This article critically examines the strategies for building inclusive peace in the DRC in the face of armed groups backed by neighboring states, foreign companies, and transnational actors seeking to exploit the country’s abundant natural resources. It also seeks to explore the conditions under which ongoing conflicts can be resolved and future conflicts prevented through inclusive peacebuilding approaches.

Peace is not just the absence of war,1Jean Salmon, Dictionnaire de Droit international public, Bruxelles, Bruylant, 2001, p.799. it is also about living under safe, harmonious, and secure conditions without any fear based on threats to life and wellbeing. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), protracted armed conflicts have caused widespread anxiety and negated the possibility of peace, despite the range of solutions that have been attempted.

The region has experienced several devastating wars, particularly the First Congo War between 1996 and 1997 and the Second Congo War between 1998 and 2003, both of which involved multiple neighboring African states and numerous armed groups within the DRC. Some of these wars ended with the signing of peace agreements,2For example, Lusaka peace agreement (10 July 1999); Pretoria Agreement of 31 July 2002 or “Memorandum of Understanding between the Governments of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of Rwanda on the withdrawal of Rwandan troops from the territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the dismantling of the former FAR and Interahamwe in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)’; Luanda Agreement of 6 September 2002 on the withdrawal of Ugandan troops from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, cooperation and harmonization of relations between the two countries; Comprehensive and Inclusive Agreement of 17 December 2002 on Transition in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, signed on 17 December 2002 (Pretoria II Agreement). which narrowly saved the country from disintegration and balkanization. Strategies to curb the resurgence of armed groups and build peace have included integrating ex-fighters into the national security forces and state-controlled institutions.

Building inclusive peace in the DRC

In seeking to interrogate the conditions for building inclusive peace in the DRC, it is necessary to approach the issue from several levels. In a book based on their study conducted in collaboration with several Congolese universities and NGOs,3Luc Reychler and Jean Migabo Kalere, RD Congo pays de l’avenir. Construisons ensemble une paix durable pour un meilleur destin, Livre ouvert, vol. 87, Leuven, 2010, p.37. Luc Reychler and Jean Migabo Kalere note that:

“At the national level, in order of importance, the first condition is physical security for the people on the road and in the streets and houses. The second condition for peace is law and order. The third condition is democratic governance; the fourth condition is a good education system; the fifth is social development; the sixth is providing health services for all; the seventh is establishing a good reconciliation process. […] At the regional and international level: (1) the absence of unwanted foreign interventions, including military interventions and illegal exploitation of natural resources, (2) the resolution of conflicts with neighbouring countries and the strengthening of regional cooperation, and (3) the creation of a more equitable international system.”

However, a thorough reading of the book reveals that the approach adopted is as generic as it is pedagogical. Without focusing on the inclusiveness of peace, such an approach is based on a presumption of ease that is both restrictive and misleading. The political history of the DRC shows how members of the Congolese elite have been deeply divided among themselves and involved in zero-sum struggles for power. Such divisions, accompanied by brutal struggles for political power since independence in 1960, have gravely weakened the cohesiveness of the Congolese state and made it vulnerable to violent conflicts. In their desperate struggle for power and access to the country’s abundant resources, elites have resorted to bad governance, often operating in violation of Congolese law.

In some cases, politicians have resorted to political deals and private arrangements that circumvent constitutional provisions and established laws,4Olivier Bahoze, ‘Soixante ans d’Accord et [dés]accords : la République Démocratique du Congo entre raison de la force et oraison du droit’, in J. Baraka Akilimali et Trésor Makunya Muhindo, L’Etat africain et la crise postcoloniale. Répenser 60 ans d’alternance institutionnelle et idéologique sans altérnative socioéconomique, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2021, pp. 153-184. contributing to instability and future conflicts. Building inclusive peace will require a change in the political culture based on new principles, ethics, and social values as the basis for strengthening the rule of law, whereby democracy and justice form the basis for peace and national development.

On the social and economic level, a considerable number of armed conflicts in the DRC are driven by frustrations due to unequal access to and distribution of national resources resulting in widespread poverty amid abundant natural wealth. Citizens are impoverished and victimized because of the greed and lack of accountability of the political elites which monopolize natural and state resources. This situation exacerbates social crises, resulting in some citizens joining armed groups with a view to defending their rights or improving their living conditions by taking natural and state resources by force. Such violence also contributes to the widespread violation of human rights, including gender-based violence. Armed groups, collaborating with unscrupulous international traders, foreign armies, and multinationals, have also been implicated in illegal mining and the international trade of “conflict-minerals.”5Moise Abdou Muhima, « Etat de droit à l’épreuve de minerais des conflits en République démocratique du Congo : cas de l’affaire Argor-Heraeus Sa et la société chinoise Kun Hou Mining », KAS african Law Study Library, vol. 4, 2017, pp. 585-602.

A socio-economic approach to peace in the DRC must promote social justice that is based on an equitable distribution of economic resources and wealth to the Congolese people. This requires the implementation of social development policies that promote greater access to basic infrastructures and put an end to social inequalities and marginalization of vulnerable sections of the population. It is also necessary to promote the diversification of the domestic economy away from the production of primary commodities and raw materials for export and take concrete steps towards expansion into the small, medium, and large-scale manufacturing and service sectors.

It should be noted that decades of armed conflict have radicalized many alienated and marginalized youth. A culture of war has replaced traditional values such as dialogue, communication, peaceful cohabitation, and tolerance. Sectarianism and ethnicity undermine intercultural harmony, peaceful coexistence, and national unity. The political game has become a matter of interethnic competition for political power. All these have exacerbated conflicts against the background of opportunistic and destructive power struggles.

Replacing the culture of violence with one of peace will require some measure of reconciliation and national healing. It would be helpful to explore mechanisms of transitional justice by creating truth and reconciliation commissions to openly investigate human rights violations committed in the past, reconcile perpetrators with victims, and break the infernal cycle of violence and mass atrocities. The government is already doing this, thanks to pressure from civil society organizations, as transitional justice is among the priorities of its 2021-2023 action program in the sector of “Politics, Justice, Defense and Security.”6DRC, Gouvernement de l’Union Sacrée de la Nation. Le Premier Ministre : Programme d’actions 2021-2023. Construire un Etat fort, prospère et solidaire, Kinshasa, April 2021, p.10. However, this approach was tested in the past. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission was operational between 2003 and 2006, but it failed because of the lack of adequate financial resources and the absence of political support for the process. This approach will have to be revived to help the present generations break away from the culture of war while enabling future generations to avoid mistakes made in the past.

Inclusive peacebuilding policies in the DRC will have to move away from extraversion to introversion so that the future of the Congolese depends more on the internal actors rather than external ones. We must fight against the code of silence that still surrounds the culture of impunity for crimes committed during different armed conflicts and rediscover ways of making equitable and inclusive development an instrument of peace.

Violent conflicts in the DRC have always been addressed at the international level. International organizations design peacebuilding strategies and impose them on the country. Most of the time, the management of Congolese crises falls outside of the control of the Congolese people. While there have been several peace initiatives, such as the Kivu Peace Conference (2008), the 2009 STAREC (Programme for the Stabilization and Reconstruction of Areas Emerging from Armed Conflicts), several rounds of inter-community dialogues, and the state of siege decided by the DRC President in May 2021 in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, these are yet to have much traction or impact. These Congolese initiatives have mirrored the same objectives as those from external actors and remained dependent on the exigencies and support of international military, finance, and diplomatic actors. Therefore, they have so far been unable to produce any tangible result as peace and security in eastern DRC have remained very fragile.

It should be up to the Congolese people to impose their agenda for the DRC on the rest of the world, rather than the inverse. The DRC state needs to be strengthened to defend its sovereignty and guarantee the freedom of the Congolese to decide on their economic, social, and cultural priorities and policies. Consolidating unity and peace within the country will help address the issue of the role played by meddlesome neighbors and international actors.

Conclusion

The DRC should urgently conceive of development as a tool capable of building sustainable peace in the country. As mentioned earlier, development should be equitable and inclusive to have the desired impact on peace. One of the short-term steps that can be taken is to direct resources from all public, private, national, and international actors towards providing impactful development projects in the areas most affected by violent conflicts. Such projects will provide employment opportunities for most of the rural youth in the building of roads, dams, railways, schools, clinics, and housing. No one would have time to join the ranks of armed groups or criminal gangs, while the multiplier effect on the rest of the economy would be tremendous.

Thus, building inclusive peace in the DRC will require much more participation of citizens, including youth and women in renegotiating the social contract between the rulers and the ruled. The political elites and leadership should be convinced to embrace a new political culture based on accountability, patriotism, non-violent resolution of conflict, and wholesale reliance on the rule of law. The conditions for inclusive peace in the DRC are complex and challenging, but not impossible, and it is hoped that the Congolese people, building on their resilience and collective will, can move away from the legacies of decades of violence toward sustainable peace in the coming decades.

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