Laurent Nkunda considers himself a man of diplomacy and politics. Unfortunately, whether we agree or not has become academic. This war criminal has a following that is growing and will continue to: aside from his Tutsi advocates there is suspicion that he is allied with ethnic Tutsi Paul Kagame (Rwanda’s President), and furthermore it has been speculated that he has the support of the Christian American right. This is a powerful foundation from which to wage a war of unthinkable proportions. Surely the question to ask at this stage is:
What does Nkunda want?
We know the UN Security Council has approved 3,100 additional peace keepers. Hopefully this will be enough. As Ugandan Eddie Kwizera notes, “there is no peace to keep”. The DRC is the size of Western Europe, yet MONUC (Mission des Nations Unies en République Démocratique du Congo) the biggest peace keeping mission in the world, still only has 17,000 troops there. Neighbouring state Angola acknowledges that: “the direct and indirect interference by third parties will only worsen the conflict”.
The World Health Organization as of last Tuesday has named cholera a ‘serious risk’ in the region. This is perhaps the most concerning of all the developments in the region since August. Cholera stands to be as powerful a killer as the men with guns. It can be passed on with just a handshake.
It is a handshake that needs to be considered. We have seen genocide just one generation ago in Rwanda. In the 1960’s we saw another failed peace-keeping mission in the area (UNOC). Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General UN, has said the UN forces suffer from a “lack of adequate equipment or a clear chain of command”. Fighting fire with fire is not the answer.
It may seem insufferable to the Gordon Browns and Bernard Kouchners to think of Nkunda as a leader, but a leader he is. Nkunda’s CNDP (National Congress for the Defence of the People) is a growing army with a following. It is hypocritical and embarrassing to be preaching peace only to discover that MONUC finds itself lending its sympathies to the Congolese army. It publicly admonishes the CNDP for abuses that the Congolese army are equally guilty of. How can we expect the CNDP to behave rationally if MONUC itself is taking sides?
As it is the Western idea of partition that was imposed on this region (the Belgian colonizers deciding the Tutsis were a superior race and so creating divisions), the Western idea of peace talks must be followed through with. Finding out what Nkunda wants, and genuinely engaging with and understanding the desires and divisions is the only way forward. If Kabila continues to ignore requests for direct negotiations, Nkunda could be well on his way to fulfilling his promise of toppling his government.
Of course there is an inherent problem, the Congo is mineral rich. Perhaps now would be a good time to stop exploiting Africa’s abundant natural resources. With the current state of the world maybe we should be more concerned with growing our own carrots.
I was asked today about Amnesty International’s increasing calls for the UN Security Council to act to reinforce the peacekeeping force currently in DRC (acronym MONUC…it’s French and I can’t find the circumflex character to spell it out). Given the awful situiation in the East of the country, calling on the Security Council to, in his words, “put more guns” in the Kivus was “not going to help in the long run,” he offered. After quickly noting that Amnesty’s call is to strengthen the ability of MONUC to protect civilians…which include more police and armed personnel, but also trucks, aircraft, training to help victims of sexual violence, and a whole slew of logistical support, I gave it a little thought.
Like Amnesty’s support for the UN Mission in Darfur, the calls for increasing support for MONUC—already the largest (most expensive) peacekeeping mission in the world—may seem a desperate recommendation to some. But aside from the obvious and pressing needs of the most vulnerable of people in Eastern DRC—the war affected, the starving, and the displaced—there is no doubt that the humanitarian crisis itself is a policy problem. While Amnesty’s call is surely motivated primarily by the need to address human suffering, there is longer term wisdom to that call.
The roots of the current crisis in DRC can be traced back to the broader “Great Lakes” refugee crisis following the Rwandan genocide. We can trace the general instability of the Kivus and eastern DRC more broadly to the displacement of millions at the borders of Uganda, Sudan, Rwanda, and Burundi. That is, we can trace the current political and security situation in DRC back to the displacement and human insecurity of nearly 15 years ago and years since.
Rwandan refugees setting up camp in E. DRC, 1994
This displacement destroys communities, shreds political fabric, militarizes local commerce, invites predation, increases incentives to take up arms, and destabilizes displacement-receiving communities and countries. The number of people displaced from the Kivus in the past couple months is about equal to the total number of Darfuris who’ve fled to neighboring Chad over the past 5 years. MONUC must be strengthened because civilians will suffer even further if it is not. But the wisdom of strengthening the UN’s thus-far ineffectual presence in the Kivus extends to a generational metric. If the spiraling human security situation in the Kivus isn’t soon slowed, we’ll be citing the international community’s failure to act in 2008 as a key cause of another yet-avoidable catastrophe years down the road.
Yes, securing vulnerable people now is just and necessary (see Mr. Koettl’s post from earlier today). But it has the added advantage of allowing future generations a chance to live in relative peace.
(c) Michael Graham/USHMM, July 2008
While African and UN leaders today discuss the recent spike in violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, civilians continue to suffer on the ground. The unraveling of the fragile ceasefire over the last hours further increased the urgency for the international community to step up its effort to help.
The UN peacekeeping force MONUC remains the last hope of hundreds of thousands of affected civilians, mainly women and children. However, the force is thinly stretched and cannot enforce its mandate of stopping attacks against civilians, protect humanitarian operations and enforce the UN arms embargo. The absolute priority for world leaders now must be to strengthen the peacekeepers’ capacity. And the absolute priority for us is to urge them to act.