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Compounded Problems In The Congo

If one ever wanted to view a textbook problem that would require some of the highest wisdom ever generated in the field of conflict resolution, one only need look at the problem in Congo. What is happening within the borders of this nation of 50 million? A multination military dispute, coming at the end of a dictator's rule, with economic and political ramifications for the entire continent of Africa as well as the West.

When Laurent Kabila came to power in 1997, ending the 31-year reign of US and CIA-backed dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, for many it represented the dawn of a new era of pan-Africanism. Never before, in post-colonial Africa, had so many nations on the continent united for a common cause. That cause being the removal of Mobutu who had worn out his welcome on the African continent, with many.

The support for Kabila was broad-based and the expectations for his potential leadership of the Congo were high. But soon the coalition fell apart as Kabila did not meet the expectations nor satisfy the interests of his coalition members and by the end of the summer of 1998, Rwanda, one of the countries that backed Kabila's efforts against Mobutu, broke away and led an offensive against Kabila.

And they were not alone.

Uganda also ended its support of Kabila and began to militarily oppose Kabila. Other nations simply walked away from the man they previously had backed militarily or financially.

And there were Congolese rebels - people who are from Congo that were originally united with Kabila in the anti-Mobutu effort but who broke away from Kabila because of strategic disagreements. Perceived abuses and philosophical differences over Kabila's transition from war to democracy.

There are now three chief rebel movements that broke away from Kabila: the Congolese Rally for Democracy-Liberation Movement (RCD-M.L.); the Congolese Rally for Democracy-Goma (RCD-Goma) and the Movement for the Liberation of The Congo. RCD-M.L. is lead by Ernest Wamba dia Wamba; RCD-Goma is lead by Emille Iiunga; Movement for the Liberation of Congo is lead by Jean-Pierre Bemba.

The RCD-M.L. and RCD-Goma were once a united RCD until May of 2000.

To compound matters further, all three rebel groups are backed by nations outside of the Congo.

RCD-M.L. is backed by Uganda; RCD-Goma is backed by Rwanda; Movement for the Liberation of Congo is backed by Uganda.

But don't get the impression that Kabila is not without his allies. Kabila is supported, militarily by Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia.

The motives for Kabila's foreign support are varied according to many observers and range from 1) the oil and diamond concessions from the minerally-rich Congo that these countries may be awarded 2) the desire of these countries to avoid similar rebel uprisings in their own countries 3) the desire to avoid immigration problems as Congolese flee from Congo and over into the borders of neighboring countries 4) fear of the void and successors that would be left behind if Kabila is removed from power.

Already the Republic of Congo, which borders Congo, is estimated to have received 135,000 people fleeing from the war.

Millions of people throughout the region have been displaced and in some cases economic activity has come to a complete standstill.

There was hope that the war may come to an end in the middle of 1999 when an agreement of sorts was reached in Lusaka, Zambia - the Lusaka Accord- which laid out a plan by which the military conflict would be resolved parallel with attempts to establish a political process by which opinion leaders and the people of the Congo would have a say in determining the direction of their country.

The Accord also called for the UN to monitor a cease-fire.

But Kabila repeatedly resisted the UN led-efforts, prevented the deployment of UN observers and monitors and intensified the war.

Recently, Kabila walked out of a meeting set up to re-establish the framework of the Lusaka Accord.

Once the Lusaka Accord was trampled upon, few in the region expected a peaceful resolution to the conflict any time soon. In recent months many have described the scene as virtually hopeless.

But not all have given up hope, and as the conflict worsened, increased pleas from pan-Africanists for an African-based solution to the conflict were produced.

Some of those calls have produced fruit and have begun to move forward.

The most recent example of this are the efforts of Libyan leader Moammar Khadafi who stepped into the void by recently establishing a committee and mini-summit, consisting of participants of varying backgrounds, that will work together to formulate proposals to help foster a peaceful resolution to the problems of the Congo.

The committee consists of Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, former president of Algeria, Ahmed Ben Balla, the former head of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega and Nation Of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan.

Already the committee has established steps to bring an all-African peacekeeping force into the Congo - an effort that has won the support of UN head Kofi Annan.

But the implementation of such a force will be very difficult. No number of troops has been specified yet nor the countries from which the force will be comprised. But it is expected that the peacekeepers will be asked to protect Rwanda's and Uganda's borders with the Congo, ensure that militia groups loyal to Kabila disarm and work to guarantee that Congolese rebels which oppose Kabila cease their military fire.

But this last component may be a daunting task as the rebel groups which oppose Kabila have not been a part of the mini-summit's efforts and many observers openly question whether Uganda and Rwanda will be able to ensure that the Congolese rebels which they support, will accept any agreements made on their behalf.

Most see the Khadafi-led effort as extremelypositive but think that it, like other multinational efforts, only addresses half of the problem, which is the war. Some argue that unless the political process is openly discussed alongside any cease-fire talks, an agreement will not have any permanence.

And others question whether state-based solutions, involving at times, as much as 10 countries, can adequately reflect or be responsive to the will of the Congolese people who have often been an after-thought in the conflict.Others feel the emphasis on ending the war is important but not the only matter in need of resolution.

And indeed there are serious problems in the Congo that are not absolutely related to the war.

Inflation in the country is running at 500% a year and will only get worse as Kabila has devalued the currency. Congo's currency trades at a government rate that is 2 times higher than the rate that it trades for on the black market. And the government has asked Congolese importers to pay their taxes in foreign currency.

And for Africa the conflict has been devastating - draining resources from several African states involved in the conflict at a time when AIDS, inflation and flooding are creating human, economic and political crises that demand full attention and financial resources. Typical of this dilemma is Zimbabwe, which, in the middle of an economic crisis and political tensions is funneling millions of dollars into the Congo war. Zimbabwe has recently revealed that it cannot continue its military commitment in the region for much longer.

Few people know exactly what Kabila intends to do in the upcoming days as he has been absent from several meetings set up to move peace initiatives forward. And it is no suprise that today there are conflicting reports coming out of Africa regarding recent efforts by Kabila and the UN to make progress toward compliance with provisions of the Lusaka Accord.

Uganda, Rwanda, Kabila, and the UN are all attempting to resolve a disagreement over, among other things, troop withdrawals within Congo. Kabila feels that the sovereignty of the Congo is being threatened by UN efforts to return the conflict's participants to the core elements of the Lusaka agreement. Others feel that it is Kabila and not the UN who is the problem.

If the fighting in the Congo can be stopped it will not solve all of the country's problems but it may provide the necessary breathing room that all of the parties need to aid in the formulation of a government of the Congolese people, for the Congolese people and by the Congolese people- something that has escaped this nation, even though Mobutu, the supposed barrier to empowering the people, is gone.

Cedric Muhammad

Thursday, November 30, 2000

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