Reinforcing what? The EU’s role in Eastern Congo

November 17, 2008

Neil Campbell, EU Advocacy Manager of the International Crisis Group, recently returned from eastern Congo. Any views expressed are his own.

Neil Campbell“Unacceptable and murderous.” Those were the words French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner chose to describe the situation in north eastern Congo at a press conference after October’s monthly meeting of EU foreign ministers. Sadly, Congo was not even on the agenda of that meeting.

In the following weeks, Laurent Nkunda’s rebels advanced on Goma, displacing up to 300,000 people; the Congolese army went on a spree of looting, raping and killing in that town; and there was a double massacre in Kiwanja on 4 November, first by pro-government Mayi Mayi militia, then by Nkunda’s rebels against suspected Mayi Mayi loyalists.

At the next meeting of EU foreign ministers, on 10 November, Congo at last made it to the agenda. But the European response to the crisis in central Africa is not encouraging. EU military assistance was not completely counted out in their agreed statement, but turning a general call for “reinforcement of cooperation between the EU, its member states and MONUC [the UN force]” into any specific reinforcements on the ground is far from straightforward.

For now, the EU has chosen the diplomatic route, pressing for a political solution within the framework of two key agreements signed over the past year. The November 2007 Nairobi agreement provides for normalisation of relations between Congo and Rwanda, disarmament of Rwandan Hutu rebels in Congo — including some perpetrators of the 1994 genocide — and ending Rwandan support to Congolese Tutsi insurgent Nkunda. The January 2008 Goma agreement outlines a ceasefire, voluntary demobilisation of combatants and the “Amani” peace process between the government, Mayi Mayi militias and Nkunda’s rebels.

On the one hand, an international push behind these deals is welcome. The current escalation in violence resulted in part from international complacency once these agreements were signed, despite the best efforts of the EU’s Special Representative for the Great Lakes region, Roland van de Geer.

Unfortunately, the EU’s recent track record of top-level diplomacy does not give much confidence the 27-country Union will stick together on this issue. Kouchner was the first to call for EU military intervention in Congo. The EU’s chief diplomat, Javier Solana, quickly rejected the idea, the Belgians came out in support, and the British were skeptical. Meanwhile visits to the region by van de Geer, commissioner Louis Michel, and Kouchner with UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband left no impression of a unified front. It is not clear if Miliband’s primary objective was conflict prevention or Commonwealth enlargement with Rwanda. And Solana was not even allowed on the plane.

Diplomacy by others may prove more coherent. The UN Secretary General appointed an African heavyweight as his special envoy. Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo was then joined by Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania, the African Union’s representative, as facilitators of the Nairobi and Goma agreements at the regional summit in Nairobi last Friday. Obasanjo and Mpaka could learn from the Europeans’ mistakes and initiate a clear division of labour. The former military man Obasanjo should concentrate on the Nairobi agreement and disarmament and reintegration of militias, while Swahili speaking Mkapa should concentrate on other aspects of the Goma process and the Amani peace-building program.

But the EU could still offer practical and immediate assistance. Despite the deficit in political will for the military option, there are possibilities the EU should explore. Europeans could temporarily secure Goma and its airport, allowing the UN forces to concentrate on security in the surrounding areas of Rutshuru and Masisi.

Sure, the EU needs to focus on its commitment to the political solution and ensure that there is one coherent EU message. The best way to protect civilians is a return to the agreements, and by assisting the UN with a specific short-term security objective — allowing the UN some breathing space to fulfill its wider mandate — the EU can play an important role towards that political solution, and reinforce its diplomatic message with real and visible commitment.

Time is short, however. Laurent Nkunda’s continued talk of a national agenda risks massive escalation of violence and chaos. But if in turn his rebels are seriously threatened, there is the real chance of widespread revenge killings of the Tutsi minority, to which Rwanda may well respond. And if the fighting continues indefinitely, we may see repeats of Kiwanja on a much larger scale. The paths currently being followed by all armed groups will only lead to an intensification of the conflict, with dire consequences of further regional involvement.


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Many thanks to Neil Campbell for such a clear analysis

Posted by Eric Woods | Report as abusive

It’s been amazing watching the news services (and even Reuters) mince words about the useless – and even dangerous – Congolese government army. It is no surprise that there is pandemonium in a country which has neither a respectable nor an effective military. More troops from EU (or whereever)?? That’s like putting a bandaid on a broken leg! What’s needed is an international program to help Congo build a disciplined, professional and principled army.

Posted by Rolin Bruno | Report as abusive

A return to stability not only in the Congo but in Africa is dependent on resolving the root cause of civil unrest, corruption and the ensuing poverty and loss of hope for the population which world powers and the UN have yet to address. Billions in aid have poured into the African nations to little effect and until this core issue is resolved there will be no hope. Armies can do little but quash the symptoms. The international community has shown little interest in addressing this and as long as this continues an end to the violent uprisings is not in sight.

Posted by Norman Matte | Report as abusive

Throwing money and people at this problem solves nothing. Has anything helped in the past 10 yrs?? I don’t think so. Let them fix their own problems because you’re dealing with idiots and trolls.

Posted by Joe Smith | Report as abusive

The Congo is a broken country. Sending in more EU troops or UN peacekeepers will only delay the inevetiable. Nkunda’s forces are more disciplined, motivated and just as heavily armed as the Congelese Army. Peace talks won’t do anything effective in the long run either, they’ve tried it before with Nkunda. He ended up gaining more support when they intergrated his forces with the regular Army. The EU should force a partition of the country, and let a small Tutsi state to be formed in Kivu. This will help stop the fighting, and create a small buffer state between the Congo and Rwanda, which will ultimately help the region stabilize.

Posted by Vic | Report as abusive

Is the west in support of a Democraticly elected government or in support of a self appointed warlord leader?

Nkunda has demonstrated is mastery of war waging against a disorganized Congoleese army. It’s fascinating seing him on CNN, BBC or France24, yet he was elected by no one nor did he seek anyone’s vote!!!

What makes him a legitimate leader??
He is actively carving a territory for his Tutsi people in Congo territory, right by Rwanda’s Border; thus pushing the million of people living around into United Nation’s refugee camps. Isn’t that ETHNIC CLEANSING in its pure form? This is just as bad as DARFUR or worse!

Stop the madness, and tell Nkunda that if he wants to be a true leader for all the Congoleese in Kivu, he needs to run for Governor during the next elections, and not impose himself by his fighting superiority.

Come on guys, this is the 21st century. If you don’t believe in a Democratic solution for this conflicts, please stop preaching it, and let them fight it until the last man is left standing like in the stone age!!!

The kids that are being stuffed like animals in those refugee camps, seing their sisters used as sex slaves, and their parents shot dead between the eyes will one day ask for justice or seek revenge. In the abscence of the rule of law, Nkunda self fulfilling profecy of a Tutsi genocide may just came to pass.

Posted by katangais | Report as abusive

What is happening today in the East of the DRC,is not based on the extermination of the Tutsis like General Nkunda is saying,he is using this argument to have a safe passage for the illegal exploitation of minerals from the DRC via Rwanda towards the West.

How many Tutsis have keen killed since the election? The fact is the DRC is victim because of his minerals wealth, oil reserve and his fertile land. Many minning companies based in Europe and North America have the key to stop this desastous episode the DRC is experiencing.

Posted by Patrick Kongo | Report as abusive

“What makes him a legitimate leader?”

In situations like this, winning is the only criteria for establishing legitimacy. If you win, then you become legitimate. If you lose, you become dead, or a war criminal.

Posted by PA | Report as abusive

‘Joe Smith’,

“idiots and trolls”?

This article is about the Congolese, not about King Leopold and the colonialists who murdered 10 million Congolese in their thirst for rubber. Twice as many were killed in this reign of brutality by “civilized” European colonizers.

I can assure you, if your take a walk with me in Eastern Congo, you will find people more inventive and friendly than you will in Flanders.

But judging by your broad bigotry, I realize that is unlikely.

Posted by Davis | Report as abusive

Do our leaders understand Congo is the size of Western Europe? Do they know that this is an artificial state made up (a century ago)by a belgian King to have his own share of territory in Africa?
The Only way out is to partition congo into 5 or 6 independent states.This has once worked with INDIA/PAKISTAN/BANGLADESH.
How many more millions loss of lives do the UN want to count before they face realities?
If a decision on partition is not taken now, i fear congo may soon fall into total chaos, as did Somalia.

Posted by Elior David Levy | Report as abusive

Only African leaders and people can solve the problem. Countries outside Africa have tried for years to solve the issues but like it or not in the long run this approach has not worked. I’m not blaming colonialism or still whining about it but more recent interventions.

Look at the results as proof.

Let’s give Africans the opportunity without ouside interference from the west or other countries of the world.

Posted by buffalojump | Report as abusive

For the moment, there are a lot of, if not to much, weapons and armies in the Kivu area. Obviously, the reinforcing of the EU role in that area in terms of more military forces will for sure worsen the situation. Particularly if it arrives with an intended objective of wiping out Nkunda’s on behalf of the Kabila government and his militia like FDLR.
With such choice, instead of giving the region and its civilians a little chance of peace, there is a high probability for a general clash between present forces. There will be more casualties all over and a reduced chance for a peaceful agreement.
With FDLR on the battlefields, Nkunda and his supporters can’t afford loosing. DR Congo will explode and will split in rags and ropes. Of course, the EU presence and influence will also dime if not ending there.
What happened in Uganda with Obote and in Rwanda with Habyarimana will happen then in DR Congo for sure at least with the east part of the republic.

Posted by ruseera | Report as abusive

I am satisfied with delivery and condition

Posted by l van den muyzenberg | Report as abusive

It is very important to mention that this killer Laurent Nkunda ( or Nkundabwatare ) is a rwandan citizen who is working for dictator Paul Kagame. Everyone knows that Laurent Nkunabwatare is a soldier from a regular rwandan army. Therefore this criminal Nkunda is not congolese, he is an authentic rwandan soldier who is killing without remorse congolese people. He mus be arrested and sent to International Court.

Posted by Butare | Report as abusive

The stuation in DRC CONGO!s eastern province is serious and should be taken serious by both the players and observers.the intervention by EU AND UN forces might solve the humanitarian problem to a certain degree but will not solve
the political problem.While Nkunda!s forces are fighting
for the survival of their people ,The UN and EU forces are protecting the exploitation of the vast variety of minerals in CONGO
that are badly needed in the european and american industries .In a country like DRC where the central government is very weak and have failed to control its people and resources,foreign forces and many mushrooming
humanitarian organisations continue to plunder and exploit the natural resources in the names of humanitarian aid. The solution to this eastern Congo problem lies purely in the political solution that would come out of the warring parties negotiations.
Remember the BEMBA,KATANGESE , AND KASAI People are
watching and possibly grouping themselves for an uprising like that of General Nkunda in eastern region in the absence of a strong central government.
The EU,UN,USA and African Union should persuade Kabila
create Federal states according to regions and Give them
some autonomy to govern themselves .Other than that DRC
is far from achieving lasting peace and development.
The lasting peace and meaningful development of DRC and its people lies entirely on the goodwill and determination of all the congolese people to have dialogue among themselves and forge a way forward.Foreign interventions are a temporary measure To avert a humanitarian crisis but will not solve the political problem or the exploitation of minerals.Unconfirmed reports have appeared in the media that some MONUC (UN forces in congo) have engaged themselves mineral exploitation if so what does it help the suffering congolese people who are in real poverty.An organised government is a necessity in the DRC to control its people and natural resources. This is a prime responsbility of all congolese to come to an understanding and form a proper and clear way forward.
Otherwise it will continue to be a market for manufactures of guns and ammunitions which will only protect the exploitation of minerals and keep the majority indigenous
congolese in dire poverty. I would suggest that President Kabila should call for a meeting of leaders and senior citizens from all regions of DRC irrespective of their party affiliations SIT TOGETHER
and settle the administrative problem of their vast country.President Kabila must admit he has failed to
govern DRC alone.Let him not rely on foreign interventions . Those foreign interventions have their interest to protect too more than the interest of the congolese people.

Posted by aloys muleke | Report as abusive

Until the root causes of the crisis the eastern DRC and the Great Lakes region will continue to burn. The crises in North Kivu are local in nature, but international in scope and challenge. There needs to be a multilateral approach to the Great Lakes region (Rwanda, Burundi especially, and also Uganda and CAR) and the transnational issues that extend across the borders, but also a domestic and local approach to resolving the myriad of issues that afflict the eastern DRC. In addition, one must address the disfunctionality of the Congolese state itself and the marauding FARDC as well as lack of genuine political will on the part of the DRC political elite.

It truly is a shame that the crises have come as far as they have because truly finding a durable longterm solution to the challenges that afflict the DRC and Great Lakes countries appears to be only a distant dream that few can see…..

Posted by Aaron Hale | Report as abusive

First I want to make mention that I am of African decent.However i am very disappointed about the complete state of affairs on the continent.The poor masses of majority of African state as been living in hell for the most part of their lives.Majority of the leaders are idiots,charlatans and murderers,and as long as things stay the way it is African and most of its people will never be better.Africa needs a united universial arm force to run thru,and clean out all the despots.

Posted by Ibatone Tolosaoko | Report as abusive

General Nkunda is a Rwandan born soldier. He has no interest in the Congolese people. In fact, I suspect that he he would sell out his own supporters if the price was right. This conflict is entirely about minerals. The UN,US or Britian could sent soldiers in to help clean up the government troops and make them a suitable army so that they could squash General Nkunda’s attempts at over running the country. But why? Another crazy murdering thief will just take the place of General Nkunda! Somehow we have got to stop all the cleptocracy that is plaguing this beautiful continent. Peace and harmony seems so far away!

Posted by Katie Nava | Report as abusive

I read the article. It seems to me contorvrcail. But never mind, it is not about what is written but it is about what is on the groung. The situation in the DR congo is very very shame full. I don’t know when African leaders and warlords are to use their minds to think about their poeple. they always use it to think about power and well beigness.Even they don’t understand that every body has the right to live in peace.The congolese have tremendeous amont of wealth in their motherland, but it became and is becoming impossible even to drink water and to be burried in their homeland even after death. It is really shame. Shame on you all who are causing this problems to your poeple.

Posted by Selina | Report as abusive

When people were dying in Uganda with Obote’s regime, nobody was worrying. When people were genocided in Rwanda since 1960, nobody was neither worrying so much specially in 1994 till French nobody came with Turquoise expedition, a very smashing tutsi killer by using special tools like helicopters to drop pregnant tutsi women and young raped tutsi girls in the Nyungwe forest.
Here, we should accept that Nobody means “no international community”, a fake organization without any true address and no clear objectives. Nobody means also those Humanitarians, a new member of human species or a new nomad category. It is surprising to see them urging military troops to hurry up in Kivu so that they can use their skills. Wonderful really!!! But we don’t see no one in Afghanistan or in Iraq trying to apply his/her loving exercise.
There is also another Nobody, the DJ media players, I mean the journalists with their fantastic media: TV, radio and newspapers of course. They try even the clair-obscur painting techniques in dispatching news. When Kabila’s troops and their militia’s are killing, raping and destroying poor Congolese people, they are able to see through the landscape to change them in Nkunda’s troops or mixed with them.
The Kiwanja edition is famous for the changes (not of Obama of course) operated by a French journalist when reporting who were the killers of the village people. The original answer of one surviver, was the Mai Mai. But the next day, the report was dubbed saying it was Nkunda’s rebells. For the moment, all of them are responsible of killings in Kiwanja.
Actually, Congo doesn’t need a big army since nobody is attacking the country but police forces and attorneys with a good political and economic management.
Congo an easy country to rule and its people are willing peace and not war from UN or European military forces.

Posted by ruseera | Report as abusive