ICGLR member states bargain for multinational neutral force in DRC crisis
After deliberations of their respective Foreign Ministers, the Heads of State of the eleven ICGLR Member States (DRC, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Angola, Republic of Congo, and Central African Republic) are supposed to gather in Kampala for a Special Summit convened by current ICGLR chairman Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. The main purpose of the meeting is to tackle the still deteriorating security situation in eastern DRC as well as the related Rwando-Congolese turf war.
While the Heads of State are meeting today, their defence ministers have already been discussing options last week in Khartoum. The results were neither very surprising and nor that much precise. Basically, the ICGLR should mandate a neutral force on the basis of UN and AU financial, material, and personnel contribution. Further on, different committees were supposed to be formed (Defence Ministers, as well as joint Chiefs of Staff and Chiefs of Intelligence meetings) – probably to jointly command an eventual mission, or, to oversee the Goma Intelligence Fusion Centre if this was a possible option to locate the joint command.
If ever this force would be given birth to, still a couple of problems will arise. Most of them have sufficiently been discussed, such as money, troops, mandatation, or time and the other opinion has been quite realistic on the options available. Another question before even reaching at that stage would is whether this summit will bring concrete decisions at all. Unsurprisingly, some of the implicated political heavyweights (Lambert Mende of DRC, but also Uganda FM Okello Oryem and others) season these diplomatic games with strong words and psychological attacks against others. The protagonist presidents Kagame and Kabila have at their turn also not limited themselves to a soft tone. Only hosting Yoweri Museveni seems – as towards Hillary Clinton during her recent visit – to play his cards as a great peacemaker of the region, although his exact role in the whole story is not quite clear in this regard. On the other side, there is a busy but understaffed ICGLR secretariat who tries to pave the way for the Member States governments. Until now it might have been their influence which time and again deescalated the heated tempers of Great Lakes politicians in relation to M23 and all the adjunct story of renewed conflict in eastern DRC.
As the summit takes place, hostilities between M23 and FARDC around Goma have come to a temporary halt while despite many rumours it is still not clear, if M23 will also be present at the sidelines of the Kampala Summit. Meanwhile different other events have attracted attention, e.g. fighting among different FARDC battalions in South Kivu, as well as among different militias (Mayi Mayi Simba vs. Morgan) in North Kivu. Linking these developments to the greater context is quite difficult as of now.
Also, Rwanda’s rebuttal to the UN GoE report has been widely noticed. The 28 page document (including another 100 pages of annexes) basically denies all claims made by the UN GoE in their (in-)famous addendum. While some of the Rwandan arguments are well elaborated and touch upon the weak (not necessarily wrong) spots in the addendum, other parts are not convincing (e.g. simple statements of denial by the accused individuals) and the tone of the report is in general less neutral than the addendum’s. During these days a fierce discussion over the appointment of Steve Hege as the UN GoE’s coordinator was ignited after some of his FDLR-related articles were re-read by critics of the GoE. As to the politically extremely sensitive context of post-Genocide Rwanda, some of his phrases (mostly out of context) have been interpreted as genocide ideology, partly also due to vocabulary that is not quite advisable to use in the context (“Ugandan Tutsi elite” for the RPF, as most of its cadres were raised in Uganda). Still, despite legitimate critique there is actually no visible toehold to call Hege or the UN GoE FDLR sympathiser or genocide revisionist. The radicalised and emotionalised style of this and other discussion even fell down on me when I was trying to throw some more balanced (i.e. between the fierce DRC-defenders who took up the addendum at 100% and the fierce Rwanda-defenders who believe Rwanda’s rebuttal to 100%) view on Twitter, with the result of earning labels such as genocide revisionist too. Which is fairly ridiculous by the way…
Finally, while many other aspects remain fluid in the context of the current Rwando-Congolese crisis (or the DRC-M23 crisis, in order to sufficiently respect the Rwandan side) the outcomes of the current Kampala Summit are curiously expected by both Congolese and Rwandans, but other neighbouring Great Lakes people and observers of the situation too. Despite the poor aforementioned auspices, there might still be some leeway for a diplomatic coup which endorses some improvement at least.