The recent past
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has enormous economic and social potential. It is rich in natural resources and has a large population base. However this potential has not brought tangible benefits to most of the people living in Congo. This is due to internal governance and capacity deficits as well as international and regional economic and political dynamics. The result is a government, which is unable to govern the whole of its country. Following the first continental African wars that took place on its territory, the DRC had elections in 2006 and 2011. This brought about a somehow more stable but still very unreliable situation. The DRC faces challenges at security level with many armed militias active across its territory and widespread sexual and gender based violence. Natural resources, from mines to rare woods, are exploited without any centralised checks or benefits. Finally internal governance deficits, including limited local legitimacy and a difficult political terrain ahead of the 2016 elections increase its fragility.
Positive developments for the reconstruction efforts in the country include attempts at a national dialogue and military operations to end the security crisis in eastern Congo. They also include the new Independent Electoral Commission, which was renewed in June 2013 in anticipation of the 2016 elections. This fulfilled one of the recommendations of the international community following the elections debacle of 2011.
Military operations in collaboration with the UN Interventions Brigade saw the defeat of the Mouvement du 23 mars (M23) in November 2013 and more recently that of the Allied National Forces – National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF-NALU) in February 2014. Following this defeat, the M23 insurgents and the DRC government signed the Nairobi Declarations in December 2013. But this formal first step towards the consolidation of peace needs to be sustained by more structural governance reforms at political and at military level.
The DRC has not rid its territory of the numerous armed movements yet. This is linked to the weak state as seen vividly in the underpaid and undertrained army contributes to the drawn out instability in the region. This renders it susceptible to the mushrooming of armed groups that continue to illegally exploit the country's minerals and are often linked to national, regional and international economic and political interests. A case in point is the continued presence of the Forces Démocratiques pour la Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) that is a cause for strained relations between Rwanda and DRC with the former viewing FDLR as a threat to its national security. The lack of security, presence of various armed forces and land conflicts also cause a semi-permanent flux of refugees and IDP's across eastern DRC and regional countries. All of these factors contribute further to the regional instability.
The signing on 24th February 2013 of the Framework for Peace, Security and Cooperation that is also known as the "Framework of Hope" helped to increase global focus on the Great Lakes region and its associated instability. The appointment of Mary Robinson as UN Special Envoy to the Great Lakes, to support the Framework of Hope and the consequent establishment of the Interventions Brigade illustrate a commitment to stabilise the crisis. Additionally the African Union upgraded its Burundi-based African Union Liaison Office to one with a regional mandate. Both the US and the EU appointed Special Envoys to the Great Lakes. This shows the increased political attention for the Great Lakes Region and a perceived willingness to enforce peace and security.
As a result of this increased attention, a number of positive actions have taken place towards. This included the recent release of a list of 51 M23 beneficiaries of the Amnesty Law in exchange for a commitment not to attack again; a sign that the commitments made in the Nairobi Declaration is in the process of being honoured.
It should however be noted that most of the interventions have been at the political level which have not necessarily translated into real changes on for the local population on the ground. The recent distribution of the Plan of Action for the implementation of Regional benchmarks of commitments in the Framework of Hope and the establishment of the DRC national mechanism to overlook its application will hopefully see to the effective implementation of this Framework.
Although some consolidation has taken place, the DRC is still facing serious challenges. The current developments could support a gradual consolidation of peace at national and regional level. This implies that key militia are checked and root causes for the emergence of their militia addressed. This includes strengthened governance processes in the DRC, increased security and safety for the people in the Congo and steps towards economic and social development.
The UN Framework of Hope has given some additional international, regional and national impetus. But many challenges remain and new ones are on the horizon. These include the preparations and holding of 2016 elections and the related political and economic competition among political players. To support the current impetus, further coordination and confidence building among CSO's from DRC and the region as well as their engagement with national government and regional actors needs to be strengthened.
At the regional level, deep mistrust of many ordinary Congolese as illustrated for example in CSO's positions towards Rwanda is linked to the current tensions between the two governments. Similar tensions are apparent with Uganda in general and Burundi, although to a lesser extent. As Burundi, Uganda and Rwanda the DRC is looking ahead towards elections at national and potentially local level.
Common features shared with those three countries are the disputed and at times restrained political space and the unequal implementation of national peace frameworks. And while regional actors such as the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) have political legitimacy and are able to bring relevant actors together they are not always adequately resourced or supported. Civil society actors on the other hand often do not have the capacity or information to engage effectively in national or regional peacebuilding processes.
What is the GLP doing?
The Great Lakes Project, in its DRC activities will strengthen civic players, enhance their engagement with existing national frameworks for peace and reinforce the links between national levels with the only regional intergovernmental organisation focusing on peace and security, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).
Concrete activities include:
- Capacity building of local civil society. The first workshop with 25 organisations was held in May 2014 in Goma in collaboration with the ICGLR. It built on field reviews and validation workshops undertaken in 2013 and brought together CSO, government and ICGLR representatives as well as continental actors such as H.E. Boubacar Diarra the AU representative for the Great Lakes Region. The Workshop came up with a joint action plan, which will be pursued over the coming years.
- Work with lobbying movements in the Great Lakes Region to bring leaders from Burundi, DRC, Rwanda and Uganda together. The GLP has been working with the ICGLR secretariat and Youth Forum ahead of the ICGLR summit on youth and unemployment to be held end of July 2014 in Nairobi. The GLP is also looking at how to further support those initiatives and link them to peace and security issues.
- Support the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) through facilitating regular contacts with local civil society organisations in the DRC and the region. ICGLR representatives were present in all the workshops held in the four focal countries. Activities undertaken in the DRC have been co-organised with the ICGLR national coordinator also to ensure adequate linkage with the Conference and avenues for follow up. The GLP has further hosted a regional CSO consultative meeting in February 2014 with representatives from most of the ICGLR countries to help identify key regional issues to work on and contributing to reviving exchanges amongst the ICGLR Regional Civil Society Forum