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Last Updated: 09/07/2009
Prospects for Peace in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo
Bulelwa Mukenge

Bulelwa Mukenge considers the failures of various peace initiatives in the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mukenge suggests cooperative dialogue between the Rwandan Government and the Front Democratic for Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) in order to solve this long-lasting conflict. Since 1994, these peace talks have yet to succeed; preventing a peaceful solution to the prevailing war.

The Great Lake Region is one area in the world where conflicts have caused massive killings, as well as exacerbating natural calamities. This region includes countries that surround the Rift Valley, which is formed by lakes: Albert from the North-East part of the Democratic Republic of Congo separates and Uganda; Lake Kivu and Tanganyika from the eastern part of DRC, form a natural boarder between Burundi and Rwanda; at the southeast, Tanganyika Lake separates DRC from the Tanzania Republic. Among these five countries, only the Tanzania Republic seems to have achieved political stability since it became independent in 1964. The Democratic Republic of Congo was also quite stable after the failure of rebel movements; as well as when mercenaries invaded the country in 1964 and 1967 respectively.

However, the other three countries -- Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda -- are at the centre of a vicious cycle of violence. This cycle (emphasizing ethnic differences and advancing polarization) has existed for decades and has caused the deaths of many people in the region. This is especially true in Burundi and Rwanda where the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups have relations similar to a mouse and cat [1]. The ethnic rebellion in Rwanda started in 1959 when the majority Hutu brought an end to the reign of the Tutsi monarchy. This violent cycle of bloodshed led many Tutsi to flee in exile in neighboring countries (Burundi, DRC, Uganda and Tanzania and elsewhere).

For those who fled to DRC, the United Nations negotiated with the DRC government for their settlement, and at last located them in Mulenge. Two years later, in 1961 and 1962, the trouble rose again between the rival ethnic groups in Rwanda. This reoccurring violence caused another group of refugees to flee to Mulenge in South-Kivu, the Eastern part of DRC.

In 1994, following the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi, millions of Hutu fled to neighboring countries; particularly in DRC, and among them the alleged ‘genocidaire’. In Burundi, the cycle of violence started in 1972, when the majority attempted a coup against the Mitchombero government from the minority. Many Hutu intellectuals were killed and others went in to exile. In 1993, with the assassination of a Hutu president by the army mainly composed by Tutsi, trouble rose again and many people, especially Hutu, fled to DRC and Tanzania.


Since 1996 to date, the Eastern part of DRC turned from a peaceful area, with its cool climate, to a hot bed of conflict; a result of the presence of Rwandan rebels groups -- Front Democratic for Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and the Rally for Unit and Democracy (RUD). Despite all efforts deployed to bring peace in this part of the country, the situation worsened by the scheme imposed by the international community to solve the problem. The international actors are not taking into account the necessary dialogue between the Rwandan’ government and FDLR-RUD rebels groups, who are willing to return to their country. The international community is pressuring the DRC government to negotiate with the Rwandan government, as if the FDLR-RUD depends on DRC government. In November, 2007 the Nairobi agreement between DRC, Rwandan and the United States specifically mentioned DRC and Rwandan cooperation in order to solve the issue of insecurity in the East. However, this agreement did not bear fruit, as the FDLR-RUD were not allowed to participate in the negotiations as key protagonists. The agreement itself is full of ambiguity, it stipulates that “the members of FDLR-RUD should be repatriated voluntary otherwise DRC government should utilize force to repatriate them.”

The same happened in February 2008, with the peace campaign called ‘Amani.’ This movement took place in Goma, under UN representatives, the European Union, civil society and notables from both North and South Kivu and the DRC government. Representatives from civil society and notables explained clearly that the only solution is the organization of ‘Dialogue between Rwandese,’ which will lead to the democratization of Rwanda. Their argument was if the Hutu would/could go back to their country, they will no longer cause trouble in the East. The FDLR made this clear through a declaration on 30 March 2003, from Saint Egidio in Italy: “The FDLR condemned the act of genocide, which took place in Rwanda, including the perpetrators. In addition, they are engaged to combat against ethnical ideology (Heat) and they are willing to cooperate with the International Criminal Court.”

The FDLR demanded the organization of the ‘Inter-Rwandese Dialogue,’ which would define and determine new political consensus as base for the reconciliation. They also demanded the guarantee for their security, the integration of combatants into the APR, and recognition as political party once they enter the country. On the other hand, most of FDLR members did not participate in the genocide; most of them were young, with ages ranging from 12 to 14 years old in 1994. Ironically, the Rwandan government accuses some of them as genocide perpetrators.


Wherever conflicts occur, there has to be dialogue between the warring factions; for a lasting solution depends on it. The same scheme was applied to end the war in DRC and Burundi. It is human responsibility to find solutions to such conflicts. Many African countries have gone through crises, and the only way to resolve these problems has been through dialogue between antagonists. Recently, the Burundian inter-ethnic conflict ended through dialogue in Sun City. Under South African mediation, the solution required dialogue between the two primary actors, both with separate interests and political ties: the DRC government, taking an aggressive stance, arguing the conflicts are predominately caused by Rwandese; and the Ugandan and Burundian governments, under the camouflage of rebels groups-- Rally for Democracy known as RCD Goma, Movement for the Liberation of Congo ‘MLC’.

Similarly, in 1994, the end of the South African apartheid regime allowed for the beginning of a free and democratic country; a result of dialogue which brought together various South African ethnic groups (Blacks, Whites, Indian and Colored). Nevertheless, why hasn’t the international community and the African Union emphasized dialogue between Rwandese? The Great Lakes Region will never be at peace, as long as the African Union does not take its responsibility to launch dialogue. The mediators and warring parties need to consider the San Egidio Agreement[2] (which took place in Italy) as departure point that can lead to sustainable peace in the region. Moreover, the Southern African Development countries also need to take steps to rescue one of its members; as more than 5,400,000 people have died and more than 80% of women have been raped in the country.

The recent crisis in Zimbabwe has attracted more attention and many calls have been made in favor of dialogue between ZANU-PF and MDC in order to form a government of national unity. As result of talks between MDC and ZANUPF, Morgan T. has become Zimbabwe’s Premier Minister. Dialogue has a power to find solutions to all kinds of conflicts, for it allows antagonists to talk and find a common ground that would be in favor of all.


The secret agreement between DRC President Joseph Kabila and Rwandan President Paul Kagame, led to the official entry of the Rwandese army to DRC territory, as way to bring peace in the North-Kivu Provence. The military operation known as Umoja aimed to capture and disarm members of FDLR. The Umoja argued that the FDLR in the North-Kivu Province have worsened the stability of the region. Since the launch of the operation, the FDLR has become more aggressive against local communities-- and troops (especially FARDC and MONUC) are incapable of protecting civilians. These civilian attacks are often committed by FDLR rebels, the FARDC, and particularly from CNDP, a group manly formed by Tutsi. On the ground, the situation is confused by the fact that soldiers of Congolese origin (from FARDC) are joining FPC (one of local militias) to protect civilians who have been a target of the FDLR and FARDC.

The Umoja operation has changde its aim of disarming FDLR in order to peacefully repatriate them to Rwanda. It is clear that the CNDP is fighting against Congolese and the central government; either the UN forces have lost control of the situation with regard to the Amani agreement and Umoja operation objectives.


Several agreements have been signed and operations have taken place in attempt to bring peace in this part of the country, but the results are clearly negative. Therefore, it is wise to employ a scheme that may bring peace in the Eastern part of the DRC, and thereby whole Great Lakes Region.

This scheme needs to take into consideration roots causes of conflict since the genocide in 1994. The first step is that the African Union should play its role; intervening in order to implement democracy in Rwanda, instead of supporting the game that took place previously. This is possible through an inclusive Truth Commission, which seeks the views of different civil society key players: Human rights organizations; Religious institutions; victim support organizations; women organizations; and media. The results will determine the accountability of key players and their role, and classify victims.

The second step to employ a transparent dialogue between all Rwandan protagonists is to discuss clearly their problems; then dialogue would lead to a reconciliation process in Rwandan. Resolutions should take into account the application of a transparent justice as way to pave the peace. The justice should consider all massacres committed against civilians in Rwanda, including those who were illegally arrested and spent several years in prison without any trial. The justice also should deal with those who massacred refugees who fled to the DRC.

In addition, the use of traditional “Gachacha” trials should be reconsidered, especially in a country such as Rwanda that has been devastated by ethnic conflict. Due to what took place in 1994, Gachacha serves as platform for Tutsi to seek vengeance against Hutu accused of genocide. Therefore, this traditional trial is not an effective system for the promotion of reconciliation.

Thirdly, those alleged perpetrators who are serving as officials in the government should be suspended, and be replaced by innocents, to ensure transparency in the process. It should be the government’s responsibility to implement dialogue and resolutions.

Finally, once Rwandan refugees are returned, problems in the eastern part of the DRC will be clearly identified and dealt with accordingly. For in the eastern part of DRC, there are not ethnical groups that fight between themselves; despite the fashion so-called minority Tutsi who want to rule over other ethnics.


The Eastern part of DRC is considered to be the source of the Great Lakes Region’s instability. However, it is very clear that the instability is caused by the presence of Hutu refugees who are willing to return home. Nevertheless, they are been denied such opportunity by the Rwandan government, which benefits from the support of international community; especially multinationals companies that buy strategic minerals in Kivu.

Therefore, peace in the eastern part of the DRC is conditioned on the inter-Rwandese dialogue that would lead to a smooth repatriation of the FDLR. Without a transparent and inclusive dialogue between the Rwandan government and the FDLR, peace in the East of DRC will only be a dream. It is impossible to trial all alleged perpetrators, the Frankfort tribunal can inspire international decision-makers in order to deal with the alleged perpetrators of Rwandan genocide. So far, the tribunal has only convicted 22 SS, among them Victor Kapesis, Mulka; while other soldiers or SS who participated in killing operation were not arrested. So the question is: why are people who were only children in 1994 being accused as perpetrators and denied their nationality? Why hasn’t the international community considered millions of Congolese who have been killed and raped?


[1] It is estimated that 54 000 000 people have been killed in the DRC alone since the start of the unrest

[2] The agreements were between the Government of Rwanda and the FLDR rebels on the need dialogue


Bulelwa Mukenge: Masters Student in Public Administration at the University of the Western Cape, Bachelor degree in Conflict Management, Diploma in  Transitional Justice, Certificate in Conflict Management, Certificate in Project Management. He is also the Executive Director of the Congolese Organization for Peace and Reconciliation.