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About Western commitment to peace in the Great Lakes Region

July 5, 2009

The European Union has recently reaffirmed its “commitment” towards peace  in Eastern Congo.

I have been living in Goma for the last nine months, and I have seen the fruits of Western diplomacy in the field. However, if peace is supposed to be the ultimate goal, I have doubts about current strategies in this region.

Any civilian from Ufamandu, Masisi, would understand what I mean.

In spite of its supposed goodwill, I am afraid that part of the diplomatic strategy in place  is actually fuelling violence. As a European, I am very sorry to say this.

In october 2008, CNDP forces were threatening to take Goma, North Kivu. An advocacy campaign was launched by many international NGOs (headed by Oxfam) for the deployment of a EU force in the Kivus. On the basis of their experience, these NGOs understood that a EU force deployment was the only option to protect civilians, because:

-FARDC forces were (and are) much more of a problem than a solution. Many of their soldiers systematically rape and humiliate women. They treat civilians as pack mules to carry their belongings. They are endemically not paid, and hence they loot and extort civilian population on a daily basis. To put it in another way, you can not ask the fox to take care of the chicken.

-MONUC does not fullfill its job of protection. The mandate is there (Chapter 7), but there is no political will to exercise the use of force. Countries sending blue helmets do not want casualties. And blue helmets are deployed, yes, but too many times they stay in their barracks and do not protect the people in need. It happened in Kiwanja: CNDP killed hundreds of civilians at literally a stone´s throw from the MONUC position, and blue helmets did not move. It happens in Masisi: local people from  Masisi centre explained me recently this same behaviour. Blue helmets stay in their barracks, they rarely get out. They all seem to be counting the days to leave each position. And examples of this behaviour keep on taking place (read the last one here).

With these two forces as main guarantors of civilian safety, you understand better why NGOs were pushing so hard for a EU force deployment.

Just after the CNDP threatened to take to Goma, in October last year, the EU seemed to react.  Bernard Kouchner and David Milliband came to the Kivus and expressed their commitment to the people of Goma. And Gordon Brown himself talked publicly about the women of the Kivus (“Women of the Kivus, we do not forget you”, he said). So many of us thought: “Hey, these guys seem to be doing something”.

However, no EU force was sent. CNDP kept on controlling a vast region of Masisi and Rutshuru and they seemed unstoppable. Pessimism and deception were growing, because nothing was happening (around February), and many started to wonder: “they are the leaders of the free world… aren´t they supposed to do something?”.

Then, in January, all of a sudden and to the astonishment of all experts, the political situation turned 180º.  CNDP and PARECO abandoned fighting, Nkunda was arrested (by Rwanda!) and both Rwanda and the DRC joined forces in a military operation, Umoja Wetu (“Our Unity”), to put an end to the FDLR in the Kivus. Diplomatic commitment and international pressure were giving its fruits after months of talks.

Since March, it seems clearer and clearer that, far from solving problems, the current strategy actually creates havoc, as it  presents serious deficiencies in its very own foundations:

-The belief that a military operation can eliminate FDLR forces proved to be wrong, as everyone has acknowledged. Far from solving the issue, Umoja Wetu created more suffering. Once again, civilians paid the price of being between the sword and the wall and suffered FDLR retaliation.

The problem is, a military operation of similar characteristics (Kimya II) is about to start in South Kivu. In spite of the human rights records of the FARDC, MONUC is going to support it logistically.

MONUC collaboration with an army responsible of human rights violations (FARDC) seriously deteriorates the image of the UN and makes it accomplice of the atrocities.

In fact, the UN presence in the DRC has developed a schizofrenic nature. On the one hand, you have those who support militarily the FARDC in the field (MONUC). And on the other hand, in the very same organization, you have those who arrive later to pick up the pieces (OCHA, UNHCR, WFP). In other words, they are serving God and the Devil. Many UN humanitarian officials are aware of this and deplore this collaboration. Many consider it shameful and against the principles of impartiality and independence the UN is supposed to stand for.

-The presentation of the FDLR problem as a purely military issue is wrong, and those who present it like that are aware of this. It is political as well as military. The EU knows it, but it has proven to be deliberately, strategically, blind regarding the political situation in Rwanda. As Filip Reyntjens denounced, the report of EU electoral observers in the last Rwandan municipal elections was manipulated, precisely to avoid what it was supposed to do: provide an accurate diagnosis of  the degree of transparency of these elections.

MONUC supporting FARDC, the EU manipulating reports…  the word “commitment” reveals new meanings I had not think of.

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