The blame game over the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Kivus region has sucked in the United Nations, with analysts citing the ineffectiveness of its peacekeeping force.
The analysts told the United States Congress that, while Rwanda was primarily to blame for the violence, the ineffectiveness of both the DRC’s government and the United Nations peacekeeping force made the crisis continue to fester.
The analysts, nongovernmental researchers and advocates, also urged the US and its allies to apply greater pressure on Rwanda to stop it from supporting rebel forces in the Kivus.
And they expressed scepticism concerning a proposed “neutral force” that Kenya, Tanzania and Angola say they intend to deploy in unstable areas.
“There is no doubt about Rwanda’s involvement,” Congo expert Jason Stearns told a US House panel.
The former co-ordinator of the UN Group of Experts on Congo said Rwanda’s military assistance to mutineers from the DRC military has been well documented by the UN and Human Rights Watch and investigators with the Rift Valley Institute, where Mr Stearns currently works.
Congolese Methodist Bishop Ntambo Nkulu Ntanda denounced Rwanda’s role in graphic terms in his presentation to the House committee.
“We ask America to stop barbarisms of Rwanda in the DRC,” Bishop Ntanda testified. “Our people are in tears. There are killings, atrocities of all kinds and poverty, leaving behind orphans and widows. There is no respect for women, they are being systematically raped and infected with HIV/Aids.”
Mark Schneider, vice president of the International Crisis Group, joined the chorus of denunciations of Rwanda, saying his NGO has found evidence of a systematic pattern of military and political support provided to the M23 rebellion by Rwandan authorities.”
Mr Schneider and Mr Stearns also agreed that corruption and incompetence within the DRC military and the government headed by President Joseph Kabila is allowing the rebellion to continue.
The Crisis Group representative pointed to “the blatant military ineffectiveness of the Congolese army,” while Mr Stearns suggested that “a lack of faith in Congolese institutions is perhaps the most intractable part of the current conundrum.”
Mr Schneider added that “infighting, corruption, delinquency and the total lack of professionalism of the [DRC military] allowed 700 poorly armed and trained rebels to defeat for more than five months a government army of thousands of troops trained by several countries, including the US, and with a 18,000 UN force charged with backing the DRC army.”
The UN peacekeeping detachment, known as Monusco, was also criticised by Mr Schneider as being “totally incapable of engaging the rebels or defending civilian areas where interethnic fighting has broken out.”
“In the DRC,” he added, “people cannot understand why the most capable military force in their country is unwilling to use its firepower to implement its mandate.”
The UN military mission “still fulfils a vital role in terms of humanitarian access and reporting,” Mr Stearns said, but added, “it has been utterly marginalised politically in recent years.”
The neutral force proposed by a group of Great Lakes countries appears unlikely to take the field and, if it does, will probably make little difference in the DRC, the analysts said.
“It is difficult to imagine these countries sending troops to conduct risky counterinsurgency operations in the Congo,” Mr Stearns observed. “Also, none of the major donors seems eager to foot the bill. They are already spending $1.4 billion each year on Monusco, and have little appetite for another military mission in the region.”
Mr Schneider questioned whether “4,000 untested additional soldiers” will make any difference in a region where thousands of UN and DRC troops are already deployed.
Root of the violence
Ethnic hatred lies at the root of the current violence in the Kivus, Mr Stearns suggested.
He said that the M23 group, which is composed largely of Tutsi, arose partly out of grievances against the harsh treatment of Tutsi by other ethnic groups. “There is no doubting the prevalence and vitriol of anti-Tutsi sentiment in the Congo,” Mr Stearns declared.
But such animosity must not be seen as justification for M23’s rampages in the Kivus, he added.
Mr Schneider and Mr Ntanda put emphasis on the economic motives for the M23 rebellion.
Mr Ntanda said Rwanda is aiding the rebels in keeping with its pattern of pillaging the natural resources of the eastern DRC.
Mr Schneider took the same view, saying the Tutsi-dominated Rwanda government has supported M23 “not only because of the common ethnic identity, but also because it allows the country to freely exploit the DRC’s natural riches through illegal mineral exploitation networks.”
Heightened outside pressure on Rwanda is required in order to stop the killings in the Kivus, all three speakers said.