/ 7 November 2013

SA revels in M23’s defeat following its CAR debacle

Congolese soldiers guard ­suspected M23 rebels who ­surrendered in Chanzo ­village near Goma.
Congolese soldiers guard ­suspected M23 rebels who ­surrendered in Chanzo ­village near Goma. (Reuters)

South African diplomats were in a celebratory mood this week after President Jacob Zuma's military and diplomatic interventions contributed to the surrender of the M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Days after the Southern African Development Community's intervention force brigade drove the rebels from towns they controlled in the North Kivu province, Zuma brought leaders from the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) together with their SADC counterparts for a joint summit in Pretoria on Monday.

The two regions agreed that the ICGLR chairperson, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, should conclude a peace agreement between DRC President Joseph Kabila's government and the rebels.

Throughout the impasse between the DRC and M23, the rebels made it clear they preferred the ICGLR, led by Museveni, to mediate rather than South Africa or SADC.

"It was a smart move on Zuma's part to bring the two regions together because now M23 cannot choose to work with those it considered their allies," a South African diplomatic source said.

By "co-opting" the Great Lakes' leaders, Zuma appears to have outflanked the M23, both militarily and diplomatically.

The rebels have now announced they are laying down their arms and seeking a political solution. A formal signing of the peace agreement is expected by next week.

Clayson Monyela, the spokesperson for the department of international relations and co-operation, said South Africa was happy with the outcome of the summit because "we will now co-operate with each other so that you don't have a situation where people have suspicions when one region is dealing with the problems in another country".

Although the DRC is both a mem­ber of the ICGLR and SADC, Kabila has relied more heavily on the latter for assistance in quelling the rebellion. This is said to be have caused some unhappiness in the region, with some Great Lakes leaders arguing that SADC did not understand the roots of the DRC's problems.

Zuma's strategy, which has been judged a success, was to get his critics to agree to work with him.

Angola, Tanzania and Zambia also hold dual membership.

The summit has also boosted South Africa's image as a peacemaker on the continent.

"We are quite happy, because, after the disaster in Central African Republic [where Seleka rebels killed 13 South African soldiers], people said, ‘Do we still need to involve ourselves in other people's countries?' " an international relations insider familiar with the events said.

"We were asked why there's a need to continue intervening in the DRC. This vindicates South Africa and its involvement in the DRC and elsewhere in Africa."

Successfully defeating M23
Although South Africa may be basking in the glory of helping to liberate some eastern DRC towns, the war is not yet over. There are more than 20 other rebel groups operating in the Congo, particularly in the Kivu provinces.

"The reality is that M23 is the biggest rebel group and once you have dealt with them you have removed the largest obstacle. The other rebel groups are not as difficult as M23," Monyela said.

Armed groups include at least six Mai Mai groups and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which was founded by some of the key perpetrators of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and who fled to the eastern DRC.

There are also the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo, Kata Katanga ("Cut off Katanga") – which demand the secession of DRC's Katanga province – and the Lord's Resistance Army, which originated in neighbouring Uganda.

After successfully defeating M23, the intervention brigade will now turn its focus to the second-biggest group, the FDLR, and the other rebel groups.

But the challenges are not only military. Millions of people in eastern DRC have been displaced and others need emergency food aid. South Africa also needs to ensure that Kabila's government improves the working conditions of the country's military and that salaries are paid on time.

A South African international relations source said: "M23 is not doing this [disarming] because they are nice people – they don't have a choice. There's no way they can fight the firepower that we have."

In addition to 1 345 troops, including snipers, South Africa deployed Oryx helicopters and Rooivalk fighter jets to support the intervention force brigade.

With South Africa's growing business interests in the DRC, it is in the country's best interests that its forces remain in Congo until all rebel groups have been defeated and Kabila is firmly in charge.