Discussions in Kampala: another political farce

The government of the DRC and the M23 rebel group talk in Kampala. In Uvira, South Kivu, a group of students explain why they see this as a dialogue of the wilfully unhearing. Français.

Talks have now begun in Kampala between the Congolese government delegation, led by the minister of foreign affairs Raymond Tshibanda, and 30 people representing the M23 movement.

M23 is a rebel movement that took up arms in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in April 2012 in response to the Kinshasa government's failure to abide by accords signed on March 23, 2009. M23 is a politico-military movement that aims to force the application of agreements from the peace conference at Goma that have been violated by President Kabila. The conference at Goma brought together representatives of different armed groups operating in the eastern DRC, civil society and opposition parties under the eyes of the international community.

They say the same causes produce the same effects. During a discussion with students from Uvira, several of them told us their impression of the meetings in Kampala. They think the talks are doomed to failure for several reasons.

The framework of the discussions

The International Conference on the Great Lakes region is the organ that convinced the government and the M23 rebels to come together for talks to end the armed struggle that has ravaged North Kivu since April 2012. When M23 took the town of Goma, many voices cried out, fearing a humanitarian disaster, to bring the antagonists to the bargaining table. Hence the international conference on the Great Lakes to demand that M23 pull out of Goma and ask the Kinshasa government to listen to the rebels' claims.

With the Kampala discussions, which started on Sunday, Dec 9 we fear that the framework of the discussions will be confused and that the various parties' goals will not be attained. In effect, the M23 rebels talk of true negotiations around all the country's problems, while the government describes the purpose of the talks as listening to the rebels' demands. These divergent views, if they are not reconciled, could dangerously impede the talks, which will not be able to progress productively.

The goal of the discussions

Apart from the framework of the discussion, it's almost certain that the items on the agenda will not be approved by everyone at the table. While the government is standing by the March 2012 accords, the rebels made the trip to Kampala with a heavier list of demands. With these differences, it will be difficult for the antagonists to agree on the agenda for negotiations.

What items make the rebels' demands so weighty? The rebels want the negotiations to address not only the March 2009 agreements, but to broaden them to discuss questions on human rights, the legitimacy of the elections and the dissolution of CENI, issues of the appearance of Col. Numbi cited in the trial regarding the murder of human rights activist Floribert Chebeya, release of political prisoners, amnesty, and more… These are the ingredients of a dialogue that risks becoming a saga of the deaf, a perilous enterprise far from putting an end to the crackling of gunfire in North Kivu.

The discussion participants

M23 and the Kinshasa government are officially the two participants in the talks in Kampala. However, M23 takes a different view, because it wants civil society, opposition parties and Congolese diaspora to take part. Fearing a repeat of events in Sun City, South Africa, the government does not support including all of those parties in the talks. By the same token, the 2009 accords weren't signed only by CNDP, but also by other armed groups operating in the eastern DRC. Thus the other armed groups like Mai Mai, offended, want to make themselves heard and voice the complaints of the mutineers.

Past mistakes

The initiative to convene various armed groups in 2009 to definitively bury the risk of a cycle of violence and conflicts in the eastern DRC was a good idea. However, the accords amounted to nothing, suffering continues to claim many victims, the armed groups were not dismantled, sexual violence has multiplied.

The error made by the accords was to sideline the local population in the negotiations. Many people believe that the real negotiations must begin locally with the bases of different communities before any political negotiations. The real discussions are those that follow a vertical trajectory from the base to the higher levels. The aftermath of the war is still being felt on a daily basis in the communities: trauma that is far from being wiped out among the population, rifts between communities, guilt buried beneath the surface, massacres committed within communities – these must be taken seriously to create a legitimate foundation. They are the ones who have suffered and are left to pick up the pieces. But this is the way forward for the talks at Kampala: with the wider community conspicuously absent!

It is high time for the value of the wider community, erased by politicians, to be restored, because true discussions must begin from the ground up to give birth to real solutions rooted in the people.

The state is absent, the population is present

Most Congolese believe that the farce in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has gone on too long. It's unsettling to see how one party or another passes over the people while speaking in their name. The Congolese people's money has been wasted in all of these negotiations, knowing that the negotiations are nothing but a farce to show the world.

The chaos and ungovernability in which the Congo has been plunged is unpardonable, and the international community must acknowledge its responsibility, and finally fight for the population that has taken too much suffering on its shoulders.

The absence of state authority, the fragility of institutions, the absence of accountability, the illegitimacy of the powers in place, the multiplicity of armed groups in the East, the pillage of the country's wealth, the impunity of clientelism, the notorious corruption and incompetence of public actors – these are the signs that students understand as showing the country is teetering dangerously on the brink.

Challenges to the Congolese nation's survival are now unfortunately in play, with bad actors who all claim to perform in the name of the Congolese people. With the passivity and complicity of everyone, the country is in the process of being sold to anyone handy with their tongue or their Kalashnikov!

While they wait, the people of North and South Kivu continue to cower in fear under the occupation of someone or other, with uncertainty about every passing day and weary hearts. What's more, the heads of MONUSCO continue to play out their farce, the administration of Goma never being truly exercised, and the dialogue of the deaf continues its sinister course in Kampala.

He who wants to drown his dog accuses it of being vicious, they say.

About the author

GJ is a peacebuilder from the Kivus, eastern DR Congo. GJ's name is protected for security reasons.