The failed ‘state of siege’ in eastern DRC should not be extended | Opinions

On May 1, 2021, President Félix Tshisekedi announced “état de siège” – the effect of martial law – in Ituri and North Kivu, two eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Since then, the Congolese army, Ugandan forces and the largest UN peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO, have all played their part in a push against a multitude of armed groups in the region.

The État de siège has been extended no less than 22 times. But the violence continues to worsen: kidnappings have more than doubled and property destruction has tripled in the last year, according to the Kivu Security Tracker project coordinated by Human Rights Watch.

Green and rich in minerals, this part of the Congo has been affected by conflict for decades. By some estimates, the DRC has seen the bloodiest conflict globally since the Second World War. More than five million people are still displaced. Elections set for 2023 could further escalate the violence.

All of the DRC’s eastern neighbors have their own security interests, and are closer to conflict than the DRC’s capital, Kinshasa. For example, Uganda is keen to secure the route of a pipeline intended to export its rich but landless oil reserves. The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a particularly sinister armed group with ties to ISIL (ISIS) and similar groups in northern Mozambique, have raised fears of a broader cycle of unrest. . So East African leaders are honing their military strategy.

A summit chaired by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on April 21 agreed to deploy a new regional force in the eastern DRC, setting an ultimatum for armed groups to engage in dialogue or face confrontation. consequence. But another surge of troops risks another setback. If the direction of the conflict is to be toward peace, three larger changes are needed.

First time started in Kinshasa. Leaders in the far-flung capital have long struggled to make the Congo state’s presence and power felt in the east. They need it urgently. Building stronger civic institutions is crucial. So a more serious push to reform the DRC’s corrupt security forces.

Analysts say that out of every three Congolese soldiers thought to be deployed in the east, only one is actually fighting: of the other two, one is fictitious (their salaries are used to fill pockets. officers), and one was deployed to guard a minefield, keeping troops safe. DRC’s mineral revenues.

There is little chance for DRC security forces to win the war, or the public’s trust, as long as this continues. Kinshasa also needs to implement long-promised plans to provide incentives to the east’s armed groups to disarm, demobilize, and effectively reintegrate into their communities.

The second major shift will see the region’s leaders address the underlying factors that keep the eastern DRC in conflict. The recent entry of the DRC into the East African Community may open up new economic opportunities, but action is needed to reduce the risks posed by the flood of cheap imports and the retreat of local businesses to the environment. more favorable school.

Most importantly, however, the DRC’s neighbors must break their reliance on the shadow mining economy. According to the United Nations, about 1,000 artisanal gold mines in the east produce around 8-10 tons of the precious metal a year, but only 2% of that is legally exported from the DRC itself. Much of what remains is smuggled across borders and sold there, increasing the tax revenues of neighboring countries and the wealth of skilled smugglers. As a result, the action required to legalize and regularize this trade will come at a cost. But the cost of the conflict funded by illegal and shadowy mining is far greater. Both the European Union and the United States have implemented conflict mining regulations, and the Dutch government is supporting work to certify salvage mines east of the DRC as compliant so they can enjoy benefit from legitimate, conflict-free exports. Many international enterprises with mineral supply chains returning to DRC also need to step up this activity.

The third and most important change in the eastern DRC must be from military force to community peacebuilding. Relations between the communities and the militaries involved in the état de siège are beginning to deteriorate as the promised security fails to materialize. Members of parliament from Ituri and North Kivu walked out of the room last month instead endorsing a further extension of the état de siège.

Military action shifts the matter elsewhere, as armed groups are simply moving into new areas. It doesn’t solve it. But Congolese peacemakers have shown that courageous, patient resolution of fundamental problems – often village by village – can change the landscape. Communities have come together to implement local security plans, funded by their mining revenue. Engaging young people into serious dialogue within the community has seen recruits return from armed groups and surrender their weapons.

The restoration of traditional leadership structures has given communities a spot to regroup and see economic and commercial opportunities return. It would be foolish to pretend that solutions to the violence in the eastern DRC are easy. Take the time to talk to the people and communities most affected by conflict, as I did this year, and it quickly became apparent. But after a year of état de siège, and with little sign of ending, it is certainly time to start listening to their answers on what can ultimately build peace and security in the region. .

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.

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