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Congo (Kinshasa): Averting the Nightmare Scenario
Sep 14, 2007 (070914)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
"Between 1996 and 2002, the two massive wars fought in the
Democratic Republic of the Congo were arguably the world's
deadliest since World War II. With almost no international
fanfare, Congo is on the brink of its third major war in the last
decade, and almost nothing is being done to stop it." - Enough
In a newly released report from the Enough Project, John
Prendergast and Colin Thomas-Jensen call for urgent international
response to avert what they call this "nightmare scenario."
Despite relative calm in other parts of the country, they note,
"the vast majority of eastern Congolese are ensnared in the criminal
livelihoods of numerous predatory armed groups," leading to one of
the world's highest rates of death due to persistent violence and
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on the Democratic Republic of
the Congo and links to additional news and background, visit
For other recent reports on the violence in eastern Congo, see
Latest news and background from UN Mission in the DR Congo,
includes both French and English sites
September 13, 2007
Stephen Lewis commenting on the sexual violence that has become an
integral part of the conflict:
September 10, 2007
Amnesty International press release
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++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
Averting the Nightmare Scenario in Eastern Congo
By John Prendergast and Colin Thomas-Jensen
ENOUGH Strategy Paper #7
[John Prendergast is Co-Chair and Colin Thomas-Jensen is Policy
Advisor to the ENOUGH Project. Both have conducted recent
fact-finding missions in eastern Congo. Given the importance of
this report, the full text is reproduced although this is somewhat
longer than the normal AfricaFocus Bulletin. Additional links and
reports can be fund on http://www.enoughproject.org]
Between 1996 and 2002, the two massive wars fought in the
Democratic Republic of the Congo were arguably the world's
deadliest since World War II. With almost no international
fanfare, Congo is on the brink of its third major war in the last
decade, and almost nothing is being done to stop it.
A dissident Congolese Tutsi General named Laurent Nkunda and at
least 3,000 loyal forces have carved out control of parts of
North Kivu Province. The Congolese government has responded by
realigning itself with the FDLR -- a militia composed of more
than 6,000 Rwandan Hutu rebels, many with links to the 1994
genocide in their home country -- to fight Nkunda's more
Fighting between the two sides has intensified in recent weeks.
Troops are being deployed to the front line and more are being
forcibly recruited, and the potential for Rwanda to be drawn back
into Congo -- as it was in the two previous wars -- increases
with each day the international community drags its feet.
War in the Great Lakes region has been in a state of suspension
over the last few years, despite the Congolese peace deal, and it
ominously appears that the conflict has not yet reached its
conclusion. Despite a complex peace deal and successful Congolese
elections in late 2006, Congo will head down the road to a third
cataclysm if the international community does not take much more
Incredibly, the world's largest peacekeeping mission, the United
Nations Mission in the Congo, or MONUC, is not engaging in any
official dialogue with Nkunda, and there is no comprehensive
diplomatic effort to head off what could return eastern Congo to
the status it has held for much of the past decade as the world's
deadliest war zone. And while the UN Security Council President
issued a statement in July urging all actors in the conflict to
use diplomatic and political means to resolve the crisis, no one
has stepped up to make that happen. The international community
is not bringing strong pressure to bear on the Congolese
government or Nkunda and his backers to negotiate. To arrest a
bloody slide toward a catastrophic regional war, the
international community must act quickly to implement a
comprehensive political, economic, and military strategy, which
involves launching negotiations between the Congolese government
and Nkunda and dealing concurrently with the pretext for his
rebellion -- the FDLR.
Nkunda and the FDLR are inexorably entwined. The continued
presence of the FDLR, the danger they pose to civilians, and the
failure of the Congolese army to protect its citizens enables
Nkunda to portray himself as a protector of his Tutsi community.
At the same time, human rights abuses by Nkunda's forces
reinforce anti-Tutsi and anti-Rwandan sentiment in the region,
and bolster calls for a decisive military solution to his
rebellion. "Nkunda is a pyromaniac masquerading as a
firefighter", says Congo expert Jason Stearns. "The abuses
committed by forces under his control fuel pervasive anti-Tutsi
sentiment in the Kivus, yet he claims to be the only person who
can protect his people."
Recent attempts by Kabila's government to co-opt Nkunda and his
forces have backfired, strengthening Nkunda's hand and
emboldening hardliners in the Presidential circle who prefer a
military solution. Given the systemic weaknesses of the Congolese
army, the Congolese government has allied itself with the FDLR
for military operations against Nkunda.
In a true nightmare scenario, the Congolese alliance with the
FDLR could draw Rwanda back into eastern Congo, and full-scale
war could again engulf the Great Lakes. Rwandan President Paul
Kagame recently told ENOUGH, "The FDLR is not a strategic threat
as long as there is no one behind them, supporting them. They
become a strategic threat only if someone uses them."
Inevitably, civilians are caught in the crossfire of military
operations, and the prevailing climate of impunity allows all
sides -- Nkunda, the FDLR, the Congolese army, and local militias
-- to exploit the local population without fear of consequences.
Within the context of the ENOUGH Project's 3P's of crisis
response (Peacemaking, Protection, and Punishment), the
international community must immediately develop a "carrots and
sticks" approach to avoid the resumption of full-scale war and
deal with the intertwined challenges of Nkunda and the FDLR.
Peacemaking: MONUC must enlist strong support from the United
States, EU, and key African states such as Rwanda and South
Africa for a diplomatic initiative that focuses on the carrots:
political negotiations to integrate Nkunda's forces into the
Congolese army and a redoubled effort to demobilize willing FDLR
Protection: While maintaining its focus on protecting civilians
and humanitarian operations, MONUC must assume the lead in
developing the military sticks necessary to concentrate minds on
finding non-violent solutions to the crisis. These sticks include
credible military threats both to deal with Nkunda if political
talks fail and to go after FDLR units that refuse to demobilize.
Punishment: Non-military sticks are also needed. The
international community must move aggressively on three fronts:
cutting off supply lines to belligerent parties in eastern Congo;
collecting data on new crimes against humanity to support future
prosecution by the International Criminal Court; and increasing
support for military justice reform and capacity building to
effectively punish crimes committed by the Congolese military and
ensure that a responsible, professional, and capable military
force emerges over time.
A Cycle of Atrocities in Eastern Congo
The vast majority of eastern Congolese are ensnared in the
criminal livelihoods of numerous predatory armed groups. They are
suppliers of "wives" for the army and militia, labor for the
landowners, and food producers for the combatants who loot their
harvests. Because of the persistent violence and displacement
caused by these armed groups, one of the highest excess death
rates in the world -- 1,200 people per day by the last
comprehensive mortality study -- stubbornly persists. Newly
elected Congolese President Joseph Kabila's government faces an
uphill battle to establish security in the eastern Congolese
regions of North Kivu, South Kivu, Katanga, Maniema, and Ituri.
The Congolese army is the most guilty of human rights violations,
but it is joined by roughly 8,000 to 9,000 Rwandan and Ugandan
rebels (including the Lord's Resistance Army) and 5,000 to 8,000
local militiamen that operate in the East. These armed groups
clash with each other and with the Congolese army, and they
target local villagers in a continuous cocktail of
Heavier bouts of fighting occasionally burst onto the
international radar screen. In November 2006, for example,
fighting in North Kivu -- between government army forces and FDLR
militia on the one hand and Nkunda's forces on the other --
displaced 120,000 civilians overnight. This recurring
displacement experienced by civilian populations has left most
communities on the knife-edge of survival.
Continued atrocities in the East have two underlying causes:
- The long-standing structural weaknesses of the Congolese
state, in particular the predatory nature of its armed forces and
the general state of impunity and lawlessness across the country;
- The rise of parasitic armed groups -- driven by competition
for vast natural resources, struggle for political power,
communal tensions, and legitimate security concerns -- which fill
the vacuum of the state and feed off its people.
Unsurprisingly, there is a very tight correlation between
continued conflict and high death rates. According to the UN, at
least 1.2 million people are displaced inside Congo, most of them
in the East. In the western part of Congo, death rates are
similar to those in other parts of sub-Saharan Africa. In the
East, the rates are double. People die in eastern Congo in huge
numbers, indirectly due to the ripple effects of violence:
continuing attacks, ongoing rapes, and routine looting and forced
labor all lead to waves of displacement, frequent epidemics,
limited access to basic health services, persistent hunger and
malnutrition, and spiraling impoverishment.
A non-functioning state means that there is no recourse but to
the slivers of international assistance that trickle in via
heroic aid agency efforts, but the scale of the problems in the
Congo dwarfs the response of donor governments. Moreover,
humanitarian access to these vulnerable populations is under
constant stress, and UN agencies and non-governmental
organizations, or NGOs, are fighting an uphill battle to save
lives. Where aid agencies do get involved, death rates go down.
However, the humanitarian aid trickling through is a small drop
in an ocean of need, and UN officials report they have less
access now in parts of North Kivu than they did in the fall of
One of the most important regional developments of the last year
was a thawing in relations between the Congolese and Rwandan
governments, and the Ugandan and Rwandan governments. This helped
the Congolese elections to occur without major incident and also
de-escalated the regional confrontation between Rwanda and
Uganda, which often played itself out on Congolese soil. This
strategic decision by Rwanda to focus on becoming the "Singapore
of Africa" and improving regional relations was perhaps the most
important element in reducing large-scale conflict in Congo. All
this is now put at risk because of the recent escalation between
Nkunda and Kinshasa, particularly in light of the latter's
realignment with the FDLR.
Multiple motives are at play in Kinshasa and Kigali, some of
which tend to reinforce some level of instability on the
Congolese side of the border. Disturbingly, Nkunda has recruited
from within Rwandan borders and, according to the more than 100
Rwandans who have deserted from Nkunda, Rwandan officials appear
to have been complicit in this recruitment. Their motives include
protection of the Tutsi community, dealing with FDLR, but also
possibly protecting remaining financial and resource extraction
networks in North Kivu.
How Should We Respond To Such a Complex Emergency?
What, then, is the required response to the potential for the
resumption of full scale war overlaying the chronic low-grade
violence in eastern Congo that leads to continued displacement
The focus must be first on the proximate causes of the violence:
the military elements -- foreign and Congolese, state and
non-state -- that continue to prey upon the population of the
East. The overarching objective must be to reduce the core level
of violence through eroding the numbers of rogue armed elements
and affecting the incentive structure of those that loot and kill
with impunity. A successful strategy must balance a combination
of diplomacy, disarmament, and reintegration of ex-combatants,
military reform, international and domestic legal prosecution,
and, as a last resort, military action.
Two Acronyms -- SSR and DDR
Two acronyms familiar only in international diplomatic parlance
are crucial to ending crimes against humanity in eastern Congo:
DDR and SSR. Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR)
of combatants is important after any war, to help turn former
fighters into productive members of society. In Congo, it is a
matter of life and death. And when the military and police
represent a grave threat to the civilians they are supposed to
protect, as they do in Congo, Security Sector Reform (SSR) --
restructuring and training the military and police to more
effectively secure the country -- is fundamental to improving
A major international role -- in funding, monitoring, and
evaluation -- is a prerequisite for successful DDR and SSR. Thus
far, the United States has been a minor player in coordinating
with other key actors to help Congo to meet these objectives.
Carrots and Sticks to Avert Full-Scale War -- ENOUGH's Proposals
Security in eastern Congo is the responsibility of the
government, but there is no locus of responsibility for
mediation. The government wants to make bilateral deals with
various militia groups and keep outside entities like MONUC away
during the critical follow-up period. Too often, these deals have
merely sanctioned impunity and caused other militia to break off.
The atrocities continue.
Negotiation can work in Congo, but only if the UN and key states,
including the United States, commit themselves to an initiative
with tangible carrots and sticks to deal concurrently with Nkunda
and the FDLR.
1. Laurent Nkunda
Nkunda is a Congolese from the ethnic Tutsi community who, off
and on, has been fighting against the national army for three
years and leads a rebel operation in North Kivu. He emerged to
protect the Tutsi community and its interests in the East when
Rwandan-backed political structures in the Kivus collapsed.
Nkunda is also driven by self-preservation. His forces have been
responsible for grave human rights violations in the context of
military engagements, such as the forced displacement of
civilians, rape, looting, and extrajudicial killings (including
the massacre of civilians in Kisangani in 2002). The Congolese
government issued an international arrest warrant for him in
In January 2007, Nkunda and the Congolese government reached a
tenuous agreement to "mix" their troops. According to the
regional army commander, "This 'mixage' process was supposed to
dilute Nkunda's control by breaking down his command structure."
He went on to explain that "every Nkunda commander would have one
of my men as his deputy, and vice versa." Unfortunately, by March
2007, these efforts had produced the opposite effect. Instead of
diluting Nkunda's power and reining in his abuses, they
reinforced his strength. His soldiers were all given new uniforms
and received salaries, but they remained largely independent of
the government army.
In April, with command over his forces more or less intact and
with newly increased military capacity, Nkunda launched an
offensive against the FDLR. Because the FDLR cohabitates with
civilians in villages, Nkunda's brutal counterinsurgency tactics
displaced more than 200,000 people, the largest new displacement
of Congolese since 2003. The "mixage" experiment collapsed, and
the Congolese government has begun deploying two additional
brigades to North Kivu in preparation for an attack on Nkunda
while also using ethnic divide-and-conquer tactics to break down
his forces from within.
We propose the following carrots and sticks strategy:
a) The Carrots
Carrot: MONUC, supported by partners in the donor community and
key African states, should mediate a two-track political process.
- The first track should be political negotiations between
the Congolese government and Nkunda aimed at the full integration
of Nkunda and his forces into the Congolese army.
- The second track should be discussions between the
Congolese government, the Rwandan government, MONUC, and donors
on how to jointly address the root causes of violence in the
The Congolese government sees Nkunda's rebellion as a military
problem that demands a military solution. Rwanda supports
Nkunda's political demands and evidence suggests that some
Rwandan officials turn a blind eye to his recruitment of
refugees, including children, inside Rwanda. Rwanda could easily
be pulled into the conflict as evidence mounts of Congolese
government support for the FDLR.
Unfortunately, MONUC has no official dialogue with Nkunda, and
there is no formal mediation process focused on a solution. The
Security Council must press MONUC to take a lead role in
political talks, and member states must exert their leverage and
press the Congolese government to back away from a military
solution to Nkunda's rebellion. Member states must also press for
dialogue and with the Rwandan government to end its support for
Nkunda and encourage him to engage in talks with Kinshasa.
Nkunda's core political demands are the dismantling of the FDLR
and the return of Congolese refugees in Rwanda back to Congo, and
he hopes to link negotiations on military integration to these
issues, and his own security, to larger reconciliation efforts
with the Congolese Tutsi community. However, like the LRA in
northern Uganda, because of the horrific human rights abuses for
which he is responsible, Nkunda cannot be viewed as the sole
representative to negotiate on behalf the community he claims to
protect. The Congolese government must work with MONUC to
establish a parallel process to deal with root causes such as the
one we propose above.
b) The Sticks
The international community must demonstrate that there will be
clear consequences for Nkunda -- or the government -- if a
political settlement cannot be achieved, both as leverage to push
Nkunda to the negotiating table and as an assurance to pull the
Congolese government back from the brink of renewed war.
Military Stick: MONUC should work with the Congolese army to
develop a joint contingency military strategy to deal with Nkunda
if political negotiations fail. This would require additional
special forces units from MONUC to conduct offensive operations
with the Congolese army as well as for an increased emphasis on
protecting civilians from the fallout.
Economic Stick: The U.N. Security Council should authorize a
panel of experts to investigate lines of support for Nkunda and
recommend targeted sanctions.
Legal Stick: Donors should provide increased support through
MONUC for military justice reform to effectively punish crimes
committed by Congolese security forces, including those loyal to
2. The FDLR
The FDLR are Hutu rebels with links to the 1994 genocide in
Rwanda. Their continued presence in the Kivus, which border
Rwanda, undermines stability in the east and strains Rwandan
relations with Joseph Kabila's government in Kinshasa. As one
senior Rwandan official told ENOUGH, "A 6,000 to 7,000 force is
always a threat. They have the numbers, sophistication, ideology
and training, and can be a highly disruptive force when they
target key infrastructure."
Many FDLR units are self-financing. The militia has control over
mines in some areas, and local taxation of commercial routes in
others. They are difficult to confront militarily because they do
not stand and fight, but rather they retreat into the jungle and
attack civilian populations. When they are attacked by MONUC,
Nkunda's forces, or others, there are usually large numbers of
revenge killings of civilians in the area, often forcing ever
more people to flee their homes.
A Daily Struggle in North Kivu
In February ENOUGH visited an IDP camp near Rutshuru in North
Kivu that is a microcosm of the under-the-radar violence that
marks today's post-election eastern Congo. The residents of the
camp, mostly Congolese Hutus, had been there for nine months. The
FDLR had occupied the area around their village of Binza. They
had uneasily coexisted with village residents, occasionally
coming into the village to forcibly take some of the young girls
away to be their "wives." Thirty girls had been taken over the
last couple of years.
The government army had attacked the area, failed to dislodge the
FDLR, and then taken vengeance on the local population.
Government forces accused villagers of collaborating with the
FDLR and burned down their houses. Adding insult to injury, the
FDLR then occupied the houses that remained standing. The
villagers could not return home, they had not received food from
international agencies since October, and people were dying.
One 46-year-old woman lost two of her seven children during this
attack. Her house was burned down by the Congolese army, and her
fields have turned to bush. She had five goats and 16 chickens,
but the Congolese army looted everything she owned.
"Some days we go without food," she said matter-of-factly. "Many
of the women here have been raped." First they get raped by the
FDLR, and then they are raped by the Congolese army, the force
that is supposed to protect them from the FDLR. She earns 70
cents a day working other people's fields, not remotely enough to
feed her family. "Peace is the only solution," she concluded.
a) The Carrots
Carrot: The Rwandan government should publish a list of FDLR
members suspected of involvement in the genocide who are most
wanted and clearly state that others will not be prosecuted.
Carrot: The Rwandan government should offer positions in the
Rwandan army to senior FDLR commanders not on the list.
Carrot: MONUC should step up information campaigns and
sensitization initiatives that use demobilized FDLR to explain
what happens to ex-combatants who return to Rwanda.
Carrot: Working through the United Nations, donors should
significantly increase the reintegration packages offered to
moderate FDLR as part of the DDR strategy.
Stated broadly, the carrot is an internationally backed,
multi-faceted, incentive-laden DDR program to co-opt the moderate
FDLR leadership, isolate the genocidaires, and induce the
rank-and-file to leave the FDLR and either return to Rwanda or
demobilize and resettle inside Congo, farther away from the
ENOUGH spent considerable time interviewing former FDLR fighters
who had returned to Rwanda. Many had experienced interference by
the Congolese army when trying to escape. Some had friends who
had tried to escape but were killed by the FDLR. All of them felt
Radio Rwanda and Radio Okapi were important factors in giving
them the confidence to escape. Through the broadcasts, they all
knew that they would not be arrested by the Rwandan government if
they were younger than 27 years old (and therefore minors during
the genocide). Hearing people they knew on the radio who had
already gone home was key in influencing their calculation to run
All ex-fighters felt that more people who had escaped should be
sent back to eastern Congo with MONUC protection to demonstrate
to those FDLR still in the bush who were not part of the genocide
that it is safe to go home. Some of those we spoke to were
willing to go back themselves and hand out photographs and
letters to demonstrate that it is indeed safe to return to
Rwanda. Not a single ex-combatant we interviewed had any regrets
In the absence of any real economic opportunities, however, DDR
is often a revolving door. FDLR who are demobilized will likely
go right back to their previous militia employers. At present, a
combatant who makes the decision to return to Rwanda will receive
only $300 with which to begin a new life. As one diplomat close
to the process told ENOUGH, "A large percentage of FDLR militia
would like to get out. They need to be given incentives and
b) The Sticks
The carrots are unlikely to work without effective sticks --
military, economic, and legal.
Military Stick: MONUC should work with the Congolese army to
develop a military strategy to attack FDLR who refuse
Military Stick: MONUC should enhance its special forces
capacities to carry out offensive operations, should they become
necessary, in close coordination with Congolese forces.
Counterinsurgency operations are inevitably fraught with
significant risk, and military action against the FDLR must only
be used as a last resort. ENOUGH interviews with former militia
found vast divisions over the efficacy of military attacks, but a
credible military threat must remain on the table to create
leverage for effective DDR.
There is much debate over the military strategy to deal with the
FDLR, but the best option remains MONUC supporting Congolese army
brigades (though not including Nkunda's "mixed" brigades) against
the FDLR. However, the Congolese army is too weak to take the
lead and MONUC lacks both the capacity and the will to engage in
counterinsurgency operations that could result in civilian
casualties. Regardless of who takes the lead, MONUC must develop
a more coherent strategy than we have seen in the past. There
must be safe areas established for would-be FDLR defectors as
military operations are launched against FDLR positions. MONUC
must also establish a presence closer to those positions to
facilitate such defections. And escapees who flee to MONUC
centers must be transferred out quickly to present a credible and
Economic Stick: The U.N. Security Council should target the
international support network for the FDLR by enforcing targeted
sanctions against its diaspora leaders and others who violate the
U.N. arms embargo.
Legal Stick: MONUC, the European Union, and capable states should
collect data on new crimes against humanity to support
prosecutions through the ICC.
Conclusion What the U.S. Can Contribute
The United States should become more involved in eastern Congo
now for four principal reasons.
First, the resumption of full-scale war in eastern Congo will
catapult that region back to the top of the charts of human
suffering. There is a humanitarian and moral imperative to
prevent such a conflagration.
Second, the United States is providing nearly a third of the
budget of the largest U.N. peacekeeping operation in the world,
and is paying for the bulk of a massive relief operation. It is
time to start investing in solutions rather than just the
maintenance of an unstable status quo.
Third, consistent with the U.S. national security strategy, it is
critical to not leave huge swathes of mineral-rich territory
largely ungoverned and unstable. Terrorist organizations have a
history of laundering money in the mineral sectors of such
Fourth, the United States has growing economic interests across
Africa, and Congo has the potential to be a turbocharged engine
for economic growth across the entire continent. Diplomatic and
economic investment in ending conflict in eastern Congo and
helping the Congolese people build effective institutions would
have a positive ripple effect on security and economic growth in
But all of this is nothing new. Despite massive investment and
international assistance, Congo's unrealized economic potential
has gone unfulfilled for decades, and Congolese will not soon
forget the unqualified and unconditional U.S. support for one of
Africa's worst ever heads of state, the corrupt Cold War dictator
Mobutu Sese Seko.
The U.S. government can help Congo escape the conflict trap and
secure U.S. interests there (and across the continent) by taking
a greater role in diplomacy to resolve the crisis in the East,
providing more funding and technical assistance in DDR and SSR,
maintaining strong support for MONUC, and increasing humanitarian
assistance. As is the case with Darfur and northern Uganda, U.S.
citizens who care about ending crimes against humanity must be
the catalyst to press policymakers to take urgent action.
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