Events

Peace-Building in Africa's Great Lakes Region

October 17, 2003 // 9:00am10:30pm

Peace making and peace building are terms that are often confused and Haile Menkerios opened the discussion by differentiating between these two terms as they apply to the peace processes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and neighboring countries of the Great Lakes region. Menkerios said peace making is a process that takes place before peace is declared; it is negotiation. Peace building, according to Menkerios, takes place after an agreement has been signed and peace is officially declared.

In the peace building process, Menkerios said, a threshold question is what caused the lack of peace in the first place. Only then can one address the causes and consequences of the conflict. Menkerios said that the cause of the war in the DRC is an age-old problem of competition over governance. Small groups have historically monopolized power throughout the region and their policies of exclusion have led to communal conflict, including genocide, and deep inter-group mistrust. This has caused an "infection of the region" with problems of one country becoming the problem of others.

According to Menkerios, the lack of a regional focus in negotiations is the root cause of the initial failure of the DRC peace process. Parties involved in negotiations focused too much on national and local factors in the conflict. Menkerios said that there was not enough focus on regional factors such as Rwandan and Burundian rebel groups operating out of the DRC.

Another problem that has plagued the DRC peace process until recently, according to Menkerios, is the lack of unity within the international community in its mediation of talks. The failure of attempts at peace in the DRC and in Burundi has led to a reevaluation of the international community's approach to mediation. In the Lusaka talks of 1999 not only were the parties to the conflict divided, but the mediators were divided as well. This made it twice as difficult to come to a firm agreement.

The Lusaka agreement was unsuccessful, according to Menkerios, because it was not a comprehensive agreement where everyone was committed to the same goal. Each party signed the document with their own particular interests in mind. Rwanda, for example, was interested in the demobilization and repatriation of rebels, while other parties had other goals they wished to accomplish in signing the agreement.

The DRC peace process, at this stage, was unsuccessful because there was no understanding of the interplay of regional, national, and local factors and there was too much emphasis placed on simply getting all the Congolese actors to sign a deal. Some of these actors, according to Menkerios, acted as proxies for outside supporters who also had interests in the conflict but who were not invited to the negotiation table. Eventually, Menkerios said, it was understood that agreements were required between the DRC and the surrounding countries before any inter-Congolese dialogue could succeed. The signing of an agreement between the DRC and Rwanda in Pretoria in 2002 finally made possible progress on other fronts.

Once a peace agreement is signed, Menkerios said several problems must be addressed such as elections, institution building, the reconciliation of armed forces, and transitional justice. These are difficult challenges because all those who are supposed to be the implementers of these new arrangements are the very people who have been the antagonists. According to Menkerios, the fragmentation of the DRC leaves much to be required of outside actors. Menkerios said the DRC is a large country that has to be built "from scratch" because the problems of the country have "bedeviled it since its inception." "A massive dose of international support is going to be necessary to help them," said Menkerios. According to Menkerios, armed soldiers want to hand in their weapons and be fully demobilized, but the government does not have the capacity to do so. This is one area where international aid is required.

To avoid a relapse of fighting in the DRC, capacity building must be done not only at the level of the central government but at the local level as well, Menkerios said. Bottom-up capacity building of this kind in places like Ituri, according to Menkerios, will consolidate progress in the DRC and help avoid the resurgence of fighting. When asked how a top-down approach to governing the country could be avoided, Menkerios observed there should be a balance between the strengthening of internal cohesion in the central government and institution building at the local level. This institution building, according to Menkerios, is sometimes best handled by non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Menkerios also made the following points during the course of the discussion that followed his presentation:

-Queried about the present reach of Kabila's authority, Menkerios replied that Kabila fully understands the transitional nature of his position and shares his decision-making responsibilities with the entire cabinet.
- Asked how the proposed International Conference on the Great Lakes and how it has been received by the region and the international community, Menkerios said that there is a shared opinion that the conference will be very important in setting the stage for future work on regional security mechanisms; on disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR); cross border trade; and the exploitation of natural resources in the region.

Nicole Rumeau, Program Assistant, (202) 691-4097
Howard Wolpe, Director, (202) 691-4046

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