There’s lots to celebrate as rebels in the
eastern DRC lay down their arms and
surrender, concluding the latest chapter of a
long-simmering rebellion. But no one should
be celebrating too hard: winning the war was
the easy part. Winning the peace will be a lot
“It is more difficult to organise a peace than to win a
war,” said Aristotle, a long, long time ago. Good
philosophy never dates, however, and at moments
like these his words are all too relevant.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the rebels have
surrendered and white-clothed women are victory-
parading through the streets of Kinshasa; the usually
sober BBC asks if this means peace in the DRC,
finally; and seasoned UN diplomats are dancing in
conquered rebel strongholds and crowing about the
military success of their new, amped-up
peacekeeping force, for which South Africa put the
lives of 1 345 soldiers on the line.
Before we get into the headaches of post-conflict
resolution – and there are plenty – it’s worth
acknowledging that all this congratulatory back-
slapping is not entirely misplaced. In the space of a
few days, the Congolese Army, with the intimidating
support of those heavily-armed UN peacekeepers,
was able to deal a decisive blow to the M23
movement’s military capacity. In military terms, it
was a stunning success, and achieved the goal of
bringing the rebels, tails firmly between their legs,
back to the negotiating table.
“The chief of general staff and the commanders of all
major units are requested to prepare troops for
disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration on
terms to be agreed with the government of Congo,”
said M23 chief Bertrand Bisimwa, refraining for once
from his usual bombast to simply acknowledge the
new status quo. As a fighting force, M23 are finished.
For now.
South Africa has plenty of reason to be pleased. Our
soldiers acquitted themselves well (and, more
importantly, escaped unscathed), our Rooivalk
helicopters saw combat action for the first time in
their 23-year history, and our president went ahead
and signed a staggeringly large energy contract with
the Congolese government, who were no doubt
inclined towards generosity thanks to South Africa’s
efforts against M23. Such are the spoils of war.
The United Nations too is justifiably satisfied. Its
risky experiment to give select peacekeepers an
offensive mandate – allowing them to go on the
attack against the rebels, instead of the usual policy
of acting in self-defence only – is being hailed as a
success, and may yet change the blueprint for
peacekeeping operations in the future.
It is hard to underestimate the significance of this
change in approach. From rigorously defending its
impartiality and neutrality, the UN has now accepted
that in order to make a real difference it must be a
protagonist in certain conflict situations. This
expands the range of conflict resolution options
available to UN decision-makers, but also means they
will be taking sides – as they did in the DRC, lining up
behind the Congolese government – which will make
UN intervention even more fraught than usual and
will certainly complicate the work of the UN’s various
humanitarian agencies.
So now the war against M23 is won, it’s on to the
really difficult business of winning the peace – a
challenge of an altogether more daunting magnitude,
as Aristotle well knew.
The Institute for Security Study’s Stephanie Wolters,
who has been observing Congolese politics for too
long to be swept away with the current euphoria,
warns that M23 are not the only threat to stability in
the area:
“The events of the last two weeks have certainly
raised hopes. But the M23 is only one of many armed
groups operating in the eastern DRC. There are many
others that have long rendered the lives of the
population in these parts a living nightmare and that
still need to be tackled politically and militarily.
Equally, the role of Rwanda in recent developments
is unclear – until we know for sure that it has ended
its support to the M23, it is too early to celebrate.”
In other words, now that M23 are wrapped up, the
Congolese army and the UN will have to turn its
attention to the other miscreants operating in and
around eastern DRC. Prime among these is Rwanda,
long-reported to be M23’s principal backer, but who
recently have seemed to lose interest in supporting
its rebellion; and the FDLR, the armed group formed
from the remnants of Rwandan Hutus who fled
Rwanda in 1994 after instigating the Rwandan
genocide (the FDLR’s presence helps explain
Rwanda’s interest).
And as for M23, well, there are still plenty of difficult
questions to answer. According to Wolters, ongoing
talks in Kampala have stalled on two issues: first,
which M23 fighters qualify for amnesty; and which
get re-integrated into the Congolese army (after all,
M23 in its current iteration started life after a
Congolese army mutiny). “The Congolese
government has agreed to allow M23 combatants to
reintegrate into the army, and has also accepted that
they be amnestied,” said Wolters. “However, it has
ruled out integration and amnesty for the M23’s
senior leadership, and this has left the talks at an
impasse. Regional envoys have reiterated that those
guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity
should not be allowed to escape legal action.”
The most urgent problem of all, however, is also the
most complex: how to solve the devastating
humanitarian situation created by decades of on
again-off again conflict and a near complete absence
of government. In the midst of all the fighting talk,
there’s been little indication of how the Congolese
government plans to address the gaping holes in
education, health and other basic service delivery; or
how it intends to address the chronic poverty,
festering corruption, mass displacement and
“The fruits of victory will be lost if the peace is not
organised,” concluded Aristotle. Our advice to the
Congolese government, and its UN back-up brigade:
best get organising.

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