What Motivates Congo’s Politicians: Good Question

A new report on the Congo has come out by the International Crisis Group that concludes that the peace deal between Rwanda and the Congo has failed to bring about peace in the eastern DRC. It points to the violence over the past year, the failed integration process of the armed groups and the predation on natural resources by all belligerents.

Absolutely. And it’s a good report. But why do I have this nagging feeling of déjà vu?
Because we’ve seen it before. I probably wrote a report similar to this one for ICG five years ago. A myriad of NGOs publish reports calling on the Congolese and Rwandan governments to respect human rights, promote good governance and settle their differences peacefully every year. This is, of course, useful, especially if they can dredge up good evidence of their wrongdoing – it can serve as a necessary check on abuses.
But relatively few reports ask why the governments are carrying out so many abuses, why the CNDP does not want to integrate. Instead, the reports catalog the events, denounce the abuses and propose solutions. There is usually little analysis of the deeper Congolese and regional political motives. If there were, we could avoid nasty stereotyping and perhaps get a bit closer to constructive solutions.

Let’s take an example – the disarmament and/or integration of CNDP troops into the Congolese army. This is something that dozens of reports, including this ICG one, have called for, worried that renewed clashes between the Congolese government and the CNDP could break out. So why aren’t they integrated? There are a few theories. One is that it is Kigali pulling the strings, preventing CNDP redeployment because they need them to protect their interests. There has certainly been some truth to this – although also a lot of disagreement about what exactly Kigali’s interests are in the Kivus – but it is too simple a story, one proved insufficient recently when it was Kigali that reportedly pushed for some CNDP units to be removed from the Kivus for fear of their collaboration with RPF defectors.

Another theory is that it is the CNDP army commanders themselves who are the main obstacle to integration – they have gotten used to their autonomy and the various rackets they run and don’t want to be sent to Bandundu, where there are no mines, they will loose their power, and they will be unable to protect their communities.

Yet another view is that it is the Goma elites, the owners of mineral trading houses and leaders of the Tutsi political class who are blocking the integration/redeployment of CNDP troops. Or perhaps the local communities, who provide the footsoldiers and want the CNDP to stay back to protect them.
The point is that, depending on your analysis of the situation, the solution will look drastically different. Should we be putting pressure on Kigali, focusing on ensuring contractual security for local businessmen, working on co-opting or arresting CNDP commanders or solving local land conflicts?

Similarly goes it with the infamous security sector reform. If I had an AK-47 for every time I heard someone say: “Security sector reform has to be the number one priority,” I would be rivaling Viktor Bout (before his days in the clink, that is). So why is it that Kabila doesn’t arrest the army commanders who periodically embezzle funds, deal in minerals and preside over abusive units? Here again there are many theories. One suggests that the president is too weak, that if he were to clamp down on his commanders there could be a violent backlash and he could end up like his father. Another thesis – that doesn’t necessarily contradict the first – is that Kabila does not want to reform his security services, that this kind of fragmentation of control prevents other centers of power from arising and allows him to dole out favors and patronage at his own discretion. Yet another theory argues that the Rais does want to reform the army, but that he does not have the means or the technical know-how to do so.

The current scattershot approach to security sector reform is mostly based on the last analysis – the problem is a lack of technical training and infrastructures, which is why most of what we are doing is training soldiers and building barracks. As the millions of dollars provided to Mobutu’s army proved, however, throwing good money after bad will not solve anything.

So this is a plea for “deep diagnosis,” going beyond just denouncing abuses and describing trends and trying to understand the underlying political logic. One of the side effects of the “Oh My God The Congo Is a Mess” approach is that it reduces the actors there to a bunch of ruthless warlords and African bigwigs, catering to all the noxious stereotypes of the continent. Actors may be ruthless but they have all kinds of good reasons for what they are doing.

“Deep diagnosis” of this kind is difficult, as many actors have vested interests in concealing their motives, and it requires an enormous amount of patience and local knowledge. It is not the kind of analysis that can be done from London, Johannesburg or even just Kinshasa.

I am not criticizing ICG – they often do wonderful work that goes far beyond the “OMG Congo approach.” But we need to go beyond this to truly understand how actors think, what they want and who is pulling the strings.