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Why is DRC "Negotiating" With M23, Not Rwanda and Uganda?

Anyone who’s paid any serious attention to the conflict between the Congolese army and the M23 militia in eastern Congo, knows that the M23 were never “Congolese rebels,” as AP, Reuters, and the rest of the corporate press have agreed to identify them. M23 has been fighting under Rwandan command, in consultation with top Ugandan officials, with support, recruits, and conscripts from Rwanda and Uganda, for the territorial claims of the Rwandan and Ugandan regimes, as were M23’s previous incarnations, the RCD and the CNDP.  This is all documented in the past 12 years of UN Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)’s reports.  The 2012 Report of the UN Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo described M23’s chain of command ending in the office of Rwandan Defense Minister James Kabarebe.

So why isn’t Congo at the table with Uganda and Rwanda, aside from the fact that Rwanda and Uganda have no legitimate territorial claims within the borders of the DRC?  And/or the fact that Uganda and Rwanda are both longstanding “military partners” of the U.S., which makes the truth both inconvenient and embarrassing in Washington D.C.?

Why is Uganda pretending to act as a mediator and why are Congo’s negotiators and “the international community” – meaning, in this case, the US, UK, and UNSC – playing along? I asked Jean-Mobert N’Senga, a young lawyer and Congolese nationalist in Goma, the capital of Congo’s war ravaged and mineral rich North Kivu Province, about the dubious “peace process” in Kampala, Uganda.  N’Senga is part of a civilian Congolese movement called “Lutta pour le Changement” (Fight for the Change).

Ann Garrison:  Do you trust the DRC’s negotiators?  It’s reported that they at least refused to sign an “agreement” with M23, a defeated, officially “dissolved” militia, which has no apparent leverage as such.  DRC negotiators wanted, reportedly, to sign a “declaration” of their army’s victory instead.  It’s hard to know exactly what’s at stake unless the disputed text of the document at issue is made public, but, despite this defiance, it sounds like they’re actually willing to integrate or reintegrate M23 soldiers back into the Congolese Army – even though these soldiers have been fighting for Rwanda and Uganda, under explicit Rwandan command.

Jean-Mobert Nsenga:  I don’t trust these so-called negotiations themselves. I’ve never trusted them. I was in Kampala when they started and I believed from the beginning that they could never bring anything good to the Congolese people. The Congolese government is refusing to sign an agreement because of domestic political calculations, but yes, they seem to agree with the re-integration of M23 troops into the Congolese army.  Because of popular Congolese and international pressure, they just say they will not integrate some officers – fewer than 10. And of course that is not sounding so good for us. We would like to see our government negotiators say that:

1.)  Not one single M23 fighter, or any fighter from any other armed group operating in DRC, will be integrated or reintegrated into our army or our police force.

2.)  Foot soldiers must simply demobilize and return to their homes.  If they are Rwandans or Ugandans, they should be returned to Rwanda or Uganda.  If they are Congolese residents or citizens who have been fighting for Rwanda and Uganda in M23, they should not be reintegrated into our army or police force.  That would just be more re-infiltration, which has been the biggest problem in our army and police force for many years.

3)  Officers, including Commander Sultani Makenge, should be returned from Rwanda and Uganda to DRC, to stand before justice, as was agreed in the Addis Abbaba peace framework agreement.

AG:  Do you think your negotiators are under pressure from “the international community,” meaning  the US, UK, and UNSC, to come to an agreement that somehow accommodates their interests?

JN:  It is obvious that the “international community” is putting a lot of pressure on the Congolese government to sign this useless and meaningless agreement, understanding, conclusion, declaration or whatever they decide to call it.  UN Envoy to the Great Lakes Region Mary Robinson, MONUSCO Chief Martin Kobler, and US Envoy Russ Feingold all say that to end what they call the “Kampala process,” something must be signed.

Do they plan to menage the Ugandans and Rwandans behind M23, who are also masters of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region* and who are now sheltering and protecting the M23 fighters who fled across their borders from the DRC?  Possibly.

The M23 is a “negative force,” as the UN itself says in resolutions and declarations, though the term isn’t nearly strong enough.  How can they qualify an armed group as a negative force and then call on DRC’s presumably legitimate government to negotiate and sign an agreement with it?

But one thing is clear: What is important is not another agreement but the implementation of existing agreements, including the 2012 agreement that the DRC’s neighbors “neither harbor nor provide protection of any kind to persons accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, acts of genocide, or crimes of aggression, or persons falling under the UN sanctions regime.”

AG:  A Ugandan official has threatened that “M23 might regroup,” obviously meaning that Uganda and Rwanda might send troops back into Congo, if “M23’s terms” aren’t met,  Shouldn’t the UN Security Council, and its envoys, and US envoy Russ Feingold let Uganda know that the UN Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) will back up the Congolese Army again if they do?

JN:  Yes.  Exactly.  It is astonishing to see UN Envoy Mary Robinson remain silent in the face of such a gross violation of the peace agreement, which Uganda and Rwanda signed, promising not to shelter these fighters from Congo.  On one hand, they are determined that the Congolese government sign an agreement, on the other they are unwilling to insist that Uganda and Rwanda uphold the previous agreement.  If these rebels stay in Rwanda and Uganda, as Mutebutsi  and Nkunda did, we can be sure that they will find a way, tomorrow or later, to invade, destabilize and occupy DRC’s Kivu Provinces again. They are already putting out propaganda about how the Kinyarwanda speaking Tutsi people in territory recovered by our Congolese army are being threatened and oppressed.

AG:  If the UNSC doesn’t let Uganda know that the Force Intervention Brigade will back the Congolese Army against any further incursions, won’t it be clear that they were never serious about bringing peace to the eastern DRC?

JN:  That is difficult to judge. But what is sure is that, as always, whatever South Africa, Tanzania, the US, France, or any other country does, it sees first its own immediate and/or future interests. The Congolese people should know that and manage however possible to build a strong army, strong institutions. and democracy so that they can count on themselves to keep peace and integrity of their country.

AG:  I’ve spoken to some Congolese who seem to say the problem is all in Uganda and Rwanda, not in Kinshasa, the capital.

JN:  Uganda and Rwanda are parts of the problems, but the main problem is our own lack of an effective government.  The Congo state is almost totally ineffective – security services, justice, administration, immigration, and customs enforcement, everything.  Nothing works effectively, especially in eastern Congo. Rwandan and Ugandan forces and interests and those of any other country can do whatever they like here because there is no rule of law to stop them. It’s as simple as that.

AG:  A gaggle of Western pundits and think tankers call Congo a failed state for that very reason, and say that it should therefore dissolve into smaller states, though the provinces they want to see break away are all on its resource rich eastern borders.  They include the Kivu Provinces which are coveted by Rwanda, and the Ituri District in Orientale Province, which is coveted by Uganda.  Obviously you don’t agree, or you wouldn’t be a member of Lutta pour le Changement (Fight for the Change), but can you briefly describe what it will take to establish the rule of law and viable institutions without breaking up the D.R.C.?  I know it’s a laughably huge question, but, briefly?

JN:  Congo will only be saved by upright, conscientious & courageous Congolese.  Our people believe in the unity of DRC, the Democratic Republic of Congo. We have had a century of history together and we will never let our country be divided.  I believe in the good will of people around the world, though not necessarily their governments. It is these people of good will who can support us as we try to build a united free, peaceful and prosperous Congo. That will not be of benefit only to us but to the entire world.

AG: Patrice Emery Lumumba: “We are not alone. Africa, Asia, and free and liberated people everywhere will always be on the side of the Congolese.”

JN:  Yes.

Jean-Mobert Nsenga is a Congolese activist lawyer in Goma, the capital of the DRC’s North Kivu Province, on the country’s border with Rwanda.  He can be reached @Jean-Mobert Nsenga onTwitter, where his updates are one of the best sources for keeping up with the DRC and the region.

Ann Garrison is an independent journalist who contributes to the San Francisco Bay View, Global Research, and the Black Star News and produces radio for KPFA-Berkeley and WBAI-New York City.  She can be reached from her website, anngarrison.com, or at ann@afrobeatradio.com.

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Ann Garrison is an independent journalist who also contributes to the San Francisco Bay View, Global Research, the Black Agenda Report and the Black Star News, and produces radio for KPFA-Berkeley and WBAI-New York City.  In 2014, she was awarded the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize by the Womens International Network for Democracy and Peace.  She can be reached at ann@afrobeatradio.com.

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