Kabila chooses force over peace talks to control eastern Congo

Friday September 13 2013


By Alex Ngarambe

Mobutu Sese Seko ruled then Zaire with an iron fist for over 32 years. He was so flamboyant and feared at the same that he casually remarked that five years after his departure from office, a cross-section of the masses would still think he was still in control. Such was his control over the country.

Surprisingly, and good for a dictator like him, ruled for decades without any major military threat on his government despite his army being corrupt, underfed, ill-equipped and ill-trained. He was toppled in 1997 and he died in exile shortly after.

Laurent Desire Kabila — with the help of battle hardened guerrillas from Uganda and Rwanda — overthrew the despot and was expected to build a strong and disciplined army but which never happened.

It is also rumoured that shortly after ascending to power, Kabila went on a collision course with his military “godfathers” even before he had strengthened the national army and faced revolts until his assassination in 2001.

His son Joseph Kabila, younger and less experienced took over but not much was expected of him and he too faced coup attempts and the rise of numerous militia groups that thrive to date.

After the death of Mobutu, DR Congo’s military weaknesses gave rise to regional rebel movements in the east of the country. Meanwhile local militias also emerged such as Mai Mai Ceka, Mai Mai Haleya, Mai Mai Kifuwafuwa, Mai Mai ya Kutumba and Mai Mudundu 40 although these posed no significant threat.

However, Kabila’s government has been exposed by the emergency of March 23 rebels (M23), preceded by the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) in the east. These have in the past overpowered government forces and culminated into the capture of Goma the provincial capital of Kivu province before bowing to international pressure to withdraw from the town.

On several occasions, Kinshasa engaged rebels in talks and a power sharing deal was reached before it collapsed hence the resumption of conflict.

However, the UN Fire Intervention Brigade comprising of Tanzania and South African forces as well as Monusco, has breathed life into the DR Congo army.

With heavy weaponry, experienced soldiers from the UN brigade and unlimited mandate to attack the positions controlled by M23, the rebel forces have been taking some beating lately and have been pushed out of their positions.

The DR Congo army is galvanised by the brigade and for the first time it registering victories against the M23 and would wish to prove a military point after past humiliations.

When Goma fell to the rebels, Kinshasa and rebel representative agreed to meet in Kampala to find a peaceful solution under the auspices of International Conference on Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).

However, DR Congo government abandoned the peace talks immediately the UN-backed intervention brigade came in and started bombing rebel positions.

Post-independence, DR Congo seems to be at its strongest militarily given the UN backing and would want to crush the M23 as fast as possible.

This can explain why Kabila has been reluctant to resume the peace talks Kampala until last week when ICGLR called an emergency summit.

Kabila also wants to remain relevant and popular in eastern Congo ahead of the next General Election.

He wants to be regarded as the military leader who brought peace to the country and defeated the rebels and militias. For Kinshasa, The UN intervention force presents the opportunity to deal a decisive military blow to the rebels and deny them a chance to regroup, recruit or train.

However, for the good of the region, a peaceful solution that could bring about lasting peace which both sides claim to be working towards should be immediately adopted.

Alex Ngarambe is a Kigali-based journalist with Rwanda Today