Kinshasa, M23 sign ‘declaration,’ but will it herald peace in volatile DRC?

Saturday December 14 2013

M23 rebels withdraw through the hills having left their position in the village of Karuba. The group and the government have signed a declaration to end animosities. AFP

Kinshasa and the leadership of the M23 rebel movement may have finally signed what was touted as a peace deal in Nairobi, but questions remain as to whether its provisions will hold.

Besides the looseness in the wording of the so-called Joint ICGLR-SADC Final Communiqué on the Kampala Dialogue, there is still deep-seated mistrust between the two protagonists.

In the build-up to the signing of what has been termed a “declaration” and not a peace agreement (or accord as proposed by the negotiators), the government of Joseph Kabila has been reluctant to sign a binding peace deal with the rebel group, especially after the defeat of the M23 in battle by a UN combat force led by Tanzania, the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB).

His government has been particularly opposed to granting of a blanket amnesty to the M23 and its leaders, arguing that those found culpable should face trial for war crimes and other crimes against humanity.

A rather public display of division within the M23, seen in the disjointed surrender of some of its leaders and fighters, first to Rwandan troops and then to Uganda’s UPDF, only served to bolster Kabila’s stance and weaken the rebel outfit’s hand in the talks.

On the other side, a vanquished M23 had ironically become the biggest advocate of the Kampala peace process, in its desperation to get something out of its two-year insurgency against Kinshasa.


Its shopping basket at the talks had blanket amnesty for its fighters and integration into the national army as key demands.

Eventually, at Kenya’s State House in Nairobi, Kabila appears to have had his way in the document signed by M23’s political head Bertrand Bisimwa and DRC’s Foreign Affairs Minister Raymond Tshibandi at a ceremony witnessed by Presidents Uhuru Kenya, Joseph Kabila, Yoweri Museveni and Joyce Banda.

The latter is the current chair of SADC (Southern African Development Community), a key sponsor of the talks together with the ICGLR (International Conference on the Great Lakes Region).

READ: Museveni gets DRC, M23 to sign deal

The declaration that was signed states that pardon will be limited to acts of war and insurgency. This means that those M23 rebels wanted for war crimes are not likely to benefit from any amnesty.

This position was confirmed by DRC government spokesman Lambert Mende, who had earlier told the BBC’s Focus on Africa radio programme that there will be no amnesty for those wanted for war crimes.

In July this year, Kinshasa issued international arrest warrants for four former M23 leaders. DR Congo has accused former M23 president Jean-Marie Runiga and military commanders Baudouin Ngaruye, Eric Badege and Innocent Zimurinda of war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture and other offences.

The four former rebel leaders are close to Bosco Ntaganda, who is facing charges at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Gen Ntaganda was indicted of crimes against humanity allegedly committed in eastern DRC.

Gen Ntaganda surrendered to the ICC at the American embassy in Kigali, and asked to be transferred to The Hague. Kinshasa issued a similar international arrest warrant against Gen Laurent Nkunda, the former leader of the Tutsi CNDP rebels.

It will be interesting to see how the M23 reacts to the signing of the Nairobi document, especially the fact that it fails to offer them what has been one of their key demands at the Kampala talks: Amnesty for leaders and combatants.

One of their key compromises has been to renounce violence. But in a region teeming with ragtag armies and where such movements have shown a singular tenacity and a tendency to morph and adapt to circumstances, it may be too early to write off the M23 as a fighting unit.

The breakdown of M23 into several factions may also have motivated Kabila’s hardline stance as the rebel group’s negotiation power waned.

The Nairobi communiqué dispatched to the media, as if aware of the challenges ahead, urged the international partners, particularly the United Nations and African Union, to work together and provide support and resources for the government of DRC for the implementation of the commitments made.

The eventual signing of a document, regardless of its rather amorphous form, will be seen as a way of saving face for Uganda’s Museveni, who as chairman of the Kampala talks had a huge political stake in their success.

Its signing in Nairobi, against the heady backdrop of the country’s 50th anniversary celebrations, will do no harm to the diplomatic credentials of President Uhuru Kenya, who is facing crimes against humanity charges at International Criminal Court at The Hague, Netherlands.

Museveni was largely seen as the political underwriter of the Kampala peace process. This was especially after he persuaded the rebels to withdraw from the key town of Goma, which they had taken over, in November 2012, and seek their demands through the talks.

Uganda is also believed to be close to some of the M23 leaders, with Sultani Makenga, who recently surrendered to UPDF forces with a number of his fighters, known to have at one time served in the Ugandan army.

Kampala may have been under pressure to secure some form of settlement for the outfit out of the talks.

This push by Kampala for the talks to succeed is believed to have fuelled mistrust in Kinshasa as to Kampala’s exact intentions and its credentials as a neutral arbiter.

Still in touch

Uganda was forced to go all-out to get DR Congo back to the negotiating table, especially after a Congolese delegation kept the rebels and Ugandan officials waiting at a Kampala function on November 12, at which a deal was supposed to have been signed.

“We are in touch with them and we are still waiting for them to sign,” Uganda’s Defence Minister Crispus Kiyonga told The EastAfrican then. “We hope they will sign.”

Then, Kinshasa had complained about the title of the Ugandan-mediated document, not its contents. The document should be called a “declaration” and not an “accord” as it gave too much “credibility” to the rebels, the government said at the time.

Eastern DR Congo has been plunged into a seemingly endless conflict since 1994, when Hutu militias fled across the border from Rwanda after the genocide against Tutsis and moderate Hutus, and the eventual push by the Paul Kagame-led RPF (Rwanda Patriotic Front) to power in Kigali.

NGOs estimate that there are currently more than 30 other armed groups operating in the eastern DRC, making it one of the most active war theatres in the world.

Even then, the FIB, which is the first UN force with authorisation to engage in actual combat, seems to have turned the tide in the volatile region.

Their victory against a fast-crumbling M23 war machine has renewed hope for peace in the region. Already, Rwanda is pushing for the FIB to now turn its guns on the FDLR, which is another rebel outfit active in the region.

Additional reporting by Jeff Otieno.