Republic of Congo

Democratic Republic of Congo — Need for Reconciliation Bridge-Builders.

Photo by Kaysha on Unsplash

On bridges are stated the limits in tons

of the loads they can bear.

But I’ve never yet found one that can bear more

than we do. Although we are not made of roman freestone,

nor of steel, nor of concrete.

From “Bridges” – Ondra Lysohorsky

Translated from the Lachian by Davis Gill.

The killing on 22 February 2021 near Goma in Eastern Congo of the Italian Ambassador to the Congo has highlighted the continuing insecurity of the area and the need for renewed efforts at peacebuilding. The Ambassador of Italy, Luca Attanasio, was part of a two-car convoy of the U.N. World Food Program to visit a school meal program run by the Program which has recently been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The convoy was fired upon by a group of six individuals. The Ambassador and one of the drivers were killed.

At this stage, it is not known which of some 45 armed groups in the area carried out the attack and if the convoy was attacked because it was of the United Nations or if any two-car convoy would hve been attacked in the hope of looting the contents.  While the U.N. Secretary-General has called for an  investigation, an investigation is unlikely to be able to say more than that the whole area is unstable and that more than U.N. or Congolese grovernment troops are necessary to bring stability.

Armed Violence Continues.

Despite a new president of the Democratic Republic of Congo who promised to tackle poverty at its roots, armed violence continues.  Felix Tshisekedi, son of the late, long-time opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, put an end to the 18-year rule of Joseph Kabila.  However, in a number of provinces of the country, especially the east, armed violence continues between the army and different tribal-based militias.  In some area, war lords battle among themselves.

The United Nations has some 20:,000 peacemakers in Congo (MONUC), the UN’s  most numerous peacekeeping mission, but their capacity is stretched to the limit.  While MONUC has proven effective at securing peace in the Ituri district in north-eastern Congo, it has been much less successful in the two Kivu provinces.

The eastern area of Congo is the scene of fighting at least since 1998 — in part as a result of the genocide in neighboring Rwanda in 1994.  In mid-1994, more than one million Rwandan Hutu refugees poured into the Kivu provinces, fleeing the advance of the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front, now become the government of Rwanda.  Many of these Hutu were still armed, among them, the “genocidaire” who a couple of months before had led the killings of some 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu in Rwanda.  They continued to kill Tutsi living in the Congo, many of whom had migrated there in the 18th century.

Techniques of Conflict Resolution.

The people in eastern Congo have lived together for many centuries and had developed techniques of conflict resolution, especially between the two chief agricultural lifestyles: that of agriculture and cattle herding.  However, the influx of a large number of Hutu, local political considerations, a desire to control the wealth of the area — rich in gold, tin and tropical timber — all these factors have overburdened the local techniques of conflict resolution and have opened the door to new, negative forces interested only in making money and gaining political power.

UN peace-keeping troops are effective when there is peace to keep.  What is required today in eastern Congo and in certain other parts of the country is not so much more soldiers under UN command, than reconciliation bridge-builders, persons who are able to restore relations among the ethnic groups of the area.  The United Nations, national governments, and non-governmental organizations need to develop bridge-building teams who can help to strengthen local efforts at conflict resolution and re-establishing community relations.  In the Kivu provinces, many of the problems arise from land tenure issues.  With the large number of people displaced and villages destroyed, it may be necessary to review completely land tenure and land use issues.

The Importance of Decentralization and Con-Federal Forms of Government.

The Association of World Citizens has stressed the need in States deeply divided on geographic and ethnic lines such as the Democratic Republic of Congo  to manage diversity as a strength rather than as a weakness..  There is often a tendency for leaders of States divided on ethnic lines to “over-centralize” the Administration in the hope of creating “national unity”.  In practice, such efforts at centralized government lead to some areas and some groups to feel marginalized or excluded.  In such cases armed violence seems to be the fastest  way to receive attention and to get “a share of the economic pie.”  Thus, the Association of World Citizens has stressed the importance of decentralization and con-federal forms of government as an alternative to the creation of new independent states which is often the first demand of marginalized areas.

World citizens were among those in the early 1950s who stressed the need to create UN peace-keeping forces with soldiers especially trained for such a task.  Today, a new type of world civil servant is needed — those who in areas of tension and conflict can undertake the slow but important task of restoring confidence among peoples in conflict, establishing contacts and looking for ways to build upon common interests.

Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens.

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