The stakes of the Kampala summit

For the fourth time in three months, the eleven countries from the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICLGR) will meet in Kampala tomorrow. Their discussions will focus on ways to deal with the crisis in the eastern Congo, in particular the creation of a neutral force.

Preliminary meetings have already begun – various UN and AU delegations have spoken with ICLGR’s military advisors, and a report from the Joint Verification Mechanism (JVM) is being provided. A diplomat attending the summit told me that they will need some more time for the military planning, and a Military Assessment Team (MAT) will apparently brief the ICLGR again on October 24-25.

The mood in Kampala is skeptical – the meeting comes on the heels of the mini-summit organization on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York on September 27. Little concrete came out of the summit, and the UN said that the neutral force idea would have to be further refined for it to receive the backing of the UN Security Council.

Meanwhile, relations between the Congo and Rwanda have reached a new low. Kagame, in an interview with TIME and a speech in front of parliament, has described Kabila’s government as “ideologically bankrupt” (along with the M23), and “does not respect or work for its citizens.” He has also accused Kinshasa of incorporating genocidaires into his army. A member of the Congolese delegation, on the other hand, has said the Rwandans weren’t acting in good faith during the negotiations, taking the M23’s side (Kagame has said publicly that there needs to be a political solution, the M23’s demands need to be listened to).

But the biggest obstacles to the so-called neutral force are logistical: Until now, only Tanzania has pledged troops, and even then it is unclear whether those troops would accept to conduct risky counterinsurgency operations in the mountains and jungles of the Kivus. And no one has figured out how to finance the force – while many African countries are enthusiastic about it, the funding would mostly likely come from western donors, who are largely skeptical.

While the Congolese and the M23 have had some informal contacts in Kampala, both sides are already planning for further military operations. The Congolese have moved thousands of troops to the Kivus for reinforcement, and the M23 have trained  hundreds of new recruits in recent months. The Congolese have also reached out to southern African countries for bilateral military support, and there are suggestions (largely coming from Kinshasa) that the Angolans and South Africans might be willing to back them if push comes to shove.