A Robinson for Kampala, a Brigade for Rumangabo. The UN’s new Congo Strategy?

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As expected by many, the sudden surrender of Bosco Ntaganda to the US embassy and his subsequent transfer to the ICC in The Hague has not stopped the ongoing political dynamics in and on the Great Lakes region. Shortly after his appearance in Kigali, the UN named a new special envoy to the Great Lakes region, Mary Robinson, respected elder stateswoman and diplomat. Ten days later, on March 28, the UN Security Council adopts resolution 2098. It includes the establishment of an “intervention brigade” of 2500 (3 infantry battalions, 1 artillery battalion and a special forces company) to search and destroy rebel groups in the DRC, most notably FDLR and M23, but also Mayi Mayi groups, Raia Mutomboki/Mukombozi, and similar. Meanwhile, the Kampala talks have not yet resumed, although scheduled for this week, initially. Much seems as if the United Nations were running a dual, if not triple strategy. And it is not sure at this moment, whether this may not bear counterproductive potential for the regional peace process. A few thoughts:

The surrender of Bosco Ntaganda, as earlier described, is a victory for human rights over impunity. Without any doubt, both the Congolese (and no single one has expressed it differently so far) and the International Community can be happy about him vanishing from the Kivutian surface. However, his surrender is no automatic trigger for peace. Especially in the last 12 months, he had rather become a chased hunter and an instrument for other powerbrokers. In order for his detention to develop longer term positive influence over the DRC peace process, it is crucial that judges in The Hague do a careful job. The current arrest warrant for Ntaganda (under which he is to be treated and tried now) includes crimes committed in Ituri as a military chief for the yet convicted Thomas Lubanga. It shows weaknesses and it is everything but sure that it can suffice, juridically, to sentence the so-called Terminator. Further investigations on his role in Laurent Nkunda’s CNDP (for instance concerning the 2008 Kiwanja massacre) should urgently be carried out with the objective of mounting a second case.

The appointment of Mary Robinson as a new special envoy was perceived as good news by many observers. First of all, opinions had been converging that she is a good pick for this tricky mission and second, many seemed to be happy to finally have a special envoy after a long prelude. The big question now is, what will she be working on? The Kampala talks have been frozen/disrupted for several reasons. The internecine fights in M23 and the successive dismissal of their former President Runiga followed a yet de facto termination of the talks due to misunderstandings between the DRC delegation and the M23’s. Now Runiga has been replaced by Bertrand Bisimwa and Sultani Makenga made Bosco Ntaganda, Baudouin Ngaruye, Innocent Zimurinda, and others flee to Rwanda. Rumours of an upcoming deal between President Kabila and Sultani Makenga have been surrounding these last weeks’ events. They would certainly compromise the so-called 11+4 framework’s (which UN envoy Robinson is a crucial part of, together with the AU, SADC, the ICGLR, and its 11 member states) capacity to provoke and accompany a more comprehensive peace process where the Addis Ababa framework accord and the second round of Kampala talks could form a two-level dynamic (with only the local component being underrepresented, since there have not been any initiatives to bring all armed groups to a roundtable for negotiation – currently integration efforts simply go on in a poorly coordinated manner as the examples of Mayi Mayi Yakutumba, Nyatura, or APCLS underline).

Finally, Security Council resolution 2098. Hailed as a revolution by many (especially its creators but also the military friends among human rights defenders), it will have stand a tough test in terms of implementation. The resolution foresees the creation of the MONUSCO intervention brigade by the end of April. It will be under direct command of the MONUSCO force commander and include troops from South Africa, Tanzania, and Malawi. Although being part of MONUSCO (probably some existing battalion will merely be renamed and reframed) the history of this brigade began as the Neutral Intervention Force of the ICGLR. Notwithstanding the fact that an ICGLR-deployed and AU-mandated force would never have been completely neutral it is quite obvious that the MONUSCO intervention brigade will be even less. M23 already reacted by accusing the UN of a “war declaration” as Bisimwa put it in a media release on April 1. Military commander Sultani Makenga has been more careful, almost indifferent concerning the very same aspect but neutrality is certainly something different. The Congolese government on its side seem to be comfortable with this new attempt, but the danger of further discrediting the national army FARDC is imminent too. The two main dangers, however, are even others than that: On the one hand, the activities of such a brigade can seriously put in peril any kind of political peace efforts (both concerning Kampala talks but also with regards to the integration of smaller armed groups). And in addition, the planned effective of 2500 regional troops to form MONUSCO battlegroup could be far too few to dismantle all actors considered as “negative forces” – let alone M23 alone, which is currently trying to regain force in quantitative and qualitative manners.

In summary, the UN’s role in the current DRC peace process remains difficult to comprehend. Much of the activities on the international level seem poorly coordinated and appear more a piecemeal than a multi-faceted coherent strategy. The Congolese government acts as a free-rider herein, as long as the opportunity structure for national elites prevail. The different armed groups react in their way and play the game (especially the blame game) and regional actors do not seem that upset with the current situation either. While Uganda maintains its readiness to re-host the parties in Kampala at any time, Rwanda dislodges flown Bosco soldiers and plaids for the “Congolese intervention brigade” – not too far away from a few M23 statements insinuating they should be the force establishing law and order in the Kivus. At this crucial moment, the UN has to be careful not to render itself irrelevant as a peacemaker. In addition, it should not be forgotten, the intervention brigade is merely a late fulfilment of what had been part of MONUSCO’s mandate long ago – “using all necessary means (…) to protect civilians”. Moreover the most burning issues such as SSR for instance remain at risk not be considered again. Much work to do for all actors implicated. And many pitfalls to hit.

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  1. […] and a support role in both the 11+4 Addis Ababa framework and the Kampala talks appears more a cacophony than a coherent strategy. Beyond that, the urgent need to create a local counterpart to complement international (Addis […]



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