Will war-torn DRC benefit from the Addis Ababa peace deal?
African heads of state are due to gather in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa on Sunday to sign a "comprehensive framework agreement" intended to bring peace to the war-ravaged eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
While the UN hopes the agreement will mark a turning point, critics say it is but the latest in a long line of flawed and expedient deals that have failed to address the root causes of the conflict.
Impetus for this latest peace-making spasm derived from renewed violence last autumn that culminated in the capture of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, by the rebels known as the March 23 Movement, or M23.
Mostly comprising ethnic Tutsi deserters from the Congolese army, the M23 take their name from an earlier failed peace deal, signed on March 23 2009, that was supposed to integrate them with the army.
The 2009 deal was itself the product of the shaky peace that ended the 1998 to 2003 second DRC war, also known as the great war of Africa, which involved eight African nations and 25 armed groups, and which killed an estimated 5.4-million people.
Despite national elections and yet another flimsy pact on security and development, signed in 2006, this war never really ended in North and South Kivu. But 2012 marked a new nadir.
Between January and September last year, agencies say, 767 000 people fled their homes in the Kivus, while an additional 60 000 spilled over into Rwanda and Uganda. In all, 2.7-million people were internally displaced, up by a million on 2011.
To its abiding shame, the nearly 20 000-strong UN stabilisation mission in DRC (Monusco), the largest in the world, failed to prevent this human tragedy.
As this appalling mini-history suggests national-level peacemaking that ignores the views, vulnerabilities, interests and experience of civil society, local communities and international donors, does not furnish viable solutions.
All the same, this dysfunctional cycle now looks set to repeat itself in Addis on Sunday, while separate bilateral talks between the DRC and M23 in Kampala are reportedly at a stalemate.
Jason Stearns, a noted DRC expert, said a key but so far unanswered, question was how the agreement would "make sure neighbouring countries cease meddling in Congo".
Rwanda and Uganda were accused by a UN report last year of backing the M23, in pursuit of commercial and security interests there. Britain and others therefore withheld aid to Rwanda. Now the Rwandan government, led by Paul Kagame, is quietly being let off the hook in return for a cosmetic peace. Germany has already resumed aid to Kigali.
In a report to the security council this month, Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, complained of "external assistance, direct and indirect" given to M23. But far from preventing future interventions, the UN-backed framework provides for a new 2 000-strong intervention or "enforcement" brigade, manned by troops from Tanzania and other neighbours, that will undertake the combat role Monusco mostly eschews.
"The other critical implement is a national oversight mechanism for institutional reforms in the Congo. There is a realisation that the decrepit army and police, weak local administration, and dysfunctional justice sector have aided in entrenching the conflict in the Kivus," Stearns said.
But the framework's vague proposals have been watered down to the point where Joseph Kabila's DRC government "would be overseeing itself, an arrangement that doesn't exactly promise accountability and transparency".
Alarmed that the peace deal could merely paper over the cracks, exposing eastern Congo to more upheavals down the road, NGOs involved in the region are warning that "a robust mechanism for change is lacking".
In a draft open letter with recommendations, which has been seen by the Guardian, NGOs call for a prioritisation of non-military solutions, and a broad-based, inclusive dialogue with all provincial and local actors.
The agencies, which include Cafod, Christian Aid, and the Norwegian Refugee Council, also want a rebooting of the existing stabilisation and reconstruction programme for eastern DRC, which assists civilians directly affected by the conflict. They also want a permanent UN envoy appointed to oversee implementation and ensure the neighbours behave themselves.
The demands looks like a long wish-list. And as African leaders gather, lasting peace looks like a long shot. – Guardian News and Media 2013