November 8th, 2013
05:28 PM ET

Light at the end of the tunnel for DRC?

By Steve McDonald, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Steve McDonald is senior advisor to the Africa program at the Wilson Center. The views expressed are his own.

The standing down of rebel group M-23 in the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo made international headlines this week. After a short but intense campaign, the National Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC), backed up by the newly formed U.N. Intervention Brigade, had captured all of M-23’s strongholds and pinned it down in a small, isolated area on the border of Rwanda and Uganda. It was therefore no surprise that against such odds, they have now laid down their arms and sued for peace – an effort set to be reciprocated by Congo’s government, which announced Friday it will sign a peace deal with the rebels on Monday.

M-23 was never very strong – at its height maybe 1,000 fighters, but recently as few as 200 to 500. But it operated freely over the last two years or so because of the incompetence of the FARDC and U.N. peacekeeping forces’ unwillingness to engage, as well as the ongoing support of the Rwandan government.  In fact, the Rwandans have been supporting one group or another of Tutsi militias since 1994-95 in its continuing effort to neutralize the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and Mai Mai militias, Hutu groups of soldiers who fled Rwanda in 1994 after the genocide there.

The fact is that M-23 was just the latest manifestation of determined Tutsi militias, and the group’s history has been marked by constant falling out among the leadership. This suggests that yet another faction and leader is likely to emerge in the wake of this surrender if Rwanda continues to send support to these Tutsi rebel groups. So, while the surrender of M-23 will be welcomed by Congolese and international observers, given the horrendous human rights violations they have perpetrated, the fighting is not necessarily over.

Still, whatever new permutation of M-23 eventually emerges, this development is a good sign for a number of reasons.  The use of the U.N. Intervention Brigade in combat operations represents a sea change in the way the U.N. Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) is conducting its mandate and puts real “teeth” into their military effectiveness.  Under its new head and Special Representative of the Secretary General Martin Kobler, MONUSCO has become more aggressive and independent.  In the past, as a partner of the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo, MONUSCO worked only in consultation and in tandem with the government and FARDC.  While it continues to do so, it has recognized that the governments of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda have been stirring up violence in Eastern DRC, where FARDC troops have been just as guilty of rape and pillage as the M-23.

So how can such complex and competing forces be tackled?  Kobler’s most recent assignments prior to taking up his post were in Afghanistan and Iraq, and this appears to have provided some useful insights into how best to work in Africa. He told me in a private meeting this spring that in those previous posts, he learned how to separate the U.N. mandate from the policy objectives of a national government when that government was corrupt, ineffective, and contributing to internal divisions and violence.

Regardless, M-23’s surrender comes at a time when the international pressures for a permanent solution to this situation are increasing on both Rwanda and the DRC.  On February 24, the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC was signed in Addis Ababa. The framework agreement resulted from an initiative of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in response to the continued fighting, rape, and mayhem being caused by M-23 in the east of the country. Ban pointedly threatened sanctions against neighboring countries that continue to support rebel groups, implying their culpability without naming them. An agreement was therefore signed by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region , the Southern African Development Community, the African Union, and the United Nations, as well as numerous individual countries in the region.

With the appointment of Kobler as well as former Irish President Mary Robinson as a U.N. Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region and former Senator Russ Feingold as the new U.S. Special Envoy for the Great Lakes, there now seems to be in place a high-profile, effective international mechanism for holding these recalcitrant leaders to their oft-stated but never implemented commitments to sustainable peace in the region.

And it is significant now that Kobler was reported this week to have said that his next target will be the Hutu militia, FDLR, and any other such armed groups fighting in eastern DRC.  Ironically, should the FDLR be defeated, that would remove one of the concerns – or excuses, depending on one’s perspectives – of the Rwandan government of Paul Kagame.  Should that serve to dry up Rwandan support for dissident Tutsi militias in the DRC, then, combined with this new firm international and regional leadership, there might be real light at the end of this tragic tunnel.

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Topics: Africa

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soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. rightospeak

    No mentipn of Tutsis being trained in the US, no mention of neocolonialism, . No real background – just another I -do -not -have -a -clue article. Get some real investigative journalist and you will know what happens there, if he is allowed to write. So much propaganda , so many lies.

    November 8, 2013 at 8:00 pm | Reply
  2. chrissy

    Frustrating isn't it @ rightospeak? That and that blocking thing they have going on! Its gone downhill tremendously in the past year or better!

    November 8, 2013 at 9:43 pm | Reply
  3. Benedict

    Isn't 800,000 dead in a hundred days enough already?!!!.

    November 9, 2013 at 6:04 am | Reply
  4. rightospeak

    After consulting tea leaves, I Ching and Conspiracy Theorists ( where there is smoke ,there is usually fire ) the following story emerged.

    Once upon a time in Africa majority of Hutu in Rwanda after getting independence in 1961 took over power repressing Tutsi who had to run to their kin tribes in neighboring Uganda.The Big Bad Wolf wanted something in Africa so he used Tutsi to return to Rwanda, take over Burundi and go towards Zaire where goodies and French Capital set. Uganda attacks Rwanda and the Tutsi remembering their slaughter earlier of 800,000 there push the Hutu out of Rwanda into Zaire where is gold, diamonds, uranium ( FDR got 1 kg of uranium there to give it to the Soviet Union for their atomic bomb) . So the Big Bad Wolves destabilize the government of Zaire to get at the goodies.

    November 9, 2013 at 7:12 am | Reply
  5. rightospeak

    Since 1961 The Inhuman Rights Watch must have been asleep at their desks from overeating on their fat salaries while the slaughter in Africa, deaths from cholera caused by UN in Haiti and others continue.

    November 9, 2013 at 8:29 am | Reply
  6. nishant

    a positive move after a long time, The UN needs to capitalize.
    if peace is the end state that all desire thence it is a step in the right direction.
    pray that this is not short lived.
    The Congolese deserve peace and stability after so many years of sponsored violence.
    let peace prevail

    – a former peacekeeper

    November 9, 2013 at 11:00 am | Reply
  7. rightospeak

    When I read tea leaves I look for signs of brotherhood,equality and freedom slogans.. Usually it means Communists destroying other people's Capital, plundering and trying to enslave the locals by debt but of course under the direction of the Big Capital. . Today there is less of Communism but more of Globalism , a new form of slavery creating a new man- just like Communists and Nazis tried and failed. Human nature is hard to change.
    The capital losers in Zaire : France , Belgium, Russia and Germany. And the winners are : English language, Anglo-American Capital and oh, yes CANADIAN Capital .
    No wonder that we are not liked.

    November 9, 2013 at 11:06 am | Reply
  8. JAL

    Dear John, Do it to it.

    November 9, 2013 at 4:16 pm | Reply
  9. j. von hettlingen

    DRC is a perfect example for the curse of its vast natural resources. The five-year conflict pitted government forces, supported by Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe, against rebels backed by Uganda and Rwanda. Millions died between 1998 and 2003 in Africa's "world war".
    There have been 4 conflict-zones: Enyele rebels in Equateur, Ugandan rebels in north-east, Rwandan rebels (among them the M23) in the Kivus and Ituri rebels near oil finds in the North-eastern province. In many areas fighting is still going on.

    November 10, 2013 at 10:00 am | Reply

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