A major summit to be held in Kampala this week will focus on resolving the current political instability and the ever-mounting humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo; it is also expected to examine the genesis of the perennial instability in the wider Great Lakes region.
Hosted by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, the summit will bring together Great Lakes and regional leaders in a bid to resolve what has for years appeared to be intractable instability in DR Congo in particular and the Great Lakes region.
Mooted at the 19th Ordinary Summit of Heads of State of the African Union held in Addis Ababa last month, the Kampala meeting is expected to, among other things, examine the sources of conflict in the Great Lakes region as a whole, while also focusing on bringing stability to lightly governed regions such as northern and eastern DRC and northern Uganda.
Christians in demo
Just last week, thousands of DR Congo Christians from different denominations demonstrated around the country against what they referred to as “an attempt at the balkanisation of the country by the neighbouring Rwanda through the M23 rebellion in the North Kivu province.”
Viewed as the playground of motley warlords with varied agenda, the DRC has also been the theatre of some of the world’s most horrific atrocities.
So deadly was the so-called Second Congo War, which began in 1998, that it thoroughly devastated the country and is sometimes referred to as the “African world war” because it involved nine African nations and some 20 armed groups.
The international dimension of the war occurred in 1997, when a rift developed between newly installed President Laurent Desiré Kabila and his former ally Rwanda.
Earlier, Rwandan-backed Congolese rebels in Kinshasa had brought to an end Mobutu Sese Seko’s 32-year rule.
The fallout between Kabila and Rwanda, his erstwhile benefactor, culminated in Rwandan authorities proceeding to overtly back rebellion against the newly installed government in Kinshasa.
Neighbours Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe consequently sided with Kabila against the Rwandan and Ugandan-backed rebels, and the DR Congo territory was inevitably transformed into a vast battleground.
The ever-expanding crisis also created what was widely viewed as the largest humanitarian crisis in the world.
Conservative estimates revealed that more than five million people died between 1998 and 2007 as domestic and foreign armed groups fought for the control of the territory. The result was the destabilisation of much of Central and Southern Africa.
Predictably, the Congo crisis has resulted in stunning human rights abuses, manifested by the prevalence of rape and other sexual violence, as well as motley other human rights infractions described as the worst in the world.
In the meantime fatality figures have continued to rise. According to recent reports, more than 470,000 people have fled their homes since April in a bid to escape the fighting and the accompanying human rights abuses.
Made up of Tutsi ex-rebels from the Rwanda-backed National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), the M23 rebels at the centre of the current fighting takes its name from a 2009 peace accord the rebels say was violated by Kinshasa.
Integrated into the regular DR Congo army in 2009, following a peace deal on March 23, 2009 after their failed offensive on the eastern city of Goma, the rebels mutinied in April this year.
The ongoing insurgency was reportedly set off when the Congolese government decided to act on a long-standing warrant of arrest for General Bosco Ntaganda, a rebel leader who had briefly been part of the Congolese army.
Wanted by the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges, it was reportedly the prospect of the fugitive general’s arrest that alarmed his followers within the army and sparked off the mutiny earlier this year.
According to media reports, the latest clashes between local militia and government forces in the north of the DRC occurred on Friday, and sent 2,000 people fleeing into neighbouring Uganda.
The escalating violence comes amidst accusations of the involvement of both Rwanda and Uganda, although the leaders of the two nations have denied them.