The conflict in eastern Congo between the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Rwandan-backed M23 rebel group is crippling the Great Lakes Region, and is now at a critical juncture following M23’s capture of the city of Goma. With reports of executions and yet more mass traumatised civilians fleeing the conflict zone, it is clear that a new process is urgently required to help bring lasting peace and stability to the region.
According to five international organisations, the answer is a new Envoy or Special Panel under the auspices of both the African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN).
“We believe that it is imperative to initiate a credible, internationally-facilitated political process that is focused initially on an immediate cessation of hostilities, but in the longer-term on addressing the systematic drivers of conflict in the region,” says a letter signed by the Eastern Congo Initiative, Enough, EurAc, Humanity United and the Open Society Foundations.
“Therefore, we call on the Security Council to request the Secretary-General to reach out immediately to the African Union with a view to appointing an Envoy or Panel in a matter of days.”
Recent reports suggest that, despite its denials, Rwanda has continued to provide military, logistical, and political support to M23, emboldened by the failure of the international community to hold it fully accountable for its aggression. Meanwhile, the Congolese government has continued to demonstrate an inability to deal with the threat on its eastern borders, as a consequence of its failure to initiate necessary reforms of its weak and undisciplined army as well as other critical institutions.
The result is that more than 650,000 people have been displaced in eastern Congo since the onset of the M23 mutiny in April 2012 – and once again it is the civilian populations of the region that continue to bear the brunt of the violence and instability.
With regional leaders heading for a conference in Uganda, the joint signatories make it clear that the process that has failed so many times over the past 15 years should be abandoned. Instead, the letter stresses that “Efforts to achieve a durable peace in the region must not be led by those who continue to perpetuate the conflict, but rather by a credible facilitator or facilitators with the commensurate experience and stature to elevate the process above the regional mistrust that is the hallmark of local processes, and bring the necessary parties into a constructive dialogue.”
The organisations add that the “aim of such a process must be a departure from the cycle of violence and regional interference that has defined the conflict for much of the last decade.”
But the letter also calls for additional steps to be taken to help end the current conflict.
“We also call on the Security Council and the African Union to condemn in unequivocal terms Rwanda and the M23 for their actions and to immediately apply sanctions against all the individuals identified in the most recent Group of Experts report as having violated the UN arms embargo on Congo, including the Rwandan military and political officers who have been supporting and directing the M23.”
And other countries also have a key role to play according to the signatories. “We also call on bilateral donors to Rwanda to continue and expand the suspension of all aid programmes that are not explicitly directed to the humanitarian needs of the Rwandan civilian population.”
The M23 advance illustrates once again that the relative stability in eastern Congo in recent years was not based on durable solutions. Undermined by inadequate reform of the security sector and by President Kabila’s fraudulent election, the region was ripe for yet more instability, especially with Rwanda intent on fomenting trouble.
It is also clear that old processes have not worked and that it is time to try something new. An influential Special Envoy flying the colours of both the AU and the UN sounds like an idea whose time has come – and who could play a critical role in the coming months and years in eastern Congo.