Continuing my quest to catch up on Congo-related conference blogging, I wanted to share some notes from the December 2010 Great Lakes Policy Forum discussion of the UN mapping report. The GLPF’s official summary can be downloaded here, and Laura Seay has her own summary here.
One commentator took on the political economy of the report’s publication, noting that many Congolese found psychological and emotional value in seeing the UN provide proof of crimes they had long known to have occurred. However, the report’s existence also complicates peacebuilding efforts in the region. “There’s blood on almost everyone’s hands,” as almost every government in the region has some members who’ve been guilty of massive human rights abuses at some point. This is clearly visible in Rwanda’s treatment of Laurent Nkunda, who will “probably never go on trial” because he knows too much about the crimes committed by all sides during the wars. In the end, she believes that transitional justice is unlikely to happen unless outside donors put strong pressure on regional governments.
Another commentator provided a bit of historical perspective on both violence and justice in eastern Congo, pointing out that political and social coalitions around justice in the DRC are very weak and fragmented now compared to 5 or 6 years ago. There has been a simultaneous growth in the entrenchment of violence with economic interests, especially trade and mining. Part of this entanglement was due to the desire of foreign armies to “do war on the cheap” by getting locals to do their killing for them, which provided space for “sophisticated entrepreneurs of violence” to use access to weapons to their own commercial ends.
Whilst the report itself only covered the period 1993 – 2003, the ensuing discussion also touched upon more recent developments in both Congo and Rwanda. As one speaker pointed out, there’s been a welcome increase in Western attention to gender-based violence in the eastern DRC of late – but it’s important to avoid reducing issues of justice to the prosecution of rape and war crimes. What the Congo ultimately needs is a “massive institution-building project” on the scale of decades, in order to rebuilt judicial systems that might handle everything from property rights and contracts to war crimes. The international community has also largely elided the issues of land rights and citizenship for Rwandaphone Congolese in the Kivus, which remain at the heart of the ongoing conflict in the region.
That said, the “idea that the Congolese are doomed to fight each other is ridiculous.” There are spaces in the DRC that are relatively well-governed, such as Butembo and Katanga. More attention is needed to the factors that enable better governance in the Congolese context.
Finally, a number of interesting points that didn’t quite fit in elsewhere in the above narrative also came up:
- Rwanda was described as “a boiling cauldron under a surface that looks calm,” with Hutu resentment running high, and ethnic identities remaining highly salient despite official attempts to ban their use.
- The US values stability over all else in the region. Kagame and Mobutu both contributed to stability, as did Museveni, and the US is willing to turn a blind eye to many other abuses because of this.
- Africa more generally is “kind of the neglected stepchild of diplomacy,” with some dedicated diplomats, but others who got dumped there with little previous knowledge of the region.
Did anyone else attend this meeting of the GLPF, or the one that took place on March 24 on human security in the DRC? Would love to hear thoughts if so!