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Summit on DRC conflict

Philipp Sandner / mcAugust 7, 2012

Rebel violence in eastern DRC has displaced half a million people since April. Regional leaders from 11 countries are meeting in Kampala to cement plans for an intervention force.

Titel: Panzer an der Front Schlagworte: Panzer Armee, Front, Wer hat das Bild gemacht/Fotograf?: Simone Schlindwein Wann wurde das Bild gemacht?:29.juli.2012 Wo wurde das Bild aufgenommen?: Goma, Ostkongo Bildbeschreibung: Bei welcher Gelegenheit / in welcher Situation wurde das Bild aufgenommen? Wer oder was ist auf dem Bild zu sehen? Verteidigungsstellungen vor Goma
Panzer an der Front KongoImage: Simone Schlindwein

Relations between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda are now at a particularly low ebb. Yet a political and military solution to the conflict in the eastern DRC is hardly possible without their active engagement. It is against this background that the heads of government from the Great Lakes region are meeting in the Uganda capital Kampala to discuss a joint intervention force, which would be tasked with quashing the rebellion in the eastern DRC.

The decision to assemble the force was taken in Addis Ababa in mid-July by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), to which both the DRC, Rwanda and nine other states belong. In Kampala, those plans are expected to become more tanglible.

Rwanda claims "conspiracy"

Ökumenischer Netz Zentralafrika (Ecumenical Network for Central Africa) is a German group of faith-based organisations that maintains links with churches and civil society in the Great Lakes region. The group's Berlin coordinator, Ilona Auer-Frege, doubts whether this summit will meet with success. "The trouble is that ICGLR members' interests are too diverse and it is only with difficulty that they can be brought to the negotiating table at all," she told DW.

Congolese M23 rebels and government forces trade heavy weapons fire in eastern DRC. REUTERS/James Akena
Medical charity MSF says it has treated scores of civilians in eastern DRCImage: Reuters

A joint military campaign could be an appropriate response to the territorial gains made by the M23 rebels, who are led by Sulatani Makenga and Bosco Ntaganda. They already have large swathes of North Kivu province under their control and are poised to capture Goma, the strategically important provincial capital. But there are disparate interests at work. The government of the DRC has persistently accused Rwanda of supporting the rebels and the veracity of those allegations was confirmed by a report from a UN expert panel, which was published in June. Yet Rwanda continues to deny the allegations, insisting that it is the victim of a conspiracy.The evidence presented in the UN report was inadequate and the whole report was conceived and written just to confirm existing preconceptions, Rwanda claimed in a reply to the UN report.

DRC reports progress at negotiations

In the ICGLR negotiations conducted so far, Rwanda has managed to gain assurances that any intervention force would not just be deployed against the M23 rebels, but against "all negative elements" in eastern DRC, in other words against the Rwandan government's arch enemies, the Rwanda Hutu FDLR fighters. The FDLR is led by Hutus who helped to perpetrate Rwanda's 1994 genocide and then subsequently escaped to the DRC.

Rwanda has often sought to justify its interference in the affairs of the DRC by pointing to the threat that emanates from this group.

Joseph Kabila and Paul Kagame dpa - Bildfunk
Strained relations: DRC's Joseph Kabila and Rwanda's Paul Kagame in 2004Image: picture-alliance/dpa

DRC's minister for information, Lambert Mende, believes nonetheless that progress has been made at the negotiations. "Our neighbor had previously insisted on battling the FDLR but staying clear of the M23," he told DW. Rwandan President Paul Kagame's new-found willingness to take action against both parties was a result of the talks in Addis Ababa.

DRC President Joseph Kabila's lack of support in the east of the country was to the advantage of Rwanda during the negotiations. Kabila's timid attempts to hand over Bosco Ntaganda to the International Criminal Court, where he is wanted on war crimes charges, had horrendous repercussions. Ntaganda, who had been assimilated into the DRC's armed forces following a peace deal in 2009, promptly deserted. This marked the start of the M23 rebel movement, which quickly conquered large swathes of territory.

Under pressure

After the publication of the UN report, pressure on Rwanda began to mount. On Saturday August 4, Germany announced it was suspending all development aid to Rwanda until 2015. The move followed the announcement of similar measures by the United States, the UK and the Netherlands. "These are sanctions," says Ilona Auer-Frege "which will have an impact. During the negotiations Rwanda will have to demonstrate to the outside world that it is prepared to cooperate."

Laurent Kabila (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
President Laurent Kabila was assassinated in January 2001Image: AP

The outcome of the conflict in the DRC, which has been going on for almost two decades, has always been dictated by the national interests of powerful neigbors in the Great Lakes region.

Neighbors and mineral wealth

President Laurent Kabila, father of the current president, was only able to topple the regime of his predecessor Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997 with the help of Rwanda, Uganda and Angola. The governments of all these countries were able to settle old scores with their political opponents on Congolese territory and secure access to Congolese mineral resources. Less than a year later, this alliance of convenience collapsed and the country descended into war. Peace negotiations were able to restore the county's territorial integrity, but there were still many in the region profiting from its structural weaknesses and poor security.

Auer-Frege says Rwanda and Uganda have an eye on economic interests in the DRC and will want to get involved. "We saw it happen during the last intervention, the first thing that the Ugandans occupied were the diamond mines. She believes other states will try to keep out of the conflict. as they want stability.

The common ground shared by member countries of the ICGLR, which was formed in 2000, is minimal. Most observers believe that little will emerge from the conference apart from a declaration of good will, if only because of the precarious financial situation. An African Union force for the DRC which was agreed in 2005 never materialized.