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Great Lakes meeting

Philipp Sandner / alSeptember 7, 2012

Leaders from the Great Lakes region renew their efforts to find common ground on how to deploy a joint force in eastern DRC. Their planned meeting comes after a series of attacks by rebel group M23 in the area.

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni gesturing. photo. REUTERS/Edward Echwalu
Image: Reuters

Eastern DRC has been hit by a new wave of violence emanating from a Tutsi armed rebel group called M23. The group which, according to a United Nations' report , is supported by the Rwandan government, recently took control of Northern Kivu province. The fighting killed dozens and left thousands of Congolese homeless.

Meanwhile, neighboring countries are seeking a common military solution. In addition to Congo DRC and Rwanda, nine other members of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGR) are attending a two-day summit in the Ugandan capital, Kampala. The aim is to end a series of killings by the M23 rebel group. The ICGR has met several times before but failed to find a sustainable solution to the crisis. At a summit held in Kampala in July, it was decided to form an international military force to be comprised of 4,000 troops from different African countries. But there was no mention of how the troops would be deployed.

A mission no one believes in

Both national and international observers are skeptical about the feasibility of the mission. It can only work if none of the affected parties take part, as it must remain neutral, Congolese Defense Minister Alexander Luba Ntambo told his counterparts in August. That means neither Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, nor Uganda should participate. Instead, other countries should contribute troops. However, that is not something that one should expect, says Denis Tull of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin.

Congolese women refugees
Fighting in eastern Congo has killed dozens and left thousands homelessImage: dpa

"We already see how hard it is for the African Union to mobilize troops to participate in a military mission in Somalia," he told DW,

Any action against the well armed M23 rebel group would be a difficult undertaking, Tull says. "To counter an insurgency requires resources, know how, and full political support from both the Rwandan and Congolese governments."

In the opinion of Aloys Tegera of the Pole Institute in Goma, eastern DRC, "a feasibility study on how this neutral force will be formed should have been carried out before announcing it as a solution to the crisis."

Rwanda's role

The role of Rwanda remains crucial. The UN report accusing Rwanda of supporting the M23 group has resulted in a lack of support for Kigali. Germany is one of several countries that have suspended their development aid. Soon afterwards the Southern African Development Community (SADC) also turned its back on Rwanda.

Interpreting this as support for its course, Congo DRC laid all the blame for the unrest in the east on Rwanda. On September 1, 2012, Rwanda pulled back troops from DRC, troops that apparently no one had known about. Rwanda said they were part of a joint operation against the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDRL). The Congolese government sees the action as a disguised withdrawal of Rwandan support for the M23 rebels.

A man in military uniform holding a machine gun. REUTERS/James Akena (
The Congolese army is fighting M23 rebels in the eastImage: Reuters

Congolese inaction

Accusations and counter accusations will not help in the search for a solution, says Tegera. "If we are attacked, then shouldn't it be up to us Congolese to defend ourselves?" he asks, saying the Congolese responsibility cannot be ignored. However, he does not support the idea that the DRC should act alone.

"Like many Congolese citizens, I am wondering why our army is not capable of protecting its own people, let alone defend national territory," Tegera says, adding that, as long as this is the case, there's a need for cooperation during negotiations.

In the present climate, a joint African force would not seem to be the first option. Mutual confidence first has to be restored. Here, Denis Tull points to the Verification Commission, which was established by DRC and Rwanda. It foresees delegates from different countries jointly monitoring the eastern borders of DRC and the ceasefire lines. Rwanda's Defense Minister James Kabarebe has expressed support for the idea and has taken it a step further, saying that three representatives from each of the eleven ICRG member states could monitor activities along the border.This could then pave the way for a return to the negotiating table.