The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Rwandan and Ugandan-backed M23 rebels have agreed on the last 11 January on a peace talks agenda. But even if both sides come to an agreement, it will only one step in the long road towards the stabilization of East Congo.
On the last 20 November, several hundred deserters of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo, known as FARDC, who claimed to belong to the Movement of the 23 March 2009 (M23) created last spring by Tutsi soldiers, captured the city of Goma. Again, like in 2008 and 2009 when they were routed by M23’s predecessor, the National Council for the Defence of Peoples (CNDP), the FARDC were completely defeated, despite the presence in both Kivus of over 17,000 heavily equipped UN troops.
Many lessons can be drawn from the blitz offensive launched on the 17 November by the M23. The first is that although they used once their attack helicopters, the Indian troops of the UN Mission for the Stabilization of Congo (MONUSCO) adopted a restrictive interpretation of their mandate to protect civilians. Obviously, they considered that their role wasn’t to fight instead of the FARDC who did not oppose much resistance to their adversaries, who did benefit from Rwanda’s and Uganda’s logistical support, according to UN reports. In fact, the FARDC scored an own goal. The ground forces army chief of staff, general Gabriel Amisi Kumba aka « Tango Four » sold part of his troops’weapons and ammunitions to the Nyatura Hutu militias and to the Raïa Mutomboki militia from the Tembo ethnic tribe, says UN sources.
Eventually, under international pressure and that of its sponsors in Kampala and Kigali, the M23 accepted to pull out from Goma on the 1 December in exchange for the start of negotiations with the Kinshasa government in Kampala. One week later, during a summit held on the 7 and 8 December in Maputo, with the President of the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), Yoweri Museveni, the leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), announced the future deployment of a 3,000 troops standby force which has not taken place yet. These soldiers would act in support of the ICGLR International Neutral Force led by a Tanzanian officer. South Africa announced it would provide logistical support to the neutral force. On the 14 January, the UN Secretary General’s military adviser, the Senegalese general, Babacar Gaye declared that the neutral force would consist of a brigade which would be integrated to MONUSCO and would operate under the orders of its commander, the Indian lieutenant-general Chander Prakash.
Eventually, the negotiations between the government and the M23 started on the 9 December in the Ugandan capital. But no much progress was recorded before the New year, since both sides did not even agree on a talks agenda. Besides, the Kinshasa governmental delegation was led by Father Apollinaire Malu Malu, who belongs to the Nande tribe of the Northern part of North Kivu which has been fighting for decades for the political hegemony over the province with the Rwandan-speaking politicians of the region who was not keen to make concessions to the rebels On top of that, President Kabila who has been accused “of high treason” by the opposition in Kinshasa, finds himself in a difficult position and has been eager to show a firm stand in the negotiations. Indeed, on the 19 November, 103 MPs and senators were saying that the President has lacked the will to create a strong army since he was first sworn in, elever years before.
By Mid-December, the new army chief of staff, Gen. François Olenga announced a nation wide recruitment, which surprised foreign assistants to the Reform of the security sector who have been trying to persuade the government to reduce the numbers of the Congolese military and also to increase the training of the remaining soldiers in order to raise their professional standards. The problem is that on the field, Kinshasa cannot afford to take a hardline. Everywhere, in North Kivu, except in the capital of the province, Goma, militias including the M23 have been occupying the territory abandoned by the FARDC in November. A European military adviser told SouthWorld that the FARDC do not have the logistical means to reconquer the lost ground and even assuming they could get the fuel and the ammunition for their T55 tanks which are not adapted to the field. Moreover, said participants to a seminar on the situation in Belgium, many FARDC officers cannot even read a map and hardly 6% of the troops have been trained by foreign instructors. Apparently, the travel ban and the assets freeze announced in early January against the civilian leader of the M23, Jean-Marie Runiga and one of its military commander Eric Bedege, did not impress the rebels very much.
Talks which were interrupted on the 21 December resumed on the 4 January. Then on the 11 January, both sides agreed to discuss an evaluation of the 23 March 2009 peace agreement between the Kinshasa government and the CNDP, security issues, social, political and economic issues and eventually the terms of an implementation, monitoring and assessment mechanism for the Kampala agreement. The M23 also declared a unilateral ceasefire on the 8 January. According to the rebels, the Kinshasa government had failed namely to respect some conditions of the 2009 deal, such as the integration of the CNDP officers in the army and the police with the recognition of their ranks. Meanwhile, Uganda said that unlike Rwanda, it was not opposing the use of unmanned aerial vehicles proposed by the UN. By mid-January, the situation was quite confused in Kinshasa. The opposition which was first reluctant to participate to the Kampala talks and to share the blame of possible concessions to the M23 rebels was showing some will to be involved. But it wanted the negotiations to also address issues such as governance, democracy and human rights.
Meanwhile, the FARDC have to face other security challenges outside the Kivus. In the North of the Eastern Province, at the Central African Border, in the area of Ango, the local administration and the local civil society are urging the government which pull out troops from the zone, to send them back in order to cope with the threat of Mbororo Fulani cattle herders who come from the neighbouring country and even from Niger, Chad and Sudan to invade the Ngaramba National Park. Some success was scored at the beginning of the year in the Eastern Province against the warlord Paul Sadala aka Morgan who was terrorizing the Safisha area in the Ituri district, reported FARDC sources. On the 7 January, the FARDC retook the control of the city of Mambasa, 160 km to the South-West of Bunia, with the UN support. Simultaneously, negotiations were taking place between the FARDC and the leader of another rebel group, called the Ituri Patriotic Republican Force led by another warlord called Matata Banaloki, aka Cobra Matata, who was offered to joining the FARDC with his troops.
By Mid-January, fighting was also taking place between the FARDC and the Raïa Mutomboki militias in the Maniema province, around the Kasese tin and tantalum mines, forcing the local people to seek refuge in the surrounding forests. The trouble with the tragedy in North Kivu is that it also diverts attention from other trouble spots such as North Katanga, where the Congolese News Agency ACP reported on the 8 January that the local Pygmies had fled the forests in the dioceses of Kilwa Kasenga to escape from the Mai Mai militias of Gedeon Kyungu Ilunga.