The final communique of the Luanda “mini summit” on peace and stability, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and the broader Great Lakes region, may as well have been written in secret code, for all the sense it makes to anyone, without the privileged access to the high level meetings.
With the World Cup 2022, now underway, the Luanda summit communique, seems to have been inspired, or is it influenced, by football fans’ now established fantasy football leagues. Although in fairness to the fantasy football leagues, they structure their teams with the aim of winning the World Cup.
You might call the Luanda communique, a fantasy peace roadmap, or fantasy peace outline, if you are tired of the “roadmap” cliché. Unlike the fantasy football teams however, by the manner in which they were arrived at, it is difficult to conclude that the decisions of the summit were expected, or even intended to succeed.
Held on Wednesday 23rd November, the summit was convened by Angola’s head of state, Joao Lourenco, in his capacity, as African Union Champion for Peace and Reconciliation in Africa. The Angolan head of state, also serves as mediator, to maintain dialogue between Rwanda and the DRC, a responsibility bestowed on him earlier this year, in May, by the Assembly of African Union heads of state, and government, in the Equatorial Guinean capital of Malabo.
The summit was attended by the President of Burundi, Evariste Ndayishimiye, in his capacity as chairperson of the rotating East African Community (EAC), President Felix Tshisekedi, of the DRC, Rwanda’s foreign minister, Dr Vincent Biruta, representing President Paul Kagame, and former President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, appointed by the EAC to facilitate implementation of the Nairobi peace process. The African Union (AU), and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) were also represented.
According to item 4 of the communique, “the main objective of the mini-summit was to establish a timetable of priority actions, with the view to the cessation of hostilities and the immediate withdrawal of M23 (March 23rd Movement, rebel group), from occupied Congolese localities, and to coordinate the Luanda and Nairobi processes.”
We are only at the objectives, and already, to anyone familiar with the crisis in the DRC, this seems overly ambitious. But to borrow from Alice in Wonderland, it all gets curiouser and curiouser.
The summit “decided” that D-day for cessation of hostilities, would be the 25th, 6pm. That is three days ago, in case we are in any doubt. In particular, they stipulated, M23 attacks, against the Armed Forces of Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC), and MONUSCO, cease, with immediate effect. And there would be full compliance with the requirements of various summits, including the earlier Nairobi and Luanda processes.
The East African regional force, which the communique acknowledges is not yet fully deployed, would nonetheless move against M23, in the event the rebel group failed to comply with these demands.
By D-day+2, M23 is instructed to have withdrawn from the territories it now holds, failing which the East African force would move against it.
There are upwards of 120 armed groups, in the DRC, but the communique seems to have had eyes only for M23, until item 8; g, when the communique demands, “cessation of all politico-military support to M23, FDLR, and all other local and foreign armed groups operating in Eastern DRC, and the region.
Rwanda’s stance seems to be to cooperate fully, with regional mechanisms, and do or say nothing that might be interpreted as unsupportive, so, we shall never really know, the reaction of foreign minister, Dr Biruta, when by implication, his country was accused of supporting M23.
A betting person would however, put all their chips on the near certainty, that he reiterated Rwanda’s position, that the problems of the DRC are of their own making, and it is from there the solution will have to come, and that pointing fingers at Rwanda, is a distraction that will achieve nothing.
The communique does not signify support for M23, and FDLR, as an allegation, it explicitly demands the cessation of such support. Nor do we ever get to know, if the meeting stated from where support for these groups, is believed to be coming.
By D-day+5, we still have a day or two, all armed groups. Perhaps this is worth repeating, ALL armed groups, who have been roaming a notoriously inaccessible country, the size of Western Europe put together, will disarm, or will be disarmed, we are not told which. What we are told, is that this will be done with the help of MONUSCO, and the East African regional force.
And by D-day+7, all the internally displaced people, will be returned to their homes. Then on D-day+10, the presumably, now disarmed local groups, henceforth former combatants, “resume” discussions with the government of the DRC.
And on the 15th day, there will be “consideration and resolution of the issue of the return of all refugees to their countries of origin, as referred to in the Luanda Roapmap.” The normalisation of relations between DRC, and Rwanda, is to be left to the 60th day, apparently no need to rush that one.
Bar the detail, that is what the mini summit determined, on the conflict in the DRC.
In many nations of the Western hemisphere, children write letters to Santa Claus, a wish list of what presents they would like to have for Christmas. As well as being in the midst of the World Cup, we are also gearing up to the Christmas period, and judging by the Luanda mini summit communique, the tradition of writing wish lists to Santa Claus, has come to the Great Lakes region, in a rather serious way.
Save waving some magic wand, the mini summit’s decisions, or demands, are almost certainly going to evaporate on first contact with reality.
It does not require especially concentrated reading between the lines, to grasp that the summit was really about M23, and one which studiously avoided anything that might upset the government of the DRC. And that is precisely why it was always doomed to fail, before it even started.
Any summit, about the DRC crisis, be it mini or maxi, which does not begin with addressing the presence of the FDLR, on DRC soil, and simply trains its condemnation on M23, ignores the exact genesis of the conflict. Such an approach has already condemned the people of the DRC, Eastern DRC, in particular, to an existence, one cannot call it a life, where conflict has become the norm.
The meeting might have acknowledged that the cessation of hostilities for which they wish, apparently, on a star, could be had, even quicker than was dreamed, in their fantasy communique, if only the DRC government, would acknowledge the just grievances of Kinyarwanda speaking Congolese, which are at the root of the M23 armed revolt.
In their statement, reacting to the Luanda summit communique, the M23 rebel group, welcomed the call for a ceasefire, which they undertook to observe, as long as the government side did not attack their positions.
They reminded whoever wishes to listen, that they in fact declared a ceasefire as long ago as April, and have only advanced their positions, only in response to government attacks on their communities. They reiterated that they are ready for direct negotiations with the government, to bring about a negotiated resolution to the conflict.
The group kept a discreet silence on the demand that they withdraw from the territory they hold. It is a silence that speaks volumes. Either the regional mechanisms must find a way to bring the DRC government, to end the symbiotic relationship it nurtures with the FDLR, a relationship that is at the root of the conflict with M23, or the region may face a bitter, more deadly war, than the current conflict, this time of course, involving the East African regional force.
At the same time as the summit was deciding that M23 disarm, and withdraw from the areas under their control, Kinyarwanda speaking Congolese outside those areas, were being rounded up, with massacres reported in Masisi, and other areas, all instigated by hate speech from politicians.
The rebel group, which took up arms to protect its communities, is expected to disarm, and deliver those communities, back into the hands of the very people who are now responsible for their persecution, and murders. Among the many tall orders in the communique, that may tower above most.
Not that the other demands are for the fainthearted. The communique informs the world, that in fifteen days, give or take, there will be cessation of hostilities, in a country that has known little else, for twenty years; over 130 armed groups, which have terrorised the DRC for more than two decades, will be disarmed, or somehow persuaded to disarm; internally displaced placed people will be returned to their homes, and national symposia will engage armed groups, which up until now, have preyed on defenceless civilians, and turn them into useful members of society, and no doubt, the lion shall lay down with the lamb.
Except that even as they signed their communique, those chairing the summit will have known that none of their decisions, would be realised on the ground, certainly not the absurd timetable.
All of which begs the question, what the performance was designed to achieve. Was it all, as it seems, an exercise in futility, or a shrewd political manoeuvre to release the pressure valve, on a volatile situation?
Carefully hidden within the wishful thinking, however, is a small achievement, which one suspects, is quietly whispered, lest they upset the DRC government, and its accusations of Rwanda. The acknowledgement of M23, as a Congolese rebel group, is implicit in the demand that it be cantoned in its original positions. In all the nothing, that may be the beginning of something. Time will tell.