Democratic Republic of Congo: New peace framework requires shared vision

Article originally published in The Huffington Post on 28 February 2013 The latest agreement for peace in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) offers a fresh and much needed glimmer of hope for ordinary Congolese citizens suffering from two decades of violence. Signed by 11 African heads of state on Sunday 24th February, the Peace and Security Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the Region promises to give existing accords - which have failed to bear fruit - a much needed boost through a broad regional and internationally supported process. But for this framework to work better than its predecessors, its many ambiguities must be addressed. The focus must be on providing space for the key regional players in the conflict (DRC, Rwanda and Uganda) to discuss the issues that divide them in an open and frank manner, so they can agree and commit to undertaking the steps that are necessary to achieve sustainable peace in DRC. A genuine 'two-track' peace process tackling both regional and domestic drivers of violence must be established and be facilitated with clear authority, subtlety and firmness. Certainly, sustainable peace must address underlying local and national conflict drivers, including through a national mechanism for dialogue involving local communities, provincial and national authorities and civil society. The 'national oversight mechanism' outlined in the framework can only become a credible and effective vehicle for such a dialogue process if it is inclusive of independent civil society actors and key opposition parties, and if it retains a degree of independence from the DRC government. As highlighted in our report, Ending the deadlock, DRC needs a shared long-term vision for peace. This means improving governance through inclusive national politics, managing drivers of violence (such as land conflicts and tensions around the return of refugees) both in the short and long term, and undertaking comprehensive reforms in the security sector. Regional interaction must shift towards peaceful cooperation and economic integration, providing peace dividends for all countries involved. In addition, the UN Special Envoy - to be appointed in the next few days - must be independent from the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in DRC (MONUSCO) and be given a clear and authoritative mandate. Finally, international partners can help provide the right incentives for regional cooperation, but this requires improved coordination of their efforts. It also requires a sustained and coherent engagement, seeking to understand and tackle both the domestic and regional causes of violent conflict in eastern DRC. As UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said on Sunday, the signing of the peace framework is a significant event in itself - but it's just the beginning of a process which requires sustained and coherent efforts in order to succeed where other peace accords have failed.