DRC Fighting Could Peril Shaky Peace

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The recent battles between former rebels and government soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is disturbing and signals the possibility of a renewed armed conflict that could destabilise the country's fragile peace process.

Clashes between the government troops and soldiers loyal to former vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba left between 200 and 500 people dead in a new development that together with ethnic tensions in the east has inflammed the conflict in this vast African country.

Tension is getting worse as rivalry between various political groupings fight to advance their own factional political, economic or military interests.

Troops loyal to President Joseph Kabila found a huge quantity of weapons as forces loyal to Bemba started surrendering after a heavy on-slaught by government troops. In October last year, when DRC held its election there was great hope that the country and the entire Sadc region could enjoy political stability and security.

Hopes were also high that the majority of people who had suffered for a long time could reap a peace dividend from the stability and move rebuild their country which was destroyed by war and the misrule of dictator Mobutu Seseko. Violence, war and antagonism will not provide solutions to the problems facing the people in the DRC.

Tolerance, common understanding, a shared national vision and commitment to fighting poverty remains key in the long and winding road to democracy in the country.

But the flaring up of the conflict points to the need for Bemba and Kabila to act with restraint to prevent the country from sliding back into a full scale armed conflict with disastrous effects. The integration of opposing forces is a delicate process. Political analysts say the international community and Sadc countries must continue to support DRC in this sensitive process to stop the conflict from spiralling out of control.

Although Bemba was fairly defeated during the second round of the country's first democratic elections – held late last year – many of his supporters are yet to accept the outcome, commentators say. The majority of people in the DRC are tired of war and political leaders must continue to engage in dialogue to help promote national interest rather than their own selfish interests.

University of Zimbabwe political analyst Prof Heneri Dzinotyiwei maintains that poverty and “grossly underdeveloped” infrastructure remains the biggest threat to the peace process in the DRC. "We can never build real democracy without uplifting the lives of the majority of the people," he says. "Violence or war is not an option. The prospects for peace and stability are good and the gains which have been made must be consolidated for the good of the people in the DRC."

Congolese leaders should not destroy the peace which has managed to hold since a transitional government was formed some few years ago. African countries, the UN and other international organisation must pile pressure on the Congolese leaders to dialogue and keep the peace process on track. Full political commitment by Congolese leaders is needed for a successful integration process to take place.

"In reality, former belligerents are showing extreme reluctance to dismantle their military structures in favour of a unified national army, as these structures are the basis of their power," observed a commentator, Kolawole Olaniyan.

The failure to integrate was one of the causes of a large-scale military confrontation in December 2004 that led to the killing of hundreds of civilians. During this sad episode of the DRC conflict, many were tortured, raped and thousands displaced.

The mineral rich country which held its first democraticc elections after 40 years last year is still struggling to recover from the 1998-2002 war that saw government troops supported by Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia fighting against rebels backed by Uganda and Rwanda.

A peace deal was struck in Lusaka, Zambia and in 2003 a transitional government was formed. A fragile peace has held since then despite the fact that the eastern regions are still plagued by militia violence.



Tsiko is The Black Star News' Southern Africa correspondent, based in Harare.

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