Deadly clashes resumed in North Kivu province of the Democratic
Republic of Congo (DRC) just one day before the African
Union-sponsored Nairobi summit aimed at ending the crisis was
convened. The shaky cease-fire declared by the renegade Tutsi
General Laurent Nkunda and his National Congress for the Defense of
the People (CNDP) broke down in the Rutshuru region only days after
the U.N. had managed to begin delivery of humanitarian assistance
to the area's 250,000 displaced people.
Conflict is nothing new to the war-weary provinces of eastern
Congo. That is precisely why the U.N. Security Council decided in
1999 to establish the world's largest U.N. peacekeeping mission,
the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo
(MONUC). MONUC and its 17,000-strong force has been in existence
since the stabilization of the DRC's "world war," which included
armed forces from six countries and led to the deaths of 3-4
million Congolese civilians. Now, some nine years later and at a
cost of more than $1 billion per year, it would be difficult to
cite MONUC's specific achievements. In fact, MONUC has disgraced
itself more than once as a result of misconduct while failing to
deal with the DRC's underlying security threats.
The Current Crisis: Failure to Deal
with the Root Problem
For those who have not followed the troubled history of eastern
Congo's Kivu provinces, the underlying conflict is strikingly
unchanged since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda laid the foundation for
the current chaos.
Following the successful overthrow of Rwanda's Hutu government
by the rebel Tutsi Rwanda Patriotic Front, Rwanda's Hutu
genocidaires-responsible for the deaths of 800,000 Tutsis and
moderate Hutus during the 1994 genocide-fled to eastern Congo.
These ex-Rwandan Armed Forces created and allied with numerous
ethnic-based militia groups such as the Interahamwe and the Mai-Mai
and formed the base of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of
Rwanda (FDLR) in eastern Congo. With 8,000 troops, the FDLR has
been able to defy the weak efforts of DRC President Joseph Kabila
and MONUC to disarm and demobilize the group.
The failure to disarm or demobilize the FDLR problem has led
Rwanda's sponsorship of proxy militias as a means to defend its
borders against the FDLR's incursions. The extent to which the
Rwandan government continues to support these groups is uncertain.
However, one of these Rwandan-backed (at least initially) proxies
is Nkunda's CNDP, which has now encircled the major border town of
Goma, forcing thousands of Congolese to flee. While Rwandan
President Paul Kagame denies any role in the current crisis, it is
clear that he blames the U.N. and DRC President Kabila for failing
to address the problem of the Hutu combatants now openly fighting
alongside the Congolese armed forces. Despite his savage disregard
for civilians caught in the crossfire, Nkunda remains unapologetic
for what he describes as his movement's defense of Tutsi and other
minorities in North Kivu.
The Patient Could Die on the Table
It is estimated that as many as 45,000 people die each month in
the Congo as a result of the ongoing conflict and humanitarian
crisis. The current spike in violence will certainly increase that
number. Yet, the challenges for regional leaders and the
international community go beyond addressing the immediate crisis;
the underlying causes of instability in eastern Congo must be
treated as well.
African leaders are heading to Nairobi to discuss the DRC's
troubles. Hosted by the African Union (AU) and the U.N., the event
will include the Presidents of Kenya, DRC, Uganda, Tanzania,
Rwanda, Burundi, and South Africa. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
will also attend and has appointed former Nigerian President
Olusegun Obasanjo to serve as his Special Envoy on the issue.
Tanzanian President and AU Chairman Jakaya Kikwete pledged to work
toward a lasting solution in the DRC.
The first order of business must be negotiating a renewed,
sustainable cease-fire. Only when the fighting stops can the U.N.
effectively care for the humanitarian needs of the displaced,
including the 135,000 people in six camps in and around Goma. These
are desperate times for the refugees from the recent conflict: They
had little before they were forced to leave their homes and are now
dependent upon international aid.
In order to end the current Congolese crisis and achieve
stability in the eastern Congo, the following steps should be
- The AU and U.N. should use the Nairobi summit to pressure
Kabila to rein in his troops and commit to disarming and
demobilizing the FDLR as a means for securing an immediate
cease-fire with Nkunda's CNDP. MONUC must help secure the stability
required for unhindered humanitarian assistance to reach those who
need it in North Kivu province, especially in and around
- In return for the withdrawal of Congo forces and a pledge to
disarm the FDLR, the AU and the U.N. should demand that Nkunda
voluntarily withdraw his forces from its positions near Goma.
- Led by the AU, the international community must hold Kabila to
his commitment to disarm and demobilize the FDLR.
- MONUC's Chapter 7 mandate should be reviewed to reinforce
MONUC's status as a neutral party in the conflict and ensure that
it is sufficient to assist in the forceful, if necessary,
disarmament of the FDLR and other armed groups that pose a threat
to regional stability.
- The United States should continue to support regional mediation
efforts in the near term and insist upon a full-scale review of
MONUC's mandate and exit strategy in the medium term.
Toward Peace and Security
As a result of neglect by the international community, perverse
motivations by regional leaders, and a poorly defined U.N. mission
that has cost billions of dollars with very few achievements to
show, the eastern DRC continues to languish in conflict and
The people of the Kivus suffer a general lack of governance and
security, which has given rise to armed groups that operate with
near impunity. The current humanitarian crisis is the first order
of business that the United States, regional leaders, and the U.N.
must address. However, continued failure to address the root causes
of the crisis in eastern Congo only ensures that many thousands of
additional lives will be lost and peace and security will remain
Thomas M. Woods is Senior
Associate Fellow in African Affairs in the Margaret Thatcher Center
for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis
Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage