The latest peace bid for the troubled eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo appeared to be on solid footing after 24 armed groups gathered in Nairobi to air their grievances to a UN and African Union spokesman supported meetings.
But the conference between President Felix Tshisekedi’s government and the rebel groups, brokered by President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, was also a scene of finger-pointing, some of whom felt isolated.
In a speech delivered virtually to more than 81 participants at Nairobi’s Safari Park Hotel on Wednesday, President Kenyatta urged the armed groups to adopt peaceful choose a means of voicing grievances.
“Without laying down arms and an unbroken “Forging a real national pact to secure the DRC, the fruits of the prosperity – you deserve – will remain elusive from the teeming wealthy endowments,” he said.
“Without the striving for unity and cohesion among all peoples of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, every single section will remain a loser forever. The Democratic Republic of the Congo deserves to claim and assert its rightful place in Africa and the world at large. This is just a first step towards that achievable goal.”
Read:President Kenyatta calls for peace in DRC – VIDEO
Dr. Angela Muvumba Sellström, senior researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute, told The EastAfrican that the meeting signaled a united front among the region’s leaders to combat the continued presence of so-called negative forces.
This conference was preceded by a conclave of EAC leaders from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They agreed that all armed groups would be destroyed in dialogue with the Democratic Republic of the Congo or by military means by a joint regional force.
“The armed groups should have the option of a negotiated political solution use, their options for continued [armed] activity are narrowing. Because by taking this step, regional leaders could also signal that they will not use their respective territories and resources to support these groups,” said Dr. Muvumba Sellström There is a general feeling that most rebel groups have taken up arms because there is no government presence to provide basic services, including security; that the government refused to honor previous peace agreements; and that although most of these groups wish to resume normal life, the presence of foreign fighters means an outside hand will continue to fuel the violence.
“All armed groups have been demanding repatriation of refugees in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to their countries. In addition, and emphasized by most groups, there is a need to repatriate Congolese returnees from other countries in order to participate in the development of the DRC and help deal with the insecurity issues,” the cable said /p>
“Most groups identified the presence and operations of foreign forces as a threat to peace in the region and as a reason for these groups to take up arms in self-defense. The FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda), the Allied Democratic Forces, the Red Tabara (made up of former Burundian soldiers) are the main groups mentioned.”
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo , ethnic Relations with Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi mean that there are common peoples beyond their borders. But while that may be a good thing, it has caused pockets of violence in eastern DRC.
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The M23 group that left Saturday’s meeting is based in Uganda. According to a source close to the talks, the other factions had fighters stationed in Rwanda and Burundi.
As part of their resolution, leaders backed a call to all foreign fighters to enter the Democratic Republic To leave the Congo immediately and local armed groups to take part in the dialogue “unconditionally.”
“There are also many parallel and related ones political and security developments in recent months that indicate this (dialogue) could be a major turning point. There is increasing insecurity in eastern DRC, despite coordinated efforts by the DRC government and the United Nations,” said Dr. Muvumba Sellström.
The region has faced violence from groups such as the Coopérative pour le développement du Congo (Codeco) and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), the latter believed to be a terrorist group currently controlled by Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in a joint military operation.
The restart of violence by a faction of the M23 means three main groups are active.
The talks in Nairobi, said Dr. Muvumba Sellstrom, motivated by the fact that Ukrainian troops are in Monusco and who had better air equipment, left the mission to deal with the Russian invasion at home.
“Up On the other side of the DRC, Uganda and Rwanda appear to have restored ties, reopening their borders and having high-level meetings of military commanders and their senior staff in Kigali and Kampala. In my opinion, the combination of increasing insecurity, a vacuum in Monusco’s military capability and better Rwanda-Uganda relations suggests that change is on the way,” the scholar said.
In ordinary political conversations in the DRC, however, there are those who say the dialogue has left out some groups.
Dady Saleh, a North Kivu-based politician and economics lecturer, says that isolation is the regional dimension of the conflict.
“Since there are armed groups from Rwanda in the DRC, the Rwandan issue needs to be discussed. The same applies to Uganda and Burundi. Outside the region, there are bound to be multinational corporations with enormous geostrategic interests. These companies may have an interest in the continuation of the unrest,” Mr Saleh told The EastAfrican.
Akilimali Chomachoma, a political commentator in North Kivu, said The East Africanclaims that it is “inefficient” to organize such a dialogue outside Congo as it would exclude some armed groups due to logistical and literary shortcomings. Several militias are led by illiterate people.
He noted that North and South Kivu have about 140 armed groups with Ituri having 10 active, but at the Nairobi talks were only 24 groups involved, including two M23 factions.
“Any observer will tell you that this dialogue is for the M23 and that the other groups are there just to look good in Congo . The M23 is one of the few groups with an agenda. The other armed groups only exist to block and attack groups they see as foreign, notably the FDLR, the ADF and even the M23,” said Mr. Chomachoma.
Some Congolese believe that in Nairobi, Kinshasa is “handicapped”.
An editorial in The Post claimed that the EAC would tie down the DRC and that “The Congolese government is embarking on a dead end road that will lead to the mixing and mingling of Congolese troops with the rebels.”
“This will complete the infiltration of our defense forces. It’s totally unjustified,” the editorial declared.
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In some cases it shows the distrust of the neighbors. Les Coulisses, another news magazine specializing in security issues, wrote: “Hopes for peace in the DRC continue to dwindle. The DRC is once again being betrayed and trapped by Anglophone neighbors who, one might bitterly infer, are trying to Balkanize it.”
Some opponents of President Tshisekedi believe that negotiations with the armed groups is a plan being “imposed” on the DRC by the East African Community.
Albert Mukulubundu, spokesman for Nouvel Élan, former Prime Minister Adolphe Muzito’s party that accuses President Tshisekedi of extraditing the DRC to East African countries, calls on lawmakers to “activate” impeachment proceedings against the head of state for “high treason” .
Now the Congolese President is in a bind. He must show support for the initiatives of his colleagues who want to help him overcome uncertainty while at the same time having to face these conflicting negotiations.
On Thursday, President Tshisekedi said the office , he only “advises” and gives the rebels the opportunity to disarm themselves. Even as some of the groups resumed violence.
The DRC government says its priority is to start implementing the disarmament, demobilization and social Reintegration (GDR) to proceed to Prime Minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde. This aims to reintegrate rebels and members of armed groups into civilian life, provided the government keeps to its promises to the end. But this has been implemented chaotically in the past.
Mr Akilimali argued: “Fifty percent of these groups surrendered voluntarily to the FARDC to make way for peace. But after the failure of the GDR process, they regrouped. The canton centers where they were supposed to stay for three weeks ended up detaining them for an average of two months without food or sanitation. All these armed groups returned to the forest and the places they controlled because the army was not stationed in these areas to increase security. The failure of the disarmament and demobilization process has facilitated the rapid development of armed groups.”