An Elusive Peace

Can the Rebels Be Trusted?

Congolese rebels
Young Hema fighters patrol the streets of Bunia, in Ituri province, northeastern Congo, June 7, 2003 (Photo: AFP/Getty Images).

Celebration and congratulatory messages followed the signing ceremonies of a [power-sharing] peace accord in the Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R.C.) [on April 4, 2003] and the hand-over of power in Burundi [on March 6, 2003].

These events have given rise to hope that real and lasting peace might finally be achieved in the Great Lakes region. Some political analysts contend that the signing of the peace accords is the first step toward bringing an end to the civil wars that have long flourished in the two countries.

It is estimated that more than 300,000 people have died in Burundi and more than 3 million in the D.R.C. Thousands of people have fled the two countries to seek refuge in neighboring countries such as Tanzania. The civil wars have also exacted a heavy toll on the two countries’ infrastructures and stunted economic growth.

In the D.R.C., large numbers of rebels belonging to the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) and Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) have agreed to participate fully in a transitional government led by D.R.C. President Joseph Kabila.

The transitional government will also incorporate members of the political opposition who are not allied to any of the military forces involved in the war. According to the peace accord drafted during the transition period, Kabila will have three vice presidents, who will be drawn from rebel groups.

However, political analysts have reservations as to whether the long-feuding rebel groups are seriously committed to restoring peace. Up to now, nobody has been sure whether the rebel groups are ready to put aside their differences and discard their greed, which has fed the war. If it is true that they have decided to resolve their differences by giving national interests the first priority, will they work cordially with President Kabila?

It is important to ask such questions because there are signs that the new developments are geared toward hoodwinking countries in the Great Lakes region into believing that the rebels now want peace. Historically, the rebels cannot be trusted. Have the factors that led them to take up arms and go into the forests to stage rebellions now suddenly been eliminated?

The rebels have signed peace accords many times, but most of the accords turned out to be a lot of talk with little action. Groups of rebels in the D.R.C. do not seem to be thinking independently but appear to be following what they are being told by the countries that support them. Rwanda and Uganda are two neighboring countries with interests in the D.R.C., and each one of them is supporting a rebel group.

To stop the peace accords from turning into a stage show, the international community should pitch in and help bring them to fruition. The only way to ensure the success of the accords is for the international community to send adequate peacekeeping troops to the two countries. If peacekeeping troops are not sent, the efforts being undertaken at the moment will come to nothing, because fresh fighting might erupt at any time. Many more rebel groups are still continuing to fight in various parts of the D.R.C., a situation that is likely to hamstring the implementation of the accords.

Even before the signing of the peace accords, fierce fighting erupted in the Ituri region, northeastern D.R.C., between the Lendu and Hema tribes, which are supported by Uganda and Rwanda. The war erupted just after rebels and oppositionists agreed to take up the three posts of vice presidents in President Kabila’s government.

We have witnessed mass killings before that took place during the time of the implementation of peace accords. The mass killings in Rwanda started at the same time as the implementation of a peace accord. The rebel group participated in the transitional government of that time, which was being protected by a United Nations peacekeeping force.

News from Burundi and the D.R.C. every day reveals that, even with the signing of peace accords, some of the rebel groups have yet to stop stoking the fires of war. Ostensibly, those rebels are participating in peace talks and signing peace accords just to avoid being pariahs and being isolated by the international community.