EDITORIAL: Peace in eastern DRC possible but requires sacrifice

Saturday April 30 2022
DR Congo President Felix Tshisekedi.

DR Congo President Felix Tshisekedi. PHOTO | FILE

By The EastAfrican

Against a raft of odds that prevented a face-to-face meeting, Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi and representatives of the rebel groups still managed to kick off talks hosted by Nairobi, in a last gasp search for peace in the troubled east of the country.

A few tense hours after the M23 delegation failed to show up at the venue, the opening talks eventually happened via video link.

It is still early days but there is reason for hope.

The talks come on the shoulder of the DR Congo’s formal admission to the East African Community. Far from being a harbinger of doom, the M23’s surprise reincarnation, nearly a decade after a combined force of Tanzanian and South African troops flushed them out of their strongholds in North Kivu Province, should be seen in more positive terms.

Their attacks against positions of the Congolese armed forces were clearly timed to draw attention to a cause that was in danger of getting lost as regional leaders popped the champagne to the EAC’s westward expansion.

The latest round of engagement is taking place because all parties recognise the benefits and significance of DR Congo’s admission to the East African Community.


In that sense, the protagonists are probably waging war to win the peace. It is also no coincidence that President Tshisekedi promptly sued for peace.

Unlike his predecessor Joseph Kabila, he can make compromises without being seen as a sellout to Kampala and Kigali, the real force behind the rebels that ousted Mobutu Seseseko from power in 1997.

President Tshisekedi therefore has a narrow window of opportunity to bring the curtain down on an ugly chapter in the DR Congo’s history. Rebels turned allies would be a plus for the fight against the myriad armed bands wreaking havoc in the east of the country.

As the M23 uprising has demonstrated, East Africa cannot be at peace or fully exploit the potential of regional integration if governments in the region engage in acts that create statelessness.

Fortunately, there is precedent. Tanzania defused its Burundian settlers’ crisis by naturalising those who were willing to take up citizenship.

Even as the East African Community’s efforts to pacify eastern Congo are laudable, they can only get so far if they are guided by a spirit of give-and-take and constructive engagement.

The rebel groups need to adopt a long-term view that envisages the wider social and economic benefits of a peaceful Congo.

They should commit the government to restitution of citizenship and their rights as Congolese as the minimum condition for a settlement. The government, meanwhile, should commit the rebels to laying down arms and sign to a programme of rehabilitation and social reconstruction.