The people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo must have genuine representation and expression of their grievances for any peace process to last, said Joshua Marks, the National Endowment for Democracy’s senior program officer, addressing last week’s Great Lakes Policy Forum.
The event examined recent developments in eastern Congo and ways to address the current crisis. Other speakers were Léon Baroani from Search for Common Ground and Harper McConnel Katondolo from Eastern Congo Initiative.
While discussion of the conflict in eastern Congo often examines the important regional and international aspects, the broader failure of governance warrants more attention since it is a fundamental cause to today’s conflict.
“This is not to deflect well-supported criticism against the involvement of Congo’s neighbors—namely Rwanda and Uganda—since they arguably lit the match that caused the current fire,” said Mr. Marks. “Rather, it is to remind you of the broader failures of governance in Congo that left important institutions in shambles, thus creating the kindling that made this fire in the east so easy to light.”
As an example, Mr. Marks explained how the botched 2011 elections further distanced the government from its citizens with unsettling effects. The failure of those elections closed off another nonviolent and potentially constructive process to hold the current Congolese government accountable and to mitigate the appeal of armed violence. As a result, President Joseph Kabila lacks legitimacy among his people, who have demonstrated against his government recently, and he has less room to negotiate with the M23 rebels behind the current crisis.
Popular opposition to Kabila, however, does not translate into support for the M23, which is viewed as a foreign movement and has gained greater notoriety than its predecessors despite its strenuous attempts to tap into popular grievances against the Congolese government.
The criticism against Kabila reveals instead the deep frustration from the Congolese people who have suffered the most as a result of the past failed peace agreements and poor governance yet have rarely been represented or consulted in negotiating a peace. Many of the past negotiated solutions—such as the mixage agreement of 2007, the March 23rd accords, and even the Sun City talks—have been elite-driven and allowed participants to share in the natural resource spoils of the country yet have failed fundamentally to achieve a durable peace.
Mr. Marks ended by urging a broader peace process that addresses the root causes of the conflict and that has real popular representation. Topics to address included security sector reform, decentralization, land tenure, transitional justice, and communal reconciliation. Responsible representatives of the people could include the Catholic Church and other religious bodies, formal civil society organizations, and some political parties.
The call for a national dialogue that President Kabila made in mid-December is also a positive step but there is the risk that the government would control it at the expense of genuine popular representation.
Mr. Marks acknowledged that these recommendations are far from exhaustive. Engaging Rwanda, finding a workable structure for the comprehensive framework currently being crafted at the UN, and addressing the immediate security threat from the M23 and other armed groups in the east are also crucial to a lasting peace.
NED, which has funded programs in Congo for over 20 years, currently funds over 40 projects in nine of the 11 provinces of Congo. These emphasize promoting human rights, good governance, and conflict resolution.
Joshua Marks is the NED’s Senior Program Officer for Southern and Central Africa.