The Democratic Republic of Congo is back in the news — for the wrong reason. War has erupted again in the eastern part of the country, with rebels of the M23 reportedly advancing towards the country’s main eastern city of Goma.
The rebels are said to be taking towns and villages with ease, with government troops turning tail and taking to the hills in the face of their advance.
The rebels named themselves M23 after a failed peace agreement signed on March 23 three years ago (trust the lyrical Congolese to come up with a cool name like M23). They took up arms in April.
The DRC government in the capital, Kinshasa, and the UN, have accused Rwanda of backing the rebels. Rwanda has angrily denied the accusation.
However, on Tuesday, President Paul Kagame was still able to deadpan about the crisis, saying on the social media site Twitter that; “This Congo thing has become something of a black hole that swallows all kinds of truth...!”
Kagame and other Rwanda officials on their part say the mess in DRC is a failure of the UN. The UN peacekeeping mission in DRC, Monusco, is the largest and most expensive in the world. It has about 24,000 personnel, of whom 20,000 are troops.
It costs, on average, $1.4 billion a year! So is the UN giving value for that money? One way to answer this is to compare Monusco with the African Union Mission in Somalia, Amisom.
Amisom is now up to just over 17,000-strong and costs about $400 million a year — just under 30 per cent of Monusco.
Monusco has been in the DRC since 1999. Amisom has been in Somalia since 2007. Of the two, Amisom works harder and faces a more formidable adversary in Al-Shabaab.
It has helped rebuild a state and government, and alongside the Somalia troops, it gets involved in serious combat.
From 2010, it has helped retake all the critical towns and cities in Somalia, with the Kenyan contingent saying it has Kismayu in its sights, and it will be in the bag by the end of August.
I think that if Amisom had half the money and equipment Monusco has, Somalia would today be a peaceful country. If the African Union were given $1.4 billion, it would have sorted out DRC long ago.
If you watched Amisom in Somalia, you would understand why. Because they have only a few armoured cars, and hardly any helicopters, they do things the old-fashioned way — on foot, fighting for every hill, bush, valley, and street.
When they take an area, it remains taken because the militants will have been fairly beaten. I think there might also be another way to end the misery of the ordinary Congolese who pay a very high price due to the fighting.
The DRC argues that forces in the region are fomenting instability in the country because they want to continue exploiting its vast mineral resources.
One solution would be to create incentives for the players in the Great Lakes to be vested in peace in DRC. The answer, paradoxically, could be in the minerals Kinshasa believes are fuelling the war.
An exchange for DRC’s mineral should be set up in the region, so that everyone who lays his or her hands on some mineral can flog it there.
The exchange would then send back to the DRC a percentage of the sales. Rwanda and Uganda have a controversial history with DRC, so they cannot host such an exchange.
Nairobi would be the perfect location for such a Congo minerals exchange, if only because recently, we know that people in Nairobi have already taken the initiative to steal gold from DRC and sell it in town.
If the “looting” of DRC’s minerals were organised and decriminalised, and Joseph Kabila was getting his cut from such an exchange, then very many people would have a vested interest in a peaceful eastern DRC. Chaos is not good for business, long-term.
I don’t know about you, but this sounds like it would be another unique “African solution to an African problem” just like the Amisom mission in Somalia.
Unlike UN peacekeeping missions, the AU operation in Somalia proceeded from the assumption that a peacekeeper cannot just sit in his foxhole and hope the bad guys will go away. He has to climb out and shoot his gun for peace.