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The Kivu: another conflict on our watch

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Recently 64 international and Congolese human rights organisations (among which Human Right Watch) publicised a poignant report about the situation in the Kivu provinces (East R. D. Congo). Seven months after the Congolese government, rebel leader Laurent Nkunda, and Mai Mai militias agreed on a cease fire, the withdrawal of troops from key areas, the creation of a UN buffer zone and granting amnesty to militia fighters for insurgency and acts of war at the peace conference in Goma, the only conclusion that can be made is that the horror goes on.

Kivu’s security and humanitarian situation didn’t improve and in some areas it even deteriorated. According to the report the cease fire has been violated at least 200 times and another 150,000 people left their homes due to the continuation of violence between the rebels of Nkunda, the Congolese army (FARDC), the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) -ex soldiers of the Rwanda’s regular army of the former regime and ex members of the Interahamwe- and Mai Mai militias, bringing the total amount of refugees in the Kivu on one million. In some areas such as Rutshuru and Masisi there is a real terror climate. The most shocking part of the report is without doubt the figures of sexual violence. In June alone human right organisations who are working on the ground reported the rape of more than 2,000 women and girls. Given that most of the victims of sexual violence don’t report their abuse, Human Right Watch estimates that the real figure is double. Not for nothing UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon describes the situation as a ‘pandemic’. In an earlier press release the UN made another alarming evolution public, namely the heightening recruitment of child soldiers. UNICEF estimates that 2,000 at 3,000 children are under arms in the various armed forces present in the Kivu.

As sad the report is about the humanitarian situation in the region, as hard it is for MONUC. In spite of the presence of 5,000 troops in East Congo, their role can be summarized as watching at the sideline and allowing in at least two cases that groups of refugees fall in the hands of militias. The Goma agreement assigned MONUC with the creation of buffer zones to protect the civil population from the fighting parties, but as soon as fighting breaks out, the UN troops pull back in a hurry, leaving civilians to their fate. After the earlier publicized scandals –ex members of the FDLR said that MONUC soldiers armed their movement, a Indian officer of MONUC showed openly its sympathy for Nkunda and his movement, the Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple (CNDP), and 3 Indian UN peacekeepers were accused by a BBC documentary of being involved in the smuggling of gold-, such a news makes MONUC and its ‘raison d’ être’ only more questionable.

Although the Amani program (the implementation of the Goma agreement) goes on, last July the Assembleé Nationale agreed to grant amnesty for all war acts and acts of insurgency between June 2003 and the day of publication of the law –in September the amnesty proposal comes for the Senate-, reality shows that the Goma agreement belongs to the world of signed but never implemented agreements. As such the Kivu keeps on to challenge many academics and their concepts and paradigms concerning to explain the continuation of the brutal violence. The most plausible explanation comes from an economic-politic perspective that attaches an important role to the strategies of survival, to the alternatives for social and economic exclusion and to processes of social transformations. By exploring the functions and meaning of violence in Kivu rather than projecting it as a barbaric, senseless ‘all against all’ war that cannot be stopped giving the violent and barbaric character of its population, one comes closer to reveal the real causes of the conflict and as well as to find an accurate solution for it.

Broadly speaking one can say that all the militias in East Congo have four motives to continue fighting or to maintain the current situation in the Kivu. First, to secure and to expand their involvement in Kivu’s war economy that consists mostly in the exploitation of natural resources. Second, they are engaged in a battle to survive (physically but also economical). Third, they try to consolidate or to expand their power and influence in the region. And fourthly, they want to address the grievances of their own movement and the community which they represent or say to represent. Nevertheless, it’s important to know that some motives are more relevant than others. Although Nkunda’s CNDP states that it defends the interests of the Tutsi minority in the Kivu, by demanding the dislodging the FDLR out of Congo, the return of the Congolese Tutsi refugees abroad and the federalization of the country; a closer look on its position and behaviour shows a whole different aspect. The battles during the last 10 months where often concentrated around villages of Tutsi refugees and the fact that the people in those areas controlled by the CNDP suffer from force labour, forced recruitment and sexual violence sustains the argument that Nkunda defends the interests of some powerful businessmen with properties in the area (mines, trade routes) who make financial contributions to the CNDP. At the same time the CNDP draws revenues from taxes that it lays on mine diggers and from the transport of minerals, timber and other goods. The adversaries of Nkunda neither want a more efficient control of Kinshasa over the region. Although the first priority of both the FDLR and the Mai Mai coalition of PARECO militias are to try to survive, the economic dimension in their actions cannot be denied. Both have a stake in the mining business –both established for example a considerable presence at the Numbi mine site- and in land issues.

A very important focus that risks to be overviewed by concentrating only on the economical dimension, is the local social dimension. Conflicts led to important social processes. In East Congo this is not different. One should question why some social groups support or join militias. One of the key actors for example in East Congo’s, and in fact all Africa’s militias, are the younger generations. Because the lack of employment opportunities and the breakdown of the school system, violence forms an opportunity to improve their social and economic position. Hence it forms a strategy of self-affirmation and social mobility and at the same time it gives the new generations, who experience a deep sense of disorientation, a model of identification. Within the militias they develop new forms of solidarity and identity.

Many analysts attach an important role to the Congolese army to make an end to the violence and the impunity that terrorizes East Congo. Unfortunately the current situation shows that the FARDC forms a part of the problem. Officers have an important stake in the mineral trade, in the illegal trade of coffee and timber and even run sometimes mining pits, meanwhile their soldiers levy illegal taxes on the diggers. Another striking fact is that the FARDC fights side by side with the FDLR against Nkunda instead of fighting and repatriate them to Rwanda, as was agreed with Kigali in the Nairobi agreement of the 9 of November 2007. Neither had it made progress on the disarmament and reintegration of the Mai Mai militias into the army. Moreover, for many inhabitants of the Kivu, the FARDC forms the biggest threat for their psychical security.

Given the various functions of violence in East Congo, it is wrong to understand the conflict in Kivu with only referring to the strategies developed by powerful local and international actors. Nonetheless, it’s important to stress that we cannot uncouple the dynamic of local conflicts from the world’s thirst for raw materials. Not only such a cluster leads to a whole network of illegal exploitation and trade, the higher prices make also the control of mines and trade routes more attractive to armed men. This was only reaffirmed by Greenpeace in ‘Conning the Congo’ publicised last July. In this report the environmental organization states that the German-Swiss multinational Danzer exported for years illegally timber out of Congo.

Concluding, what by many is perceived as subnormal and as temporal side-effects of a conflict, should maybe rather be considered as normal, as dreadful it is. Koen Vlassenroot and Timothy Raeymaekers remark that the conflict in East Congo has taken a durable character and its war economy is a new social and economic form of organisation, adapted to the actual context. Hence, it’s wrong to say to present the Kivu as the garden of chaos and anarchy. The war in Kivu shows us that conflicts create new authority structures, namely informal and violent governance structures. What is true is that the absence of any formal authority capable of regulating the economic and political competition favours a whole collective of international, regional, national and local actors whom have militarized the political, economic and social relations. This militarization led on its turn to the destruction of the local social space and the total disintegration of the local society. And as long there is no durable re-integration of the local society, coupled with the solution of issues like land distribution, control of natural resources, economical development, political representation, a minimum of justice (it’s impossible to punish all the perpetrators); any kind of peace situation will be very fragile. Too much actors can use violence as the most favourable instrument to address their personal interests and will not hesitate to manipulate the weakest (the youth, women, refugees, the marginalized, the frustrated). Because local reconciliation only can start with the disappearance of Nkunda and the FDLR, the Amani program cannot be the road to durable peace.

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