As leaders of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) plan to deploy a 4,000-strong “neutral force” to eastern DR Congo to improve security, analysts and stakeholders are concerned about the force’s composition and mandate.
The ICGLR peace talks, which started on December 9 in Kampala, Uganda, and were scheduled to end on December 18, were extended to December 31 due to the slow progress.
At the fifth extraordinary summit in Kampala on November 24, ICGLR leaders called on the DRC government to negotiate with the M23 rebels.
They also adopted the final concept of the operation and deployment of a Neutral International Force to combat “negative forces” in the region.
“It’s a dual process. We see the ongoing discussions as the best opportunity to end the current situation in eastern DRC. But based on past history where peace agreements have been signed and not honoured, the member states are not taking any chances,” said Stephen Singo Mwachofi, ICGLR’s peace and security programme officer.
Analysts are sceptical about the ability of the talks to bring lasting peace. “The Congolese government avoided the talks for six months until its hand was forced by the fall of Goma [to M23 in November].
Given the circumstances and the fact that the Congolese government was cornered, these talks will not lead to a genuine peace agreement,” said Thierry Vircoulon, Central Africa project director for the think tank International Crisis Group (ICG).
“Like in 2009 [when DRC reached a negotiated settlement with CNDP, M23’s predecessor], if the outcome of those talks is a new peace deal with an armed group, it will not be signed in good faith by either party, and it will pose a serious problem of impunity and implementation.”
What will the force look like? According to Lt Col Paddy Ankunda, spokesperson of the Uganda-mediated peace talks, the neutral force will target the M23 rebels, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), and the Mai Mai militia, as well as the Ugandan armed group the Allied Democratic Front (ADF) and the Lord’s Resistance Army.
It will be based in Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu. “All the stages, concepts of operation and agreements on the neutral force are done,” he said.
James Mugume, Permanent Secretary in Uganda’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the press that the African Union has approved the force, and that the ICGLR is engaged in discussions with the UN Security Council for UN approval.
Despite calls for ICGLR member states and other African countries to contribute the required troops, only Tanzania — which is to lead the mission under the ICGLR — and Zimbabwe, under the Southern African Development Community, have offered to provide them.
At the Kampala summit, DRC, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda were excluded from contributing troops for the force. “Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi being neighbours and having perceived interests, it was agreed they should not deploy,” Lt Col Ankunda said.
“The countries that were previously involved in what was called ‘the first African world war’ in the late 1990s — Chad, Zimbabwe, Angola, Burundi, Uganda, Rwanda and Namibia — should not be once again in DRC,” said Mr Vircoulon.
The force will require $100 million, but has so far only received $20 million from the DRC government; South Africa has pledged logistical support.
“We need material support in terms of equipment, helicopters, experts and support for follow-up mechanisms if the agreement is signed,” said Mr Mwachofi. “We call [on the] international community to facilitate dialogue and support the neutral force.”
Frederick Golooba-Mutebi, a political scientist said, “Ideally, it ought to be funded by the AU and regional organisations. However, history shows that African governments are never prepared to put money into such things.
“It would be good if the international community put up the money and then refrained from interfering and trying to direct, control or manipulate the process,” he added.
Angelo Izama, a political affairs analyst at the US-based Open Society Foundation, said the political process must not be abandoned. “Unless political imperatives are relied upon to design an intelligent use of external force in the east, it will backfire,” he said.
The entry of a neutral force will also have implications for the UN Stabilisation Mission in the DRC (Monusco), which has been criticised for failing to prevent M23’s capture of Goma and for perceived failure to protect civilians.
“This [neutral] force will have to demonstrate that it can do better than Monusco as a deterrent for the armed groups,” said Mr Vircoulon.
Ankunda said the neutral force will work with Monusco and FARDC on co-ordination, support and information-sharing.