More Guns Will Never Solve the Mess in the D.R. Congo

July 31, 2013 10:55 pm0 comments by:

congo-dr-flagFighting between different armed groups and government forces has erupted once again in eastern DRC in these past few weeks. Keeping true to the nature of armed conflicts in the Great Lakes region, that conflict in the DRC has spilled to neighboring countries especially Uganda. Rwanda claims to have been shelled as well by FARDC in collaboration with FDRL, who stand accused of perpetrating the genocide and have set shop in DRC.

Few, in their right mind would disagree that DRC is a huge mess partly owing to how the Belgian colonialists left that country, plus the meddling and subversive activities by the C.I.A and the continued failure by successive governments in Kinshasa to deliver basic needs to its citizens despite riches which countless of countries could only dream of.

Whenever conflict flares up, regional and global players come up with one initiative or another to fix DRC. During the First Civil war in late 1990s, Rwanda and Uganda supported armed rebels to dislodge Mobutu from power. This was deemed necessary to stabilize the region which was still reeling from the aftermath of the genocide. That didn’t work out.

Allies turned into adversaries, and another bloody civil war ensued drawing in the largest numbers of African armies fighting into a single conflict in the continent. DRC was once again an open-ended battlefield. There were no winners in that war, only many survivors and losers, who were mostly innocent civilians. Things temporarily did calm down with a series of negotiations and peace agreements, which ultimately brought presidential elections to DRC.

Several times, Rwanda and DRC agreed to conduct joint military operations to eliminate armed groups which are accused of fighting to overthrow the government in Kinshasa. That didn’t work either.

The government couldn’t deliver the promises made during political campaigns. That saw armed groups emerge once again in east DRC. When the ongoing conflict started, in early 2012, the demands of the prominent rebel group, M 23, was that the government in Kinshasa had reneged on its promises and agreements reached. When rebels were overwhelmed government forces and captured Goma, the leaders of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) launched a regional initiative to resolve the conflict in DRC.

More often than not when regional and global powers decided to intervene in the DRC, more emphasis has been placed on armed solution. Bringing in more guns be in the name of UN peacekeeping forces (and “Intervention Brigade”) or the many rebels and armed groups which thrive there.  Eastern DRC is perhaps the one single area in post-colonial Africa that has witnessed more armed groups and fighting without a single group emerging victorious. In other words, guns have never been capable of solving the conflicts in eastern DRC. So, placing emphasis there is misleading.

The main issues lie with the government in Kinshasa. It had never had monopoly on the use of violence and its capabilities to deliver basic life necessities for the Congolese have eluded it. These are sine qua non to peace in that troubled country.

Giving mandate to “Intervention Brigades” or UN peacekeeping forces is meaningless for as long the very inept and corrupt government in Kinshasa doesn’t deliver. Worse still, the formation of an Intervention Brigade sabotaged the efforts of the ICGLR, which had directed the Kinshasa government to negotiate with the rebels and reach a political solution. Emboldened by this new UN Brigade, the government in Kinshasa has in all practicality abandoned negotiations with its opponents in Kampala.

This is a perfect recipe for another round of armed conflicts in the future when this one subsides down.

Kabila’s government should start by being responsible for its people; they should start by settling the decades long citizenship-crisis in Eastern DRC. Many people in that part of the country have divided political loyalties because successive governments in Kinshasa have either betrayed them by abandoning earlier promises and agreements reached, or manipulated them depending on the political dynamics of a given time.

The question of political and economic rights is central to the forever wars in eastern DRC. Those who are denied access to land and considered foreigners find it easier to pick up arms time and time again to fight for what they consider as their rights.

The government has to establish state institutions and domestic mechanisms to handle the pressures of state building projects in post-colonial Africa. Armed conflicts in DRC are essentially socio-political and economic grievances which manifest themselves in bloody conflicts because of the collective failures by successive Kinshasa governments, and regional and global powers to decidedly resolve the root causes of these conflicts, choosing instead on arming more the opposing sides in different rounds of wars there.

It is baffling to mere mortals like me as to why this failed approach has always been a preferred solution to fix the DRC? History, if it is anything to by, has shown time and time again that more guns bring more chaos and misery to innocent civilians in DRC and not even stability let alone peace.

One prominent analyst of Great Lakes region affairs poised a question in to me in private email exchanges over the DRC crisis: “why is it that DRC’s friends, including members of SADC, do not seem to realize something so elementary: that guns will not do?”

Then again, such questions can be poised by mere mortals.

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