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Yes, the Congo rebels issue is a bit complicated

25th November 2012
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Editorial Cartoon

Diplomats and government officials in various African countries, especially around the Great Lakes Region, are looking for ways to mitigate both the scale of the fighting in the Congo DR and its possible fallout, either in causing wider damage to the still fragile artifacts of state in that country, or spreading to neighbouring countries.

This particular consideration influenced various levels in the government and specifically in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation to think of ways of helping to contain that problem, and ordinarily the best way out is in peacekeeping efforts, to buttress this or that ongoing effort by the international community. No large scale and persistent conflicts exist unattended.

That is why it was not in the first place surprising that there would be an intention to help with peace efforts in that country, but sounds of alarm started coming up from various quarters, partly on account of vivid images not just of solid control of the conflict zone by M23 fighters but more so, their evident popularity.

It would constitute an effort to shore up the symbols of a state that does not exist on the ground, namely the formal authority of the Kinshasa government, whereas all peace or strategic wisdom in that regard would require that such authority be created politically by an agreement with the rebels, and then at that point it makes sense to help to keep peace. Otherwise it is to take up the DRC’s wars.

As if to underline the point that skeptics in Dar es Salaam and definitely elsewhere were raising, there was also a news report that President Joseph Kabila had suspended his top army general for presumed arms sales to the very forces that he is supposed to lead military operations against them. The first one to enthuse at the news must have been Rwandan President Paul Kagame, for he has faced opprobrium in various Western circles that he is the mastermind and paymaster of the rebellion in eastern DRC, to his vehement and often contested denials. Now the Congolese authorities are giving an image of just how deeply set the problem is, in affirming that small weapons aren’t just scattered and easy to grab, but given the often lawless environment in most of the Congo, arms can be filtered out of army depots.

This announcement, as well as earlier considerations of logistical nightmares of helping to police a zone as large as our three or four northern regions combined, versus popular rebel units that can send, order people at will and no request for information will be of much use, shows the scale of danger or futility in rushing to eastern DRC.

As it is the case with other countries in the Great Lakes Region and partially in southern Africa, Tanzania has had its ups and downs in psychological terms in relation to events in the DRC since the uprising in 1997 that removed vestiges of a then terminally ill President Mobutu Seseseko, and could easily stumble into another cycle of involvement. It never was massive as care often prevails.

That is how the government seems to have comprehended in relation to what seemed to be an urgency and a crisis, following the capture of the eastern capital of Goma by rebel forces.

Still the idea that one can just ferry two battalions of troops to help the same army chiefs selling arms to the rebels, or try to dissuade the local people against their loved rebel heroes, is condemned in advance, constituting what is in any regard a pointless adventure.

If the Congolese authorities feel that the rebels are popular with their people, they can arrange for safe passage of threatened individuals to rehabilitate them elsewhere – and then enter a pact with rebels on good conduct. Let the CIA and the African Union worry over that.  

SOURCE: GUARDIAN ON SUNDAY