DR Congo: Pitfalls on road to recovery
21 July 2010
UN peacekeepers joined a huge parade through the centre of Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), on June 30 to mark 50 years of independence for the country after liberation from Belgian colonial rule.
UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon joined kings and heads of state to watch the celebration along Kinshasa's avenues, which were given a new lick of paint for the occasion.
Two days later, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced that about 90 percent of the country's external debt would be erased - that amounts to $12.3 billion (about R95bn).
International support for the DRC's attempts to build a secure peace in the aftermath of Africa's bloodiest civil war would appear to be strong.
However, away from the bunting and the press releases, the picture is less rosy.
In a country where the peace is brittle and the spectre of a return to horrific violence still looms, Congolese President Joseph Kabila and the UN have been battling over whether the UN's mission to the DRC (Monuc) should be allowed to extend its mandate there. Kabila asked for the peace mission to withdraw by the end of June. However, the UN's powerful 15-member Security Council disagreed, after a visit to the DRC in May.
An uneasy truce now reigns after agreement to convert Monuc into the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC.
Critics of the new dispensation, frustrated at the mission's continued presence, have been quick to point out that its new acronym - Monusco - rhymes with fiasco.
The stakes could hardly be higher for the new "stabilisation" mission. More than 1 million people have died in the country's war since 1997, as seven regional armies fought each other to a standstill, and armed insurgency continues in pockets.
Against this background, the 20 000-strong Monuc has scored some significant successes: it has been credited for restoring peace to more than two-thirds of the country, facilitating the first elections in 40 years in 2006/07, and overseeing the return of more than 1 million refugees and internally displaced persons last year.
However, Monuc's record has been far from perfect, perhaps largely because of the fact that its operation as a fully integrated mission with a comprehensive mandate has not been supported by commensurate human, financial and logistical resources.
Concerns about the mission's ineffectiveness in establishing security in the eastern DRC have been widely expressed.
These worries have been compounded by allegations of Monuc's involvement in plundering resources, running guns in exchange for minerals or ivory, and sexual exploitation and abuse.
Of course, the UN is not alone in shouldering the peacekeeping and peacebuilding responsibility in the DRC.
Besides the world body, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has attempted to make a meaningful contribution to combating violence there.
Despite its relatively limited peacekeeping experience and resources, the sub-regional body has made serious efforts, including the establishment of an office jointly with the African Union (AU) in Kinshasa to support peacebuilding.
SADC's wealthiest member, South Africa, contributed 1 268 personnel to Monuc, and provided financial, human and logistical backing for the DRC's 2006 presidential and 2007 provincial elections.
SADC, the AU, the UN and the EU could usefully establish an effective division of labour to provide greater support to regional efforts.
Post-conflict reconstruction in the DRC is a daunting task. The country is governed by weak, unco-ordinated, militarised structures without any clear vision and local ownership of peacebuilding.
Furthermore, it is feared by some actors that the peacebuilding process is being used as a "Trojan horse" to advance rapid neo-liberal political and economic transformation of the country in line with the interests of the World Bank - rather than to promote just and sustainable development for the population at large.
The Congolese government has a responsibility to define a national vision for peacebuilding that is articulated and owned by its 68 million people, and reflects a clear understanding of the root causes of the country's conflict.
On the path to recovery, another issue facing the government as a matter of urgency is that of the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) of armed fighters, which, in the case of foreign soldiers, may also include resettlement and repatriation.
However, the Congolese government has so far failed to plan and implement a comprehensive national strategy to facilitate and co-ordinate DDR and security sector reform effectively.
Another challenge facing the country's leaders is that gender equality in the DRC is often perceived as being solely a "women's issue" and a matter of political correctness rather than a fundamental right that is necessary to the development and implementation of effective peacebuilding strategies.
The process of bringing true peace must address gender disparities and ensure the issues is part of the mainstream discourse.
To call the government to account on this and other important issues, Congolese civil society actors need to work with local communities and institutions to create and secure the policy space necessary to promote a more responsible state and support the rule of law.
A third critical challenge facing the DRC in its bid to promote effective post-conflict reconstruction and overcome the legacy of colonialism is that of establishing just and democratic governance.
The country's Independent Electoral Commission lacks the capacity and funds to facilitate democratic and transparent national elections. The DRC needs to build an effective electoral commission. SADC, the AU, the UN, the EU and other donors should offer support by helping to prepare the political parties to accept the outcomes of polls, and by ensuring that timeous elections are held this year and next.
Gwinyayi Dzinesa is a senior researcher, and Joyce Laker a senior manager at the Centre for Conflict Resolution, Cape Town.