DRC's dark past recedes and a bright future beckons

Tuesday May 03 2022
Armed groups in DR Congo.

Rebels in Ituri Province, northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo on September 19, 2020. PHOTO | ALEXIS HUGUET | AFP


An enduring feature of a leopard, the national emblem of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is its elusiveness. As it completes the final bureaucratic steps to join the East African Community (EAC), conflicts threaten the boon that membership promises. To understand the security situation in the eastern DRC, it suffices to throw light on its troubled past.

The DRC’s recent history defies simple explanations. Five premises have been advanced. First is the notion that the DRC is vast and geographically isolated, with few passable roads, which deprives the capital of adequate state control. This inevitably yields anarchy, as the state is absent.

Second, the assertion that the high population density of one neighbour bursts beyond its border into the DRC in search of means for food security and adequate shelter.

Then there is DRC’s teeming mineral riches, largely unprotected by a weak state, which foreign armies have found irresistible, providing them no incentive to depart.

Fourth, for a little-policed country with nine neighbours, its dense vegetation cover provides an excellent hiding place and base for operations of foreign armed groups to launch attacks against their home countries. In addition, the over 200 ethnic groups is a recipe for claims and counter-claims over land and other resources, particularly when the tribal boundaries are largely artificial.

By and large, it is arguable that three intricate strands of state-building define the DRC and require irreversible resolution to give peace and stability a fighting chance. These are monopoly of state power, definition of ways to share power across the vast territory and a resilient political consensus at the heart of the state. What about the pervasive conflicts?


Rebel groups

Simmering conflicts endure, with over 140 rebel groups tormenting each other, albeit with random attacks on civilians. The main players are the Congolese national army, the Congolese self-defence groups (Mai-Mai), Rwanda Hutu rebels (FDLR) on one side, fighting against each other, against the National Congress for the Defence of the People. There is then the Allied Democratic Forces jousting with the Uganda People’s Defence Forces in North Kivu. The Red Tabara and Forebu, Burundi insurgents with bases in Uvira, South Kivu, engaged in  attacks with the Burundi government.

Solving the conflicts between Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, the Congolese Tutsis, the Rwandan Hutu rebels and the DRC government is critical. Without peace, stability is unattainable. Most regrettably, with entrenched instability, the vast potential of the country will continue to be laid to waste.

The prospects for almost 100 million people makes the pursuit of peace urgent for, at least, two broad reasons. First, the fraying global peace and security architecture: with Ukraine capturing the attention of the Western world, there is little political appetite among United Nations Security Council members to significantly dedicate resources to strengthen Monusco to execute its mandate better.  It, therefore, behoves the East African Community to take a different tack in unlocking the impasse because the region stands to lose most.

For Kenya, as heralded by President Uhuru Kenyatta’s foreign policy priorities for peace and security in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan and now the DRC, the focus is singular: the paradigm is Afrocentrism and African solution holds sway. The alternative is status quo, and especially the violence, will continue to simmer and embroil the Kivus and the entire region.

Kenya’s visible investments such as Equity Bank’s presence across the vast territory of the DRC serve a need to increase financial inclusion. The goal of attracting investment and retaining it to generate opportunities to uplift the economic well-being of people is likely to be upset by the less visible but equally important delivery of essential goods such as petroleum.

Can the promise of the DRC in EAC be unlocked?

Vast opportunities

The opportunities DRC offers are vast though they come with daunting risks.

Luckily, in this lay of land lurks the promise of importing best practices from the rest of the EAC to unlock its latent prospects in production and consumption. For instance, rejuvenating trade in services will inject fresh impetus in growth while enhancing cooperation in public service will pave way for implementation of urgent reforms to strengthen the state and instil ethos that will unleash the leopard to realize its potential. The odds are pacifying the eastern DRC will be a critical first step in this stalled journey.

Moni Manyange is the Charge d’Affaires of the Consulate of Kenya in Goma, DRC