History of Continental War to repeat in DRC’s Kivus?
During the past week observers could witness tremendous changes in the stability situation in the DR Congo’s North Kivu region. While fighting occurred already since April this year, the capture of the provincial capital Goma by M23 forces catapulted the ongoing conflict to another level. Meanwhile neighboring countries’ heads of states gathered in Uganda’s capital Kampala, where they came up with a closing statement making military interventions once more a possible option. Looking back on the history of the Great Lakes Region, it seems past events leading to ‘Africa’s World War’ as Gérard Prunier put it might be repeated these days.
The similarities are stunning. There is quite a lot of matches between the Congo war in 1998 and the recent conflict. Even governmental main actors such as Uganda’s long-time president Museveni are still in office. In 1998, when the rebellion in eastern DRC spread, Laurent Désiré Kabila was president of the country. As today, the fighting groups emerged in the eastern part of the country from where they moved on to the Northern districts.
Today, M23 fighters have brought the eastern part of the country, the North Kivu region, under their military control in ord, claiming to fight ongoing mistreatment of the population by the national army and the country’s current president Joseph Kabila, son and successor of Laurent Désiré Kabila who was assassinated in 2001. As in 1998/1999 the rebels developed as a national and patriotic movement in order to topple the ruling government in Kinshasa.
Both in the 1990s and today, the Ugandan and the Rwandan government are accused of backing the rebellions both militarily and logistically. In 1998, the two countries were seen as main ‘aggressors’, an argument that is put forward again these days. In an official statement, the United Nations have accused the respective governments of supporting the M23 actively. Both governments deny all charges.
During the rebellion in 1998, neighbouring Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia stood behind the Kabila sen. administration while Uganda and Rwanda were opposing that axis. By then, presidents Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Laurent Désiré Kabila (DRC), Pasteur Bizimungu (Rwanda), Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), Frederick Chiluba (Zambia), Sam Nujoma (Namibia), and Benjamin Mkapa (Tanzania) in August altogether met at Victoria Falls to discuss further actions concerning the rebellion in Eastern Congo.
Today, fourteen years after the meeting in Victoria Falls, the region’s heads of states, Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), Mwai Kibaki (Kenya), Jakaya Kikwete (Tanzania) and Joseph Kabila, president of the DR Congo came together for a similar meeting in Kampala to come up with a joint two fold statement against the M23 rebels’ march. As the ally between Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola and the DRC in 1998, the region’s governments stand behind the Kabila administration. In their statement they order the rebels to release their hold in Goma and
stop all war activities.
Stop talk of overthrowing an elected government”.
Moreover the heads of state ask the rebels to move back to positions 20 km north of Goma. Between the rebels and Goma a neutral zone policed by MONUSCO (United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo) is to be installed. The other part of the agreement addresses the government in Kinshasa, asking it to come together with the M23 leadership in order to resolve tensions. The agreement gives the rebels an ultimatum of two days to withdraw from Goma. Otherwise it is most likely that a joint military operation consisting of troops from the neighboring countries will be intervening in order to restore peace and stability in the region.
Until now the leaders of the M23 movement remain strong and the rebels hold their positions not only in Goma but also in other positions in the region. If they remain on the spot without moving back, an external military intervention is likely to bring further unrest and bring another period of warfare. Such an intervention could possibly lead into another regional war such as the one in the end of the 1990s. It remains to be hoped that ‘the making of a continental catastrophe’ (Gérard Prunier) such as ‘Africa’s World War’ will not be repeated.