Supporting Peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Testimony by Gareth Evans, President of the International Crisis Group, to the House Subcommittee on Africa, Washington DC, 22 July 2004.
I thank Chairman Royce and the ranking member, Congressman Payne, for inviting me to testify on behalf of the International Crisis Group on the current very fragile situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The timing of this hearing is absolutely crucial, coming two weeks before the mandate of the U.N. Mission in the Congo (MONUC) comes up for review in the Security Council. That mission risks failure if it is not strengthened and supported.
The Congo still bears both colonial scars and the consequences of more than three decades in the iron grip of an accomplished kleptocrat, President Mobutu – aided and abetted largely by the West during the Cold War, then unceremoniously dropped. The policy objective for the international community is to make it possible for the Congolese to finally take control of their own lives and resources.
A year ago, the international community joined the citizens of Congo in welcoming a transitional coalition government that seemed to represent an end to the 1998-2002 civil war in which more than 3 million people lost their lives, mostly through war-induced disease and starvation. The principal Congolese opponents signed agreements to adopt a post-transition constitution; to hold the first democratic elections in Africa’s third-largest nation; to establish a truly national army; to disarm, demobilize and resettle or repatriate both irregular Congolese fighters and Rwandan Hutu rebels in the east of the country; and, for the first time since Congo’s independence from Belgium 44 years ago, to work for the good of Congo’s long-suffering but incredibly resilient people.
A year later, President Joseph Kabila’s government of transition is barely intact, little has been done to draw up a new constitution, and even less to prepare for elections scheduled for next year. Although some effort has been made to establish an integrated high command, the creation of the new Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo - through successfully integrating the previous government army, former rebels backed by Uganda and Rwanda and former Mai-Mai tribal fighters – has not succeeded. In part this results from lack of funds but also because the government has not been able to extend its authority throughout a country the size of the United States east of the Mississippi. Fighting last month for control of the eastern city of Bukavu, as well as renewed clashes between tribal militia in the northeastern district of Ituri, have raised serious concerns about the future of the transition. And although Congo is now – according to Victor Kasongo of the country’s Center for Evaluation, Expertise and Certification – producing $1 billion a year in diamonds, most Congolese continue to endure conditions of extreme poverty, deprived of even the most basic protection and social services.
The current situation in Congo has its roots in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide of minority Tutsis and political moderates from the Hutu majority in neighboring Rwanda: two subsequent wars that began in eastern Congo in 1996 and 1998 destabilized the entire Great Lakes region of central Africa. Last year's agreement ended the four-year conflict and the international community has supported its implementation principally through the peacekeeping operation, UN Mission in the Congo (MONUC), created by the UN Security Council in 2000. The Council has extended MONUC's mandate each year since, with the most recent authorization, on 28 July, 2003 in Resolution 1493, granting MONUC a partial mandate under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. On July 30 the mandate for MONUC will expire: the US mission to the UN currently favours a two-month extension in the first instance, in the hope that an agreed strategy will materialize by the end of September.
The International Crisis Group has been working in Congo since 1998 and has five field-based analysts in the region. Our latest Africa Briefing, published 7 July 2004 and entitled Pulling Back from the Brink in the Congo, deals with the events last month in Bukavu. Our research indicates that the immediate areas of concern that are crucial to the success of the political transition in Congo are security, regional relations and political capacity, and this testimony focuses on each of these in turn. The key questions are whether the United States and other governments, with their other current preoccupations and priorities, have given sufficient support both to MONUC, and to the equally important political side of the transition.
There are approximately 300,000 Congolese under arms - members of the various armed groups and armies of the parties to the relevant peace agreements. There are at least 40,000-50,000 others in different parts of the country who are armed but not party to any peace agreement and who remain a threat to peace and stability. Controlling them all and ensuring that they ultimately are disarmed and demobilized or incorporated into the new legitimate national army is crucial to the security not only of the DRC, but of the region as a whole. In addition to these Congolese there remain 8,000-12,000 Rwandan Hutu rebels from the FDLR (Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda), a number of whom participated in 1994 genocide, and between 500 and 1,000 rebels from Uganda. These also need to be disarmed and repatriated to the country of origin, but achieving this also requires cooperation and action by their respective governments
In the short term, a degree of security is provided where MONUC's military force is present., However, this force, with an authorized strength of just 10,800, is thinly stretched across a vast country. In contrast, the three UN missions in the contiguous West Africa countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast, an area about a quarter of the size of the DRC, have a total of 30,000 troops. As we saw during the recent capture of Bukavu, 600 UN troops were no deterrent to the 2,000-3,000 renegades confronting them. Similarly, despite having 4,000 troops in the district of Ituri, a focus of international attention last year, MONUC has been unable to intervene to stop the fighting that recently broke out between militias, causing at least 50 deaths. Hundreds of civilians have fled across the border into Uganda, and this could lead to an escalation of conflict across the entire district.
While the presence of UN troops in the DRC has allowed a degree of progress towards stability, the mission suffers from a number of weaknesses that limit its ability to deal with the apparent threats. Issues which have to be addressed are the number of troops, the quality of the troops and the nature of the mandate itself, as well as the effectiveness of the DDR program.
Number of Troops. At present the majority of the force is configured with a brigade in Ituri, a smaller brigade in the provinces of North and South Kivu and two remaining battalions providing security as a 'neutral force' in Kinshasa. These troops are barely sufficient to provide security in these three main areas, let alone deal with an increase in conflict within these regions or elsewhere in the DRC. The mission has no rapid reaction force either within or from outside the DRC to reinforce its deployed forces or to meet any contingencies. Clearly the number of troops must be increased at a minimum by another brigade of 4,000-5,000. Given the size of the country, the range of tasks and the threats, a doubling of the force to some 20 000 would not be unreasonable. But even a relatively modest increase of one brigade would allow the mission to constitute a reaction force and expand its operations to control the borders in the east of the country where there is movement of arms, exploited resources and rebel or renegade forces.
In addition to the troop increase within the DRC, a 'strategic' reserve needs to be made available to meet any escalation beyond MONUC's capacity that could endanger the lives of Congolese civilians, UN and international staff and the peace process. The existence of this reserve would greatly improve the resolve of the mission to meet its tasks. The EU-led Operation Artemis to Ituri from July to September last year provided just such a force, allowing for the stabilization of the UN mission and bringing a degree of normalization that has largely continued and has allowed MONUC to expand its influence. In light of recent events, a similar force needs to be identified and made available through standby arrangements; such a force would best come from either NATO or the EU.
Capacity of Troops. Virtually all the UN forces come from developing nations and have demonstrated varying degrees of capability and application. It would be very helpful, in the Congo as elsewhere, if more highly-trained and well-supplied troops were contributed by developed countries to UN missions. If this is unlikely to occur, then there are other areas in which nations like the United States can make invaluable contributions, including the improvement of the technical surveillance and intelligence capabilities of MONUC. Such capabilities, whether provided 'on the ground' or through national assets, would greatly enhance MONUC's capabilities to anticipate and respond to threats, as well as its ability to interdict the movement of troops and material across borders as mandated under UN Security Council Resolution 1553 of 12 March 2004. Better equipment - including night vision and thermal imagery equipment for both aerial and ground use - would also significantly enhance MONUC's capability.
Scope of Mandate. The mandate outlined in Security Council Resolution 1493, and endorsed in resolution 1533, is barely sufficient to make clear beyond argument MONUC's obligation to maintain security to the absolute extent of its capacity, especially in relation to its obligation 'to protect civilians and humanitarian workers under imminent threat of physical violence'. The use of force by UN troops is always a contentious issue for many member states and within the UN. However, the risks of not judiciously using force where needed jeopardizes not only lives but the mission itself. A collapse of MONUC – like that which nearly occurred for the UN mission in Sierra Leone in 2000, before outside assistance from the UK saved it and stiffened its resolve – would not only be an enormous setback for the DRC but a severe blow to peacekeeping in Africa and elsewhere. While the use of force cannot solve all the problems in the DRC, it should be an option available to MONUC as needed, with MONUC given sufficient resources to make the option deliverable. A strengthened MONUC mandate has the additional benefit of promoting a higher degree of mission accountability, eliminating alibis for inaction in the face of imminent loss of civilian life or grave threats to the peace process.
DDR. The long-term resolution of the DRC's security needs lies in an enduring political solution within the country and good relationships with its neighbors. As part of the former, progress needs to be made in the disarming and return of most of the former Congolese combatants to civilian life as part of the wider process of Security Sector Reform. The current focus is on the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) of 200,000 of those troops that make up the former armies of the participants in the Transitional Government. The World Bank has provided $200 million to fund this program, but a shortfall of $61 million persists. The remaining 100,000 ex-combatants are to be retrained and integrated into the new Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo or the FARDC, which are to gradually assume responsibility for the DRC's security needs. While funding is available to disarm 200,000 former fighters and send them home, little bilateral or multilateral funding is available to establish the FARDC. The US government and military can play a vital role in providing funding and direct assistance to allow the Congolese to assume responsibility for their own security.
Improving Regional Relationships
The 1996-97 and 1998-2002 conflicts in the DRC drew in at least seven other African countries, and a number of foreign rebel groups as well as allied Congolese factions. What happens in the DRC is of direct concern to all its neighbors, particularly Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi along its eastern border.
Rwanda. At the core is the relationship with Rwanda whose main concern is the continued presence of Hutu rebels of the Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR, many of whom participated in the 1994 genocide. ICG estimates that Congo is at present home to some 8,000-12,000 such fighters under arms. Rwanda continues to assert that their presence constitutes a threat and objects to what its sees as the failure of the Congolese, MONUC and the international community in general to deal with the issue. As long as this presence remains Rwanda will continue to assert its right to self-defense. ICG believes that the FDLR forces no longer constitute a strategic threat to Rwanda, i.e. they do not have the capacity to invade Rwanda or threaten its army. However, they do represent a threat to civilians on both sides of the border. The current DDR program for foreign combatants facilitated by MONUC and funded by the World Bank and the Multi-country Demobilization and Reintegration Program (MDRP) is based on voluntary participation; it has not had the desired impact. MONUC states that it has repatriated 3,000-4,000 Rwandans but it is difficult to say how many of these were actual fighters, partly because, as MONUC acknowledges, many were without arms prior to being sent home. It is also difficult as the issue itself is tied up in regional politics and is often used for rhetorical purposes. Regardless of how many have gone back to Rwanda, the key problem is how to deal with those who remain in the DRC.
How to remove the FDLR from DRC territory is a difficult and complex problem, but one that is at the core of improved regional relationships and security. The solution lies in the use of carrots as well as sticks: there must be incentives for the FDLR to disarm and return to Rwanda, something the government of Rwanda must assist by launching a process of political dialogue and national reconciliation with its exiled enemies.
In addition, there must be disincentives to the FDLR to discourage them from remaining on Congolese territory. Both an enhanced MONUC and the transitional government can take appropriate actions to achieve this. As pointed out in the report of the UN Group of Experts on the DRC, published on 15 July 2004, the Transitional Government of the DRC provided weapons to FDLR units “until at least October 2003.” The international community must apply pressure on the Transitional Government in Kinshasa to muster the political will and required resources to disarm renegade forces in Eastern Congo, with assistance from MONUC.
In addition to its concern about the FDLR, Rwanda asserts that it is the guardian of those Congolese Tutsis who have their origins in Rwanda but who have been in the Congo for generations. Members of this group have in the past been Rwanda's strongest allies in the DRC, although the main political party that now represents their interests, RCD-Goma, is a participant in the Transitional Government. But the fighting last month in Bukavu was carried out by RCD-Goma dissidents and eight of their representatives in parliament have just withdrawn and returned to Goma, their stronghold in the east. Moreover, some Congolese of Tutsi origin have increasingly dissociated themselves from Rwanda in recent months. As it is the case in many places, issues of citizenship and ethnicity are easily manipulated by ambitious politicians and are dangerous fuel to add to any fire. All parties in the DRC and Rwanda must be encouraged to desist from using ethnic-based rhetoric to achieve political or military ends. The Transitional Government has presented draft legislation establishing the conditions of citizenship of all Congolese, but it has already raised concerns among the Rwandophones in the east.
Rwanda has legitimate interests and considerable influence in the eastern DRC. However, other motives appear to impede a more cooperative approach, such as its interest in exploiting to its advantage Congo's riches and maintaining influence in its national government. The UN Panel on Economic Exploitation in the DRC has already identified some factors that warrant consideration. Additionally, the report by the UN Group of Experts released just yesterday has examined the role of Congolese and regional actors in supplying arms to the parties in the DRC, determining that Rwanda provided both direct and indirect support to the renegade troops of Jules Mutebutsi and Laurent Nkunda during their operations against the FARDC. We urge the US to support the recommendations of these inquiries and encourage Rwanda to exercise its influence in the Eastern DRC in a responsible manner and remind it that a sustainable peace in the DRC in the best way to protect its interests.
Improving the relationship between Kigali and Kinshasa will be best achieved through direct dialogue. The meeting on 25 June between Presidents Joseph Kabila and Paul Kagame, hosted in Abuja by Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and strongly backed by the US and the UK, was a step in the right direction. However, such dialogue should not be the consequence of extraordinary events or external pressure but a normal and regular process to deal with bilateral and regional issues. In this respect the US government, which has good relationships with the DRC and Rwanda - and Uganda – is strongly placed to facilitate the necessary confidence-building dialogue and measures.
Uganda. As the UN Security Council has stated, most recently in its Presidential Statement of 22 June 2004, Uganda should not interfere in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. President Museveni has assured Western diplomats that Uganda would not intervene militarily in the DRC and Kampala has declared its support for the Congolese Transitional Government and MONUC. However, some suspect that Uganda continues to provide both political and logistical support to several militia groups in Ituri, using them as proxy forces. Among the key Ituri militias that continue to receive support from Uganda are Jerome Kakwavu’s Forces Armees du Peuple Congolais (FAPC), Chief Kahwa Mandro’s Parti Pour l’Unite et la Sauvegarde de l’Integrite du Congo (PUSIC) and lately Ndjabu Ngabu’s Front des Nationalistes et Integrationistes (FNI). As demonstrated by the early July clashes between FNI and FAPC, these militias engage in activities that undermine the fragile peace process in the DRC. Allegations of human rights abuses by MONUC forces in Ituri could also provoke attacks on MONUC installations by the Ituri militias.
Uganda has an interest in maintaining and expanding its influence over control of natural resources in the DRC and securing positions in the Transitional Government for its allied militias. While it is unlikely that Uganda would risk international furor by reoccupying Ituri, refugee flows and instability on its border will encourage it to take a greater interest in influencing events in the DRC. If the crisis in the Kivus remains unresolved and if Uganda-backed Ituri militias continue to be excluded from the Transitional Government, greater Ugandan involvement in the DRC would become more likely. The future possibility of armed Ugandan intervention in the Congo, therefore, cannot be ruled out.
Uganda is also concerned about continued presence of Ugandan rebel groups in southern Ituri and northern North Kivu. Any deterioration of the security environment in eastern Congo may encourage UPDF cross-border operations aiming to deactivate the danger posed by these Ugandan rebels.
Burundi. Burundi has also been warned by the UN Security Council not to provide any support to armed groups in the DRC. Burundi is rightfully concerned about incursions into its territory by Rwandan rebels based in eastern Congo but should not engage in any cross-border belligerent activities aiming to neutralize these forces. As encouraged by the Security Council, the Transitional Government in Bujumbura should facilitate the provision of international humanitarian assistance for Congolese refugees in Burundi. Direct dialogue is the best means to secure and maintain friendly relations between Burundi and Congo. The two latest meetings of the Foreign Ministers of Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi (11 July in Brussels and 14-15 July in Washington) are a welcome step in that direction.
Building Political Capacity
The agreements which led to the establishment of the Transitional Government in June 2003 were in many respects a series of tenuous compromises by the signatories, and while there has been power-sharing at the upper levels of political and military power in accordance with the "1+4" formula, much of the machinery of governance remains unchanged since major hostilities ceased. The Transitional Government has little capacity to actually govern or to deliver public administration, particularly in the distant east. While this is partly the result of the security environment it is also caused by the destruction of infrastructure and the loss of experienced civil servants, including police and the judiciary. For instance, the Transitional Government has just appointed a District Commissioner and subordinate Territorial Commissioners for the troubled Ituri district, but they have no capacity to take up their assignments in any substantive way, even in areas where MONUC has a presence, because of a lack of resources. Similarly the local police in the district who have been trained by MONUC are unpaid and ill-equipped. The cost of rehabilitating public administration in the DRC will be high, but it is, after the provision of security, the process that will most enhance the lives of ordinary Congolese.
The Transitional Government is meant to be just that – transitional. But one of the problems facing the DRC is the excess of politics within the Transitional Government, and not enough actual governing. While the Transitional Government is limited both by lack of resources and capacity, any improvement in these is impeded by the major players who continually jockey for advantage with one eye on the elections that are supposed to take place next June.
The International Committee Assisting the Transition (CIAT), made up of the ambassadors of interested countries, including the US, is in a unique position not only to identify the needs of the Transitional Government but also to provide guidance on overcoming the considerable difficulties it faces. This should include cautioning the Transitional Government or individuals within it when their actions are inconsistent with the undertakings they have made: the reunification, the pacification, the reconstruction, the restoration of the integrity and the authority of the state over all the country; national reconciliation; the formation of a national, unified and restructured army; the organization of free and transparent elections at all levels and the establishment of a democratic and constitutional regime; and, the establishment of structures for a new political order. However, the CIAT has not been active enough in representing its views and in providing a forum for cooperation by Kinshasa's major international partners. Security Sector Reform, which has to date and is likely to continue to be provided on a bilateral basis, is one area where greater consensus on policy and action by the body would have an exponential effect. As always all assistance and support must be contingent upon meeting reasonable standards of transparency and democratic accountability. A key objective of the international community must also be to support the institutions that will contribute to a sustainable democracy in the DRC. These include an independent electoral commission, human rights organizations and the judiciary.
On the issue of justice, all parties to recent conflict have been associated to one degree or another with crimes against the Congolese people, and the Congolese expect justice to be both seen and done. The agreements establishing the Transitional Government have granted a degree of impunity to members, but this should not be immutable. At some time in the future those charged with crimes will have to account for them, and appropriate bodies such as the moribund Truth and Reconciliation Commission need to commence their work. In addition to the processes of Congolese justice, the International Criminal Court will have a role to play. In April this year President Kabila referred events in the DRC to the ICC, and while its jurisdiction only covers crimes committed since 1 July 2002, there are ample cases, such as massacres in Ituri in mid-2003, that warrant investigation and prosecution. ICG strongly supports the principles of the ICC not only because we believe in justice but also because we believe that the prosecution of those that have perpetrated crimes will act as a deterrent to others and therefore contribute to conflict prevention and resolution, which is ICG's primary concern.
In short, we are calling on the United States, along with others to do the following:
With respect to security:
Support a more robust mandate for MONUC that will allow it to use force where necessary.
Support an increase in the troop level for MONUC of, as a minimum, another three battalions and associated support elements.
Assist MONUC in improving its technical capabilities for surveillance and intelligence gathering.
Both through MONUC and CIAT, support the Security Sector Reform program in the DRC, especially the integration and retaining of the new DRC army.
Support the integration and retraining of the new Congolese army.
With respect to the regional relationships:
Support the recommendations of the UN Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the DRC and the UN Group of Experts on the DRC.
Strongly encourage direct dialogue between Kigali, Kinshasa and Kampala.
Encourage Rwanda to create the political and social conditions within Rwanda that will encourage those Rwandese still in the DRC to return home.
With respect to helping strengthen the DRC's political capacity:
Work to strengthen CIAT's role in assisting, and where appropriate, guiding the Transitional Government.
Promote greater coordination within CIAT and between CIAT and MONUC.
Provide support for independent governmental and non-governmental bodies and organizations.
Support the workings of bodies pursuing justice and reconciliation in the DRC
The transition in the DRC is not irreversible, and recent events have shown how easily the process can be derailed, the consequences of which should be apparent to anyone who has followed the history of the last 10 years in the Great Lakes region of Africa. The United States has greatly increased its focus on Africa for a variety of reasons over the last few years and has strong relationships with many of the countries involved in recent conflicts in the DRC. It is in the interest of the United States to promote peace and stability in Africa, but this cannot be achieved if there is continued conflict and instability in the heart of the continent.