DR Congo

DR Congo: Nkunda's real aim is to gun down Monuc

Tutsi militia leader Laurent Nkunda has set his sights on capturing Goma town, and appears to have every chance of doing so.

Having recently established himself as the military power in the Congolese province of North Kivu, his calculation now is that if he can manage to capture Goma, he will have dealt a major blow to the credibility of Monuc - the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Monuc's peacekeeping role in the conflict has lately come under increasing fire.

On the one hand, the peacekeepers are being blamed by the central government in Kinshasa for not protecting members of the public in North Kivu.

On the other, the Tutsi elite in Goma blame Monuc for protecting Hutu extremists operating as the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda).

This backdrop explains the urgency with which Nkunda is seeking to capture Goma.

If he succeeds, he will have made the point to the international community that Monuc is ineffective and therefore part of the problem in the fight to restore stability in North Kivu.

Right now, the main objective of the international community is the restoration of state authority through the strengthening of the elected government of President Joseph Kabila.

By making North Kivu ungovernable through spreading terror, Nkunda and the segment of the Tutsi elite of North Kivu who support his cause hope to persuade the international community to abandon this strategy.

It is no coincidence that as his campaign picks up momentum, an intense discussion is underway among sections of the Tutsi elite in both North Kivu and Kigali about the prospects of creating what has been described as a "Swahili-speaking" state out of North and South Kivu - a state, naturally, controlled by the self-same Tutsi elite.

Suddenly, there is a raging debate among this elite and its intellectuals about a Southern-Sudan-type autonomy for the Kivus.

What is clear, however, is that Nkunda's crusade does not enjoy widespread acceptance in the two provinces.

It is noteworthy that even as his soldiers were advancing towards Goma, there was little activity among the Tutsi of South Kivu.

The call for Tutsi solidarity has clearly fallen on deaf years, especially in South Kivu, where most of the Tutsi have joined the Kabila government. If Nkunda enters Goma, it is unlikely that he will be received by the people as a hero.

Nothing illustrates the fact that his crusade does not enjoy widespread political support in eastern Congo better than the results of the 2006 elections.

In North Kivu, Kabila won 77 per cent in the first round and 96.4 per cent in the second.

At the provincial level, Kabila's grouping - the Alliance of the Provincial Majority - won 30 of the 48 seats in the national legislature.

Most Hutu in the Masisi and Ritishuru territories voted for the Party of Nationalists for Integral Development - a pro-Kabila Hutu-led party.

The Tutsi party, the RCD (Rally for Congolese Democracy), won only seven seats. Kabila is popular in the eastern parts of the country.

Indeed, his kitchen Cabinet and close advisers are dominated by Kivuans. In Kinshasa, he is derisively dismissed by Westerners as "President of the East."

As we went to press, there were reports that Angolan troops had started deploying in Bukavu. If a substantial Angolan force is deployed in Goma, it will be possible to stop Nkunda in his tracks.

It remains to be seen how Rwanda and Uganda will react, especially if the reports that the Angolans have deployed turn out to be true.

As elected president of the DRC, Kabila can argue that he has every right to invite a friendly country to help stop the Nkunda-led insurrection. Without a doubt, Kigali and Kampala will be watching the Angolan moves very keenly.

Still, opinion is unanimous that a military solution is not the route to sustainable peace in North Kivu.

"The urgent thing right now is to restore some semblance of stability," said an expert observer who has been working for an international NGO in the region for decades.

Analysts say that the priority right now is for the urgent rolling out of the action plan agreed at a summit meeting of leaders of the Great Lakes region in Nairobi recently.

Chaired by President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya and attended by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, its most important decision was the appointment of a team of facilitators headed by former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo and former Tanzania president Benjamin Mkapa.

The team of facilitators will be based in Nairobi, from where they will report to the chairmen of the Great Lakes region and the African Union, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

The leaders resolved that the Great Lakes region would not stand by and allow incessant violence by armed groups against the innocent people of DRC, adding that if necessary the region would send peacekeeping forces into Kivu province.

The leaders urged the UN Security Council to strengthen the mandate of the peacekeeping forces in DRC and provide adequate resources to address the volatile situation.

They also agreed that a humanitarian corridor should be established throughout the North Kivu area to ensure the immediate defusing of the humanitarian crisis.

According to analysts, what needs to be done urgently is to bring Nkunda to the negotiating table to engage him in a credible alternative for integrating his army with Congolese forces, and for disarming the Hutu extremists in the FDLR.

In this regard, the first item on the agenda will be to designate specific assignments for Mkapa and Obasanjo.

The thinking is that because of his experience as a soldier, Obasanjo can be tasked to deal with integration of the army and to design an exit route for Nkunda's forces.

The responsibility of designing a strategy to disarm the FDLR and other militia in the region can also be given to the former Nigerian president.

Because of his ability to speak Kiswahili, Mkapa can then be assigned to address issues to do with reconciliation, land issues and refugees.

In retrospect, Nkunda's current crusade is a direct result of the failures in managing the transition in the DRC that started in 2003 following the signing of the Sun City peace agreement in South Africa.

Congo's 2003 peace agreement produced a power-sharing arrangement at the national level.

Although army integration was the central issue for the stabilisation of North and South Kivu, the process was badly managed.

Yet it was clear that this factor had major implications for winning the support of the Tutsi elite and dealing with the FDLR problem.

Without military leverage, Nkunda had no real capacity to advance his political agenda. His core Tutsi constituency were left badly exposed.

The experiment also could not work because President Kabila treated army integration as a solely technical process - a mere shuffling of command positions between former belligerents in Kinshasa and within the military regions.

Worse, the dismantling of units was conducted in an ad hoc manner.

Hardline Kabila supporters in Kinshasa used the army integration process to settle scores and dilute the influence of Nkunda's party within national institutions.

The appointment of a commander loyal to Kabila in Bukavu and the replacement of Nkunda's commanders all over the province inevitably exacerbated communal tensions.

The shuffling of commands and destruction of units loyal to Nkunda in the name of army integration without addressing core issues could only lead to a crisis.

Tutsi officers who joined Nkunda's movement refused to recognise the authority of General Nabyolwa, the pro-Kabila military commander sent to the region by Kinshasa.