As the world grapples with multiple crises, the war in Congo is not getting the attention it deserves. The eastern region of Congo was the epicentre of two wars in the past 15 years that led to the loss of an estimated 5 million lives. Not all these lives were lost in wars. Many were caused by hunger and disease that followed the armed conflict.
The conflict in the country continues to rage causing mayhem. On Tuesday, a rebel group, M23, seized the provincial capital of Goma as Congolese army forces and the United Nations peacekeepers fell back and watched. By taking Goma, the rebels have raised the prospect of a destabilizing return to a regional war.
Since the beginning of this year, more than 650,000 people have been uprooted in the regions of North and South Kivu. A series of peace agreements reached in recent years have proved fragile and are in tatters. The M23 was formed out of a rebellion in the Congolese army in April by several hundred soldiers from a former rebel army that had signed a peace deal with the government on March 23, 2009. They are led by Gen. Bosco Ntaganda, a former senior army officer who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court on seven counts of crimes against humanity.
What makes the Congo conflict worse is the fact that the rebels have recruited and used child soldiers by the hundreds. What’s happening in the country is the result of a vacuum created by the weakness of the state. The government in Kinshasa under President Joseph Kabila has been unable to impose the rule of law, leading armed rebels to fill the vacuum created by him. He also failed to honour peace agreements signed earlier. International experts are saying that the latest rebellion is the result of an abject failure to implement earlier accords, failure to implement reforms in the army and failure to start talks with the rivals. It is unfortunate that the presence of a 19,000-strong UN peacekeeping force has done nothing to stop the conflict.
Rwanda and Uganda too must be stopped from interfering in Congo. Rwanda has been supplying arms and support to the M23 rebels though it has denied the charges. But such denials will not help because a UN report just published has said that Rwanda has provided “direct military support” to the rebels, including “arms, ammunition, intelligence and political advice.” The international community needs to put pressure on Rwanda and Uganda to stop meddling in their neighbour’s affairs. The United Nations needs to take more efforts to stop the bloodshed in Congo. And the sooner it does so the better.