On 8 October 2008 Nkunda's troops overran the military camp of Rumangabo, killing about 100 government soldiers and capturing tons of military hardware, including four Katyusha rocket launchers, anti-aircraft guns, mortar launchers and vehicles.
In a way this was a repetition of the Mushoki disaster of December 2007 when, after an attack on a FARDC military camp, the CNDP captured six tons of ammunition, 45 armored vehicles, 20 RPGs and 15,000 boxes of grenades. The reaction from the government of the DRC was to be expected. It asked the United Nations Security Council to call an emergency meeting to censure what it described as an incursion into its territory by government forces from neighboring Rwanda. Congolese UN ambassador Ileka Atoki said the Congo had firm proof that the Rwandan forces had been on his country's soil. Rwandan President Paul Kagame's special envoy to the Great Lakes Region, Richard Sezibera, denied the allegation.
Since 26 October things have taken a turn for the worst. CNDP rebels overran Rumangabo, the FARDC base, for a second time. On 28 October the eastern town of Rutshuru fell to General Nkunda's rebels, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee. General Nkunda also encircled Goma, 100 km (60 miles) to the south. In the meantime Nkunda's forces are now pushing thousands of displaced people towards Goma. This makes it very difficult for the UN force in the DRC (MONUC) to act because of the confusion: it is near impossible to find CNDP rebels hiding amongst those fleeing the violence.
Meanwhile all the FARDC soldiers, together with their equipment, fled towards to Goma, not being able to stop Nkunda's advance. At this stage it looks as if even MONUC is unable to stop the advance. Panic is rife in Goma. People fear a repeat of the 2004 Bukavu incident when Nkunda invaded the town and the FARDC and MONUC did nothing to stop it.
Why the current situation? There are several reasons why the conflict has now reached this point. This includes:
- The non-completion of the Disarmament Demobilization and Repatriation process in the Eastern DRC
- The signing of a peace agreement that was not implementable (Goma agreement).
- The non-implementation of the disengagement plan of the Amani peace process.
- The lack of a clear vision within MONUC as to deal with the situation in the Eastern DRC.
- No clear guidelines as to the implementation of the mandate, rules of engagement and the use of force by MONUC.
- The resignation of the recently appointed Spanish Force Commander of MONUC Lt. Gen. Vicente Diaz de Villegas after only 7 weeks in his job. The reasons he gave for his resignation were similar to the above: a lack of vision by MONUC, ambiguity about the use of force and the dilemma of implementing the Amani process.
- The absence of a proper Congolese army to resist the rebel advance.
There are a number of possible scenarios of what might happen in the next few days and weeks:
1) Maintaining the threat of Goma falling into the hands of CNDP
Nkunda does not have to take Goma physically. The mere threat of his forces invading Goma will lead to chaos and the population attacking MONUC, accusing it of not protecting them. There will also be further internal displacement of the population and even perhaps the withdrawal of MONUC.
2) The fall of Goma
If Goma falls into the hands of Nkunda, we will possible see country- wide riots against MONUC and possible retaliation by Congolese Hutus against Tutsi. This would be a repeat of the Bukavu 2004 incident.
3) Escalating violence
If MONUC does not act to protect civilians a possible Rwanda -genocide scenario can play out. Civilians are expecting MONUC to protect them and we have already seen violence against MONUC because of allegations of not implementing their mandate.
The question is what to do in the immediate? The fighting must be stopped and at the same time a mediation process between Rwanda and the DRC must be started as a matter of urgency. The only way to stop the fighting is for MONUC to implement its mandate to protect civilians against imminent threat of violence. If MONUC cannot implement its mandate because of a lack of capacity, the deployment of an intervention force within the next few days is needed. An intervention force from where? The Southern African Development Community (SADC), the African Union or the European Union (EU)? The only power with the capacity to project force in such a short time is a EU Battle Group. The challenge will be for the EU to approve such a mission.
A previous EU Battle Group operation in Bunia, also in the North Kivu, Operation Artimis, was very successful because of the capability to react in a short time and stop the conflict. The international community must also put real pressure on the Congolese signatories of the Goma Accord to put their commitments into practice and put pressure on Rwanda to cut off all support to Nkunda from its territory. Without these measures the conflict will not be stopped.
If this is not done the conflict will be another episode towards what Kris Berwouts, director of The European NGO-network EurAC, has called the "Somalification" of the DRC.
Henri Boshoff, Military Analyst, African Security Analysis Programme, ISS Tshwane (Pretoria)