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DRC: UN experts have their own agenda and it has nothing to do with peace

East African leaders can either act in defense of the region's collective security or cowardly acquiesce to the U.S.’s manipulation of UN reports and bear the brunt of the wider war that seems likely to come
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M23 rebels, eastern DRC
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The UN Group of Experts’ report on the security crisis in three provinces (North Kivu, South Kivu, and Ituri) of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is due for presentation before the Security Council this week. In it, the experts advise UN member states to repeat the very same mistakes that have maintained this country in a state of permanent crisis for close to three decades. The story they tell is as simplistic as it is misleading, and the recommendations they make are out of touch with African-led mediation efforts; they are a recipe for disaster.

Falsifying and burying context to suit U.S’s narrative

The experts’ story reads as follows: a) Rwanda supports a UN-sanctioned armed group (M23) and, consequently, is the aggressor destabilizing the DRC; b) the M23 is a greater threat to regional peace than the genocidal group FDLR; c) Rwanda’s withdrawal from the DRC, which the U.S and its western partners have repeatedly demanded, is a prerequisite for any peaceful resolution of the conflict.

Accordingly, and besides prayers to Kinshasa to behave as a normal state and stop arming militias, the experts’ main recommendation to UN member states is to “prevent funding and/or supporting military activities of the Rwanda Defense Forces (RDF) that could facilitate RDF operations in the DRC”. In other words, for UN experts, the topic of sanctions against Rwanda is the most pressing matter.

Unsurprisingly, the experts do not recommend any sanctions against Congolese authorities or the Congolese army despite their damning notes that, “on 8 April 2024, 48 armed-group leaders from South Kivu, North Kivu, and Ituri travelled to Kinshasa at the Presidency’s request” to attend a meeting during which it was clarified for all attendees that “the sanctioned armed group FDLR-FOCA were allies” and that “the DRC Government continued to use Wazalendo groups and the FDLR as proxies”. For whatever reason, the experts do not recommend any specific action to neutralize the FDLR. In other words, twelve years after the emergence of M23, the UN’s experts offer no new solutions to the recurrent crisis in eastern Congo. The expert advice they bring to the table is a tried and failed strategy of sanctions against Rwanda. Far from addressing the root causes of the conflict between M23 and the DRC government, the strategy ‘coincidentally’ follows to the letter recent U.S. threats to review Rwanda’s participation in peacekeeping operations. This should worry world leaders, and in particular, African leaders who genuinely want to prevent the escalation of the conflict into a regional war. They alone can prevent this insanity which consists of repeating the same actions while expecting different outcomes, from becoming policy.

Persistently undermining African mediation efforts

There is a reason UN experts prefer to pander to US pronouncements on the DRC crisis and act as if African mediation efforts and the resolutions thereof were nonexistent. These efforts and resolutions contradict the experts’ recommendations.

For instance, under the auspices of Angola’s President João Lourenço’s mediation efforts, a recent meeting between Rwanda’s and DRC’s ministerial delegations in Luanda determined that Congo would provide a plan for the neutralization of the FDLR, following the implementation of which, Rwanda would then review its defense mechanisms. This three-step de-escalation process and the order it must follow go against the expressed wishes and preferred narrative of Western powers (the U.S. and Belgium), which UN experts rehash uncritically.

Under the Luanda mediation process, it is recognized that Rwanda has legitimate security concerns which must be addressed before talking about the withdrawal of troops that have been deployed for defensive purposes.

The proposed de-escalation process implies that the DRC is the aggressor on account of a) the May 2022 shelling of Rwandan territory by the Congolese armed forces (FARDC in Kinigi and Nyange Sectors in Musanze District, which injured several civilians; b) the firing of rockets into Rwanda from the Bunagana area, [which struck] along the common border in Nyabigoma Cell, Kinigi Sector, Musanze District on 10 June 2022”, c) the violation of Rwanda’s airspace by Congolese fighter jets in November and December 2022, d) FARDC’s collaboration with the FDLR whose plans for destabilizing Rwanda are well known.

Obviously, for clear-eyed African leaders, by conducting acts of war against Rwanda, arming the genocidal group FDLR, and publicly threatening to overthrow the government of Rwanda, Kinshasa made mistakes it must correct before Rwanda lets down its guard. However, this common sense, which Kinshasa seemingly agreed with by signing on the Luanda de-escalation process, seems to elude the UN’s experts and Western powers whose talking points are simply promoted in the report.

Furthermore, African leaders, including Kenya’s President Ruto, Angola’s Lourenço, Uganda’s Museveni, and former President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, are all on record arguing that M23’s legitimate grievances must be addressed through dialogue.

In a recent interview with Jeune Afrique, President Ruto underscored this point by stating that East African leaders had agreed with M23 representatives that the cantonment of the rebels could only be achieved through dialogue. He repeated this point regarding the possible resolution of the security crisis in Congo, during his joint press conference with President Biden in Washington.

For the aforementioned African leaders, M23 is first and foremost a Congolese issue. They would like to see the M23 rebels included in the Nairobi peace process like all other Congolese armed groups. In other words, if the objective is to find a durable solution for the M23 crisis at the very least, the conflict between Rwanda and Congo should not overshadow other important issues, namely, the imperative to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Congolese refugees stranded in neighboring countries, some of them for over two decades. There is also the issue of recognition of Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese as citizens of the DRC and their protection from hate speech, discrimination, and violence, all of which are key demands of M23.

Yet, the UN’s experts are agitating for sanctions against Rwanda as the magic wand that will make Kinshasa’s governance failures and hate-inciting policies go away. They are both wrong and transparent in the pursuit of their main objective.

Laying the ground for UN funding of SADC’s militaristic adventure

For two years after the end of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, the UN looked the other way as the perpetrators regrouped, rearmed, and attacked Rwanda from Congo (then Zaire). The UN’s inaction led to the first Congo war in 1996 when Rwanda intervened in Congo with the support of African leaders, including Tanzania’s Nyerere and South Africa’s Mandela.

Over two decades after the establishment of the most expensive UN peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO, peace in Congo remains elusive. MONUSCO’s dreadful record is marked by its refusal to neutralize the genocidal group FDLR. And just like the UN’s inaction following the genocide against the Tutsi, this refusal was couched in the language of human rights expressing concerns for the lives of FDLR dependents (wives and children of combatants) who travel with the group and could be caught in crossfire. Rather than interrogate MONUSCO’s mishandling of the FDLR and M23 issues, the experts are determined to continue pushing the same misguided ideas and policies which have failed in the past.

Two things are worth noting. One is that when the UN’s Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) attacked M23 rebels in 2012, no concerns were expressed for civilians whose security depended on the implementation of previous peace agreements between the DRC government and the M23 rebels. Nor was any attention paid to the hundreds of thousands of Congolese refugees who still cannot return to their homes due to the presence of FDLR, the genocidal militia whose founders and senior leadership committed genocide in Rwanda and continue to threaten the country’s security. Meanwhile, the life conditions of these refugees continued to deteriorate as UN funding for their subsistence dwindled. Today, the DRC’s neighbors are expected to carry the burden of hosting them while the FDLR enjoys protection while wreaking havoc on local Tutsis who have not yet fled from their country. The other thing to note is that the FIB’s attacks on M23 rebels came alongside Western sanctions against Rwanda.

Twelve years after the first iteration of that policy, the UN’s experts are laying the moral ground for its renewal by implicitly encouraging the UN to fund SADC’s announced offensives against the M23 rebels and recommending sanctions against Rwanda.

East African leaders can prevent further escalation

As argued before, the South African-led intervention in Congo by SADC is destabilizing the East African bloc. Not only does it operate in support of and tandem with a group recognized by all member states of the African Union as a terrorist group (the FDLR), but it also goes against the peaceful resolution approach agreed by East African leaders. Moreover, SADC’s deployment and joint offensives with Kinshasa’s coalition have led to the loss of more territories to the M23 rebels. This has effectively reversed a situation where the rebels had handed over control of some territories to East African forces. In short, SADC has gravely undermined the Luanda and Nairobi peace processes. And now the UN’s experts are adding fuel to the fire.

We are, however, not 2012. The M23 rebels are better prepared and are recruiting more fighters to their cause. Their determination to end the suffering of their compatriots stuck in refugee camps or facing the threat of massacres is unwavering. Like their African brothers and sisters in the Sahel region, their main demand is security. Likewise, Rwanda’s determination to ensure security for its own citizens is no secret and no threat of sanctions will deter its leaders from upholding this constitutional duty. If nothing is done to end the manipulation of this crisis by the UN’s experts and their Western sponsors, the region might be heading to a wider regional war.

It is, therefore, urgent for East African leaders to meet and discuss what went wrong. Why wasn’t any action taken against those, amongst the EAC member states, who violated the ceasefire that East African forces had come to impose? Why did East African leaders allow Western powers, especially the U.S. and Belgium to ignore their resolutions and dictate both the narrative around this conflict and actions to be taken by the UN Security Council and the African Union? Why did they allow South Africa to drag two other SADC members into a militaristic adventure which undermines their mediation and could pit the two regional blocs against each other?

While the UN’s experts work actively to please their paymasters in New York and Washington, East African leaders cannot blame others for their own inaction. They can either summon the spirits of Nyerere and Mandela and act in defense of the region’s collective security or cowardly acquiesce to the U.S.’s manipulation of UN reports and bear the brunt of the wider war that seems likely to come.

 

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