Peace Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo
17 April 2007

Frederic Chavanne reports on initiatives to bring people together from across the political divides and to help former rebels return to civilian life.

Last September this website posted a report of the breakthrough peace agreement between all parties in Burundi, signed in Tanzania. Throughout the negotiations, the various factions and Burundi government representatives were assisted by three Africans acting on behalf of Initiatives of Change International and financially supported by the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This has built on a series of 'Round Tables' for people from the conflict-ridden Great Lakes region of Africa, which have taken place in the IofC centre in Caux Switzerland. Frederic Chavanne reports on the latest interventions of this group in the fragile situation of the DRC.

After having been intensively involved in Burundi since 2003 in behind-the-scenes peace initiatives, an Initiatives of Change team has also been working in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. With the end of the transition period leading up to the 2006 elections in DRC, tensions have suddenly resurfaced, sparking fears of a return to civil war. President Joseph Kabila has been re-elected and the opposition has accepted defeat. Nevertheless, tensions in the east of the country live on against a backdrop of ethnic exclusion, leading people, once again, to fear the worst.

This was the context in which the Initiatives of Change team drafted a memo setting out a brief analysis of the situation, with a proposal to bring together the most important people on the Congolese political scene, drawing on their previous experience of bringing their Burundian counterparts together in March 2003.

This document was addressed to those involved in politics, women in leadership and other key people in civil society and the press.

From 7 to 21 October 2006, Michel Kipoke, one of those leading the IofC peace project in the Great African Lakes region, spent two weeks in the DRC meeting with a wide range of political leaders in Kinshasa and Goma. His aim was to hear their assessments of the reasons for the fresh upsurges of political and community violence; to gain their perspectives on the reconciliation process in the DRC; and to gather suggestions on the possible means of resolving these issues.

In Kinshasa Kipote, with the local IofC team, he met with the staff of the two main presidential candidates, members of government, the transitional parliament, the electoral commission, the representative of the European Union, soldiers from the European Union Rapid Response Force (EUFOR), the representative from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and leaders from the opposition, the civil service and the press.

In North Kivu, the IofC delegation spoke with Bishop Faustin Ngabu, (Catholic Bishop of Goma), the Governor of Nord Kivu and with General Laurent Nkunda, whose demands could, potentially, restart the civil war. The Catholic Prelate has, notably, called for a 'consciousness raising' of priests who, in the face of community confrontations, often react in accordance with their own ethnic origins.

The most important lesson from this mission is that elections alone will not be enough to restore peace. In fact, the election campaign focused on ethnic exclusion and the idea of 'Cogolité', (Congolese nationality). It further exacerbated ethnic hatred and division, with peoples and leaders alike seeking to obtain through the ballot box what they had previously sought to obtain through violence. Efforts to reconstruct the state come up against the frustrations of individual communities.

The failure of reconciliation is accepted by everyone. The essential tasks to be achieved now are to re-establish respect for political opponents, to free people's minds from fear and to heal hearts wounded by ethnic and electoral clashes. These are the issues that consistently resurfaced in the numerous conversations engaged in by the local IofC group, led by Kipoke.

The request for a meeting between the various political actors, under the aegis of Initiatives of Change, came from all sides. All of those involved maintain that the absence of an arena for peaceful dialogue runs the risk of preventing the new institutions in the DRC from working well.

This mission was funded by the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Translated from the French by Béatrice Blackett Espinosa

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