Introduction

For more than two decades (1996-2021), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been ravaged by armed conflict. The main actors in these wars have been states, national and foreign armed groups, and multinational companies that sometimes support various fighting groups or factions1SECURITY COUNCIL, Report of the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Republic Democratic of the Congo, S/ 2001/357, 12 April 2001, pp. 19-20 ; 21-27 and 49-50 ; SECURITY COUNCIL, Final report of the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Republic Democratic of the Congo, S/2002/1146, 16 October 2002, pp. 10-11, §§ 39-46 and Annex I and also Annex III ;  P. KAMBALE MAHUKA, L’exploitation illicite des ressources naturelles d’un Etat étranger en cas de conflit armé. Etude sur la responsabilité des Etats et de leurs dirigeants, thèse de doctorat en sciences juridiques (Droit international public), Université catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, 2014, p. 2,  available at https://dial.uclouvain.be/pr/boreal/object/boreal%3A141055/datastream/PDF_01/view consulted on 16 March 2021. as a strategy for extracting the country’s abundant natural resources. This situation of near-permanent conflict in the DRC has posed a threat to stability and the development of the country. As Pope Paul VI noted, “development is the new name of peace.”3PAUL VI, Populorum Progressio, Encyclical, 26 March 1967, § 76. This essay is based on reflections on the following question: how can conflict prevention and resolution lay the foundation for inclusive, lasting peace and sustainable development in the DRC? Building inclusive peace requires addressing several challenges, including those related to the ethnic diversity of the Congolese people and their cultural differences. It also includes putting an end to international and internal armed conflicts, human rights abuses, and pandemics while fostering inclusive political reform, social justice, and food security.2I. SOLY KAMWIRA, « L’Etat mondial comme condition de la paix selon Jürgen Habermas dans Après l’Etat-nation », in Gouvernance multisectorielle : survivre aux turbulences de l’Etat en République démocratique du Congo, Parcours et initiatives. Revue interdisciplinaire du Graben, Numéro 18, Décembre 2017, p. 112.

This article also critically examines the causes and drivers of armed conflicts in the DRC and makes some recommendations directed toward inclusive peacebuilding and development in the DRC.

External drivers of armed conflict in the DRC

Annexationist aspirations and support for armed groups in the DRC

The DRC is a state of continental dimensions, a giant in the African Great Lakes Region (AGLR), surrounded by many neighboring states,4These are the nine neighboring countries to the DRC: Angola, Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania and Zambia. including Uganda and Rwanda. These two states are believed by some to nurse aspirations of annexing parts of the DRC, particularly the resource-rich provinces of North Kivu and Ituri. They infiltrate Congolese territory through incursions by their armed forces on the grounds of fighting armed groups that operate against them from the DRC.5RADIO OKAPI, « Incursion de l’armée rwandaise en RDC : une question orale adressée au ministre de la Défense », available at https://www.radiookapi.net/2021/01/07/actualite/securite/incursion-de-larmee-rwandaise-en-rdc-une-question-orale-adressee-au consulted on 19 March 2021. In some cases, these neighboring states have reportedly supported armed groups attacking the DRC, as in the case of the March 23 Movement, commonly known as M23.6SECURITY COUNCIL, Letter dated 12 October 2012 from the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo addressed to the Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1533(2004) concerning the Democratic Republic of the Congo, S/2012/843, 15 November 2012, especially, p. 6, § 4, p. 40, § 146 and p. 42, § 159.

Intervention by neighboring countries is therefore one of the main drivers of recurring armed conflicts in the DRC. Ending external intervention will require neighboring states to respect human rights and international law, including the principles of good faith, prohibition of the use of force, non-intervention, and the inviolability of national borders. In addition, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) Joint Verification Mechanism should be effectively implemented in relation to the monitoring of state borders. The ICGLR should also impose sanctions on violators of the territorial integrity of the DRC.

Illegal exploitation of natural resources

The DRC’s abundant natural resources, including bauxite, copper, diamonds, gold, coltan, coffee, timber, oil, gas, land, and water, have always been coveted by neighboring states and international actors. As a reminder, soldiers from Uganda and Rwanda occupied a large part of the DRC between 1996 and 2003 and there were reports of their involvement in looting and other forms of illegal exploitation of its natural resources,7Armed Activities on the Territory of the Congo (Democratic Republic of the Congo v. Uganda), Judgment, I.C.J. Reports 2005, pp. 227 and 253, §§ 165 and 250; AFRICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN AND PEOPLES’ RIGHTS, 227/99 Democratic Republic of Congo/Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, pp. 12, 13 and 14, §§ 88, 94, 98 and the Holding, available at https://www.achpr.org/sessions/descions?id=138 consulted on 13 April 2021. sometimes with the complicity of multinational companies.8SECURITY COUNCIL, Final report of the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Republic Democratic of the Congo, S/2002/1146, 16 October 2002, pp. 10-11, §§ 39-46 and Annex I and also Annex III. The Annex I is related to companies on which the Panel recommends the placing of financial restrictions. On the other hand, the Annex III is concerning business enterprises considered by the Panel to be in violation of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Moreover, illegally exploited natural resources have enabled these neighboring states to finance their military operations in Congolese territory. The same is true of non-state armed groups. The illegal exploitation of natural resources is not only a cause of armed conflicts in the DRC, but a means of financing it.9 SECURITY COUNCIL, Report of the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Republic Democratic of the Congo, S/ 2001/357, 12 April 2001, pp. 6 and 7, § 21 and 27; C. BRAECKMAN, Les nouveaux prédateurs. Politique des puissances en Afrique centrale, Paris, Fayard, 2003, p. 7 ; P. KAMBALE MAHUKA, L’exploitation illicite des ressources naturelles d’un Etat étranger en cas de conflit armé. Etude sur la responsabilité des Etats et de leurs dirigeants, Op. cit., pp. 117-127.

Preventing the illegal exploitation of a state’s natural resources by foreign states should also be the concern of the international community. In this regard, the ICGLR must ensure scrupulous compliance with the Protocol against the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources, which was created on November 30, 2006.10http://www.icglr.org/index.php/en/resources/key-documents-reports/protocol consulted on 29 May 2021. In addition, states must pool their efforts to neutralize armed groups that plunder natural resources. They should also enforce the due diligence obligation of multinational enterprises in the trade of natural resources. Of course, states must agree to the terms for jointly exploiting shared resources. A case in point is that of methane gas in Lake Kivu, which is a resource shared between Rwanda and the DRC. In this way, “natural resources can be a source of development rather than a source of conflict.”11 CH.-PH. DAVID et J.-F. GAGNE, ‘‘Natural resources. A source of conflict?’’, in International Journal, 62/2006-2007, p. 17.

“Peace agreements without peace”12English translation of the French expression « accords de paix sans paix » used by S. SZUREK, « Sierra Leone : un Etat en attente de ‘‘ paix durable’’. La Communauté internationale dans l’engrenage de la paix en Afrique de l’Ouest », in Annuaire français de droit international, Vol. 46, 2000, p. 180.

The DRC has concluded several peace agreements with states of the region and even with armed groups, some of which were supported by neighboring states. Such agreements were reached through international mediation. In many cases, the negotiations did not have the good faith and sincerity of the actors. Indeed, some claims have not been clearly presented by the armed groups, such as  the M23. Officially, this movement called for the return to the DRC of Congolese Tutsi refugees in Rwanda and Uganda, most likely as a pretext to seize control of the Congolese state.13N. NZEREKA MUGHENDI, « Négocier la paix en position de faiblesse : analyse structurale des accords de paix négociés par la RDC entre 1997 et 2014 », in La convertibilité du développement et de la paix en République démocratique du Congo, Parcours et initiatives. Revue interdisciplinaire du Graben, Numéro 20, mai 2020, pp. 15-41.

From then on, these negotiations resulted in “conflictogenic” peace treaties, “containing a secret cause of another coming war.”14 I. SOLY KAMWIRA, « Les conditions d’une paix stable selon les neuf articles d’Emmanuel Kant dans ‘’Vers la paix perpétuelle’’. Une philosophie politique d’actualité en RD. Congo », in La convertibilité du développement et de la paix en République démocratique du Congo, Parcours et initiatives. Revue interdisciplinaire du Graben, Numéro 20, mai 2020, p. 150. Sandra Szurek speaks of “peace agreements without peace” to qualify such ineffective peace agreements.15S. SZUREK, « Sierra Leone : un Etat en attente de ‘‘ paix durable’’. La Communauté internationale dans l’engrenage de la paix en Afrique de l’Ouest », Art. cit., p.180.  The DRC, with the assistance of organizations such as the ICGLR, SADC, the African Union and the United Nations (in particular MONUSCO), will have to implement all political, economic and diplomatic agreements, combined with the military means to defeat all armed groups or coerce them  to embrace peace.

The Specific Cases of ADF terrorist attacks in the DRC   

The armed group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) has been operating in the Territory of Beni in the DRC since 1986. Since 2014, its attacks have led to large-scale massacres of civilians, kidnapping, and other serious human right violations, to the extent that the US State Department designated it as a terrorist group in 2021.16 “On March 10, 2021, the U.S. government designated the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) as a terrorist organization. The group had been under U.S. sanctions since 2014 for their human rights abuses, and six of their leaders had been under a travel ban and assets freeze since 2019. These new sanctions provide additional legal tools for U.S. law enforcement and give the FBI the authority––in contrast with the Treasury Department, which is in charge of the other sanctions––to pursue criminal charges against members of the group or individuals in touch with it. In theory, the designation could allow the U.S. government, in collaboration with its counterparts in the region, to clamp down on financing and recruitment networks” (J. STEARNS, “DRC: Designating the ADF”, available at https://congoresearchgroup.org/drc-designating-the-adf/ consulted on 29 May 2021). It will require the involvement of the international community to carry out systematic operations against the ADF in the context of the international fight against terrorism. Nevertheless, the primary responsibility for the fight against the ADF lies with the DRC.

Internal causes of armed conflicts in the DRC

 Deficit in democracy and good governance

The DRC has a deficit of democracy and good governance,17N. NZEREKA MUGHENDI, Les déterminants de la paix et de la guerre au Congo-Zaïre, Bruxelles, P.I.E. Peter Lang, 2011, p. 363. which is partly the result of the activities of armed groups, who masquerade as “liberators of the people.” To eliminate this pretext, it is important that governments respect the principles of democracy and good governance and put the best interests of the population at the center of their policies and actions. Moreover, the maladministration of justice escalates land-related and post-election conflicts, which further escalate to internal wars. In the same way, social injustice, which manifests in the glaring inequalities and inequities in incomes and standard of living, leads to frustrations that fuel armed conflict. Corruption, bribery, and embezzlement of public funds, as well as other anti-social values, must be punished in an exemplary manner.

Seemingly endless peace negotiations

In the perpetual quest for lasting peace on its territory, the DRC is characterized by “negomania” or “negotiationism”, which is an excessive use of negotiation as a means of resolving conflicts. As can be seen from the peace agreements concluded by the DRC, the Congolese state has imbibed the habit of negotiating peace most often on its knees, from a position of weakness. The government makes more concessions than the opposing sides, often sacrificing justice at the altar of an immediate ceasefire, but always ending with a precarious peace.18 N. NZEREKA MUGHENDI, « Négocier la paix en position de faiblesse : analyse structurale des accords de paix négociés par la RDC entre 1997 et 2014 », Art. cit., pp. 15-41. In our view, this behavior which works against peace in the long run is because Congolese leaders are complicit in weakening the government.

It is urgent that the DRC strengthen the capabilities of its army (including in terms of professionalism, loyalty, and discipline), adequately take charge of its troops (good salaries and living conditions), and provide its military with modern weapons and logistics to make it more effective against the country’s enemies. This deterrent or strike force will enable the DRC to negotiate peace from a position of strength, or even impose it when necessary. And in the latter case, the DRC will be able to easily engage elements of the defeated armed forces or armed groups. In this regard, “justice is better with peace won by force than with peace negotiated.”19This is a translation of the following French sentence of Nissé Mughendi: « La justice se porte mieux avec la paix conquise par la force qu’avec la paix négociée » (Ibidem, p. 34).

Failure of the security system

The Congolese security services face considerable difficulties in obtaining intelligence on imminent attacks and preventing them. There are also gaps in its investigative capacity to identify and neutralize hostile armed actors or respond to the activities of enemy forces. This failure is usually due to insufficient equipment, weak capacity to conduct investigations, and a lack of proper communication between security and military units. Other issues include the mismanagement of financial resources, which makes it difficult to monitor and prevent the infiltration of the security services at the highest levels by foreigners who work against the state.20The DRC’s security services are infiltrated all the way to the top. In this regard, the case of Bosco Ntaganda is very significant. For a long time, General in the Armed Forces of the DRC, Bosco Ntaganda is recognized as Rwandan by the International Criminal Court (See, for example, Situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in Case of The Prosecutor v. Bosco Ntaganda, Warrant of Arrest, ICC-01/04-02/06, 22 August 2006). This deplorable situation points to the need to restructure the security services with regard to the management of material, financial, and human resources.

Ethnicization of political life

The DRC is a multicultural state. It consists of more than 400 ethnic groups.  Ethnic and cultural diversity could be an important asset to build a stable, wealthy, and powerful state in the heart of Africa rather than a factor in generating conflicts. However, it has been exploited for political interests by those who are competing to have control over political power and the economic resources of country. Many Congolese leaders tend to rely on manipulating ethnicity as a tool in their political struggles. For example, they favor the criterion of ethnic affiliation over qualification and merit when recruiting personnel into public services. This behavior is sometimes at the root of deadly inter-community conflicts, especially since each ethnic community wants to establish control over public institutions as a way of gaining access to public resources. Governments should adopt and respect objective criteria, particularly those of professional qualification and competence as well as positive values that promote national reconciliation, unity, and cohesion.

Conclusion

Sustainable development reconciles economic progress with social justice,  distributive justice of wealth, and the protection of the environment. It must be participatory and inclusive of all Congolese people. It is a process that should recognize the diversity of peoples and their cultural differences by addressing the root causes and drivers of conflict as well as the structural causes of inequality and violence.

At the regional level, the GLR states must pool their efforts to neutralize the armed groups which plunder natural resources and enforce the due diligence obligation of multinational enterprises in the ‘ethical’ trade of natural resources. The DRC should, with the assistance of African international organizations and especially the UN, implement all political and diplomatic agreements, combined with military means to defeat all armed groups or make them embrace peace. For the specific case of the ADF, it will require the involvement and support of the international community to defeat this insurgent and violent group. Nevertheless, the primary responsibility for this fight against the ADF lies with the DRC.

To consolidate democracy and good governance in the DRC, anti-social practices ​​including corruption, bribery, and embezzlement of public funds must be severely punished. Similarly, the DRC must establish a true transitional justice system to put an end to armed conflicts and human rights abuses rather than pursuing negotiations that benefit the armed groups. In addition, the security services require a fundamental restructuring regarding the management of material, financial, and human resources. Finally, the government should respect objective criteria for recruitment into public services, in particular those of competence and morality, as well as values that promote national reconciliation, unity, and cohesion. Adopting and applying these criteria will help prevent the ethnicization of political life which is one of the drivers of deadly inter-community conflicts. They should also think about the equitable redistribution of economic opportunities alongside infrastructural development in the country.

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