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A Briefing on the Democratic Republic of Congo

April 09, 2010 // 12:30pm2:00pm
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The last decade has brought enormous change in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ten years ago, the very existence of the country was threatened, as it was partitioned by several groups competing for power, occupied by eight or nine foreign armies, and the dozens of militias roving the country were wreaking havoc on the population.

Much has changed, and now sights have been set on finding the best way forward, creating agendas to address development, the economy, justice, and reform of the security sector. On April 9, 2010, the Special Representative for the DRC, Alan Doss, gave a brief on the current situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and MONUC's activities to ensure that support for this process is provided as DRC moves forward.

Positive Developments

Looking back on the past two years, significant progress in DRC has been noted. Two years ago, the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) were still camped in both North and South Kivu, despite the November 2007 agreement in Nairobi, while the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) was launching a very prominent rebellion against the state. The economy was broken down in both provinces, without any state presence in large parts of both the North and South Kivu. Eastern Congo was also troubled by the presence of the Ugandan LRA in North Kivu and more than one million internally displaced persons (IDPs). Goma was the site of several large IDP camps as well, with more than 300,000 displaced persons. The government's absence was not only felt in these areas, but also in the state of regional relations with Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi.

Today, many of these problems still exist, but SRSG Doss emphasized the progress that has been made. Violence is far more criminal than political in nature; and furthermore, access to humanitarian presence has been opened up in many areas. In these regions, the state is actually making a comeback. An active stabilization program has led to the opening of courts which is seen as part of a progressive incremental process. The most important development has been the significant weakening of the FLDR, the ex-Interahamwe troops from Rwanda. MONUC is collaborating with Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) on dealing with the FDLR as a military threat, resulting in the return of over 20,000 Rwandans, both FDLR combatants as well as those being held the FDLR. The question of the FDLR, however, cannot be addressed by military means alone; a multidimensional approach is necessary. Germany and France are currently taking steps to stop the exploitation of resources, and the FARDC has been integral in this effort, willing to take on the FDLR and to sustain losses in their aggressive efforts against them.

The CNDP, however, have been integrated into the Congolese army, FARDC. The integration is a work in progress, and there are still a large number of IDPs and problems with the Interahamwe who have been displaced and dispensed but not destroyed. They still have the capacity to inflict damage on civilian populations, though their numbers are not great. This has been a continuous problem; armed groups with diminished numbers still have the capacity to kill, pillage and rape. Yet the general tone is hopeful that the incidence of these violent acts is decreasing.

The IDP situation has also greatly improved; a process of continual return is happening all over DRC. It is estimated that one million people have returned to their homes in North and South Kivu. Ituri shows the greatest change; after three or for years, the majority of the initial two million IDPs have returned home. There must be reconciliation under the competition for resources, however, especially land. With IDPs and refugees returning to their homes, a framework in place to deal with the influx of people needs to be developed. The economy is beginning to pick up in the Kivus, and while some of it is fueled by illegal exports of minerals and other materials, in many ways the economy is thriving and creating jobs. Without regulation of this economy, much of it could turn to the informal side, which creates income for individuals, but has no positive affect on the country's economy as a whole, thereby lessening the lasting effects of an economic upturn.

Working with the FARDC has drawn criticism because of previous human rights abuses committed by the Congolese army. However, MONUC does not provide support to units or individuals who have been involved in serious human rights violations; when these abuses are discovered, support is ceased. The policy MONUC is aiming to develop will work with the Congolese president to improve the conduct and discipline of the FARDC. Dealing with impunity and improving the overall performance record of the FARDC are two of the main priorities of the government. Courts are being set up and prosecutors hired, but once people are arrested, there are few mechanisms or systems with which to implement court sentences. Regarding the army, there are no military stockades or barracks for soldiers or families. Soldiers need to know they are going to be fed and paid on time. Failure to fulfill these obligations has clear consequences, and subsequent looting and pillaging often leads to more serious actions. Security sector reform (SSR) is an integral part of the process to make the FARDC a part of the solution in DRC rather than the problem. SSR will continue to emphasize the protection and restoration of a centralized state authority, while emphasizing the need for a military body acting on behalf of the country's citizens, not against them.

The MONUC has made excellent progress in matters of protection, which is the mission's principal mandate. While human rights violations have not been eliminated, MONUC has managed to push further into the field, and is finding new ways of dealing with the challenge of protection. It has developed surveillance centers and bases throughout the Kivus to improve knowledge and make more informed strategic decisions. Over seventy different bases in isolated and harsh areas are facilitating this diffusion of information and promoting a more intelligence-driven approach. The goal is to get the Joint Protection Teams and the civilian police out of SVUs and onto the ground, talking to the people. Knowledge of what is happening in these villages will lead to a better understanding of what the protection challenges are, the communities MONUC is trying to protect and the dynamics between them, as well as what problems are not best suited to military action.

MONUC's potential draw-down of forces was a topic that garnered much attention. The Security Council is discussing the draw-down, and the Secretary General addressed the issue in his report published recently, but it is unclear how these discussions will progress. The president has established a vision of independence and self-sufficiency. This is a vision that all would like to see fulfilled, but there are serious questions as to how much time this will take. The president has outlined a time frame, and MONUC is going to discuss this over the next few months. This is an ongoing dialogue, based on years of vested interests and the desire to see a Congo that can independently ensure its own security.

Moving Forward

When considering the vast array of issues presented by Doss, it is easy to forget that many of Congo's problems today are residuals of problems that originated elsewhere. Instances such as the FDLR and CNDP problem as well as the presence of the LRA and other foreign militias are prime examples. These are not groups that are indigenous to the Congo but are instead results of conflicts from neighboring states. The Security Council has made considerable progress in addressing the need for reconciliation and rapprochement. Given that the Congo shares its more than 10,000 kilometers of borders with nine other countries, it will always be critical to work on regional relationships and cooperation. Organizations such as the Community of Great Lakes Region (CPGL), Great Lakes Conference, and the Peace and Security Treaty, can be expanded and strengthened to contribute to stability. There has been great success in West Africa using this method.

Preparation for upcoming elections is also a very important issue, though before preparations can be made, the national election commission must announce a timetable, a firm calendar, and their requirements in terms of funding and logistics. The government has asked for international support, including that of the UN mission for the local elections, but wishes to use their own resources for national elections. Inter-institutional groups are currently trying to assess the feasibility of such a project, especially given the constitutional provision that general elections must be held no later than September 2011. Given the size and complexity of the Congo, there are a number of changes that must take place within the parliament and to electoral laws, especially regarding issues of limited infrastructure and the hundreds of thousands of candidates. Given the size of the Congo and the poor infrastructure across the nation, increased decentralization is an option that is being discussed.

Reconstruction will prove particularly important for stability in the years to come. Progress has been made in the influence and control of armed groups, but there needs to be follow-up. Roads need to be rehabilitated; the police need to be brought back, and the justice system must be strengthened. An environment for economic growth and cooperation needs to be created. The country is vast, and it will require a constant, unceasing effort to push this process forward. The process of demobilization will not succeed unless there are jobs and opportunities for the younger generation. Without the proper reintegration opportunities and programs, soldiers will return to violent activities as a means of survival.

Though the situation in the Kivus and other regions is slowly improving, other regions are still experiencing violent flare-ups and decreasing stability. The Équateur region in the West is increasingly unstable with recent violence stemming from small groups of rebel militias. Like many other areas of the country, these are small groups operating in isolated areas with the potential to do serious damage using only a few people. The lesson from this situation is to be prepared, to understand the multiple communities and how they differ, and to be able to anticipate and deal with issues that arise in both a civil and military fashion. This region is often forgotten because there is so much emphasis on the East. Many parts of the West actually have worse development indicators because there is no or little support. The development agenda of Congo must be balanced throughout the country.

Doss' brief and the discussion that followed provided valuable insight into the current situation in the Congo, and highlighted challenges the country will continue to face in the coming years. Though the looming draw-down of MONUC forces has heightened the air of uncertainty in the country, Congo is on the brink of an imminent transition, where the process of peace, reconciliation, and reconstruction will be passed on to the Congolese.

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