A Broadened Peace Process Is Needed in Congo

 

This paper is the first in a three part series on the process, leverage, and substance necessary to create a path towards a viable peace in eastern Congo and the surrounding region. 

M23 rebels in Congo

The lack of a credible, effective, internationally mandated and leveraged peace process addressing the escalating war in Congo is becoming a major reason for that war's continuation. The closed-door International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, or ICGLR, summit between heads of state from Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda- without the involvement of political parties, civil society elements, and armed groups representing the diverse voices of eastern Congo- resembles all of the failed deals that came before it through similar processes. A deal between just the biggest guns is unlikely to address the root causes of the conflict in the eastern Congo. Instead, the declaration issued by the heads of state summit at Kampala, Uganda represents another short-term security agreement that ensures that Congolese President Kabila remains in power while international pressure is removed from Presidents Kagame and Museveni of Rwanda and Uganda, respectively.

A credible peace process focused on resolving the systemic drivers of conflict in the region, and one that is consciously and definitively designed to break the cycle of violence and regional intervention that characterizes the status quo in eastern Congo is necessary. The process – like other successful African peace initiatives–must be led by a senior United Nations, or U.N., Special Envoy with the stature and experience necessary to manage such a complex environment and would be similar to the role former South African President Thabo Mbeki played in negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan. This broader process must be jointly mediated by the U.N., and African Union, or A.U., in order to defuse the mutual regional mistrust that perpetuates the conflict. In order to have sufficient international leverage and support, the United States, United Kingdom, and the European Union, or E.U., should appoint special envoys to support the process.
 
International and regional stakeholders must be more directly engaged in supporting a process that strikes the delicate balance of both constructive and coercive leverage to provide the necessary incentives and pressures for compromise between the conflicting parties. Further, multiple benchmarks addressing short term and long term issues must be established with clear mechanisms for justice and accountability.
 
For its part, the U.S. needs to step up its efforts in support of a credible peace initiative. To that end, the Obama administration should appoint a senior Presidential Special Envoy to guide its overall efforts in support of peace in the Great Lakes. In this context, an envoy can provide critical mediation support to a joint U.N. and A.U. and help coordinate international leverage in support of the process. Gayle Smith of the National Security Council, former State Department official Witney Schneidman, and former Governor and U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson are examples of individuals that might be considered.
 
The current conflict in eastern Congo has revealed new evidence of support for the M23 rebel group from the governments of Rwanda and Uganda, as well as confirmation of continued mismanagement and ineffectiveness in the governance and security sectors of Congo. However, the causes and dynamics of the long-standing conflict are unchanged. The political, security, and economic drivers of this conflict have led to repeated outbreaks of fighting since 1996. The acronyms of the armed groups might change with each outbreak, but the causes and results are the same. If the cycle of foreign intervention in eastern Congo is not broken, there is no chance for eastern Congo to find peace.