Kabila loses concertation in Congo

The M23 rebel group is increasing pressure on the government in the Democratic Republic of Congo. (AFP)

The M23 rebel group is increasing pressure on the government in the Democratic Republic of Congo. (AFP)

Even as reports of fighting in the east mount, in Kinshasa the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) appears preoccupied with the arrangements for national concertations.

President Joseph Kabila announced this initiative in January and said at the time it was aimed at restoring national cohesion.

The Kabila government has been limping along since the controversial 2011 presidential and legislative elections, and the M23 mutiny and the emergence of other armed movements, such as the Bakata Katanga in Katanga province, have further undermined his government.

When Kabila announced the initiative, he seems to have wanted to restore the domestic credibility of his government.

Since then, he has signed the Peace and Security Co-operation (PSC) Framework Agreement to establish regional security. The aim was to get the DRC's neighbours to agree not to destabilise one another, a practice almost all of them have been guilty of at one time or another. When the DRC signed it, the country also committed itself to addressing key domestic issues such as reform of the army and police, the consolidation of state authority, decentralisation, economic development, the reform of government institutions, reconciliation and democratisation.

A recent report by the United Nations secretary general on the UN mission in the DRC acknowledges that the government has started to make some progress in meeting these goals, notably by establishing a follow-up committee that will monitor the implementation of these objectives.

But the recent announcement of details of the agenda, and the duration and mediation of the national concertations casts serious doubt on whether Kabila is serious about changing his country.

Bulldozing ahead
The opposition has been opposed to the initiative since it was first announced and has boycotted preliminary consultations with the government.
Its attitude has hardened in recent weeks. They resent Kabila for bulldozing ahead with an agenda that he set and for unilaterally appointing the current presidents of the senate and the national assembly as mediators.

Meanwhile, the time frame set for the concertations is nothing less than absurd – 15 days, with a possibility of adding another five; 20 days to address community conflict, peace and national reconciliation, decentralisation and the extension of state authority, democracy and institutional reform, and governance and the economy.

Judging by the agenda, which echoes key commitments made in the PSC agreement, Kabila is hoping to kill two birds with one stone – to appease the international community and his domestic constituency.

A group of opposition parties has countered his agenda with a proposal to hold talks that would be organised jointly by the opposition, the ruling party and civil society, held under the aegis of the UN, and mediated by Mary Robinson, the UN special envoy to the Great Lakes, and Dénis Sassou N'Guesso, the president of the Republic of Congo.

There is little question that the initiative in its current incarnation is pointless because it simply will not draw in the key participants it needs in order to resolve these fundamental issues or come up with a consensus on the way forward.

Nonetheless, Kabila is stubbornly pressing ahead, seemingly contenting himself with ticking the box marked political dialogue instead of forging the real compromise and consensus the country needs if it is to put an end to the dual crises of government legitimacy and chronic instability.

It demonstrates that his commitment to resolving the country's problems is being overshadowed by his own political interests and survival, and it is creating a political impasse at a crucial moment.

Reconciliation and democratisation
It remains to be seen how the UN will react to this. UN resolution 2098, which created the Intervention Brigade and provides guidance on the implementation of the PSC agreement, is unclear about national talks, saying only that Robinson should promote inclusive and transparent political dialogue among all Congolese stakeholders with a view to furthering reconciliation and democratisation.

The controversy over the nature of the dialogue comes at the same time as the first concrete sign that Kabila may be preparing to lobby for an amendment to the Constitution that would allow him to stand for a third term. In June, the secretary general of the ruling party and a close Kabila ally, Evariste Boshab, published a book in which he questions the Constitution on this point and makes a clear argument in favour of allowing a change.

There has been an outcry, especially among civil society and the political opposition, which has also made a commitment to noninterference with the Constitution another tenet of national talks.

So, where is Kabila leading the country? At a time when the UN, and South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi in particular, are committing human and material resources to the DRC on a very large scale, Kabila seems focused on consolidating his own power.

When he should be creating the conditions to enable the Intervention Brigade to pursue its mandate and should be facilitating progress on meeting the commitments his government made in the PSC agreement, he is preoccupied with stage-managing a national dialogue and perhaps with laying the groundwork for a third term.

Meanwhile, the to-do list of the Intervention Brigade deployed to the eastern DRC to track anti-government rebels just seems to get longer by the day.

By this week, over 800 South African and 1 200 Tanzanian troops had been deployed to the brigade, which is headquartered in Goma. The deployment of Malawian troops is expected in the next few weeks and will complete the force complement.

This will be none too soon, as the resurgence in fighting between the Congolese army and the M23 rebel group this week demonstrates. With peace talks in Kampala between the government and the M23 now stalled for months, the M23 appears to have decided to increase military pressure on the government.

On July 14, it launched its second attack in two months, with fighting taking place 14km north of the strategic city and heading towards Goma. The attack comes as a leaked version of the recent UN Group of Experts report says that the M23 was significantly weakened by its split earlier this year.

The same report says that formal Rwandan support to the movement has also decreased.

Tensions between Rwanda and the DRC are again rising. The Congolese government spokesperson Lambert Mende said this week that the M23 attack was supported by the Rwandan army. On the other hand, Rwanda's ambassador to the UN, Eugène-Richard Gasana, has reportedly accused commanders of the Intervention Brigade of meeting commanders of the Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda, the armed Rwandan Hutu group led by the Interahamwe responsible for the 1994 genocide.

To make matters worse, Rwanda is also accusing the Congolese army and the UN Mission in the DRC of deliberately shelling Gisenyi, the Rwandan city that lies close to Goma.

As if this is not enough to deal with, the surprise attack last week by the Allied Defence Forces (ADF) on several towns near the DRC-Ugandan border has added yet another dimension to the conflict. The ADF is an Islamist anti-Ugandan rebel group which has been present in the region for 20 years.

Although the UN Security Council resolution creating the Intervention Brigade calls for it to neutralise all domestic and foreign armed groups operating in this volatile part of the country, until recently, the ADF was not considered a key driver of instability in the east.

According to the Group of Experts, the ADF may have established links with al-Shabab, the Muslim extremist Somali group. The Group of Experts is also investigating claims that the ADF has grown in size.

For some time now, the ADF has been kidnapping civilians in the area under its control along the DRC-Uganda border but the attack last week, which sent over 50 000 refugees scrambling across the border into Uganda, was the strongest indication yet that it has grown stronger and more determined.

The brigade will have them to deal with too.

Stephanie Wolters is a director of Okapi Consulting, which specialises in research and media in conflict zones

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