Global Policy Forum

The Challenge of Piecing Together a "Failed State"

Inter Press Service
March 12, 2005

This weekend sees a new military operation underway in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Reports from the central African country say about 800 United Nations troops have been deployed in the north-eastern Ituri region to disarm local militias held responsible for the death of nine peacekeepers last month. The militias, from a faction called the Nationalist and Integrationist Front, have also attacked local Congolese, prompting 70,000 to flee their homes over recent weeks.

Approximately 60 fighters were killed by U.N. troops in an operation launched after the ambush that claimed the lives of the Bangladeshi peacekeepers. These soldiers formed part of more than 16,000 troops serving in the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo - Monuc. Events in past days have underscored the difficulty of bringing lasting peace to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where conflict in eastern regions has continued despite a 2002 accord aimed at ending five years of civil war.

"Congo is a failed state - its internal structures are very weak," says James Malanda, head of diplomacy at the Congres Panafricain (COPAN), a pressure group formed by young Congolese in the diaspora. "Whenever there is a problem, say in (eastern) Kasai province, they fly in someone from the capital, Kinshasa, to bring a solution. Often, that person doesn't even know what Kasai looks like."

Malanda was speaking at a one-day conference held by COPAN in co-operation with the Africa Institute of South Africa (AISA), in the capital of Pretoria, Thursday. The Congolese civil war, which pitted the government against various rebel groups supported by Uganda and Rwanda, is said to have caused the death of about three million people - either through fighting, or as a result of the disease and food shortages which conflict-torn areas were prone to.

The war began in 1998 after a split developed between Uganda and Rwanda, and the then Congolese president, Laurent Kabila. The two countries had been instrumental in bringing Kabila to power a year earlier - toppling long-time ruler Mobutu Sese Seko in the process. Rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda took up arms against Kabila after he proved less pliable than his former supporters had hoped. Most notably, the Congolese president failed to contain Hutu militants responsible for Rwanda's 1994 genocide who had fled to the DRC - and who were launching cross-border attacks on Rwanda.

Thanks to the intervention of Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe, Kabila was able to avoid being ousted as his predecessor had been - although he was later assassinated. But, the presence of foreign troops on Congolese soil came at enormous financial cost to the country: states involved in the conflict have been implicated in illegal resource exploitation in the DRC, which has extensive mineral, diamond and timber reserves.

Towards the end of last year, Rwandan President Paul Kagame again threatened to deploy troops in the DRC to deal with Hutu militants - and reports emerging from Congo indicated that Rwandan soldiers had indeed crossed the border into the DRC. "Unfortunately, Rwanda still remains in Congo. Kagame is still using the pretext of self defence to keep his troops in the Congo. Something must be done about Rwanda's meddling in Congo's affairs," AISA researcher Yazini Funeka April told conference participants Thursday.

However, COPAN chair Yves Kamangu cautioned against blaming Kigali for the ills affecting the DRC. "We Congolese people failed to address our internal problems like disarming the interahamwe. That's why we are facing the consequences now. We look for scapegoats and accuse others of being the sources of our problems," he noted. The Kinyarwanda word "interahamwe", variously interpreted as "those who attack together" or "those who stand together", was the name given to perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide.

Talks to end fighting in Congo-Kinshasa were hosted by South Africa, and resulted in the creation of an interim government which includes former rebel leaders, representatives of the civilian opposition and members of the Kinshasa government led by Joseph Kabila - son of the late Laurent Kabila. However, some delegates at Thursday's conference argued that ordinary Congolese citizens had been largely excluded from the peace process - and that they needed to join forces at a local level to ensure that their concerns were heeded by national authorities.

"We need to reconstruct Congo. Congolese people should re-organise themselves at lower levels like provinces. Once they have organised themselves, they should exercise self-rule before, voluntarily, coming together to form the greater Congo," said Kamangu. He carefully noted that this vision of decentralisation did not amount of a call for secession - an inflammatory subject in a country where the attempted breakaway of south-western Katanga province, in 1960, was crushed.

"We are not advocating secession. Congo, the second largest country is Africa, is made up of so many ethnic groups, so you can't expect it to be ruled from Kinshasa by people who do not understand the local problems being experienced in the provinces," said Kamangu. Thursday's conference also touched on the elections that are scheduled to take place in the DRC in June.

Dirk Kotze, a political science lecturer at the University of South Africa, questioned whether a two-year transition period was long enough to instill confidence amongst Congolese that bodies such as the courts - which may play an important role in determining the legitimacy of the poll - are able to act independently. The transition period began after the 2002 peace accord.

"Transitional periods are for confidence building. The longer the transitional period, the better for confidence building," said Kotze, noting that the importance of an effective court system had been shown during the U.S. presidential election of 2000. "People went to court and the court declared that (George W.) Bush won the elections - and the American people accepted the court's ruling. Otherwise, without institutions like courts, (Democratic challenger) Al Gore would have gone to the bush to fight."

Kotze also noted that the DRC's various factions would need to be demobilized, to prevent the resumption of civil war in the event that the outcome of the poll was not to the liking of their leaders.

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