December 18, 2012 | Issue Brief on Africa
The recent occupation and subsequent retreat by the rebel group M23 from the Democratic Republic of the Congo's (DRC) city of Goma is the latest episode of the country's instability. Though M23 is just the newest rebel group among many, it is emblematic of the failure by the Congolese government and the international community to address the development and governance issues that undermine peace prospects.
The crisis occurred despite a United Nations peacekeeping mission for over a decade, billions of dollars in economic and humanitarian assistance, and ongoing diplomatic efforts. The United States should reassess its support for the U.N. peacekeeping mission, increase accountability for the inept government in Kinshasa, seek to secure Rwandan and Ugandan support, and emphasize the need for an African-led strategy.
Decades of War and Failed Policy
Within a year of independence in 1960, the DRC experienced political divisions and a series of unstable governments. Relative stability was achieved following a military coup by Joseph Mobutu (later Mobutu Sese Seko) in 1965. However, rampant corruption and poor governance ensured that the DRC remained poor.
In 1996, Rwanda and Uganda grew concerned about Mobutu's inability to control eastern DRC, where forces responsible for the 1994 Rwandan genocide continued to mobilize, and supported a rebel movement led by Laurent Kabila. Mobutu's ineffective and ill-trained armed forces offered little resistance.
A year after seizing power, Laurent Kabila ordered Rwanda and Uganda to withdraw from the DRC. Their refusal and support for proxy-armed groups led to what is often dubbed Africa's World War. In 2001, Laurent Kabila was assassinated and succeeded by his son, Joseph Kabila, who initiated peace talks that resulted in the 1999 Lusaka Peace Accords.
Despite the war ending, rebel groups dissatisfied with the terms of the Accords remained active, particularly in the east, with le Congrès National pour la Defense du Peuple (CNDP) being the most prominent. While the CNDP officially disbanded after a March 23, 2009, peace deal, both sides accused the other of failing to uphold the agreement.
Kabila ignited this nascent tension into rebellion by ordering the arrest of former CNDP leader Bosco Ntaganda in March 2012. By June, M23 rebels (named after the March 23 peace deal) were on the offensive throughout eastern Congo and in late November 2012 occupied Goma. The poorly trained and equipped Congolese armed forces put up little resistance despite years of training and support from the international community.
Failed International Efforts
At the conclusion of the first civil war, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1279 in 1999 establishing the Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC). Provided with a Chapter VII mandate, MONUC was charged with observing the Lusaka Agreement and the disengagement of forces. Later, in 2010, the Security Council passed Resolution 1925, renaming MONUC the U.N. Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).
Despite the continued presence of a U.N. force for over a decade the situation has not significantly improved. Specifically:
Although the U.S. does not have a direct national security interest in the DRC, it does have an interest in promoting stability and good governance. In fiscal year (FY) 2012, the U.S. provided more than $110 million in humanitarian assistance for Congolese refugees, internally displaced persons, and conflict-affected civilians. This included a $5 million supplemental contribution for the increased needs in the DRC, Uganda, and Rwanda. Washington has also worked in coordination with regional stakeholders to establish a more permanent peace. The U.S. can facilitate these discussions by:
In addition, the U.N. has announced that it is conducting a review of MONUSCO in the wake of events in Goma. As a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and the largest contributor to U.N. peacekeeping, the U.S. plays a critical oversight role. Therefore, the U.S. should:
In the 13 years since MONUSCO was founded, the international community has not effectively addressed the plight of Congolese civilians. The U.S. should reorient its approach to emphasize regional solutions based on enhanced local governance in eastern DRC.
—Morgan Lorraine Roach is a Research Associate in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation. Brett D. Schaefer is Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation and editor of ConUNdrum: The Limits of the United Nations and the Search for Alternatives (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009).
An intervention by Belgium (ostensibly to protect its citizens in the DRC) and the secession of the Katanga province led the U.N. to establish its first large-scale peacekeeping operation to establish law and order, protect civilians, and maintain the territorial integrity of the DRC. The U.N. Operation in the Congo (ONUC) was controversial and unsuccessful. The mission resulted in a number of U.N. causalities and did not resolve the conflict as fighting resumed after UNOC left. The mandate of the operation also sharply divided the U.N. membership and a refusal by a number of member states to pay for their assessments related to UNOC nearly bankrupted the organization. In the end, the most significant legacy of UNOC was to avoid similar missions in the future. As a result, it was nearly three decades before the U.N. again involved itself in more robust peacekeeping operations.
Angola, Chad, Namibia, Sudan, and Zimbabwe sided with Kabila.
Despite initial constitutional and popular objections, Joseph Kabila succeeded his father. According to the U.S. State Department he was the "natural and obvious choice" as "the only person who could hold together various government and military factions." Embassy Kinshasa, "How Joseph Kabila Became President; Conversations with A 'King Maker,'" March 26, 2011, http://www.cablegatesearch.net/cable.php?id=01KINSHASA1610 (accessed December 13, 2012), and "Joseph Kabila Sworn In," BBC, January 26, 2001, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/1138137.stm (accessed December 13, 2012).
The remnants of the forces responsible for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), also remained active.
Provided with a Chapter VII mandate, MONUC was charged with observing the Lusaka Agreement and the disengagement of forces. United Nations, "MONUC United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo," http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/missions/monuc/ (accessed December 13, 2012).
Thomas M. Woods, "Crisis in Congo and the Challenge for the International Community," Heritage Foundation Web Memo No. 2124, November 7, 2008, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2008/11/crisis-in-congo-and-the-challenge-for-the-international-community.
United Nations Security Council, Resolution S/RES/1925 (2010), May 28, 2010, http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/1925(2010) (accessed December 13, 2012).
Jessica Hatcher and Alex Perry, "Defining Peacekeeping Downward: The U.N. Debacle in Eastern Congo," Time, November 26, 2012, http://world.time.com/2012/11/26/defining-peacekeeping-downward-the-u-n-debacle-in-eastern-congo/ (accessed December 13, 2012); Gaaki Kigambo, "MONUSCO in the Spotlight over 'Failed Mandate,'" The East African, December 1, 2012, http://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/news/Monusco-in-the-spotlight-over-failed-mandate/-/2558/1634400/-/jukbso/-/index.html (accessed December 13, 2012); and Jeffrey Gettleman, "The World's Worst War," The New York Times, December 15, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/16/sunday-review/congos-never-ending-war.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all& (accessed December 17, 2012).
CIA World Factbook, "Congo, Democratic Republic of the," https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/cg.html (accessed December 13, 2012).
Johnnie Carson, "The Devastating Crisis in Eastern Congo," testimony before the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights, Committee on Foreign Affairs, U.S. House of Representatives, December 11, 2012, http://foreignaffairs.house.gov/112/HHRG-112-FA16-WState-CarsonJ-20121211.pdf (accessed December 17, 2012).
In congressional testimony, Steve Hege, the former coordinator of the U.N. Group of Experts, addressed the issue of federalism, stating, "The best case scenario...is for the DRC to seize upon current negotiations to address...a federal state in the eastern Congo...through Congo's pre-existing decentralization legislation. Then, the international community must robustly support the DRC's central and provincial institutions and economic infrastructure to slowly diminish unfettered external control and meddling." Hege assessed that before decentralization can occur, there must be a strong federal state first. However, this approach would award undeserved legitimacy to Kabila, require time that the current crisis cannot afford, and idealistically assumes that Kabila would yield power once he possesses it. It is better to build governance with the endgame framework in place rather than build up a centralized model simply to deconstruct it. Steve Hege, "The Devastating Crisis in Eastern Congo," testimony before the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights, Committee on Foreign Affairs, U.S. House of Representatives, December 11, 2012, http://foreignaffairs.house.gov/112/HHRG-112-FA16-WState-HegeS-20121211.pdf (accessed December 13, 2012).
The U.S. provided $451 million in economic assistance and $36 million in military assistance to Uganda and $221 million in economic assistance and $0.7 million in military assistance Rwanda in 2010. USAID, "U.S. Overseas Loans and Grants," http://gbk.eads.usaidallnet.gov/query/do?_program=/eads/gbk/countryReport&unit=N (accessed December 18, 2012).
The United States provides over 27 percent of the $1.4 billion MONUSCO budget this year. MONUSCO Facts and Figures, http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/missions/monusco/facts.shtml (accessed December 13, 2012).
 U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations and U.N. Department of Field Support, "A New Partnership Agenda: Charting a New Horizon for UN Peacekeeping," July 2009, p. 35, http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/dpko/newhorizon.pdf (accessed December 18, 2012).
Frank Kanyesigye, "Congo-Kinshasa: AU Commends Regional Efforts on Congo," The New Times, December 13, 2012, http://allafrica.com/stories/201212130054.html?cid=nlc-dailybrief-daily_news_brief-link17-20121213 (accessed December 13, 2012).