Obstacles To Obtaining Sustainable Peace In Congo

Sustainable peace remains a dream for the people of Democratic Republic of Congo. Achieving this objective requires is difficult unless the major obstacles to peace are taken care of. The legacy of violence between Hutu and Tutsi tribes that initiated the conflict in 1990s is now further complicated by several other factors which often play a very important role.
Obstacles to Obtaining Sustainable Peace in Congo
Source - Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASecond_Congo_War_2001_map_en.png)

Between April and June 2017, a new militia group has emerged in the already troubles landscape of Congo, vengefully killing hundreds including patients, children and women. The group, named BANA MURA, is said to be backed by the Government at Kinshasa and is targeting the rebel supporters. As per UN reports it has already destroyed more than 20 villages in the Kasai area. It primary target is KAMUINA NSAPU, an anti-government rebel group that has sprung in the region last year.

Those, who were expecting that the democratic elections that President Kabila keeps promising but does not let happen, will solve

the problems, are now forced come to terms with the fact that peace remains a dream in this devastated country that is blessed with enormous natural resources estimated to be worth over 24 trillion dollars.

The Four Major Obstacles to Sustainable Peace in Congo

Four key obstacles stand today between Congo and sustainable peace, and till they are addressed, there seems to be little hope for relief for the African nation.

Persisting violence in Congo today is the result of four main factors. First and foremost of them is the historical legacy of Hutu-Tutsi violence in Rwanda. Second is the interference by third parties with aim of gaining access to and controlling Congo's mineral wealth. Third is the use of hatred and violence as a tool by successive governments in Congo to strengthen their own position, and last, but not the least, is the confused, inconsistent and largely indifferent response of international community to the ongoing conflict in Congo.

Extending the Historical Legacy of Hutu-Tutsi Violence

Congo inherited the violence between Hutus and Tutsi tribes from the point where this violence was controlled in neighboring Rwanda after the Tutsi genocide in 1994. After the Rwandan Patriotic Front took over government of Rwanda in 1995, almost two million Hutus fled to neighboring Zaire (as Congo was then called), and set up camps in Eastern Zaire from where they used to attack Rwandan Tutsis as well as local Banyamulenge, i.e.. Zairian Tutsis. In 1996, when the government issued a decree for the Banyamulenge to leave the country in the South Kivu province, they erupted in violence against the then President, Mobutu Sese Seko, who was subsequently overthrown in the first Congo War in 1996-97. He was replaced by rebel leader Laurent-Desire Kabila, who used various strategies of mobilizing Tutsi and Hutu factions as well as international factions against each other to strengthen his own grip on power.

In 1998, Banyamulenge again revolted against the government, and the Rwandan and Burundi government controlled by Tutsi majorities backed them up by opening fronts against Congo. Subsequently, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Angola and later on Chad, Libya and Sudan agreed to help the government of Kabila in this conflict and sent forces to take part in the struggle.  In July 1999 the six main warring countries, i.e.. Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and Uganda agreed for peace by signing the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement, but some fighting factions did not join. In 2000, a force of 5,537 troops was deployed by the UN in the form of the 'United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo' (MONUC), to monitor the cease-fire. In 2001, President Kabila was shot and fatally wounded. He died two days later, and was replaced by Joseph Kabila, his son as President. Subsequently, in 2002, Pretoria Agreement was signed with Rwanda wherein Rwanda agreed to withdraw its forces from Congo on the condition that Hutu militia was disbanded. Later Uganda also agreed to withdraw its troupes under the Luanda Agreement in September that year.

In December 2002, all local factions agreed to a 'Global and All-Inclusive Agreement' for constituting a transitional government and introduction of democracy. In 2006, first elections were held in Congo under the new constitution. However, there has not been any let up in violence. Inhuman attacks on civilians including murders and rape have actually increased in spite of several political agreements aimed at stopping these crimes. Hundreds of thousands of people have continued to be displaced during these years of violence. Violent and abusive forces have further consolidated their authority. A few years back, Kinshasa erupted as a thousand people marched on the roads calling for the release of warlord-turned-political leader Jean-Pierre Bemba, who was one of the opponents of the President in the last election, but has been arrested on account of war crimes during the second Congo war. In 2016, he was found guilty on two counts of crime against humanity by the International Criminal Court and is serving 18 years imprisonment.

The arrest of Bemba is symptomatic of the historical legacy that refuses to leave Congo. Erstwhile President Kabila himself took part in first Congo war that displaced the then President Mobutu. The past of all leaders in Congo is full of violence and that refuses to give way to peace. Similarly, the legacy of Hutu-Tutsi violence refuses to die, even though different factions have joined peace agreements. The insecurity generated by the on-going inter-tribal violence, coupled with memories of Rwandan genocide in the 1990s mean that the Tutsis of Congo are easy prey for a person like Laurent Nkunda, who portrays himself as the protector of Tutsis. It also means that a Hutu group like the Forces Democratiques de la Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) continues to operate in the Kivus, with a goal of expelling foreign Tutsi forces and ethnic cleansing of the Banyamulenge. The historical legacy of Hutu-Tutsi conflict is one of the biggest hurdles in achieving long lasting peace in Congo.

International Interference and the Hidden Agendas

The second major obstacle is the hidden agenda of different countries as well as their proxies, of gaining legal or illegal access to the rich mineral wealth of Congo, and even gaining control of the same. Various factions, including the national defence forces have been accused of participating in illegal extraction and trade of minerals like coltan, a precious mineral used in consumer electronics and costing around $ 100 a pound, copper, cobalt and diamonds. A lot of mining for coltan goes on illegally. Between 1996 and 2001, a number of diamond mining companies from United States, Canada, Australia and Japan were accused of supporting Government of Kabila in exchange for non-transparent business deals.

Neighboring countries like

Uganda and Rwanda are also accused to use the opportunity in their neighboring strife torn country to illegally access coltan and other minerals. In April 2001 a UN panel of experts investigated the illegal exploitation of diamonds, cobalt, coltan, gold and other lucrative resources in Congo, and holding Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe responsible for systematically exploiting Congolese resources, it recommended that Security Council impose sanctions on these countries.  In 2005, International Court of Justice has held Uganda of illegally exploiting minerals in Congo and asked it to pay $ 10 billion in compensation. More recently, Belgium has blamed China for supporting the Government in spite of its poor human rights record, for access to its mineral wealth. Notably, China Railway Group, a construction company from China, has recently signed a $2.9 billion contract to invest in Congo's copper and cobalt industry, in a deal that has been severely criticized on account of its lack of transparency.

Lack of Sincere Government Effort for Peace: Politics Ahead of National Interest

A third major obstacle is the lack of sincerity in the efforts of Government in establishing a fair rule of law that would bring overall peace. Right from the moment Kabila senior gained power in Kinshasa in 1997 with support of Rwandan forces, and other foreign elements, the relationship of the Government of Congo with neighboring countries has been one driven by war and need for support at any cost, rather than being in the long term interest of Congo, or the establishment of peace. The attitude of Government towards different militias and factions has also been governed by its temporary needs of support to remain in power. There have not been any sincere efforts to heal the scars of the past, by treating different tribal and ethnic identities in a neutral manner.

Confused and Incoherent International Community

The last major cause of failure of peace is the confused and indifferent response of international community, especially the United Nations. As was the case in Rwanda, there has been very little coverage of the continuing loss of life and property in international media. It would not be wrong to say that often small minor incidents of violence in other parts of the globe have attracted far more attention of media than the spiral of disaster, violence and inhumanity unforeseen since the Second World War that has consumed between 3 to 5 million lives in Congo, and continues to consume more every day. Unlike Rwanda, where the international community was absolutely indifferent, in Congo, many countries have taken interest and intervened - but only with the intention of making best use of this strife and the poor human rights record of Government to gain access to its mineral resources, and gain dominant influence among the rulers of Congo. In February this year, MONUC has prepared a report on violence in Bas-Congo province and indicted the Government also for human rights violations.

The poorly coordinated efforts of the international community with hidden agendas governing their responses have ensured that the United Nations mission has very little opportunity to make a difference. Lack of coverage by international media and poor interest and involvement of major powers like United States, coupled with narrow selfish interests by emerging powers like China have only made matters worse.

Solutions for The Problems

There are no easy solutions for resolving violence in Congo. The best bet would be to put pressure on the local Government of Congo to protect human rights violation, if necessary by United Nations sponsored 'peace keepers'. Good and fair governance with equality for all and neutrality to ethnicity can go a long way in shifting focus away from conflicts. The international community needs to become more serious in attempting to prevent violence. Lastly, the history needs to be relegated to the books and the environment of insecurity and hatred needs to be healed by humanitarian support from all non-governmental organizations.

A lot of dissent and dissatisfaction against the Government is resulting from the failure of President Kabila to honour his commitment of holding a free and fair election. Many consider his reluctance to arise from his vast business interests that may not remain safe if he loses power. However, once the people have shown a democratic vision, elections cannot be avoided. A Presidential win can be best thing for Kabila regime to regain its legitimacy. A peaceful change of leadership can restore people’s faith in political institutions, and deter them from violence.

One major feasible interference could be to get the neighbouring parties and their leaders committed to peace and harmony through consistent international community pressure. Resolving the Hutu-Tutsi legacy from Rwanda is easier than doing it in Congo today. If the leaders of the communities outside Congo can be brought together to work for peace, it may send a very strong signal to the factions fighting in Congo.

Even though the violence in Congo is indigenous, the role of international parties is crucial in ending the conflict. Only a sustained and well meaning response jointly undertaken by the international community under the authority of United Nations can bring about the key impacts. It will be required to make the government more responsible, to prevent the third parties to exploit the resources while fanning the conflict and to heal the Hutu-Tutsi wounds outside Congo. In that sense, international community could hold the key to resolving the conflict.

Hutu, Tutsi, Hutu-Tutsi violence, Hutu Tutsi violence in Rwanda, Rwanda, violence in Africa, peace in Congo, Democratic republic of Congo, sustainable peace in Congo, peace in Africa, MONUC, Kabila, Kinshasa, coltan, China Railway Group

There are no easy or readymade solutions to the intricate problems in Congo, but bringing the situation under control is not impossible either. In fact sincere and persistent effort would control violence and once that is done, time will heal the scars provided government and the international community are able to play the part expected from them.

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