Winning the war, then winning the peace

  • Kinshasa has been trumpeting its victory over the M23 rebel group, which is in total disarray in North Kivu.
  • But other rebels are still present.
  • The post-conflict peace now needs to be managed.

 

“It was a Congolese-style blitzkrieg: in a week-long offensive, we managed to drive M23 out from all of its strongholds, and Mbuzi, situated right on the Rwandan border, has just fallen. Yesterday, it was Bunagana. In the coming hours, Chanzu will be next. Our enemies must now either agree to put down their arms or cross the border and exile themselves.”

 

From North Kivu, General François Olenga, high commander of the Congolese army and a close ally of President Kabila, has personally been running military operations, and he is now on the verge of proclaiming absolute victory. Although M23, a rebel movement linked to Rwanda, did – via a message from its leader, Bertrand Bisimwa – declare the end of hostilities, that does not appear to be sufficient for the Congolese army.

 

In fact, the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC), which now has the wind in its sails and feels properly supported by the peacekeeping Monusco troops, intend to achieve, with arms at the ready, the complete surrender of their adversaries.

 

“It’s time to announce the end of the rebellion,” says Olenga, adding, “so that the use of weapons can be forbidden, once and for all.” The current intransigence shown by the Congolese army can be explained by the humiliation and defeats they had accumulated over the past few years versus rebels who were fewer in number but boosted by external support: treacherous officers would pass on the whereabouts of their troops, corrupt officers siphoned off soldiers’ pay or rations, stockpiles of arms were abandoned on the front line. General Olenga puts the present successes down to “better planning” and “managing the men differently.”

 

A little more explicit in style, the Congolese minister for information, Mende Omalanga, goes over the various ways in which control of the troops was regained: “There was a real change in mentality. Older officers, demoralized by too many defeats in a row, were replaced by younger, better trained officers with a different outlook. Officers whose loyalty was questioned (who were suspected of communicating with the enemy) were recalled to Kinshasa to attend a meeting…that is still ongoing. Cell phones, so easy to listen in on, were replaced by secure walkie-talkies.”

 

Exhibiting no little irony, the minister continues, “Previously, James Kabarebe (the Rwandan defense minister) was able to call anyone in the Congolese army that he wanted – he knew everyone. That’s no longer the case.”

 

The determination of the UN forces, galvanized by the new special representative, Germany’s Martin Kobler, also played a role, as did diplomatic support, including that of Didier Reynders: “When he said that a red line had been drawn and that Kinshasa could not go any further in terms of concessions, that helped us,” stresses Omalanga.

 

But it was, in his eyes, the attitude of the Americans that proved decisive in the end. “By putting strong pressure on Rwanda, the American special envoy Russ Feingold was able to dissuade Kigali from helping out its M23 allies, who found themselves increasingly outnumbered. And now, worn down by defections, there are only 200 of them left at most.”

 

As the saying goes, victory has a thousand fathers, and defeat is an orphan, but is this particular victory now complete?

 

It would certainly be premature to think that Rwanda has cut ties with its allies for good. Indeed, “top-level meetings” are said to have been held in Kigali on this very subject. In addition, while the Kinshasa press congratulates the armed forces and the majority of people give credit to the head of state – who is taking part in a regional summit in Pretoria – our sources in Goma are more circumspect. “On the road that leads to Rutshuru, incidents are still occurring. A motorcyclist has just been killed,” a civil rights campaigner tells Le Soir, adding, “Ambushes and guerilla warfare are still a possibility.”

 

Everyone recognizes that M23, the most aggressive and structured of all the armed movements, and the one that represented the biggest challenge to the authority of the state, is only part of the problem – there are 20-odd other groups that still need to be disarmed, including the Hutu rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

 

Clearly optimistic, Omalanga confirms that they will be the “next target.” He rejects accusations that any soldiers “guilty of genocide” were drafted into the Congolese forces.

 

The post-war situation in the east of the country now needs to be managed, which specifically means demobilizing child soldiers, organizing the return of the displaced and refugees, and ensuring that peaceful relations are maintained by all groups across the country.

 

While it is true that numerous Rwandophone officers have loyally fought the rebels and that some died in the field, Le Soir’s Goma-based sources still fear that retaliation and score-settling lie ahead. “Peace will be as difficult to achieve as victory was during the war.”

 

COLETTE BRAECKMAN

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