On Friday, Uganda’s Premier announced Uganda would pull its troops out of all peacekeeping mission over accusations that Uganda and some generals were backing M23 in Eastern DRC.
But like most people said, the threat was politicking which Uganda seems to gain an upper hand since the UNSC president has already said the report doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of the UN.
Could the views of UN be far from the contents of the report or could they be closer but UNSC will play safe in light of Uganda’s threats?
The UN Group of experts report will be out in about two weeks and seems by that time, Uganda and Rwanda and UN will have reached a settlement. This leaves the people of Congo in watching the same of old games.
Mineral looting vs security concerns
Uganda called the allegations in UN report baseless and complained that the UN wasn’t giving them credit where they have done well but this isn’t convincing. Our history in Congo shows that for every warlord that comes out strong, there’s a godfather in the neighbouring country.
This is done either by top generals in the armies with a blind eye of the presidents or big companies and agents who are trading in guns for minerals. And many times the companies have a link to the top leadership in east African countries. However this is not to ignore role of western and Chinese companies in this conflict.
At the same time one cannot deny the security risk that an ungoverned Eastern DRC poses to neighbouring countries. So the interest in DRC by neighbouring countries, Uganda and Rwanda included is not merely based minerals.
In 2011 a DRC Group of Experts report found that a Ugandan rebel group, Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) had regained control over territory that it had previously lost to FARDC (Congolese army). This is not a secret hidden from the Ugandan regime. With guns from Congo Army and other criminal networks, ADF could get stronger and launch fresh attacks in Uganda.
But the same report found that Congolese gold is still in much in demand. “Most of the gold trade in the country goes unrecorded, and most transactions are concluded in neighboring cities such as Kampala, Bujumbura, Nairobi or Mwanza port in Tanzania.”
The Group of Experts found substantial discrepancies, of more than three tons, between gold import statistics provided by the authorities of the United Arab Emirates and those exports claimed by the Government of Uganda.
So when Uganda’s Premier Amama Mbabazi asserts “…there are actors in the UN who are not able to understand that there can be principled actors in Africa and who think that all actors are looking for minerals like the imperialists did”, he’s not being honest enough.
Both the UN and regional governments have buried their heads and looked away from more positive engagement in DRC. Western governments have for long opted for UN to deal with DRC – never mind the fact that they never gave MONUSCO the right mandate to deal with the reality in DRC.
They have spent billions of dollars to fund a peacekeeping mission in DRC for over ten years and still no improvement in security in Eastern DRC. The political process in Congo which is at heart of the governance problem has not received much attention.
So UN finances MONUSCO with no results and asks regional governments to back off. In turn governments officially say they have no hand in DRC and quote you tripartite agreements but out of sight they do the opposite.
Since Kinshasa is not in charge, the regimes deal with who’s moving things in different parts of eastern Congo- even if sometimes it means working with a new warlord every year.
So for Uganda and Rwanda to deny any involvement in Eastern DRC is like saying we are not concerned about our security. Western governments and UNSC continue to dwell only on the mineral smuggling and sideline a more positive role for regional countries in solving the DRC conflict.
That’s why for years we have seen accusations and denials, then the fire burns out and we go back to business as usual until another rebel group comes up.
So the threats posed by the new UN report on the role of Uganda and Rwanda in fresh fighting in DRC is followed by denials and no honest engagement will come out.
Even if Congolese authorities are supported in disarming and demobilizing the M23 as the UN has called, the challenges of attaining peace in Congo will remain. Not until those close (African governments) are put in a more responsible position than a hands off approach, which the UN and the west has pushed for since the end of 1990s, will we see secure and governed East DRC.
Until then, these countries, directly or by using agents, will take turns to go into Congo and reap quick gains. The international community will continue to trust those from far removed from the conflict to deliver peace in vain.
To expect that hands-off policy for regional governments will work in DRC is daydreaming! Regional governments will continue to be dishonest about their interests and fears in Eastern DRC unless a new way to engage is brought forward.