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The Kivus: The Forgotten Crucible of the Congo Conflict


December 2002 witnessed the signing of a power sharing agreement between Congolese parties under the auspices of the UN Special Envoy, Mustapha Niasse, and South Africa that should lead to finalisation of the Inter-Congolese Dialogue and a transitional government. Yet, it is unlikely that the agreement alone will bring immediate peace. Serious fighting continues in Eastern Congo, particularly Kivu and Ituri Provinces, which have been the main theatres for direct and proxy confrontation between local, national and regional participants in the Congolese conflict since the cease-fire was signed in Lusaka in 1999. The population there is suffering enormously while there is an almost complete absence of international attention.

Unless peace-building processes are crafted specifically for the East and made central to the transitional government's program, the headlined political agreements and other peace accords that have been brokered will remain never implemented words on paper.

This report focuses on the conflict in the Kivus. This area was the powder keg where ethnic massacres first exploded in the 1990s and regional war in 1996 and 1998. Indeed, it was the centre of three intricately linked conflicts inherited from Belgian colonialism, 30 years of misrule under Mobutu and institutionalisation of ethnic discrimination against Kinyarwanda-speaking citizens, and the extension of the Burundian, Rwandan and Ugandan civil wars. The Kivu situation is now complicated by direct military involvement of external actors, multiplication of local warlords and active exploitation of natural resources by both. All regional actors are making strong efforts to mould the provinces to their own strategic needs. The withdrawal of most Rwandan and Ugandan troops in 2002 has not fundamentally changed this dynamic.

The agreement signed in Pretoria on 30 July 2002 stipulated that Rwanda would withdraw its army from the Congo, and the Kabila government would disarm the Rwandan Hutu fighters on its part of the Congolese territory. Under heavy international, especially U.S., pressure, Rwanda has indeed changed tactics by pulling most of its troops out. But it has reorganised militarily, restructuring the military branch of the RCD-Goma (hereinafter RCD) and creating a rapid reaction force that can be redeployed as needed into the eastern Congo to address the remaining security threats, but also to continue to exploit the region’s resources. It has found alternative allies on the ground to the national RCD leadership who hold the real power in Goma and Bukavu, and it sponsors autonomist movements for the Kivus. Rwanda now seems less interested in controlling Kinshasa and has resolved to consolidate its long-term influence in the eastern Congo by making the most out of the Kivus – a policy akin to that on which Uganda embarked several years ago.

Kinshasa tries to contain the autonomy push by offering the "nationalists" positions and giving military support to the Mai Mai militias in the Kivus in order to weaken Rwanda’s proxies. It officially stopped supplying the Rwandan Hutus, pursuant to its July 2002 commitments, but seems unwilling or incapable of preventing these forces from regrouping and reorganising in the Kivus to continue their struggle.

Neither the plans of the UN observer mission (MONUC) to deploy a reinforced 3,000-man contingent in the East nor finalisation of an inclusive political agreement in Pretoria will be enough to make a difference to the Kivus. MONUC’s mandate is insufficient for disarming the Hutu and Congolese militias. The task forces to be set up in Kisangani and Kindu, hundreds of kilometres from the field of operations, will neither deter the militias nor influence them to negotiate, let alone opt to disarm.

Similarly, the political agreement for a national unity government and elections after two years does not address the reality of power in the Kivus or provide credible solutions to the nationality, ethnicity and land crises that fuel the local war. If fighting does not stop in the Kivus, all plans to restore national authority and reunify the territory will be meaningless. The UN envoy, the Facilitator of the Intercongolese Dialogue and South Africa must make the elements of a Kivu settlement central features of the transitional constitution and final peace agreement. The international guarantors of the power-sharing agreement need to encourage a common vision for peace there and hold local and regional actors accountable for their policies.

Finally, it is vital that Congolese elections not be organised until serious progress has been made on the fundamental problems in the Kivus. Electoral competition based on ethnic mobilisation and divide and rule policies were precisely the causes of division and ethnic violence that sent the Congo spiralling into chaos in 1993. The mistakes of that decade should not be repeated.


To all the Congolese political forces and military elements, including the current government, the RCD-Goma, the MLC, the RCD-ML, the RCD-N, Mai Mai representatives, political parties and civil society leaders:

1. Make peace in the Kivus the first priority of the transition, start to work towards creating a peace agenda, desist from political manipulation of the nationality issue, and commit to reconciliation between all Kivu communities.

2. Stop collaboration with foreign forces (especially the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, FDLR), and work with all forces present on the ground to achieve a sustainable local ceasefire.

3. Design a constructive DDRRR program (disarmament, demilitarisation, repatriation, resettlement, and reintegration) for both foreign and Congolese militia groups, and negotiate urgently with the Congolese actors on the ground a peace and reconciliation agenda for the Kivus that includes security, political, economic and humanitarian aspects and a border security pact with Rwanda and Burundi

4. Condition elections in the Kivus to progress on resolving the fundamental problems of nationality, land ownership, and fair sharing of the revenues from exploitation of natural resources.

To the governments of the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda:

5. Implement fully the Pretoria and Luanda agreements, in particular:

(a) withdraw all foreign troops from Congolese territory;

(b) cease supplying armed groups on Congolese territory and desist from manipulating Kivutian proxies;

(c) immediately stop support for Kivutian autonomy; and

(d) cooperate bilaterally to support local peacemaking in the Kivus and the policies of the transitional government of national unity.

6. Contribute to realisation of an international conference for peace, security and sustainable development in the Great Lakes by providing the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, Ibrahima Fall, with precise details of the security, political and economic demands they consider must be met in order to achieve a regional security and development pact.

To Mustapha Niasse, UN Special Envoy to the Congolese peace process, Ketumile Masire, Facilitator of the Inter-Congolese Dialogue and the South African government:

7. Include clear and credible procedures for a permanent solution to the Kivu nationality, land and ethnic discrimination issues in the constitution of transition and the final peace agreement that will be presented at the last session of the Inter-Congolese Dialogue.

8. Equip the transition process with a strong mediation mechanism designed to broker a peace and reconciliation agenda for the local parties to the conflict in the Kivus that should:

(a) provide modalities for local ceasefires and power-sharing formulas, re-establish legitimate state authority, and lead to an agreement on transparent mechanisms for managing the exploitation and marketing of natural resources and reconstruction of the local economy; and

(b) culminate in the organisation of a Kivu conference, the peace-building recommendations of which should be implemented as an immediate priority.

To the wider international committee of guarantors of the Pretoria agreement:

9. Fund MONUC’s expansion program adequately, provide it with the needed troops and logistics, and contribute to the UN’s consolidated appeal for humanitarian relief in the Congo.

10. Support financially local and international NGOs involved in conflict resolution and reconciliation in the Kivus.

11. Support politically and financially a Kivu mediation mechanism and organisation of a Kivu conference as part of the transitional government’s program.

12. Establish a contact group to produce a roadmap for physical reconstruction of the Congo, including clear good governance benchmarks for disbursement of foreign aid and support the implementation of the recommendations of the UN panel on the exploitation of natural resources.

13. Establish a Kivu Trust fund devoted to rebuilding health and education facilities and financed by taxes raised on private companies operating in the Kivus.

14. Condition support for the election process on successful peacemaking in the Kivus.

To the UN Security Council, Secretary General Kofi Annan, and MONUC:

15. Update and strengthen MONUC’s mandate and concept of operations to support the transition and endow it with the capacity to:

(a) deploy a peacekeeping force along the Congo-Burundi-Rwanda border to forcefully restrain armed infiltration from the Congo into Burundi; and

(b) isolate Kivu-based military groups targeted for DDRRR.

16. Establish a mediation structure within MONUC that will bring the RCD, the Congo government and Mai Mai leaders together to agree on a common strategy and joint operations for Congolese disarmament in the Kivus, which must include a humanitarian chapter with a framework for the immediate delivery of relief to all internally displaced persons (IDPs) there.

17. Open negotiations with other African states for resettlement of those who do not choose to return to Rwanda.

To the Government of South Africa:

18. Encourage Rwanda to establish a promising environment for DDRRR by liberalising its internal political environment and to adopt an open-door policy towards exiled political parties provided that those parties:

(a) reject all links with armed groups;

(b) contribute to the arrest and prosecution of known génocidaires by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda; and

(c) clarify their stand on the genocide and their policies regarding reconciliation in Rwanda.

19. Urge Rwanda to accept a UN and/or Africa Union-led political and human rights monitoring regime for demobilised FDLR soldiers inside the country.

Nairobi/Brussels, 24 January 2003


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