest levels in Kinshasa and the region for peacebuilding in the Kivus to succeed. Putting all efforts into the Kivus without keeping up pressure in Kinshasa for the reforms needed to improve political and economic governance throughout the country would be counterproductive.

International engagement and support for peacebuilding in the Congo at least through the 2011 elections needs to be maintained and coordinated by the UN and Great Lakes envoys – both distinguished former African presidents – with a view to implementing a roadmap that defines precisely the role and responsibility of each partner and the benchmarks to be met so that the process becomes irreversible. Only then should the UN Mission in the Congo (MONUC) begin its drawdown.


To the UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes, Olusegun Obasanjo, and the Great Lakes Special Envoy, Benjamin Mkapa:

1.  Produce, in coordination with MONUC, donors and regional partners, a roadmap for implementing a comprehensive peacebuilding strategy focusing on the following five priorities and division of labour:

Priority 1: Implementing an effective anti-FDLR strategy

To MONUC, the Government of the Congo and the Government of Rwanda:

2.  Suspend Operation Kimya II and plan new joint military operations against the FDLR in which Rwandan special forces pressure the hardcore armed leadership that refuses voluntary disarmament, while MONUC and the Congolese army (FARDC) fill the vacuum created by those measures, prioritising an immediate increase in protection of civilians and proceeding with disarming the rank and file.

3.  Increase outreach to the FDLR rank and file, most of whom had nothing to do with the Rwandan genocide, and offer incentives and relocation outside the Kivus to those who accept voluntary disarmament.

To EU Member States, the U.S., Canada, and African states where FDLR leaders reside, including Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Zambia and Kenya:

4.  Coordinate legal action in these states against fundraising and propaganda dissemination by FDLR political leaders and prevent their access, as far as possible within national law, to public broadcasting outlets.

Priority 2: Refocusing Security System Reform (SSR) on results in the East

To MONUC and the Government of the Congo:

5.  Strengthen FARDC in formerly FDLR-dominated areas by embedding MONUC personnel as mentors and monitors for up to one year and plan for their replacement by police units and other representatives of a civilian administration once the security environment has improved.

6.  Pay extra allowances to soldiers involved in joint operations; improve officer training; and establish strong accountability by strengthening military justice and military police mechanisms so that they can punish misappropriation of funds and human rights abuses and better protect civilians.

To Donors and Other Regional Partners of the Congo involved in security system reform:

7.  Prioritise physical rehabilitation of the 8th, 9th and 10th military region infrastructure; complete reform of their management systems (emphasising communications, control of weapons and ammunition and personnel management); and expand the European security system reform element (EUSEC) already operating in the Congo so it can support such a policy, in cooperation with willing regional partners.

8.  Provide technical expertise to establish a vetting commission within the FARDC to progressively eliminate human rights abusers from both the command structure and the rank and file and condition financial and technical support accordingly.

Priority 3: Fostering reconciliation and human security

To the Government of the Congo and Donors:

9.  Invest significant resources in reintegration of ex-combatants through labour-intensive reconstruction programs and professional training.

10.  Strengthen arrest, detention and prosecution capabilities in the Kivus and Orientale with respect particularly to sexual violence; and set up special police and investigation units, while making recruitment and training of female officers a priority, so as to encourage the reporting of sexual offences and facilitate their prosecution.

11.  Intensify efforts to sensitise civilian and military officials about sexual misconduct by launching a national campaign against sexual violence; and increase and impose criminal penalties for rape and sexual abuse for both civilian and military offenders.

To Members of the Congolese Parliament and Congolese Civil Society Organisations:

12.  Start a national debate on the issue of justice and reconciliation, with the objective of forming a national consensus for establishment of a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission to look into the atrocity crimes committed in the country since 1991 and contribute to healing the wounds of ten years of war in the East.

To the North and South Kivu Provincial Administrations:

13.  Establish a land commission to facilitate the peaceful resettlement of all refugees and IDPs and prevent new grievances from giving rise to ethnic tensions.

Priority 4: Improving governance

To the Government of the Congo, International Financial Institutions and Donors:

14.  Intensify the training and deployment of national customs and excise department personnel in the Kivus; assign foreign technical advisers to government services there; support prosecution of tax evaders regardless of ethnic or political affiliation; strengthen the auditing and control capabilities of the administration with respect to tax revenues; and strictly condition direct foreign assistance on the implementation of such policies.

To MONUC, Donors and the Government of the Congo:

15.  Relaunch active cooperation on producing a legal and administrative framework designed to build effective and accountable provincial authorities as per the constitution’s decentralisation provisions.

16.  Intensify, in cooperation with the Independent National Elections Commission (INEC), preparations for holding local elections after the appropriate legal, electoral and decentralisation frameworks have been implemented.

Priority 5: Sustaining stabilisation of regional relations

To the International Conference for the Great Lakes Secretariat:

17.  Establish a commission tasked with examining regional relations in the Great Lakes since 1991, with a view to determining the measures necessary for regional reconciliation and common recognition and understanding of the atrocity crimes committed during that period.

18.  Establish a joint commission to identify the economic projects and regulatory requirements necessary to meet priority development goals at the common borders of Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and the Congo and to ensure that migratory trends between these countries do not lead to new conflicts.

Nairobi/Brussels, 11 May 2009