The Institute for Security Studies is a regional human security policy think tank with an exclusive focus on Africa. As a leading African human security research institution, the institute is guided by a broad approach to security reflective of the changing nature and origin of threats to human development.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is undeniably facing both a leadership and a humanitarian crisis. The rapid progress of the M23 rebel group and its threat to seize control of Goma show that President Joseph Kabila has very little control over territory outside Kinshasa, particularly the eastern region. As a result, civilians have almost no personal security, with many inhabitants of the east running for their lives for the past 16 years. For most of these people, daily life consists of fear, uncertainty and the ever-present possibility of being murdered, robbed, assaulted, raped or displaced.
The root causes of the current crisis in the DRC can be traced back to the 1994 Tutsi genocide in neighbouring Rwanda. While the genocide is often viewed in isolation, it is in fact one of the key factors explaining the instability in the eastern DRC. When the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) managed to bring an end to the genocide by taking control of Kigali in 1994, many of the Hutu perpetrators, particularly the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR), fled across the border into the DRC.
While Rwanda initially had an excuse to put boots on the ground in the eastern DRC, the temptation to gain some control over the natural resources in this region soon became overwhelming. Meanwhile, the international community has long been praising President Paul Kagame for his remarkable success in transforming Rwanda from a country torn apart by civil war and genocide, into one of the safest and fastest developing countries on the continent. It is only in the past month that President Kagame has publically begun to lose favour, after a United Nations Group of Experts (GoE) report claimed that Kigali has been backing the Tutsi-led M23 rebellion in the eastern DRC. The United States’ War Crimes Office has subsequently warned that President Kagame may end up facing charges of aiding war crimes in a neighbouring country.
Yet, it is also under President Kagame’s leadership that Rwanda has undergone an economic metamorphosis, now being labelled ‘the Singapore of Africa’. However, in reality, while President Kagame manages to protect his own citizens, much of the chaos of 1994 has simply moved across the border into the DRC. The genocide in Rwanda was fuelled by hatred against the Tutsis, something that has now become institutionalised among the Congolese in the east. The fact that the mostly Tutsi M23 has caused so much pain for civilians in the last three months is only further entrenching this hatred.
Last week, Rwanda presented its rebuttal to the GoE report to the UN Sanctions Committee on the DRC. Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo led the delegation, while the GoE was represented by Steven Hege. At the weekend Rwanda withdrew its special forces that had been based in the eastern DRC for the past two years. However, the motivation for and implications of this decision are not yet clear. Regardless of the outcome of the UN Security Council’s deliberations over the GoE report, Kinshasa and Kigali still have to face the root causes of this crisis. If they do not, what took place in New York will simply be yet another diplomatic distraction instead of a concrete step towards resolving the crisis.
There are various issues that the top leadership of both Rwanda and the DRC need to consider at this point. Firstly, Kigali has to be aware that the instability to which it has been contributing, coupled with the escalating hatred of Tutsis, makes for a toxic cocktail that may eventually spill over into Rwanda itself. While Rwanda may have the upper hand for now, it should not forget that it is significantly smaller than the DRC, which may in future pose a very credible threat to its tiny neighbour. Secondly, Kinshasa has to be aware that while the poor resource governance that has been plaguing the east may have also enabled many actors to enrich themselves, the chaotic situation is not sustainable. If Kigali is indeed backing the M23, something obviously has gone wrong between President Kabila and President Kagame, and allowing a foreign invasion into the eastern DRC is certainly not a way to solve the problem.
There are no quick fixes, but for now the DRC will have to address the poor resource governance, as it is ultimately this poor governance that keeps derailing security sector reform (SSR) efforts. For many in the DRC government’s Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) it is much easier to make a living by exploiting the poor resources governance in the east than to take orders from a questionable chain of command that hardly pays them anything. Thus, the failing SSR and the poor governance of resources are mutually reinforcing factors destroying peace in the east.
However, above all the leaders of these two countries, as well as other key players in the region, need to look towards themselves for answers while being honest regarding the implications of the on-going crisis for all of them. Currently, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) has agreed to address the situation through the establishment of an international ‘neutral’ force to eradicate ‘negative’ elements in the east. However, the ICGLR does not have the military or financial capacity, and, most importantly, the ‘neutrality’ required to establish and deploy such a force.
Thus, at this stage, it is highly unlikely that the ICGLR process will yield any results unless the African Union (AU) and the UN put all their support behind it. Unfortunately, even the AU and the UN do not necessarily have the time or capacity to commit to this at present. They may continue to condemn and call upon Kigali to refrain from supporting a rebel group in the DRC, but this will not bring any quick solutions either. The only solution is a long-term one. Leaders in the Great Lakes have to stop enabling this type of development, as it is after all on their watch that these atrocities take place.
The questions that need to be asked are not what the ICGLR, the AU and the UN are doing, but rather what the leaders of the Great Lakes region are doing in their own countries. Why is President Kabila’s leadership so weak that he can hardly react to an invasion by his much smaller neighbour? Why is President Kagame allowed to act with such impunity that he has been able to fuel rebellions and invasions in the DRC almost since the end of the genocide?
Ultimately, the answer to the Great Lakes crisis lies with its leaders. A lack of will on their part will have one simple outcome: the Great Lakes will be plunged even further into chaos, and while the leaders enjoy the protection of well-armed and well-trained bodyguards, ordinary people will remain in the line of fire.
Written by Naomi Kok and Dr David Zounmenou, Research Intern and Senior Researcher, Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis Division, ISS Pretoria