The recent escalation of violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), following a six-month stand-off between the M23 rebel group and the DRC government, continues to be of grave concern.
M23 withdrew from Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, on 1st December after occupying the town for less than two weeks. Despite this move, the region faces the threat of a wave of fighting that could potentially spill across borders in the Great Lakes region.
The attention of the international community has been drawn once again to the DRC, and specifically to the M23 movement and the role of neighbouring countries in supporting the rebels. The situation remains volatile and unpredictable, seriously threatening the stability of the DRC and the region.
However, this crisis is but the latest symptom of deep-seated and structural causes of violent conflict which have remained unresolved by successive peace accords. Alert believes that the current escalation needs to be urgently addressed through non-military means, and that a broader and longer-term peacebuilding strategy is necessary to promote sustainable peace for DRC and the region as a whole. We have outlined our recommendations for such a strategy in our recent report, Ending the deadlock: Towards a new vision of peace in eastern DRC.
Lessons learned from 15 years of recurrent violence and a similar situation in 2008 seem to suggest that there cannot be a military solution to this crisis but rather a political negotiated solution involving all stakeholders, both local and regional. A transparent process facilitated by the international community would increase the likelihood that stakeholders are held accountable and that any agreement be respected in the future.
As we argue in Ending the deadlock, no agreement would be able to provide a sustainable solution unless supported by a broader peacebuilding effort targeting the political and structural causes of tension in eastern DRC. Such a strategy would need to address the shortcomings of governance in DRC and the complexities of interlocking factors fuelling conflict at the local and regional level.
The predatory behaviour of political elites and tensions along ethnic lines are major sources of instability in the DRC. A peaceful Congo would need an effective internal governance to be both more inclusive and more accountable to its citizens.
Another key factor that would urgently need to be addressed is security, both at the national and local level. At the national level, this would involve a critical reform of the Congolese army and at the local level, addressing the dimensions in the east where different armed groups are creating continued insecurity for the civilian population.
Other local factors of tensions that need be addressed are access to land and the return of refugees and displaced people to their places of origin, which interconnect and overlap with regional conflict dynamics.
A regional approach to peacebuilding should not be limited to mitigating the negative interference of neighbouring countries but should also actively promote development and cooperation between countries whose economies are closely interwoven.
The international community can play a key role but any successful engagement requires a clear and coherent strategy, framed by a long-term vision of peace in DRC shared by the Congolese people.