A peace deal for the Democratic Republic of Congo, mediated by the U.N., was signed today by 11 African nations — but the M23 rebels, who are the drivers of the conflict, did not participate in the talks.
The primary benefit of the deal, according to the participants, will be to create a new military brigade of U.N.-backed forces to engage the M23 rebels. So the result of the “peace” deal will likely be more fighting and deaths.
The agreement was signed by the presidents or their delegates from the DRC, Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who was there for the signing in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, said he hoped the accord would bring “an era of peace and stability” for Congo and Africa’s Great Lakes. He said he would soon name a special envoy for the region.
“It is only the beginning of a comprehensive approach that will require sustained engagement,” Ban said of the accord.
The real peace talks between Congo’s government and the rebels are aimed at reaching an agreement on a range of economic, political and security issues, including amnesty for “war and insurgency acts,” the release of political prisoners and reparation of damages caused by the war.
The rebels also insist on the removal of the DRC’s president, Joseph Kabila, and “liberation” of the entire Congo.
Bertrand Bisimwa, M23’s spokesman, said he had hoped the new agreement would not reignite fighting between the rebels and government troops — though that seems to be the point of the deal.
“What I can say is that if they are choosing the way of peace we are fine with that, but if they are choosing to continue the war, then we’re against,” he told Reuters.
“What we have done in Addis is just a diplomatic measure. The discussions in Kampala will continue but we need to pay attention to the fact that we do not have a lot of time,” Kabila said at a news conference after signing the deal.
Kabila doesn’t often address his countrymen. He is a deeply unpopular figure, seen as weak and the recipient of a fraudulent 2011 election. The M23 rebels took Goma with no resistance from Kabila’s military force, which actually fled as the rebels rode into town.
After almost two decades of war, expectations are low that the new agreement have a positive outcome.
“I think it would be wrong to have too great expectations because the situation here is very difficult,” Alex Queval, head of the UN mission in North Kivu, told Al Jazeera. “The conflict has been going on for at least 19 years, so it’s not going to be solved overnight, but I definitely think that this approach can be a new beginning.”
As the M23 rebels and the Congolese government try to work out their differences, attention must be paid to the state of the refugees in the DRC who live in a perpetual state of disarray.
After the latest round of conflict, during which the M23 rebels took the city of Goma and then agreed to retreat, the number of displaced people in the province of North Kivu grew from half a million to more than 800,000 people, the charity Medecins Sans Frontieres told the BBC.
The charity said the refugees lacked shelter and other essential items — many had just fled another displacement camp, mirroring others they have had to make.
These refugees —many of them women and children— live in squalor, their daily existence largely dictated by the elements and the food they are able to find. The children are aimless, with no access to regular schooling or recreation enjoyed by other youngsters across the world. Life is especially painful for the Congolese women, vulnerable in a nation the U.N. called “the rape capital of the world.”