The dynamics of the DRC conflict and peace in Africa
It is clear that the way out of the current DRC quagmire is historical sensibility, urging all parties to the conflict to initiate dialogue, ensuring clarity over scope of interventionist operations and rooting out enablers of M23 rebels.
As the international community remains fixated on the Ukraine War, it is easy to lose sight of African conflicts of which many have claimed thousands of lives and wreaked havoc on critical infrastructure. Widespread destitution in deeply impoverished societies are being unabashedly ignored and the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2022 poses an existential threat to the very foundations of the state. The staggering toll also underlines the need for immediate international attention.
While there is little hope that the United States and its allies will move past Ukraine, current stakeholders such as the African Union and the East African Community (EAC) have a critical role to play. Fighting between the Army and the notorious M23 (March 23) rebels, for example, resulted in seven hundred thousand displacements in 2022 alone and close to eight thousand deaths in 2017. The Norwegian Refugee Council also considers it to be the world’s most overlooked and under-addressed refugee crisis in 2021, which is a notorious distinction it held in both 2020 and 2017. Alarmingly in November 2022, the M23 rebel group advanced towards the city of Goma which has displaced thousands more. The scale of the damage has meant that durable peace mechanisms which are durable and indigenous are needed to address this seemingly intractable humanitarian quagmire.
Such mechanisms need to be all-encompassing and comprehensive in nature to neutralize conflicts of such magnitude. At a localized level, The African Union with former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta as the regional bloc’s facilitator and African Union envoy pressed for urgent intervention to offset the panic, fear, and desolation witnessed in November 2022 with massive casualties, summary executions, and human rights abuses taking place. For a comprehensive peace mechanism to materialize however, the origins of the DRC quagmire need to be understood. It dates back to the Kivu Conflict of 2004 which was fought between the DRC military and the National Congress for the Defense of the People over the latter’s to Tutsi influence against the Hutu people in the DRC. After the 2009 peace treaty that ended five years of hostility, the CNDP agreed to become a political party in exchange for the release of its prisoners by the Congolese military. Failure to honor the agreement by the military however, resulted in the M23 rebel group being formed.
These realities demonstrate that the conflict is ethnic in its orientation which needs to be factored in prior to devising peacekeeping mechanisms. The persistence of such ethnic grievances has fomented a rebellion which has increased in intensity in light of what is perceived by the M23, as brazen violations of agreements towards a domestic peaceful settlement. The fact that the M23 is currently employing drone surveillance and sophisticated weaponry to target the DRC military, its abettors and civilians in 2022 also demonstrates how the conflict has morphed into an intractable phenomenon with no end in sight.
Among other factors are international relations between African stats which have worsened as a result of trust deficits. The DRC has squarely blamed Rwanda for backing the M23 rebels by citing it as a fallout of the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 where armed Hutu militias massacred Tutsi minorities based on internal rebellions from the Rwanda Patriotic Front that was composed of mostly of Tutsi refugees. The ethnic powerplay has meant that relations between the DRC and Rwanda are deteriorating and as collective bodies, the African Union and the EAC spearheaded by Kenyan efforts must ensure that dialogue and deliberations are initiated to address hostilities. Credit must be given to the seven nation EAC for announcing peace talks in November 2022, but such calls must come from the AU as a representative African forum for it to be effective, everlasting and impactful.
Then comes the challenge of addressing the DRC’s multifaceted security quagmires. More than a hundred-armed groups are operating in the east DRC despite billions of dollars spent on UN peacekeeping missions to date. The failure of peacekeeping missions has fanned resentment amongst locals, displaced Congolese with clashes between locals and UN peacekeepers reported. This raises questions on the credibility of the United Nations in the DRC and the East African Community confronts the dual reality of pushing back against rebels and winning the trust of local communities. One thing is quite clear however, and that is that the EAC Community force in the DRC is an interventionist force rather than a peacekeeping one which increases the probability of future violence in 2022 and beyond. There are also areas which need greater clarity in order for any effort from interventionist forces to bear fruit in the DRC. Proposals such as hosting peace talks in Nairobi must specify the stakeholders involved and the length of the scheduled dialogue and while the Kenyan parliament passed a resolution calling for nine hundred troops for an initial period of six months to be deployed in the country, specificity of their scope would help.
It is clear that the way out of the current DRC quagmire is historical sensibility, urging all parties to the conflict to initiate dialogue, ensuring clarity over scope of interventionist operations and rooting out enablers of M23 rebels. A combination of diplomacy and dialogue will go a long way in allaying differences between Rwanda and the DRC with other states in the region such as Burundi and Guinea Bissau expected to play mediatory, complimentary roles. Congo’s future and thousands of innocent civilians ravaged by the conflict relies on whether strategic wisdom eventually prevails which has so far been missing from the international community.