I generally try to avoid speculation in this space, using it instead to report events in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), especially as they relate to my novel, Heart of Diamonds. Today is different.
Things are changing in the DRC, and recent events lead me to make a few guesses as to what they mean and where they might lead. Despite the dire conditions in the eastern provinces (and elsewhere), I think there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel.
My guess is that the threat of final victory by the CNDP and the potential establishment of an independent nation in the Virungas prompted Joseph Kabila’s government to take some drastic steps. Those steps have a good chance of paying off in the long term and perhaps even start the country on the path to peace.
First, Kabila agreed to negotiate directly with Laurent Nkunda under the auspices of the United Nations. This not only bought Kabila some time, but further committed the UN to an expanded peace-keeping role in the region. As ineffectual as it may be, MONUC’s presence and the commitment of 3,000 additional troops (someday) can only reinforce Kabila’s claim to legitimacy.
Second, Kabila invited Yoweri Museveni to send Ugandan forces into the DRC to join some Congolese regular army units (the FARDC) and troops from South Sudan in a hunt for Joseph Kony and the Lords Resistance Army. Kony has been thumbing his nose at Museveni from the Congo since he moved his rebel army from Uganda. Even if Operation Thunder Lightning, as it is called, is unsuccessful, my guess is that there will be a quid pro quo somewhere along the line. It could be Ugandan help in an attack on the CNDP sometime in the future, or at least a guarantee that Museveni won’t provide support to Nkunda’s rebels.
The third step was Kabila’s surprise invitation to the Rwandan army to join Congolese forces in a campaign to eradicate the remnants of the Hutu Interahamwe, the FDLR, who have vowed to overthrow Paul Kagame’s Tutsi-led government after having fled to the DRC following the genocide of 1994. General James Kabarebe, the Chief of Staff of the Rwandan army, was in Kinshasa last week to work on the joint plan. How does Kabila profit from having Rwanda troops on Congolese soil–an about-face from his long-held stance? It removes Nkunda’s cause for rebellion, which has supposedly been to protect Congolese Tutsis from the FDLR.
These two alliances and the commitment of UN troops to support the peace effort also send a message to rogue commanders in the FARDC who have been setting up their own little fiefdoms in the Kivus: Come back into the fold or you could be next.
Kabila’s latest move–and this is pure speculation on my part–was to persuade Bosco Ntaganda, Laurent Nkunda’s second in command, to break away and split the CNDP into two factions. That situation is still murky and far from resolved (as I wrote recently), but it can only work in Kabila’s favor. Whether a deal was made under the table with Ntaganda or he decided to bolt on his own after seeing the pressure build against Nkunda, his move gives Kabila a lot of room and strength in the negotiations.
What happens if all this plays out as I speculate? Peace in the eastern provinces may finally arrive and a million people may be able to return to their homes and rebuild their shattered lives. That peace might even stand a chance of enduring if the military alliances morph into a common economic market built on the rich resources in the region. If all the nations involved have opportunity to reap above-board profits from the mines and forests and farms of the Congo, they will be much more likely to keep the peace.