On Thursday, February 8, the Wilson Center's Africa Program joined the Great Lakes Policy Forum in hosting an event featuring François Grignon to discuss the future of the United Nations mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), known by its French acronym, MONUC. Grignon, Director of the Africa Program at the International Crisis Group, addressed the challenges facing the DRC during its transition period and the role of MONUC. Howard Wolpe, Director of the Africa Program at the Wilson Center, provided introductory remarks and served as moderator.

Grignon began by highlighting the role of the international community to encourage peace in the DRC. Though the DRC situation is not unique—Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Somalia all faced or continue to face similar circumstances—building completely from the ground up requires collaboration and frank dialogue between the international community and the Congolese government in the complicated process of peace consolidation. According to Grignon, this process will only be made possible through a number of constitutional and legislative reforms as well as the election of new government leaders at the national and local levels. The role of the international community in this, he stated, should stress engagement on promoting progress, good governance, anti-corruption, and much needed democracy, rather than only the profitable extraction of mineral resources.

Peace in the DRC must overcome three sets of conflicts, Grignon said: those on the local, regional, and national levels. Local conflicts, he said, reflect a crisis of governance and the lack of state capacity to encourage peaceful coexistence and resource-sharing. Regionally, the conflicts in Rwanda, Burundi, Angola and Uganda have been to great effect on the DRC. On the national level, conflicts between Mobutu's forces and Laurent D. Kabila's rebels reinforced the already existing crisis of governance regarding national planning for the future. The peace process underway and some positive aspects following the elections may indeed help reconcile many of these issues, though not without challenges.

First among major challenges to state building, Grignon noted, is that of devising new and inventive ideas. Post-independence recipes to bring about the consolidation and proper management of the state have failed, he said, mostly due to the Congolese population's refusal to buy into them. The second challenge is to manage the population's high expectations for change, building the state and the revival of the economy; Congolese want to see change because they have suffered a great deal, he explained. The newly elected government must address these expectations and provide tangible results, efficiently and effectively, to both their supporters and to those who did not vote for them. The third challenge to state building pertains to the losers of the elections who have yet to abandon their ambitions for power. Grignon reminded everyone that though peace consolidation began three years ago, outbreaks of violence remain possible, especially in the eastern part of the DRC.

Above all, Grignon argued that a successful peace process requires enhanced local governance and civilian participation. A "new special contract" for strong local governance was part of the peace agreement and its enactment is made all the more possible due to the complete erosion of the central state, says Grignon. The matter of decentralization is less the problem, rather, than changing the widespread perception of an oppressive, though legitimate, Congolese state. The government must recognize its responsibility to its people and territory, he said. Civilian participation, especially in the provinces, brings to the fore demands for democratic institutions, checks and balances and accountability for leaders in and from Kinshasa.

In certain areas, such as the eastern province of Kivu, the peacebuilding process is especially daunting due to continued violence, Grignon said. The international community has thus far focused on rebuilding security forces for the visibly strained Congolese military. He stressed, however, that there should also be a strong focus on civilian participation and on the judiciary to manage the problem of impunity. Sustainable peace requires the disarming of militias, which can only be done with backing from the local civilian administration. This, in turn, requires improved relations between Kigali and Kinshasa, proving that regional peacebuilding is as important as, and often critical to, local peacebuilding.

Final comments from Grignon included an appeal that MONUC both become better harmonized and expand its forces by 70,000 in order to better support the restoration of the Congolese government. Additionally, he reiterated that collective engagement from the international community and the Congolese leadership is crucial to the peace consolidation process in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

During the question and answer period, Grignon clarified his use of the word decentralization. He stated that the term decentralization in the context of the DRC does not correlate exactly to federalism. He advocated administrative decentralization whereby the central and local government would coordinate capacity-building to manage state affairs. He corrected his earlier assertion that there is no central government in Congo by saying that while one does exist, it has no capacity to act as such. He explained that generally, administrative reform is a challenge, and that the DRC is currently experiencing problems with operationalizing the constitutional principles adopted by referendum.

When asked about MONUC's mandate in the DRC, Grignon opined that the UN forces are unable to simply pack up and leave as they did in East Timor. The situation in the DRC is not yet fully stable and UN forces might have to stay for another two years. MONUC's current mandate focuses on a program of Demobilization, Disarmament and Rehabilitation (DDR), as well as assisting in the transition and the elections. But more is required, he says. Specifically, MONUC should get the disarmed militia groups involved in reconstruction. He believed that the UN must redefine the political role of MONUC vis-à-vis the new democratically-elected Congolese institutions.

On the military issue, Grignon said that due to past actions, there is no public trust in the military. The transition process occurred without finalizing negotiations on the military, meaning there has been little progress on its rebuilding and reform. He suggested installing proper administration and bringing the military's "rotten pieces" to justice.

Howard Wolpe concluded the event by speaking on the importance of both the UN forces timeframe and the rebuilding of trust among military and state leaders. He advocated for five years of continued UN presence to ensure the stability of the country, and cited the experience of the Wilson Center-administered Leadership Training Initiative in the DRC, which brings together former rival leaders in order to rebuild trust and foster collaboration.

Drafted by Mame Khady Diouf and Thomas Gilchrist, Interns; and Roseline Tekeu, Program Assistant, Africa Program.