Events in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and most especially in the eastern regions have yet again drawn media attention with the floods that have hit the south-eastern Kalehe territory of the DRC, killing about 400 people and leaving villages submerged. These events have once more dampened international and regional efforts to curb the country’s humanitarian crisis related to the ongoing war in the eastern regions of the DRC. It is important to underscore that peace and stability continue to be elusive in the eastern DRC and the region as the conflict goes back decades to the mid-90s following the genocide in neighbouring Rwanda. The genocide involved several armed groups, some of which were formed by Rwandan Hutus who crossed the border into the eastern region of the DRC. These armed groups then threatened not only the population along the eastern region but also the population of neighbouring states, eventually leading to a full-blown conflict.
Africa’s dependence on resource mobilisation from the west and other foreign partners to lead peace and security agendas puts not only SADC but the other regional players at the mercy of these funders.Tweet
What is the state of affairs at the moment?
One would argue that the conflict has since become self-sustaining considering that a group of people, which is highly skilled and well versed in violence, has been established amongst the locals, foreign armed groups, and the states in the region. The deteriorating security situation in eastern DRC, with the military activities of various proxy-armed groups, has caused a major humanitarian crisis, recording millions of deaths and displacement of people and stoking tensions between the countries in the region. Since the outbreak of the conflict, various efforts have been made both regionally and internationally, through various peace agreements and deployment of troops, to stem the violence and to stop the military activities of the various armed groups operating in the region.
Active Armed Groups
There are approximately 120 militias or armed groups that actively operate in the eastern provinces, many of whom are systematically involved in committing widespread violations and abuses that amount to atrocity crimes. Recently, despite military offensives conducted by the government’s armed forces (FARDC), with assistance from regional forces and the UN peacekeeping mission (MONUSCO), violence has spiralled amidst a resurgence in activities by groups such as the Cooperative for the Development of Congo (CODECO), the March 23 Movement (M23) and Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). This recent resurgence of militia activities has subjected Congolese civilians to widespread rape and sexual violence, massive human rights violations, and extreme poverty.
Immediate Collective Action: What has been done to end the Crisis?
As of last year, regional leaders and emissaries from various subregional bodies such as the African Union (AU), East African Community (EAC), the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) have been very active with calls for restraint on the part of warring parties. In November 2022 a ceasefire agreement to take effect from 7 March this year was brokered and the M23 were meant to withdraw from occupied territories. Despite this agreement, and ongoing diplomatic efforts by the various regional emissaries, M23 has made additional territorial gains and continues to clash with the FARDC. As a result of the continued fighting, early this year, the EAC and the ICGLR held a mini summit on 17 February to discuss the security situation in eastern DRC and to recommit themselves to finding ways to end the conflict.
It is in line with this recommitment that the EAC decided to set up its own monitoring and verification mechanism to supplement the existing mechanisms deployed by the ICGLR in eastern DRC. In addition, during the EAC summit, the EAC directed all troop-contributing countries of the EAC Regional Force (EACRF) to deploy their forces to counter, recapture, and secure areas where the M23 is supposed to have withdrawn.
The Role of SADC
SADC’s role and involvement as one of the key subregional players in the DRC dates back as early as 1998 through a combination of military intervention and mediation. Since then, SADC has been at the forefront of advancing dialogues and negotiations to end the various episodes of conflicts in the DRC. For instance, SADC was one of the institutions (together with the UN, AU and the ICGLR) that made the call to deploy the Force Interventions Brigade (FIB) in eastern DRC in 2013. The FIB is a regional peacekeeping force, consisting of 6 000 troops from SADC member states (Malawi, Tanzania and South Africa), with the need to stabilise the eastern DRC and prevent mass atrocities. Earlier this year, SADC decided to send troops to help end the conflict in the eastern region of the DRC. This came after a series of meetings with the different sub-regional players that have deployed forces in the DRC to promote effective coordination of interventions in the DRC and a field assessment mission to eastern DRC from 27 February to 8 March. The Congo’s Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula noted that this decision is timely considering that it will go a long way in “the restoration of a definitive peace by enforcing the sacrosanct principle of the inviolability of the borders of each country”.
Assessment and Way Forward
Whilst there is a continuous call for Africa to become more involved in its peace and security processes and to promote African solutions to African problems, one challenge that continues to impede on SADC’s effort in restoring peace and stability in the eastern region of the DRC, is that of institutional capacity. This is not a problem unique to SADC alone, as it is also experienced by other continental and regional organisations. The business of engaging in conflict prevention, peace-making and peacebuilding support processes is quite costly. Thus, Africa’s dependence on resource mobilisation from the west and other foreign partners to lead peace and security agendas puts not only SADC but the other regional players at the mercy of these funders.
It is important that the coordination of forces should be at the forefront of every decision to ensure that human casualties are minimisedTweet
This then begs the question: is SADC and the continent able to own its peace and security processes considering that it is financially incapacitated? The answer is definitely no and as such, the peace and security challenges and processes will likely remain hollow, particularly if those seeking to drive such processes do not have adequate resources to fully operationalise this. Nonetheless, it is important that the coordination of forces should be at the forefront of every decision to ensure that human casualties are minimised. For this to take effect, the following measures should be put in place.
- Firstly, the DRC government, MONUSCO and the joint EAC/SADC forces deployed to the eastern provinces must have in mind that the protection of civilians remains their primary priority as they seek to tackle the ongoing threat posed by various armed groups.
- Secondly, neighbouring states that were involved in the signing of the “Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the region” should continue to uphold the Framework and ensure that forces deployed to eastern DRC refrain from illicit activities.
- Thirdly, it is paramount that the international community should desist from all military assistance to states identified as supporting M23 and other armed groups.
- Finally, the government of the DRC alongside MONUSCO and the joint EAC/SADC forces should put in place mechanisms that will build trust with communities through various consultative fora with civilian populations and civil society about needs for protection.
Anslem Adunimay is a member of the Research Unit at ACCORD