Eastern Congo is no stranger to violence, but ironically the latest surge in killing started with a deal designed to bring peace to this corner of the vast country nearly four years after a nationwide accord officially ended a 1998-2003 war.
Laurent Nkunda, a dissident Congolese army general, led his two brigades into the bush in 2004, vowing to protect his fellow ethnic Tutsis. He is under an international arrest warrant for alleged war crimes after his men occupied Bukavu, South Kivu.
After last year's historic polls saw President Joseph Kabila become Congo's first democratically elected leader in more than four decades, the army and Rwandan mediators began negotiations to bring Nkunda and his soldiers into existing army brigades stationed in North Kivu. That process began in January.
But instead of ending the violence, the five new mixed brigades began hunting down Nkunda's enemies in the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a Hutu-dominated Rwandan rebel movement based in eastern Congo.
Congo and Uganda are two of top places in the world whose residents, more than anybody else, deserve peace and stability. Congo is a particularly tragic tale on a variety of counts. It's colonial days under Belgian rule were considered the most brutal of any state in Africa--an impressive anti-title to hold. Furthermore, unlike many places Congo actually has a dazzling amount of natural resources, including some very rare materials which are going to become more and more necessary in the electronic age. If it ever was able to coalesce into a stable democracy, it could become a regional superpower.
Unfortunately, the country then known as Zaire spent most of its post-colonial days being systematically plundered by its tyrannical dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko (who, by and large, enjoyed warm relations from the US government as he pillaged hs country). A long-running civil war eventually lead to his ouster by Laurent Kabila, who was assassinated four years into his presidency by a member of his staff. Kabila's son, Joseph, took over upon his father's and lead the state to its first relatively free elections, which he won.
Joseph Kabila is quite young (he came to power at age 29), but I've been cautiously optimistic towards him. He appears to take the human rights violations occurring in his country quite seriously, and has worked very hard to integrate his government among the various warring factions to hold the country's shaky peace agreement together. Maybe I'm just desparate for good news from the region, but I do believe that Kabila is committed to getting his country on the right track. The question is whether it remains possible.
Nkunda, for his part, did fight alongside Kabila at one point during the civil war, but rather quickly turned on him and was still affiliated with the rebellion at the time of Kabila's election. It seems Kabila was trying to integrate Nkunda's forces into the national army as part of the peace plan, something which clearly backfired. But what else was Kabila supposed to do? Brutally purge Nkunda's people from his government? Can you think of a faster way to restart the fighting?
Of course, if Nkunda's soldiers are raping and killing the people they are supposed to protect, then Kabila must remove him from command--forcefully, if necessary. But let's not delude ourselves--such an action just brings us back to square one.