afrol.com, 7 February - The young and handsome, politically inexperienced new president of Congo Kinshasa is surprising the international community by his peace efforts. He only took office two weeks ago, following the assassination of his father, and the Lusaka peace process seems to be back on its track. In an interview yesterday, he praised his recent talks with his counterpart Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda.
In a BBC Swahili service interview after returning home from his diplomatic mission to Washington and the UN, President Joseph Kabila said the encounter with President Kagame set the stage for further meetings with regional leaders. Kabila and Kagame had met in Washington last week at an annual "national prayer breakfast" and had constructive talks about the civil war in the Congo. The two presidents also met individually with US Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Also Rwandan President Kagame, the main supporter of Eastern Congolese rebels, has praised the Washington talks. Kagame stated that he hoped the meeting would go a long way towards advancing the prospects for peace in the DRC and the Great Lakes Region as a whole. President Kagame added that there was "renewed hope that President Joseph Kabila would be more cooperative in implementing the Lusaka Agreement". Diplomatic sources in Kigali however say that although Kabila's statements are positive, the Rwandan government will adopt a "wait ands see" policy.
The 1999 Lusaka Peace Agreement foresees a ceasefire, followed by an Inter-Congolese dialogue. Then, all foreign troops are to withdraw simultaneously and UN peacekeepers are to b deployed. While the Kinshasa government is backed by troops from Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia, the rebels are backed by Rwanda and Uganda, and to a lesser degree from Burundi. All these countries also have troops deployed in Congo Kinshasa, but they all have reassured their commitment to the Lusaka Agreement on several occasions.
Analysts agree that assassinated President Laurent Kabila was an obstacle to peace in the Congo, "taking pleasure in stalling the Lusaka Peace Agreement". Kabila junior thus surprised UN and US diplomats by his commitment to peace and his willingness to meet with Kagame. The question however remains if he is in a position to enforce his policy, as there are doubts to which degree Joseph Kabila controls the situation in Kinshasa.
Most players in Kinshasa and the six external actors are interested in ending the hostilities. Congolese and foreign troops are tired of the conflict, as is the civilian population. Late President Laurent Kabila, "the major obstacle (to progress), has been removed, and everybody is tired" Africa expert Ted Dagne told IPS last week.
Several of Kabila's key ministers and advisors support the dialogue. These are strongly supported by the Congo's main ally, Angola. Angola, having its own security problems, needs stability in the Congolese border areas but cannot afford to deploy the large amount of troops in Congo it does now for a long time. Angola therefore is Kabila's strongest support in his peace efforts.
There are however several key ministers in Kinshasa seen as hawks, who are believed to be close to Zimbabwe. These are reluctant to enter into talks with the rebels. The Zimbabwean government, although it also has reaffirmed its commitment to the Lusaka Agreement, is seen as being led by economic interests in exploiting natural resources in the Congo. Individuals in Zimbabwe's government and army are reported to have acquired substantial business interests, including mining concessions, which they are not willing to give up easily. Rwanda and Uganda have also been accused of exploiting Congolese natural resources, but their principal reasons for engaging in the Congo are of national security.
The key players in resolving the conflict are the ones holding power in Kinshasa and in Rwanda. Kabila yesterday announced a cabinet reshuffle, although not indicating which ministers would have to leave. Thus, the first indications to who will win in the internal tensions splitting the Congolese government might be seen soon. If Kabila can oust some of the "hawks" of the government, he could lead the country into peace talks, backed by Angola.
Rwanda is the most influential counterpart in the Congolese conflict, backing the main rebel groups fighting the Kinshasa government and having its own troops deployed in the Congo. Ally Uganda is on a lower profile, leaving the initiative to Rwanda. Diplomatic sources in Uganda say the country quickly would follow in case of a Rwandan withdrawal. Rwanda repeatedly reassures its "commitment to peaceful resolution of the conflict in the DRC through the full implementation of the Lusaka Agreement," as a government statement said on 2 February. It has, however, significant security interests across the Congolese border.
Rwanda also seems to have achieved a better understanding of its position in the international community lately. Although the small country is defying different UN Resolutions by not withdrawing its troops from its neighbour country, Rwandan positions are being found somewhat reasonable. Belgian foreign minister Michel, traditionally having closer ties to Kinshasa than to Kigali, explained that he had been enlightened on Rwanda's legitimate security concerns after visiting Rwanda and other involved countries last month.
Rwanda fears for its security after Joseph Kabila's father, Laurent Kabila, started supporting and arming the exiled Interahamwe Hutu extremists, co-responsible for the genocide killing one million Rwandans in 1994. President Kagame this week stated that "our security concerns must be addressed, and it must be ensured that the militias based in the DRC do not get support from anyone," referring to the Interahamwe.
The arrest or disarming of the Interahamwe in Congo is becoming the Rwandan key demand for pulling out its troops, an argument Kagame is winning support for and that Joseph Kabila could give into without loosing face. According to Rwandan diplomatic sources, the Interahamwe is "still receiving arms and ammunition from the Congo government," but this could be a "hang-over from the days of Laurent Kabila". The Rwandan government therefore awaits how the Congo-Interahamwe relationship develops before trusting Joseph Kabila's peace efforts.
Will Joseph Kabila bring peace to Congo Kinshasa? Optimism is widespread after the first positive signals from the seemingly underrated, young president, so much contrasting the policy of his late father. A power struggle between "hawks" and "doves" in Kinshasa is however expected, but with wide spectres of the Congolese society and the powerful Angolans supporting peace, Joseph Kabila stands a good chance of becoming the president who brought peace to the Congo.
Rwanda, very dependent on international donors and goodwill, will have to follow a serious peace initiative from Kinshasa, and there are no signs of unwillingness from the Rwandan presidency, although there are significant internal conflicts in Rwanda as well. Tutsi survivors of the 1994 genocide are seen as hardliners, confronting President Kagame's government of national reconciliation, and will not accept solutions were there can be raised any doubt over the possibility of the Interahamwe to threaten Rwandan Tutsis one more time. Presently, however, Kagame seems to control the situation in Rwanda well.
By Rainer Chr. Hennig, afrol.com