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Au revoir, Obasanjo

The UN envoy to the Great Lakes, Olusegun Obasanjo, announced today that he was scaling back his mediation efforts in the region, saying “the situation has been dramatically transformed.” He pointed to the rapprochement between Kigali and Kinshasa, the arrest of Laurent Nkunda and the integration of most of his soldiers into the Congolese army. He is submitting a final report to the African Union summit in January and then turning his Nairobi office into a “listening post.”But how transformed is the Congo?

The CNDP have been integrated, but have largely kept their command and control within the Congolese army. They are still in possession of numerous arms caches, as they did not turn in any of their heavy weapons. Most importantly, few of the political issues that the peace process was supposed to resolve have been addressed: all former armed groups – many of whom have now turned themselves into political parties – are still waiting for political appointments; the return of Tutsi refugees from Rwanda is happening in a confused and nontransparent fashion; and most officers’ ranks have not been confirmed by Kinshasa. Just in the past weeks, we have seen the appearance of at least three new armed groups, intra-CNDP fighting and continued bickering between the Congolese government and Congolese rebel groups who refuse to integrate.

The FDLR, while seriously diminished, still appear to maintain their command and control and still occupy many lucrative mining areas in the eastern DRC. The Kimia II offensive has weakened them, but at the same time unleashed a massive spate of abuses and displacement.

Obasanjo was given a very broad mandate to deal with the political situation in the eastern Congo. While he did help encourage Kabila and Kagame to talk to each other, for the most part he was preaching to the choir, the detente had also taken hold. He did not seriously attempt to review the militaristic approach to the FDLR with diplomatic efforts – he could, for example, have pushed for the Rwandan government to provide more information about the hardline/genocidaire elements within the FDLR and then tried to broker deals with the moderate leadership for their defection. He could also have pushed for countries in the region to crack down on the FDLR Diaspora leadership – while EU envoy Roland van de Geer is pushing for this in Europe, there are arguably even more such elements in Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, Dar es Salaam, Khartoum, Brazzaville, and so on.

Even the integration process, which many diplomats see as a great success, needed much more work. As the recent massacres around Nabiondo have demonstrated, the CNDP elements within the Congolese army are re-awakening ethnic tensions in parts of Masisi and Walikale where they are deployed. We have also received reports that CNDP units have taken advantage of their deployment to Bisie (Walikale) and Numbi (Kalehe) to lock down the minerals trade from these areas. As I have suggested before, we solved one problem and have created others. There is talk of Kimia II coming to an end in December – this will be welcome, but also begs the question: will the 60,000 soldiers in the Kivus remain deeply ethnicized, politicized and abusive?

There have been numerous admirable initiative by African diplomats this year. The AU and ECOWAS have imposed targeted sanctions against the military junta in Guinea following the coup and violence there. An AU panel of experts led by Thabo Mbeki has submitted a report on Darfur that, by many accounts, is an excellent piece of work. SADC has mediated in political crises in Madagascar and Zimbabwe (not always successfully). And yet, the most violent conflict on the continent has seen much less engagement. Obasanjo, who is respected by both Kabila and Kagame, could have done more.

(A friend compared today’s statement to another one Obasanjo had made a few years ago: ‘Let me make a solemn pledge before all of you, before the whole world and before God, that I will devote all my energy and all I possess in my power to serve the people of Nigeria and humanity.’)

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