Resoliving the Kivus crisis: Beyond Khartoum and Kampala?

Countries from the regional International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) have been meeting, first in Khartoum and now in Kampala to discuss steps to deal with the crisis in the eastern Congo.

What are the options on the table?

While Kigali has been insisting on negotiations with the M23, Kinshasa has been emboldened by recent pressure on Rwanda and has been pushing for a military solution. Through its bumptious spokesperson, it refused negotiations with the M23. However, the government is not speaking with one voice, as the North Kivu governor suggested that the implementation of the March 23, 2009 deal (the raison d’etre of the eponymous M23) should be evaluated. In his speech last week, President Kabila also said that his government will also avail itself of political and diplomatic options to solve the crisis, and there are some reports that M23 has sent a delegation to Kampala to negotiate with the government on the sidelines of the regional summit there.

So there have been some contradictions in the government’s resolve, especially given the series of defeats its soldiers have suffered in recent weeks and the possibility that Goma could be the next town to fall.

It is not surprising that Kinshasa would be looking for military support. First, its representatives, along with other states in the region, asked for a neutral force to come and hunt down the M23, FDLR and other “negative forces.” Now, Foreign Minister Raymond Tshibanda is suggesting that MONUSCO be part of such a force, and that the UN Security Council change its mandate so that it can take offensive actions against these refractory groups.

(Here is the official report of the Khartoum meeting.)

But a dose of realism would be welcome, as this chimerical force will be difficult to achieve or, worse, could become an unnecessary distraction from more worthwhile initiatives. Why?

  • Money. Donors are already spending $1,4 billion per annum on the UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo. It is unlikely that they would want to spend millions more on a new, aggressive mission to hunt down rebel forces.
  • Troops. Where would the troops come from? In theory, troops would have to be neutral, which could rule out many countries in the region, such as Angola, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and perhaps others. Also, which country would want to send their troops into the deep Congolese jungles to hunt down the FDLR, and into Rutshuru’s hills to fight the M23? The UN has already had a hard time to find troops to staff its peacekeeping mission, and I doubt the main contributing countries to that mission (India, Pakistan, Uruguay) would like seeing their men and women take on a more aggressive, risky role.
  • Transforming the UN mission. The Congolese government has said the UN should change MONUSCO’s mission to take on a more offensive role, in effect becoming the neutral force the ICGLR has asked for. Like I said, the troop contributing countries are very unlikely to accept this kind of aggressive mandate.
  • Time. It will take months – at least – to create and deploy a neutral force. During this time, the M23 and related armed groups are likely to make moves and gain ground.
  • Other options. There have been suggestions that the M23 would be significantly weakened if it did not have support from Rwanda, or at least a rear base there. Rwanda has denied this, but why not just set up joint Rwandan-Congolese-MONUSCO patrols along key parts of this border? At the same time, it would illusory to think that we can put the genie back in the bottle with pure military force. By now, we have mobilization linked to the M23 In Ituri, the Ruwenzoris, Walikale, and perhaps parts of South Kivu. Rwanda may be playing a critical role, but it is not the only actor here. So what kind of peaceful options can we pursue without, as a previous guest post argues, undermining army reform and encouraging the mobilization of new groups? Some real thought needs to be put into a proper stabilization strategy in the Kivus that does not repeat the mistakes of the 2008 peace conference and the 2009 peace deal with the CNDP. More on that soon.