Ony a political solution will pacify the DRC

Soldiers patrolling Masisi on January 8, 2023. M23 rebels are active in the northeastern North Kivu province. [Xinhua]

Recent statements by the Democratic Republic of Congo Spokesperson Patrick Muyaya, have sent alarm bells ringing for those praying for a peaceful resolution to armed conflict and political violence.  

Muyaya, speaking on Radio Okapi, an eastern Congo-based station sponsored by the UN mission in DRC, proclaimed that they (the DRC government) had “embarked on solving rampant insecurity in the east”, and that the only way to do that was through military means. 

Apparently, peaceful processes, such as negotiation or diplomacy, have become anathema in Kinshasa. The Congolese spokesperson asserted that diplomacy had proved futile, “and therefore the only way forward is a military solution”. According to him, diplomacy had not only failed, but it no longer was suitable, “given the urgency of the situation.” 

The current conflict in DRC – a country that has rarely known peace since independence in 1960 – first broke out in 2012 between fighters of the M23 rebel movement, and government forces (known by the initials FARDC) supported by the UN intervention Force made of Tanzania and South African troops. It ended in defeat for the rebels barely a year later in 2013, only to reignite in 2021. 

The conflict goes back to (March) 2009, when the group, then known as CNDP, signed a peace treaty with the central government in Kinshasa by which its fighters were to be integrated into the national army (FARDC), and its leadership to form a political party. The deal also was that Kinshasa would release imprisoned members of CNDP. 

The roots of the CNDP movement lay in what its leadership said were grievances caused by “years of ethnic discrimination, and mistreatment” of its people, the Rwandophone populations of North and South Kivu provinces, at the hands of central government. 

The evidence of that today is seen in countless social media posts, videos, and audio, of violent attacks against, mainly, Tutsi civilians in the east, by machete-wielding militias that proudly proclaim to stand with their government in “fighting the enemy”.

It came as little surprise when CNDP fighters, who had been integrated into the army, mutinied and broke out of their barracks to form a new rebel group – the M23 – led by, among others, Col Sultani Makenga. 

They berated the central government, accusing it of reneging on terms of the treaty. They accused it of failing to release their imprisoned colleagues, as agreed. And they claimed the army leadership was mistreating them, imprisoning individual members on flimsiest excuses, or scattering them all over the country “arbitrarily”.

Fighting raged in Masisi and Rutshuru and the mutineers captured Goma before regional and international pressure made them relent, and were subsequently overpowered by the UN intervention Brigade and fled to Uganda.

The current iteration of this conflict has seen major regional actors, among them former President Uhuru Kenyatta, and President of Angola João Lourenço, intervene, to try to end it through mediation.

They brokered the Nairobi and Luanda processes. A peace roadmap emerged that called for an immediate ceasefire, and authorised deployment to eastern DRC of troops from the East African Community member states, the EAC Regional Force, to oversee its implementation. 

Among terms of the Nairobi and Luanda processes, was disarming of M23. The terms stated that Kinshasa ceases to provide military and political support for FDLR, a terrorist group born in Congo out of the remnants of the main perpetrators of the 94 Genocide against Tutsi in Rwanda.

Congolese President Tshisekedi soon however showed he had zero interest in implementing the peace roadmap. He seemed to be under the impression the EAC force had come to help him fight M23, but that was never its mandate.

So, Tshisekedi expelled the force, mid last year, and has since gone about assembling a coalition that, together with his FARDC, includes troops from Burundi, troops from the SADC bloc, and even FDLR militias and mercenaries.

And now Kinshasa, through its spokesperson Muyaya, is making what amounts to declarations of war whose intentions are to ignite a regional conflict.

-The writer is a media consultant

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