Congo Siasa

What next in Kampala?

News in the Congo has been surprisingly M23-deficient in the past few days. A group of Mai-Mai attacked Beni yesterday, killing several Congolese army officers (although their commander Hilaire has links well- to the M23); Kinshasa prepares for the visit of the United Nations Secretary-General and the head of the World Bank next week; and the country awaits a new head of the election commission (Appollinaire Malu Malu is the favorite, but his Catholic church seems opposed).

Is this because Kampala is dead? It would seem so––the negotiations have been on hold for weeks now, and the M23 has withdrawn, it says, until there is an official ceasefire. It suffices to look at the various proposals on the table there at the moment to see how far apart the two sides are.

The M23’s proposal (here) underscores their distrust for the Congolese government: they want a transitional period during which they would carry out joint operations with the Congolese government against “negative forces” (ADF, LRA, FDLR, etc.). Once the East is stabilized (they suggest an initial period could take five years), the M23 would integrate the army.

The government, on the other hand, (their proposal here) says the M23 would have to integrate almost unconditionally: rank-and-file soldiers and officers up to the rank of lieutenant can integrate automatically, but higher ranking officers would only be allowed in on a case-by-case basis. “Many of them would not be able to join,” one of the government negotiators told me. Indeed, the government proposal currently bars soldiers who have already benefitted from an amnesty for integrating, which potentially would pertain to all ex-CNDP troops (90% of the M23’s officer corps). The two top M23 commanders, Sultani Makenga and Innocent Kaina, would almost certainly not be able to join.

In response, the Ugandan facilitation has put together a compromise agreement that neither side seems to like––the government does not like the obligation to reform its institutions, while the M23 says the deal is “worse than the government’s proposal,” in part because it repeats the case-by-case basis of integration. But it also highlights to areas of convergence: both sides commit to bringing refugees back and securing them, and to create a high-level body to promote reconciliation.

The real reason the talks are on hold is probably because of the imminent arrival of the Intervention Brigade. The Kinshasa government believes that this brigade will solve the M23 problem, and has been bolstered by the UN Security Council resolution calling for the rebels to disband. But while the advance Tanzanian party for the brigade has arrived in Goma, the South African and Malawian troops are still dragging their feet. While for Malawi the delay is logistical, the South Africans appear to be dragging their feet in part because they didn’t receive the command of MONUSCO’s troops, as they had wanted.

There are different versions for why this is the case––perhaps the most persistent one is that a member of the Security Council made a political choice to back a Brazilian candidate, in part in order to prevent SADC from having too much influence in the Congo.

In any case, both sides seem to agree that some sort of military escalation is necessary to move forward.