Africa, Headlines

DR CONGO: Peace in a Discriminatory State?

Terna Gyuse interviews ERNEST WAMBA DIA WAMBA, academic and senator

CAPE TOWN, Nov 28 2008 (IPS) - War broke out in the eastern part of DRC again in August since which time 250,000 people have been displaced.

The CNDP headed by Laurent Nkunda has seized large parts of the province of North Kivu, threatening the provincial capital Goma.

In an email interview with IPS, Ernest Wamba dia Wamba – an academic and political theorist with perhaps unique insight and experience into the conflict in Congo as both the former leader of the Rally for Congolese Democracy during the Second Congo War (1998-2003) and as senator in the DRC's parliament – examines the forces at work in the current crisis.

IPS: Ethnicity is often put forward as the key factor in the conflict in this region. You have a different view: what is the conflict really about? Ernest Wamba Dia Wamba: The conflict is about power sharing and access to resources in the context of a weak and discriminatory state. The question of resources draws in outside forces. Besides resources, unresolved issues from the Rwandese genocide – the presence in the DRC of the Forces Démocratiques de la Libération du Rwanda [a rebel group operating in Kivu, made up principally of former Rwandan Army and militia responsible for the 1994 genocide] and the evidence of their alliance with the Kinshasa regime – draws in Rwanda, at least indirectly.

Strictly speaking, ethnicity or tribalism is a particular mode of functioning of a state – the colonial one that organised conquered or colonised people administratively by dividing them into tribes.

When post-colonial states did not successfully solve the national question by consciously transforming the colonial state, they remained discriminatory states, in some respects continuing to function as a colonial state. It is only if ethnic differences become the basis of discrimination that they turn into ethnic conflicts. Right now, our state still treats communities differently; even the formation of the government reflects those differences.

The Tutsi Congolese have a history of having been oppressed by the state, for example when during Mobutu regime, their right of nationality was revoked. [A motion to strip Tutsi Congolese of citizenship in 1981 did not actually pass, but discrimination became general practice. – Ed]

Since then, it has remained in the minds of people to treat them differently, and Tutsi Congolese themselves feel they could again suffer the same treatment if they are not protected. Sentiments of exclusion or ill treatment make them act in a certain way. The state has not completely overcome those fears and those ideologies in people.

IPS: Many of DRC's neighbours have been involved in the conflict militarily at one time or another – at the moment, Rwanda is accused of involvement and Angolan troops are again on the way. What role do DRC's neighbours play in the conflict? EW: Most of them do not really want a strong DRC and the DRC has not been able so far to develop a posture of good neigbhourliness with its neighbours. [Rwanda and other] neighbouring states that have suffered due to the destabilisation by Mobutu's gendarme regime want the DRC to remain weak. And the Kinshasa government's contracts with China makes the West less inclined to support the regime, as they would have done with Mobutu.

All this is due to the fact that the DRC is unable to exercise its authority around at her borders. The DRC hardly has a real national army or a real public administration and is thus unable to defend her territorial integrity.

Corruption, fuelled by the fact that even top leaders are involved in business interests, makes it difficult for institutions to function well and urgently correct those shortcomings.

Funds and materials sent to the war front, are often diverted. Food meant for the army has been found being sold in stores in Kisangani, for example. Food intended for the war front! The African Union should perhaps help in finding a neutral team to strengthen the integration and restructuring of the FARDC.

IPS: In your view, what role is there for these (and other African governments) in finding a lasting peace? EW: As long as they operate within what we can call a U.N. of conception of conflict resolution, where peace is seen as coming from outside, a conception of peace as 'colonial pacification', no durable solution will be found.

Since the 1960s, at the end of each war in the DRC, peace agreements have failed to honestly take up the issue of national reconciliation. Too often, the solution has been based on power sharing favoring the strongest element and sometimes ignoring the defeated element, ie the divisions among the people are not dealt with and some continue to feel excluded, making it difficult for the state to function as a state for all people.

It is crucial that this time a real dialogue takes place and a reconciliation is carried out. Military solutions tend to be temporary, each party only waiting for the shift in the balance of forces.

In the long run, the DRC has to be rebuilt. Some way has to be found to organise a real army and a real administration. Unless the people are involved in the process, the outcome is likely to be a State that is repressive.

The consolidation of democratic institutions may help; so far, multipartyism has tended to be more divisive. Neoliberalism has not made it easier for weak states to truly control their resources. The world economy of crime easily links up with corrupt structures to loot the resources and marginalise and impoverish people.

IPS: The DRC is obviously of great importance to the world. I'm thinking of the large, lucrative mineral contracts which have been signed – not uncontroversially – in recent months; of the competing strategic interests of various end-users of the resources that are extracted from DRC in both good times and bad; of the UN's mission in the Congo; and the recent presence in the Great Lakes region of high-level diplomats from France, the UK and the United States… What role is being played by parties from outside Africa? EW: Most of what we know those forces are doing, is only what the press has been reporting. Very little is really new. Since its creation at the 1885 Berlin Conference, the Congo has been an international colony entrusted into the hands of some person (Leopold II), some country (Belgium); then an international neocolony entrusted to the hands of the Troika (U.S., France, Belgium); now it's in the hands of the U.S. and European Union.

We are witnessing intense diplomacy, but one is not sure that a solution favorable to the Congolese people will be achieved by this. The West pursues its diplomacy on the assumption that its interests and privileges will remain taken care of.

It is good if that diplomacy does succeed in dealing urgently with the tragic humanitarian crisis. The fear here is that, given the feeling left by the West's doing nothing to prevent the genocide in Rwanda, they may raise the spectre of Kosovo [the carving out of a new state]. But the Congolese people will defend their territorial integrity.

Obasanjo's mission is interesting: it might clarify the positions of the opposing camps and may help clarify the issue of the dialogue or negotiations and the terms of those negotiations.

The [present] U.N. mission reminds one of the ONUC, in the 1960s. The government that invited it seems to have changed its mind. Even the increased troop strength won't change much. A full assessment of the first U.N. mission has yet to be made – it was not necessarily successful.

[The United Nations Operation in the Congo, ONUC, which lasted from 1960-1964 was intended to assist in maintaining law and order following the Belgian withdrawal, and later to maintain Congo's territorial integrity and political independence in the face of secessionist movements and the activity of mercenaries and foreign military forces. – Ed.]

Until the DRC has an effective army and is able to exercise state authority throughout the country, the U.N. will only be of limited help.

IPS: Who are the relevant parties to negotiate a better future for the country? EW: Within the National Assembly and the Senate, they are people who are agitating for direct negotiations with Nkunda. Proposals have been made in that direction. The minister of foreign affairs has been meeting with Rwandese, I don't know how much has been achieved.

Since the issue should be to achieve a long lasting settlement, the more the institutions are involved the better. During the time of the secessions (of Katanga and South Kasai in 1963), President Kasa-Vubu did meet with the leaders of the secessions.

It would be good that a high level meeting take place so that the implementation of agreements could be guaranteed. The government should consult with respected personalities all across the country to get a sense of what is likely to move us towards a better future.

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